Last night, my church started its Bible study in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. We’re going through the curriculum Romans: The Letter That Changed the World, with Mark De Haan and Jimmy DeYoung.
We had nine people at Bible study last night, which was a lot for our group. One person came because she saw the advertisement that my pastor put in the newspaper. And another person learned about the Bible study because of our church’s lawn-sign.
I have two comments about last night’s study.
1. The narrative that many in the group were accepting was that Paul was really going against the grain when he preached the Gospel to the Gentiles. Paul in Romans 1 was lambasting Gentiles for their idolatry and their lack of ethics, and people in my group were thinking that, not only would Paul’s viewpoint be controversial in a world that was heavily attached to idolatry, but it also would challenge the economic interests that depended on idol-worship for a steady income.
I think that there’s something to this narrative. Remember the story in Acts 19 about the people in Ephesus who were upset that Paul was dissuading people from worshiping idols, thereby was threatening their craft? At first, however, I was a little skeptical about the narrative, and the reason was that Gentile society tolerated Judaism, which, like Paul, was staunchly monotheistic. Moreover, there were even Gentiles who were attracted to Judaism because they thought that it coincided with their own philosophical conception of the divine, and they believed that pagan mythology was rather childish. I wondered: If Gentile society tolerated, and in some cases embraced, Judaism, with its staunch monotheism, then why would Paul’s monotheism be controversial within Gentile society?
I think that the answer could be that early Christianity was more of a threat to pagan society than Judaism was, for Christianity was getting more converts, thereby posing a greater challenge to idolatry.
2. The booklet said, “The danger, according to Paul, is that our Creator cares enough to be angry when He sees those He loves being ruined by gods that are not God and by worship that is worthless.”
I can understand why God would be angry at sin, especially when the sinners are people God loves. But, if God loves sinners, why does God kill them, as occurs so often in the Hebrew Bible? Why does God send them to hell?
One person in the group, whom I’ll call Bob, questioned that God even gets angry. I appreciated his outside-of-the-box outlook on the Bible, especially when someone else in the group questioned him about God’s wrath, God’s justice, and hell (and, believe it or not, it was a respectful exchange). Bob was saying that Jesus died on the cross, not to appease God’s anger, but for our benefit—-because God recognized that we deal with emotions and feel guilty about what we’ve done wrong. On hell, Bob stated that we don’t know what happens after we die. And, after the study, Bob was telling me that he believes that many parts of the Bible are metaphorical and are not to be taken literally.
It will be interesting to see how Bob interacts with the remainder of our study. I don’t entirely agree with what Bob said, but it was refreshing to hear.