Magazine On-line [spring 2013]
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Around Campus

Paul Jones’s book discloses church’s ‘Seven Deadly Secrets’

They probably didn’t know it, but Paul Jones’s students helped write his fourth book.

Paul JonesIts dedication page credits their “perceptive questions,” which sparked ideas he included in The Church’s Seven Deadly Secrets: Identity Theft from Within.

“This book is a product of the classroom,” said Jones, a religion professor and program director. It’s grounded in Transylvania’s liberal arts education.

Jones’s book focuses on how pulpit messages can muddle our understanding of the past and how we see the relationship between faith and belief.

“Silence about the vast resources of the tradition has created church secrets that, over time, rob us of our Christian identity from within,” Jones writes. These secrets lead the church to default to cultural norms and presuppositions—confounding ancient messages. “The past has to speak to the present,” he said.

Published this past fall, Jones’s book is available through outlets such as Amazon and his publisher, Polebridge Press. Marcus Borg, author of The Heart of Christianity, praised the work. “Paul Jones is an excellent teacher, as this book makes clear,” Borg writes. “Readers will learn much that is important for the life of the church today.”

As for the secrets, what does Jones think the church is keeping from us?

Secret No. 1: “There is no meaning without context.”

Jones asserts the church ignores the fact we filter everything through our cultural constructs. If we aren’t aware of them, we’ll never be able to address important issues. “Our biases will get in the way,” he said. “The present will completely control your understanding of the past and future.”

Secret No. 2: “Faith means trust, not belief.”

Jones said it’s a mistake to view faith and belief as equivalent. When this happens, faith could be lost if beliefs are doubted. If they are decoupled, though, tinkering with beliefs won’t collapse the whole system.

The synonym for faith is trust—not belief, Jones said. Belief is a second order act of the mind to try to make sense of the faith experience.

Secret No. 3: “The Bible is not the Word of God; Jesus is.”

Jones wants to counter the notion that the single voice of fundamentalism represents Christianity. “My trust is in Jesus, not in a book,” he said.

Secret No. 4: “Jesus was a Jew, not a Christian.”

Jones puts Jesus into context, asking how the origins of Judaism and Christianity should inform the way we live today. The author wants not only to counter anti-Semitism but also for Christians to understand their origins and the ongoing relationship with their sister religion, Rabbinic Judaism. “I want to change the root metaphor for the way in which we understand Judaism”—that is, siblings rather than parent and child.

Secret No. 5: “Read the Bible critically, not literally.”

Literalism rules in our culture, according to Jones. However, “Sacred writings frequently use metaphors and images, symbols and myths to communicate their truth.” Text can neither speak for, nor interpret itself. “Only people can give voice to the text and derive understanding.”

Secret No. 6: “Jesus’ miracles are prologue, not proof.”

A student once asked Jones: What do you do with miracles? The way the author deals with this secret is an example of how he makes a traditional concept relevant for today.

The pertinent question regarding miracles isn’t: “Did they happen,” but: “What is their meaning?”

Secret No. 7: “My religion and God are violent.”

“You want to know why we’re violent?” Jones asked. “Because our heritage is violent.”

To counter the brutality, we must recognize the toxic stories in the text—otherwise they’ll poison us. “Worship has to be very intentional about what it’s doing,” Jones said.

It boils down to asking yourself: What Jesus do you want? “I want the church, at its best, to contribute to the welfare of humanity,” Jones said. “Religion is for me the most powerful and pervasive force in the world.”

Produced by Office of Publications three times a year