The Bible as Propaganda

My brain can’t escape thinking about this short section in Tony Jones’ The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier:

The Bible is propaganda… Propaganda has a point and a purpose… It doesn’t claim to be objective. It’s trying to convince someone of something. It’s trying to get people to join a cause, to join a movement….

I was trying to make the case that the Bible is not an object, to be read and studied dispassionately. In my experience, evangelicals read the Bible like a science book, looking for clues that would establish its truth, in order to prove that the events recorded in the Bible actually took place and to justify what they say it says about women’s roles in the church and the abomination of homosexuality. I knew mainliners, on the other hand, who read the Bible with a healthy dose of skepticism, almost visibly uncomfortable with the extraordinary claims of miracles and items of faith like the resurrection. But I had started to think that either of these approaches is a misappropriation of the Bible. It is a living, breathing document that makes a claim on its readers’ lives.

I love it. I did wince at first, just like those who Tony first said this to (the first part is actually quoting himself saying at an early Emergent Village meeting, which included Mark Driscoll among others). But that comes from an assumption that if it is trying to convince us of something then it must not be true – as if it being true would automatically convince us so it doesn’t need to be compelling and passionate. That’s how we usually use the word propaganda, but other times we’ll use it positively, like the propaganda spread by the Allies about the true horrors of the Holocaust in order to encourage the war effort. It is a word that is used to describe purpose and style, not truth or falsehood. And once I hurdled that barrier I agreed completely with this idea that the Bible is indeed propaganda.

The Bible is not trying to provide us historical or scientific facts. In many cases it does, but never for the sake of providing a history textbook for people 3000 years later. The ancient world would not even consider this idea of a history textbook as we think of it today – they weren’t nearly as obsessed with the correct objective truth of all time the way that we are. It just isn’t the point, and it is the modernist mind that insists that we spend all our time debating whether it is. We’re far removed from the ancient mindset of embracing the narrative and so we miss the forest for the trees.

No, the Bible is a call to follow behind King Jesus in living the Kingdom of God, propaganda for the ultimate world-changing movement.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.