~ing podcast Season 3, Episode 19
Full Episode Transcript
Season 3, Episode 19: “Godbreathing” with Zack Hunt was released on May 10, 2023. The audio recording is available on all major podcasting platforms. More information is available here.
In today’s episode, Ben Wideman sits down with Herald Press author, Zack Hunt, to talk about themes from his new book, Godbreathed: What It Really Means for the Bible to Be Divinely Inspired. In this conversation, Zack proposes that the imperfections and contradictions in Scripture aren’t accidental, rather they draw us beyond the literal words on the page and deeper into the spiritual truth God is trying to teach us. This book, available now from Herald Press, offers a practical and easily accessible approach for reading and understanding the Bible.
Zack Hunt, Ben Wideman, Mark Adams
Ben Wideman 00:00
It’s season three of ~ing Podcast, a production of MennoMedia’s Leader Magazine. What does it mean to authentically follow Jesus?
Zack Hunt 00:09
You know, what I hope folks do, you know, is find a willingness, I guess, you know, to read the Bible with fresh eyes. But also like, look at the Bible with fresh eyes, you know? Of where it came from, how it came about, what its purpose has been, you know, historically in the church. And then also, you know, and this is the hardest thing you know, for me, and I think for everyone is to be honest about the biases and the prejudices and the context and the influences that we all bring the Bible.
Ben Wideman 00:39
Join us as we talk with people of faith who are creatively thinking, growing, and being… people who are reimagining and exploring what it means to enrich faith in a complex world. Our conversation begins now. Join us as we journey together. Hello, friends, welcome back to MennoMedia’s ~ing Podcast. I’m really excited today to be sitting down with with another one of our Herald Press authors. I’m joined today by Zack Hunt. Zack is the author of a brand new book that just was published called Godbreathed: What it Really Means for the Bible to be Divinely Inspired. Zack, you wear a lot of different hats. First of all, thanks for being here. And second, for those who don’t know you. How do you introduce yourself these days?
Zack Hunt 01:29
Usually with Zack…
Ben Wideman 01:30
Okay, good way to start.
Zack Hunt 01:34
Sorry, I’m full of dad jokes. I’ve got two daughters at home. So my life is picking them up from school, taking them to school and then making bad jokes in between. Yeah, so I’ve been writing I guess now and one form or another for the last 10-12 years. Started on a blog, like a lot of folks did about a decade ago and wrote for a handful of different outlets or fellow friends blogs or different projects. And then I my first published book was Unraptured, which came out three years, three years, four years ago now, ever since COVID. I’ve lost all sense…
Ben Wideman 02:18
March of 2019. I think I see.
Zack Hunt 02:20
Yeah. So in my head that was like last year. Not! So yeah, Unraptured. And now, folks at Herald Press were kind enough to let me publish Godbreathed. That, you know… The best way I, or the way I like to describe it, I think is me working out my faith in real time. And, and I think that’s what a lot of my, really all my writing is. Unraptured traced my spiritual journey out of, you know, the conservative fundamentalism that grew up in. I didn’t grow up in a super far right church or anything like that. I grew up in the Church of the Nazarene. Third, fourth generation, eventually got ordained, I’m not serving on staff anywhere right now. But I still go to a Nazarene church, but our denomination is a pretty broad spectrum of folks. And churches. And I grew up in a definitely a conservative one. But not, you know, we weren’t protesting with signs telling people they were going to hell or addicted to the King James Bible or anything like that. But yeah, my writing has, you know, comes out of that and is out of my journey out of, you know, one brand of Christianity, I guess, to another. Or one, a journey from one spec… end of the spectrum to another and a lot of respects. But, but yeah, Godbreathed this just kind of about me working that out more and trying to further find and understand a faith that’s worth believing in.
