What Kind of Christianity is This? A Review of Mark Roncace's Book

Professor Mark Roncace was raised in a conservative Christian church and attended a Christian school for thirteen years. He is now an Associate Professor of Religion at Wingate University in North Carolina who debunks the Bible in his popular level book, Raw Revelation: The Bible They Never Tell You About.His book is bittersweet for me, both a joy and a pain to read, brilliant and, well, ignorant. Yet, I recommend it highly just the same.

What Roncace wants to reader to understand is the raw truth about the Bible, its God, Jesus, Christian doctrine and church morality. Unfiltered and uncensored, the Bible "is just too hard to swallow," he argues, so preachers "cook the Good Book. They butter it up and water it down to suit our tastes. They distill the Scriptures, filtering out the unsightly and unpalatable passages. Just as processed and packaged foods are barely reminiscent of what first comes out of the ground or from the animal, so too the clean, attractive Bible that they present in the church is a far cry from the real thing." (p. 3-4) Roncace is not just speaking about one kind of preacher or denomination either. "They all do it--fundamentalists, evangelicals, Pentecostals, main stream moderates, left wing liberals, emergent church pastors, prosperity preachers, and the list goes on and on. No one serves up the Scriptures uncooked." (p. 5) So this book represents the Bible served raw "in a six course meal," (p. 13) that is, six chapters.

This is something agnostic biblical scholar Bart Ehrman definitely agrees with as he tells us in his book, Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them),After being trained in the seminaries to accept the historical critical method for approaching the Bible, graduates who enter the ministry "appear to put it back on the shelf...pastors are, as a rule, reluctant to teach what they learned about the Bible in seminary." (p. 13)

I find this point to be true myself, which is very significant. Christian students who do not attend seminaries and/or do not focus on biblical studies, who instead focus on other disciplines of learning, primarily in philosophy, do not know much about the Bible because their preachers are not telling them. So these Christian philosophers, being non-specialists in the Bible, go on to defend a Christianity that is not based in the Bible. What we get from them is nothing short of a Fundamentalism on Stilts, as Professor Jaco Gericke argues, who is both a biblical scholar and a philosopher of religion.

In the first five chapters Roncace takes the Bible at face value and shows what it really teaches. Then in the last chapter he speaks about canonical, textual, and translation criticisms, all of which biblical scholars know and teach. Since his book is on a very readable popular level he primes the pump in the first five chapters, so the speak, and then shows a few reasons why we find the kinds of inconsistencies and differences in the Bible in the last chapter.

But boy is his book a delicious treat. If anyone wants to know why I have trouble devouring the Bible this is a wonderful place to start. All we have to do is read the Bible and ask questions about what we find in it, the kinds of questions Roncace asks. It's so simple a youth could do it, yet apparently so profound to Christians raised to believe most of them don't even think about them. He asks simple questions like, "When did God create Eve?," "What did the wise men say to the shepherds," "What happened to Easter," and "Who killed Goliath?" Do you think you know the answers? Do you? Read the book if you think so. What we find in the Bible is "a collection of contrasting ideas," analogous to listening to a debate or sitting around the conference table as a committee meeting." (p. 39) That's a more charitable way than I could think of to describe it. I think what we find within it's pages is more like a full blown war of ideas, best reflected in Randel McCraw Helms's book, The Bible Against Itself: Why the Bible Seems to Contradict Itself.

In chapter two professor Roncace shows us that the God of the Bible "is not all good, holy, loving, and perfect." Christians don't know this he says, "because pastors have nothing to gain from our knowing it." (p. 42) In fact, the God of the Old Testament "is not merely a God of justice, wrath, and vengeance, not a God who simply punishes violently when people break his commandments...Rather, he is portrayed as cruel, vindictive, childish, petulant, misogynistic, egotistical, genocidal, and maniacal." (p. 43). Roncace puts the Canaanite genocide of Joshua in personal terms, saying: "Envision each person, each little boy and girl and baby, in these towns being impaled by Israelite swords, with God standing by approving the massacre." (p. 60).

In chapter three we see the raw Jesus. He isn't a meek and mild guy, the one we want to find in the mirror. Nor does the Old Testament prophesy about him "any more than Nostradamus predicted Hitler." (p. 90). And it "appears as though Jesus was wrong" to say the end was nigh (p. 107) What Christians see instead, Roncace tells us, is "indistinguishable from our own ethnic, cultural, and religious norms and values" (p. 116) despite the raw Jesus found in the Gospels.

