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Sacred Word, Broken Word: Biblical Authority and the Dark Side of Scripture Paperback – April 4, 2012

4.6 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Brian D. McClaren
-- author of Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words
"Kent Sparks addresses the crucial and often painful question that I hear people asking around the world -- from seminary students to their professors, from spiritual seekers to seasoned pastors, from ex-believers to new believers: What do we do about the Bible's dark passages, the places that justify genocide or conflict with one another or can't be squared with scientific data? Sparks doesn't follow the typical all-or-nothing responses to either left or right, but offers an honest, humble, creative, faithful, and robust approach to Scripture that presents it as part of God's good-but-broken creation that is being redeemed in Christ. Highly recommended."

Dale C. Allison, Jr.
-- Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
"Incisive and honest, sophisticated yet clear, this volume will prove to be of immense value to those who wrestle with the nature of Scripture. Sparks illuminates a number of troubling and complex issues, and his readers will find their thoughts moving in new and promising directions."

Scot McKnight
-- North Park University
"The moral problems of the Old Testament, including what justice means, how peace can be gained, and how love is to be known, can be examined from a number of angles. . . . The only acceptable approaches are those that struggle with the text as Scripture, as God's Word, and seek to find in that text what God might be saying to us today. Sacred Word, Broken Word is among the angels in pursuing this type of approach. Not all will agree, but I pray that this book will ignite a conversation about how to read the Bible better."

William J. Abraham
-- Perkins Theological Seminary, Southern Methodist University
"Sparks sets a new benchmark for work on the theological and philosophical reception of Scripture. Written with elegance, this is a book of seasoned scholarship that is accessible, spiritually sensitive, constructive, and provocative. Above all it is written from a heart attuned to the depths of human suffering and misery."

Evangelical Quarterly
“This is a helpful book for committed believers, but also perhaps for all sincere wrestlers with the scriptures as the Word of God.”
Journal for the Study of the New Testament
“Spark’s book is valuable because it represents a candid wrestle with notoriously complex issues without folding into well-work solutions offered by opposing sides of the debate. Sparks adopts an ecumenical tone, further adding to the appeal of a book which will be appreciated by all those interested in theological interpretation of Scripture.”
Choice (American Library Association)
“Sparks invites readers, especially those of a more conservative nature who are troubled by much that they read in the Bible, to enter carefully into an open reading of the Bible, which, despite its brokenness, points its reading to God. Recommended.”

About the Author

Kenton L. Sparks is professor of biblical studies at Eastern University, St. Davids, Pennsylvania. His previous books include Ancient Texts for the Study of the Hebrew Bible and God's Word in Human Words.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Eerdmans (April 4, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802867189
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802867186
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #538,958 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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In catching a glimpse of the title Sacred Word Broken Word: Biblical Authority and the Dark Side of Scripture, one might receive the impression that Sparks is mounting an assault on the authority of scripture. But as it turns out, Sparks is doing quite the opposite. His objective in this book is to demonstrate how Biblical authority can be salvaged in spite of the humanity contained in it.

Sparks starts off his book by drawing a parallel between creation and the Bible. Sparks argues that just as God's good creation is marred by the fall, so is God's good word marred by the human author's falleness. Thus he says, "The presence in Scripture of this distortion no more compromises its status as God's word than the distortion in humanity compromises its status as God's creation." Sparks demonstrates that discrepancies and problems in scripture are due to the falleness of the human authors and are not attributable to God. By the title of the book one might also assume that Sparks would spend a good amount of space delving through the troubling Biblical passages to illuminate its "dark side of scripture" (which he does do but only briefly) but instead Sparks intends to spend most of the book demonstrating how his approach to scripture can be utilized within Christian tradition.

Sparks begins by anticipating some theological objections to his view of scripture: What is the nature of inspiration?; How can the Bible be authoritative if it has been influenced by human sin?; With this view of scripture, in what way can it be called God's word? Sparks satisfactorily deals with all these questions and many more. But one of the most important questions that Sparks anticipates is how we can know which interpretations of scripture are correct if scripture indeed contains fallible aspects.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Biblical inerrantists believe that the entire Bible is without any error, whether related to matters of faith, history, ethics, or scientific explanation. On the other side of the spectrum are those who see the Bible as a purely human document, possibly with some interesting ideas. Kenton Sparks, on the other hand, argues that it is indeed the actual word of the actual God, but that it was written, edited, and collected as a canon by fallible human beings whose limitations and failures show up in the text.

Despite what you might think from the title, this is not a book that gloats in exposing all kinds of problems with the Bible. It takes for granted that certain problems exist, the Canaanite genocide being the prime model, and then asks what we do with them. Sparks argues that rather than explaining them away as inerrantist apologists do, or allegorizing them as many early Church fathers did, we should simply recognize that they are reflections of incorrect or even twisted views of the authors.

If one accepts this view, then a major problem is how to sort out what is the true message from God, the "gold," and what is, as Luther said of epistle of James, "straw." Sparks does address this in some detail in the latter part of the book. While his ideas will certainly not solve the whole issue, they do provide some hope that the task is a reasonable one.

If you are a strong inerrantist, then you probably will not appreciate this book unless you read it to find cannon fodder. On the other hand, if your faith is troubled by what seem to be the questionable or outright unethical stories and teachings of the Bible, then Sparks may have a good word for you.

Note on Kindle version: I didn't find any significant problems with the Kindle version, which is a relief after struggling through so many books that are full of typos and other errors.
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This book is about the humanness of God's Word beside its divineness. It's also about being certain, or rather, the impossibility of certainty beyond God - about humans having to settle for what Sparks calls "practical realism". Those who are trying hard to be practical and realistic will find much nourishment here. Those who are holding out for some form of human certainty will not like this book, or will not even understand its message. If we do understand and apply the message of this book, we will have the beginnings of a solution to the conflict and misunderstandings that have created such ugly spectacles in the world of Creed believers and Christ followers for so long.

This is all because of another big, often neglected, idea boldly addressed by Sparks - balance. He tries to convince us that the Bible is a balanced book. It's not all God or all human. Rather it is about God's self-revelation, through human beings to human beings. The balance is one chosen and permitted by God himself. He has chosen to build his Kingdom through us, empowered by the Holy Spirit. An account of this mission of God, up to about 1900 years ago is presented in the Scriptures. They represent an action filled dialogue between Creator and created in which both are allowed to think and have their say. To understand, we must look both at the details of the conversation, and stand way back to consider the whole thing at once. And, whether looking up close or standing way back, we must always keep our balance.

It's sort of like the fellow who the other day crossed Niagara Falls on a tight rope. Those on the bank were safe and secure admiring the majesty of the falls and getting soggy from the spray. Safe, secure, certain, and wet, but seemingly not in great need of balance.
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