Ben Wideman 03:55
I’m glad that you said that. I’m really intrigued by this sort of practical wrestling in real time with with how we do this. We had a somewhat controversial event here in our town that was scheduled… I should say, a group of of folks who are a bit more traditional or fundamentalist, wanted to do a boot camp for new school board members, possible school board members as a way to influence our local schools from a more conservative perspective. And there was some some folks who were not too happy about that. When I did a little digging into the event, I realized that the the person behind the event was a fellow Fuller Seminary grad, and I thought,
Zack Hunt 04:46
Ben Wideman 04:46
We are at very, very different places, despite having graduated from the same school. So I reached out via Facebook and and sent them a message say, “hey, look, we’ve got this in common. We’re both here in the same town. I feel pretty differently from you.” And he wrote back kind of quickly, “Well, it’s because I take Scripture seriously” something along those lines, and I thought, Oh, wow. I don’t even know how to respond to that. But it’s partially because I think I wasn’t prepared for that kind of a response. And I think what your book is trying to do here is help us be a bit more aware of when we bump into moments like that, you know, what… how do we think through some of these things that are really tension points in our, in our Christian spaces these days? And and how do we be, you know, like, your title says, what it means for the Bible to be divinely inspired. And to, to allow that to shape us as we move about the world. So I’m excited for this book. And I want to say thank you for having the courage, I guess, in somewhat polarized Christian context these days to be authentic to, to your own journey, and your own, your own struggles.
Zack Hunt 06:03
Thanks, I I’d like to joke that, you know, I’ve written two books, and so far, and both of them are about me admitting how wrong I am about things. I’m not the person to listen to. But yeah, I think, you know, I try. You know, you follow me on social media, that’s probably some ironic, but at least from a faith perspective, you know, try to come from a more humble position about what I know. And I draw a very clear distinction between what I think I know and what I believe. You know, one of the driving images, at least in the second half of the my book is, is Paul talking about how we see through a mirror dimly. And I took that in a different direction, in the book, but, you know, the image, the basic idea is that, you know, we just, we don’t have it all figured out, you know, we have it all figured out. And so, you know, when I’m trying to do, I mean, I’m definitely trying to present a counter narrative to the fundamentalism of we do have it all figured out. And Christianity is about having all the right answers, and right, all all the knowledge, and then that is how you get to heaven. But even if you’re not, you know, at that end of the theological spectrum, you know, I think all of us could use a moment to step back, and reassess, and rethink even the most basic things that we think we know about the Bible, you know, because if you grew up in the church, you know, like I did, if you grew up going to Sunday school, every Sunday it’s the Bible is, is more than just a book or a collection, books, whatever you want to call it, I mean, it’s essentially a family member, you know, that you think, you know, or feel, you know, and in some ways do know, you know, as intimately as you would a brother or sister. And so we feel like we have this inherent expertise, because of that. And in reality, I mean, it’s, it’s like saying that, you know, you have car mechanic expertise, just because you know, how to drive a car, you know, and so, you know, test that theory out, the next time your transmission goes out, you know, yeah. And so, you know, what I hope folks do, you know, is, is, find a place or find a willingness, I guess, you know, to read the Bible, with fresh eyes, but also, like, look at the Bible with fresh eyes, you know, of where it came from, how it came about, what its purpose has been, you know, historically in the church. And then also, you know, in this is the hardest thing, you know, for me, and I think for everyone is to be honest about the biases and the prejudices and the context and the influences that we all bring to the Bible. Because there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of those things. You know, the problem is when we excise ourselves from that equation, and act as if, when we pull out a Bible verse, or we hold up a theme from the Bible, or whatever, and say, Well, the Bible is clear, you know, or the, you know, the, the main meaning here is playing. In reality, it’s, well, our interpretation or our assumptions are clear and plain. But, you know, the Bible says that we believe that that doesn’t settle it, you know, and I think that’s what, Paul, for sure.