In chapter four Roncace shows there is a great deal in the Bible that defies any kind of systematic theology. The three-in-one omni-God of Christian theology? "Not there. The Bible makes none of these claims," he shows. Is God male or female? Does he have a penis, or just the second person of the trinity, or maybe he has a "spiritual" penis? Roncace has some fun with these types of questions. Hell? Satan? Slavery? Salvation? The Sacraments? Tithing? The end times? Roncace makes a good case that Christians need to re-read their Bible on these subjects, for "the Bible does not offer us clear, unambiguous answers to doctrinal questions." (p. 157)

The same can be said about the morality in the Bible, argues Roncace in chapter five. When it comes to homosexuality, pre-marital sex, marriage and divorce, abortion, debt, diet and exercise, and global warming, the Bible isn't much help to Christians, to put it extremely mildly: "We are not loving, open, and honest when we cherry-pick certain verses to support our own personal agendas. We shouldn't make the Bible say what we want it to say; we shouldn't put words in its mouth." (p. 191).

I think evangelicals should listen to biblical scholars like Roncace since their own pastors are not telling them the truth, the raw truth about the Bible, God, Jesus, doctrine and morality. Go to the source. Read the Bible, something Roncace emphasizes, but also get and read books like his to help guide you. You don't have to trust a former pastor, a former Bible college instructor turned atheist like me on these matters. Turn to your own scholars. By-pass your pastors. They are more interested in church attendance, tithes, and keeping out of trouble in their churches. Go to biblical scholars like Roncace, especially now that they are writing popular level books anyone can read.

What is hard to swallow about his book is that Roncace still embraces some form of Christianity. He's a process theologian: "God evolves and changes over time as he relates to his creation. God is in the process of learning and growing, just as we are...God isn't in complete control. God isn't perfect. God doesn't know the future. And sometimes God doesn't bother to relate to his creation--he's not involved, he doesn't care, sometimes." (p. 80). So what does he propose? Rather than excuse God, "We should hold God accountable. We should protest God's attitude and conduct. We should be bold enough to tell God what we think...Instead of offering God our praises, we should offer our appraisals. If you say God can do whatever he wants because he's God, I say: No way! I am not interested in being a part of a religious tradition in which God can sanction the murder of tens of thousands of people and we don't bat an eye." (p. 81-82). So he asks, "Why must God be perfect? Why can't we love a God who is in the process of growing and developing? We show genuine love for flawed people all the time." (p. 83) So he concludes "ultimately our faith will be much stronger" by recognizing the raw truth, which is "what matters." (p. 225)


Oh, I'm holding God accountable alright. If he exists then I want nothing to do with such a "cruel, vindictive, childish, petulant, misogynistic, egotistical, genocidal, and maniacal" God at all. A process kind of God is also indistinguishable from no God at all. He looks exactly like he was created by the imaginations of an ancient superstitious pre-scientific barbaric people. I will not, I cannot, deny reason by embracing any faith that leads to this conclusion of his at all.

Roncace would be better off based on his studies to be an agnostic like Bart Ehrman. After all, they both debunk the Bible as nothing more than the imaginations of an ancient superstitious pre-scientific barbaric people. Where then is room for any deity at all? The deity Roncace believes is not worthy of anything but disgust and loathing. So he might as well come clean and declare himself an agnostic.

Better yet, follow professor Hector Avalos's advice, by helping put an end to biblical studies as we know them. Given what Roncace knows about the Bible that's the consistent thing to do.

In any case, I highly recommend his book for people who don't understand the raw truth about the Bible, just as I recommend Thom Stark's book, The Human Faces of God: What Scripture Reveals When It Gets God Wrong (and Why Inerrancy Tries to Hide It).

Folks, listen to these biblical scholars. By-pass your pastors. By-pass evangelical scholars too. Then see what you can conclude. One thing is sure. You cannot remain an evangelical Christian. For honest informed evangelical scholarship is a ruse. There is no such thing! It has evolved over the years too, such that the new evangelical orthodoxy is little more than the old Neo-Orthodoxy.