Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Book Snap: Mark Roncace's "Raw Revelation"

Raw Revelation (RR) is one of those "right problem, wrong solution" books I see now and then. The "right problem" named is, that people don't read or know their Bibles, and that can be a problem. The "wrong solution" from author Mark Roncace is straight out of the emergent Christian playbook:  Rather than resolve the problems in the text, we should "embrace the complexity"  of a "moving, shifting, shanging" text [38] full of problems and contradictions.

That solution might have some pull if it could be shown that Roncace had some earthly idea what he was talking about, but in nearly every case, despite being a credentialed scholar (he is a professor of Religion), Roncace's analyses of the Biblical text are barely more sufficient than an entry from the Skeptics' Annotated Bible. 

For example, Roncace's treatment of Jephthah is less than a page in total, and most of that is hand-wringing querying asking how we should think about this text now that we have assumed that Jephthah definitely sacrificed and burned his girl. Roncace closes the section by saying, "Perhaps we should observe a moment of silence for this otherwise unknown maiden." [62] Why? What are we mourning here -- Roncace's hit and run method of scholarship?

It doesn't get any better as the book progresses. Whether it's contradictions between the Resurrection narratives or Luke 14:26; whether he's interpreting "turn the other cheek" like a fundamentalist or accusing the NT authors of misusing OT prophecy;  from the halls of complaining about it being "strenuous" [96] to interpret one of Jesus' parables to the shores of offering an understanding of the Trinity that would have been more smartly done by a 5th grader [128-9]; from sea to whining sea, Roncace offers a pitiably reckless commentary on everything Bible that makes look as scholarly as the latest N. T. Wright megatome.

Making matters worse, Roncace almost never tries to find solutions to issues, and when he rarely does, he ends up looking even less scholarly than he did before he wiped the egg on his face. For example, concerning alleged tension between James and Paul, Roncace writes, "Preachers may try to harmonize Paul and James by asserting that James is claiming that if one's faith is genuine, it will manifest itself with good works. Maybe so. But at least one smart guy named Martin Luther did not think they could be reconciled, so he wanted to throw James out of the Bible." [139] 

Say what? There are literally dozens of good commentaries out there by scholars with credentials equal to or better than Roncace's (as he surely knows), many of them explaining how indeed it is that James is speaking of manifested faith in good works (has Roncace not yet managed to locate the Semitic Totality Concept in his career as a scholar? or maybe even, looked up the context of pistis within a client-patron relationship?), but all Roncace has to say is that a dead white guy from the 1600s who had no idea about any of this either says otherwise, so there too?

In light of all this, it is rather pitiable for Roncace to close his volume with a series of condescending "Final Suggestions" which include one that begins by saying, "Use your brain" and "God gave us a brain as a tool to search for the truth." [226-7] I can only ask when Roncace plans to start taking his own advice, because it seems for this one, he left his brain with his scholarship on the shadowboard.  But maybe that's to be expected, since he closes out with the emergent-style mantra, "It's more about the journey than the destination." [230]

Maybe that's why Roncace enjoys sitting upside down on his bicycle with his wheels spinning in the air: if he ever turned himself right side up, he'd actually go somewhere.

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