Ben Wideman 09:21
We’re all kind of craving certainty, regardless of where we fall on the theological spectrum. You know, it’s easy to criticize someone who’s being a fundamentalist, but I know that I can be very fundamentalist about my more progressive stance on some theological things. I’m really fascinated about the way that you have approached imperfections and contradictions in Scripture. I think there is a pathway when, when younger Christians or or even older Christians who start to unpack their faith a little bit more intensely when they discover some of those imperfections or contradictions as they leave their face behind, I think what you’re presenting here is an alternative to that pathway. And I wonder if you can go into a little bit more detail about it. But what that meant, has meant for you to remain committed to a tradition, even when you see some of these things that seem to contradict?
Zack Hunt 10:17
Absolutely, um, well, I shamelessly plagiarized from origin and Augustine, in my book to get where I am. And that’s intentional, you know, because, you know, the easy criticism to lob at, you know, my book would be, you know, this is just this liberal crackpot, you know, who’s trying to, what’s the word, cave to society, you know, or change the Bible or Ebola. But I’m appealing to guys who were writing 200 years after Jesus, 300 years after Jesus, you know, these are guys who, in least in the course, in the case of origin, you know, before there’s a settled Bible, you know, this is some of the earliest thought of the church. And they were okay with a Bible that wasn’t perfect, because they maybe they didn’t know the biblical writers themselves, but their grandparents did, you know, it’s that sort of closeness. And, you know, when you’re that close to the actual writing scripture, I think it gives you a very different perspective than, you know, 2000 years ago. And so origin, you know, who early on his life took the Bible, very literally, particularly the portions about cutting off body members or body parts, if they cause you to sin. He felt that his lower regions were causing him to sin and castrated himself at a young age because he took the Bible. So literally, ironically, his great contribution to biblical interpretation is analogy. To really embrace the, the role of analogy in Scripture, and so anyway, origin says that there are two senses to Scripture, there’s the literal words on the page. And then there’s a deeper spiritual truth that God wants to communicate to us to reveal to us. And so what he says, it takes work, though, you know, to get to that spiritual sense, and, and a lot of times, there are certain what he calls stumbling blocks in Scripture, things that can’t be true because of history or because of logic, or because of whatever. And he says that those aren’t just an accident, but they’re a deliberate decision by the Holy Spirit, to draw us deeper to challenge us to go beyond just the words on the page, and to find the deeper truth. And then what I do is bring in Augustine here who comes, you know, just a generation or two after origin and can he like, I shamelessly plagiarize him he shamelessly plagiarized as Jesus. And he gives a guide, you know, the, the default criticism that you’ll hear from someone like Ken Ham, the creation using guide will say, Well, if, you know, if you can’t trust part of the Bible, you can’t trust any of the Bible. And what he means by that is, you know, if we, if Genesis isn’t literal, then there’s no resurrection, which just is an incoherent statement that does not follow. But then you also hear well, oh, well, if you’re not doing everything in the Bible, then you’re just picking and choosing. And the truth is, everyone is always picking and choosing, you know, as Rachel Held Evans, you know, used to say everyone’s a literalist till it comes to gluttony. So origin comes in and gives us I think, a guide for how to pick and choose and a sanctified healthy, holy, sort of Christ’s like way. And he says, you know, no matter how great you think your interpretation is, how much work you’ve put into, you know, literary or I’m sorry, until linguistic translations and how wonderful proof texts you think you have if your interpretation of a passage, no matter how clear you think it is, doesn’t lead you to love God and neighbor than you’re wrong. Period. And so when you bring those two together, you know, Paul, our origin gives us the freedom to acknowledge that there are, you know, imperfections in Scripture, because scripture was written by imperfect people. And then origin or mind or Agustin reminds us that we have to begin you know, and love well, then we can come to a place like, you know, Paul, slaves obey your masters for us right in the Lord and say, Well, Paul was wrong. Because one, you know, the Holy Spirit allows people to tell the stories, the way that people tell the stories, and people are sometimes wrong. But then what is that spiritual truth? Like, is there something that God is trying to teach us? You know, I think the