Book Review: Permission Granted: Take The Bible Into Your Own Hands by Jennifer Bird

Romans 1:21-24 “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.  Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed creatures.  Therefore, God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity so that their bodies would be dishonored among them.”

At the end of this book, Jennifer Bird explains her personal “litmus test for scripture and theological claims.”  Bird goes on the say “If a biblical passage or theological doctrine endorses freedom, liberation, love, the fullness of life for all people, or a mature and responsible faith, then it is ‘of God.’  When I see a passage that depicts God as wrathful or as dealing death-blows to his supposed enemies, for instance, then that passage does not pass the test.  When there are passages that contain belittling words or that endorse arbitrary restrictions of people, I assume those passages were inspired by human desires, not a loving and reconciling God.”  “As I have talked through passages, I have help up my own lens for you to see how I view scripture.  Your lens or litmus test will be your own, and perhaps quite different from mine.”

I appreciate that Bird explained that much of her book comes from her personal views and assumptions.  I wish she had been willing to Introduce the book this way instead of leaving it for last.  Bird covers a range of subjects that are debated surrounding the Bible including sex, violence, biblical women and if Jesus’ mother Mary was truly a virgin.  Each chapter does include an encouragement from Bird to not only read the scriptures discussed for yourself but to truly think about your personal beliefs surrounding each subject and how you came to the beliefs you hold.  That being said, the rest of each chapter seems to be Bird justifying her personal views.  Each argument or “view” presented is supported by what is later defined by Bird as an assumption, as fact. Although Bird does occasionally state “I do not think that view is what was intended” or “this likely occurred” no different argument is ever presented in any subject.  The only argument presented is Bird’s view.  This does not allow for the reader to think critically wholistically.

Bird does state in the introduction “let me reassure you that I am not trying to ‘poke holes’ in anyone’s faith.  I’m trying to help you see the nature of some of the passages in the Bible in a way that respects it, even if it is a startlingly new perspective.  Seeing any part of the Bible differently that you did before does not change who God is, it simply changes the way you see how the Bible helps you relate to God.”  I agree with Bird here, seeing any part of the Bible differently does NOT change who God is.  For this reason, I cannot accept the lens with which Bird views scripture.  Her statement that anything that shows a wrathful God must be thrown out seems to come more from her desire to only see God as love then it comes from fact.

Bird works hard to present the historical view at the time the books of the Bible were written.  When discussing marriage Bird presents a thorough argument for how humans warped marriage. Her desire seems to be to change the reader’s view of what God sees as Biblical marriage.  In her case, Bird conveniently leaves out the story of Adam and Eve and how God created marriage.  Eve was not purchased, she was created by God and given to Adam to be his helper.  She also leaves out Paul’s discussion of marriage in Ephesians 5 where a VERY specific picture of marriage is laid out INCLUDING the call for husbands to love their wives. I can understand why this would be avoided as Bird’s desire is to show how women were only viewed as property.

By Bird’s own words she states in Chapter 9 that she is not saying the disciple’s stories are lies.  Because she accepts them as truth (as do I), I have to accept that it is ok to look at the entire context of the Gospels and conclude what thousands of scholars before us have.  Jesus lived his entire life counter-culturally.  He worked to show women as humans with value and at the same time he lived his life according to the laws we are still asked to live by.  Viewing things through the lens of “historical fact and logic” puts God in a box. It makes God more human and easily explained.  Faith isn’t searching to find the logical conclusion that makes the most sense and conveniently allows us to ignore scripture portions we don’t agree with.  Faith is accepting that God is God, humans are humans, and we won’t understand everything fully here on earth.

Bird refers to the concern some readers (including myself) could develop from her book as the “slippery slope” of changing the interpretation of scripture.  She acknowledges that this can cause concern as people choosing to view scripture through her lens could bend it to their comfort level and not truth.  Ironically, Bird doesn’t seem to see that she does this exact thing.  Part of entering into a relationship with Jesus involves learning more about His character and it involves understanding we are not equal to God.  It involves accepting we are a created being who has been given rules and boundaries and free will to disobey.  We are called to have faith in God, faith that He knows best, that all will be revealed in heaven.    Faith is NOT dissecting scripture to present that it’s possible David and Jonathan and Ruth and Naomi had homosexual relationships, to force scripture to fall more in line with personal beliefs.

This book is really only for very mature believers who are looking to solidify their biblical views or be stretched in ways traditional churches don’t allow.  I found that reading this book only confirmed to me that I have been brought up by wise teachers who have worked hard to preach the truth.  I don’t believe it can be said enough when any person presents the argument that a commonly agreed upon interpretation of scripture should be disregarded because of the historical context in which it is written we should have MAJOR alarms ringing and red flags waving.  Any person who thinks God is so small that only the logical actions should be considered, even if they contradict scripture should pause to consider if they are the people referred to in Romans 1.

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