The Bible is central to the Christian faith. But it’s also long, complex and parts of it are offensive to many people. And that includes a lot of Christians.
I have always found much of the Old Testament difficult, especially books like Joshua, which contain so much God-instructed genocide. What are we to make of such passages?
“Paradoxology: Why Christianity Was Never Meant to Be Simple,” a book by Krish Kandiah first published in 2014, does not shy away from some of the most difficult questions about the Bible.
On the issue of violence, Kandiah writes, “Let me be honest. I feel embarrassed about my faith when these questions crop up. And I am not alone. Many of us would rather edit such violent episodes out of Scripture. … I have never heard a sermon on the subject. It doesn’t come up in Bible-reading notes. Many preachers and teachers I have talked to evade these questions.”
He believes there is an underlying anxiety about asking such questions: “We worry that, exposed to the light, our faith will fade away; tested on difficult ground it may shatter. But if our faith is that fragile, it was never true; if our God is that easily defeated, he is not the true God.”
This book is a great gift to the church because of the way it can help anyone get to grips with the significant challenges of the Bible.
Kandiah pushes the difficult questions, not because he has simple answers, but because he has a confidence in the Bible.
His confidence is rooted in the idea of embracing the paradoxes we find: “What if the tension between apparently opposing doctrines is exactly where faith comes alive? What if this ancient faith we call Christianity has survived so long not in spite of but precisely because of its apparent contradictions?”
It’s a bold thesis, but one that rings true. Scripture is full of concepts that need to be held together in tension – grace and truth are just one example.
Emphasizing just one aspect of Jesus’ character leads to distortions. To understand Jesus and to follow him means holding these tensions together.
Each chapter tackles a different paradox encapsulated by a different biblical character or book. We start with The Abraham Paradox and that is followed by chapters that include Moses, Joshua, Esther, Judas and, of course, Jesus.
I am part of a weekly group that brings together a really diverse group of people to read the Bible, discussion, prayer and community.
In our church, we call these “life groups” because we aim to be real and “do life” together.
Our diversity creates challenges. It might be easier if we were all “people like us.” In many ways, the only thing we have in common is that we are all trying to follow Jesus. Disagreements happen and sometimes people have to apologize to each other.
But these moments are also the best thing about the group because we are “doing Christianity” rather than just “discussing Christianity.”
We are sharing the realities of life together, not just discussing items of religious interest.
Since Christmas, we have worked through “Paradoxology,” chapter by chapter. Some people in the group are used to reading books, others much less so, but reading and discussing it has been a great experience for us all.
As well as his skills as a writer and theologian, three factors stand out in this book that make it helpful for a group like ours.
First, there is Kandiah’s honesty. “I have a confession to make. My own life is a paradox. I am not half as Christian as I want to be, despite having attempted to follow Jesus for over half my life. I am a walking contradiction … yet I cannot seem to change.”
Second, there is his humility. “The paradoxes of our faith will not be resolved by this book or any other book. They can only be explained – indeed, they will be fulfilled – when Christ himself comes again and all things are resolved in him.”
Last, his commitment to action.
It’s significant that Kandiah is an activist who runs a charity Home for Good and fosters children himself.
Reflections on his life and work illustrate his theology and give it depth and authenticity.
This is no armchair theology encouraging mere cogitation on the complexity of belief. It’s a theology focused on underpinning a more confident Christian engagement in the world.
“Paradoxology” is a great gift to the church because it opens up the Bible and explores the most difficult of questions.
If you are part of a small group, I would really encourage reading through it together as we have done.
I’ll end with a final quote, which appears on the last page of the book. “Christianity was never meant to be simple – after all, it is about a relationship, and what true relationship is ever simple?”
Jon Kuhrt is chief executive of West London Mission and a member of Streatham Baptist Church in South London.