lesson in something like that is that Paul was just like us. Paul said, things that were stupid sometimes because you and I say things that are stupid sometimes there and he said it in the name of God. You know, and that’s the story of the people of God. We’ve been doing that for too long, you know, for 1000s of years. The whole Bible is the story of the people of God doing things that are putting words in the mouth of God. Are actions in the mouth of God, just as the book of Judges is explicit about that happening, you know, in origin just tells us I mean, we can’t take from that passage that slaves should obey or their masters because that’s not loving, you know, there’s nothing loving about slavery. And Jesus was clear that all the law and the prophets, everything that we read in Scripture, everything that we understand about the faith has to be driven by and towards love. And so you know, what origin does is open up the possibility that we can be honest about the Bible and say, you know, what, if we read those words, or if we read, take your children outside the camp and stone them to death, if they’d been bratty in any other contexts, we would, we would say, this is immoral, this is wrong. No. And what Origen and Augustine are saying that are, yeah, that that’s right. And they’re following in the tradition of Jesus who’s healing on the Sabbath, even though you know, the law says, Don’t do that, because there’s a higher calling to love. What I’m really hoping to give folks you know, in Godbreathed, or what I hope they leave the book with, if nothing else is just isn’t the permission that a lot of us, you know, were denied… to wrestle with the Bible, to ask questions, to push back even disagree in in ways that people have done since Jacob quite literally wrestled with God.
Ben Wideman 16:45
If you are listening to this from a more literal understanding of Scripture, there’s something that might be a little terrifying about that message, and perhaps something a little freeing about that, too. And I’m wondering if you have experienced that in your own life, your own theological journey here? Was it free for you to discover these ancient Church Fathers church voices, kind of offering you this permission to reimagine scripture?
Zack Hunt 17:17
Yeah, it was, you know, and that was the impetus for you know, this book, but really a major turning point in my life that it, it gave me the freedom and also relieve the yoke, these biblical language or the the pressure to do you know, elaborate mental gymnastics to make sense of things, you know, are going that don’t make sense, like go into the land and kill all the Amalekites and the women and children and the animals and don’t have anyone alive. There’s no mental gymnastics that you can do that erase the fact that the Bible very clearly, and plainly, seems to say that God is ordaining genocide. You know, and you can’t just we can’t just say, Oh, well, if God says it, then that’s okay. Because then we are just turning God into a monster. And then how do you reconcile that image of God with Jesus, and then that’s Marcion ism, essentially, which is heresy. And so you end up with all these theological, you know, traps, and challenges and all these other things, we can just step back and say, you know, if Paul is right, that we see through a mirror dimly, well, mirrors are not windows, you know, I always thought of that passage in the sense of a window, though, that like, oh, well, the truth is on the other side of this mirror, but it’s hazy, so I can’t quite see through it. But mirrors, that’s not what a mirror does, your mirror reflects back on you. And if I can understand scripture in that context of being a reflection of, if I can look at the story of the people of God as a reflection of the people of God, then what I see when I find passages like that, that are incongruent with the nature of God, or with just basic ethics, I can be honest and say, This is the people of God talking, this is the people not acting because this is what we continue to do for 2000 years. And say that what they said was wrong and not okay. And yet, still hold on to the things that are okay. You know, like, love your neighbor and, you know, care for the poor and all those other things. And so, it’s, it’s about trying to bring an intellectual honesty to Scripture, a scripture or a holy integrity to the reading. And then you know, like I said, the, the freedom knowledge that like, this isn’t one book, you know, it’s a collection of text, it’s dozens of different perspectives. And so it’s okay to read some parts literally in some parts not, you know, it’s okay to recognize some of this is poetry and Storytelling in some of this is law. And some of this is apocalypse. And some of these are just actual letters. You know, and so again, about trying to give folks freedom to be open and honest about about the Bible.
Ben Wideman 20:12
I’m curious, in hearing you talk about this, was there a specific audience you had in mind as you were putting pen to paper or fingers to keys?
