Book Review: The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart
Peter J. Gomes is a Baptist clergyman who preaches for Harvard University’s Memorial Church, and who also teaches at the university in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The cleric professor has created a maelstrom of controversy recently with the publication of The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart (1996). The design of this book is to neutralize the Scriptures of their doctrinally demanding thrust, thus accommodating the ancient volume to the inclinations of modern society.
Gomes argues, for example, that the Bible does not condemn abortion. He contends that the biblical term “murder” refers only to the premeditated destruction of human life “outside the womb” (p. 45)—a distinction that is arbitrary, and which, in fact, is at variance with Exodus 21:22-23.
Further, Gomes, a self-confessed homosexual, alleges that the use of the Bible to condemn homosexuality is the product of simplistic interpretative methods that reflect a failure to comprehend the context in which the Scriptures were written. Such proceduralism he calls “textual harassment.” These sort of charges flow easily, of course, from those who reject the plain testimony of the Bible in the interest of their own personal agenda. For example, the author makes an artificial distinction in types of homosexual relationships. One moment he contends that Paul, in his various letters, merely was condemning the “debauched pagan expression” of homosexuality; then, he alleges that the apostle hardly can be faulted for his ignorance, because he knew nothing of “the concept of a homosexual nature” (p. 158). He also suggests (p. 25) that there was a homosexual relationship between David and Jonathan—a notion not reflected even remotely in the Old Testament narrative regarding these great men. Gomes obviously is desperate for some semblance of support for his aberrant lifestyle.
The professor charges that the New Testament itself is anti-Semitic. One chapter is titled: “The Bible and Anti-Semitism: Christianity’s Original Sin.” It is hardly anti-Semitic, however, to contend that the Jews’ salvation is to be found only in Jesus Christ, when the same condition prevails for the Gentiles as well. No one can read Romans 9:1ff., where Paul’s heart throbs with love for his brothers in the flesh, and charge the apostle with hatred and racism.
This volume is filled with reckless charges, sweeping generalizations, and invalid arguments. It is utterly bereft of scholarly acumen.
Of late, Gomes has been a frequent guest on the talk-show circuit, and his book has received laudatory reviews in the popular press. This is to be expected from media that disregard the authority of the Bible, and seek justification for hedonistic lifestyles.
Gomes, Peter J. (1996), The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart (New York: William Morrow).