Zack Hunt 20:23
Yeah, I mean, like I said, I mean, myself, first and foremost, you know, of like, like trying to write processing. Yeah, yeah, personal processing, like, but also like writing to like a former version of myself of like, what, what would have been liberating for me to hear? Not in the sense that liberation, you know, from my fundamentalism was an end in itself, though, it’s certainly, you know, a good goal. But like, what were my questions, you know, what did I struggle with? What were what did I not know about? What did I not understand. And so, you know, to come circle back into what you said before about folks that, you know, are leaving the church, you know, I’ve definitely been at that crossroads, and have come and gone and come back. And, you know, I wanted to offer, you know, an alternative between, you know, staying and burying your head in the sand, and then, you know, leaving and throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Because there are tons of problematic things in the Bible. But, you know, so many of us have been conditioned to these very monolithic readings of Scripture, and even individual passages so that, you know, we’ve been taught that, oh, well, this means this, and it can only mean this. And so when we have the scales fall from our eyes, and realize, well, you know, maybe not so much, and begin to see those contradictions, and we, we kind of the House of Cards, collapses, right. And so we assume that the Bible is itself a house of cards, as opposed to maybe the theological structure that we had holding up the Bible. And so you know, what I’m trying to do is knock down that house of cards too. But also do so remembering that, that House of Cards is something that I brought to Scripture, you know, and for all the problems and struggles and whatever, that are in the Bible, you know, I need to be aware of what I’m bringing to it. And in order to see if there really is anything, you know, still worth reading. And for some folks, there may not be, you know, you know, what’s the metaphor a hill too far, or whatever too far. But I think, you know, for folks that are still spiritual, but not religious, you know, or whatever term, you know, that, that we attach to things, the still curious, you know, about Jesus, that I want to give them hope that, you know, not everything you were taught was a lie, you know, not everything that you that shaped you was broken and deformed, that there’s still good stuff, and there still is good values
Ben Wideman 23:00
here. Yeah. I wonder in hearing you speak, I’m finding myself filled with a lot of hope. But is there something about this project that has given you hope, in, in putting these words down for you?
Zack Hunt 23:16
This is probably because I’m a bit of a nerd, but like, I think the hope came in the research for me of, of seeing that like, I really was onto something that this isn’t just this wild, like conspiracy. So for example, the Southern Baptist Convention is essentially the poster child now for you conservative fundamentalist evangelicalism, you know, Christian nationalism, whatever, you know, bad thing, because they’re the largest denomination in the United States, largest evangelical denomination United States. And their leaders are very conservative, fundamentalist pushing, you know, pro life and, you know, whatever cliche, evangelical college, you can imagine, that was not the case 30 or 40 years ago, you know, and in reading, and do research on, you know, inerrancy, because I, you know, it’s important to me to really get into not the minds of the writers, but really understand where they were coming from the folks that who affirm inerrancy, and to read their own text or read their own, you know, logic, you know, and reasoning behind it. So I read a bunch of books, some of them were excruciatingly painful. Some of them were deeply enlightening. I mean, there’s, you know, there’s definitely a spectrum of folks, there’s the just wildly dogmatic, you know, who, you know, think everything in the Bible absolutely is perfect and beyond questioning, and you’re going to hell if you even think, and then there’s some who are more moderate, you know, who recognize like, well, you know, maybe Matthew didn’t actually write the book of Matthew, but like, that’s okay, because that’s not the point. But one of the really enlightening things was just seeing them lay out their own gameplay. In for how they drug drug, how they drag drugs, drugs, the word right? How they pushed American evangelicalism to the right. You know, that’s a journey in the third chapter that I tried to show how fundamentalism really took over American Christianity. But there’s a chapter in one of the books, which is a collection of essays, I think it’s the one. It’s called Inerrancy, I think, Word and Faith that’s edited by John MacArthur and has a bunch of leading conservative evangelical pastors and theologians stuff. And they just lay out their game plan, because they’re very proud of it of how, you know, RC Sproul and some friends came around in ’78. And they wrote the Chicago Statement, and then they realized, well, if we’re going to really get this, the Chicago statement is an affirmation of biblical inerrancy, that’s become very influential. If we’re going to really get this, we have to kind of not start from the bottom up, but really the other way around. They realize, well, you know, we, we can’t get into every church, you know, and get everybody to agree with us. But what we can do, are nominate presidents of seminaries who agree with us, and then those fundamentalist seminary presidents will in turn hire fundamentalist professors who will in turn, teach generations of fundamentalist preachers who will in turn discipled generations of fundamentalist congregations. And it was, I mean, obviously, incredibly effective, but to see it, so to see it laid out so clearly. So mechanically, you know, so obviously uninspired, you know, so bereft of anything resembling the Holy Spirit, you know, that it was just the clear machinations of a handful of men who went about it in this very shady way. was liberating for me, in the sense of like, yeah, no, I’m not fighting against God here. You know, I’m not fighting against the Bible. You know, the, I don’t, I don’t want to use the war language at all. But like, the struggle is against flesh and blood, in this case? Very much so. And so yeah, I mean, in the first half of the book, what I really want to try to do if nothing else is to, is to play toto in The Wizard of Oz and pull back the curtain, you know, that the wizard is not as great and powerful as he seems that that actually he’s just a bunch of white guys meeting in a hotel room in Chicago in the 70s.
Ben Wideman 27:37
Zack I really appreciated this time together and this conversation for those who might want to follow what you’re up to. Do you have spaces where people can do that?
Zack Hunt 27:47
Absolutely. Follow me on Twitter while it still lasts. My handles are are the same, almost across the board. It’s ZaackHunt. My actual spelling is the A C K. But somebody’s taking that so ZaakHunt on Twitter, on Instagram, Facebook. I just created a Tic Toc, which is really boring. Because I’m old. I’m trying to still figure it out. That one’s MaybeZackHunt because somebody somehow took my terrible spelling. And then oh, and I created a profile on Reddit. Yesterday I had a tweet that, I guess was on the front cover or page. Cover. Yeah, follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, I’m pretty easy to follow. And then substack is where I tried to do my writings these days ZackHunt.substack.com.
Ben Wideman 28:42
Awesome. Friends, please do check out this book, Godbreathed: What it Really Means for the Bible to be Divinely Inspired. Zack, thanks so much for this offering to your fellow believers. Thank you for the time and energy that you put into this. And thanks for being here with us on ~ing Podcast.
Zack Hunt 28:59
Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.
Ben Wideman 29:06
Next week on ~ing Podcast, we’re sitting down for a conversation with Mark Adams, the US coordinator for Frontera de Cristo.
Mark Adams 29:13
One of the first things one of my colleagues said when I got to the border was, “Mark, living on the border is not about being flexible, but a… but about being fluid.” And so this notion of having to realize that there’s there are lots of curves in life. And if you think there’s gonna be a direct route, in life, you’re wrong. And that that’s, that’s anywhere. And then on the border, it’s even more so. And so one of the things that Frontera has done over the years is just route ourselves in this kind of a hermeneutical welcome, rooted in God’s love.
Ben Wideman 29:54
Next week on ~ing podcast, we’re sitting down with Zack Hunt, the author of a brand new book from MennoMedia called Godbreathed: What it Really Means for the Bible to be Divinely Inspired. As always we’d like to thank our guests and all who support ~ing Podcast. Thank you for joining us on the journey. If you enjoyed the show, please leave us a review in your favorite podcasting app. And if you have something to share, send us a message at [email protected] or by leaving us a voicemail. ~ing Podcast is hosted by Reverend Allison Maus and Reverend Dr. Dennis Edwards. And produced by me, Ben Wideman. Views and opinions expressed on ~ing Podcast are those of our hosts and guests and may not represent that of Leader Magazine or MennoMedia. ~ing Podcast is a production of MennoMedia, a nonprofit publisher that creates thoughtful Anabaptist resources to enrich faith in a complex world. To find out more, visit us online at MennoMedia.org.