I make a point to see as many Oscar-nominated films as possible. It also helps that in Philly, The Ritz theater chain (three in Center City) plays a lot of these films, especially the ones in more limited release. One of the films on my radar was Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River. Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne; Eastwood-directed, how could you lose, right? The film was painful. I was with two friends of mine, and although some weighty material played out on screen, some of the scenes were lit like a high school play, dialogue was stilted and forced in several places; the story was choppy in places, some of the roles mis-cast. Unfortunately, we even laughed during a couple (intended) serious moments. Well, that film was over-hyped, we thought when we left the theater.
Somehow, in the weeks that follow, a strong buzz built around the film. This movie is amazing, people were saying. I asked my friends: did we see the same film?
My Bible edition suggests that many people, if pressed to pick one book from the Bible, feel that Romans “manages to encompass all essentials of the Christian faith” (p. 1004). I’m not sure how to feel about this.
On one hand, it represents every sense of the Bible I had before I had read any of it. Dense, packed with bloated language that purposefully muddies simple ideas, this book seems like it would repel more people than it would entice to the faith. Perhaps the language is a product of its time (how could it not be?), but the approach Paul takes in convincing followers (and would-be followers) of the benefits of the faith takes on an air of sounding so convoluted that it must be wonderful and it MUST be so layered that it REQUIRES someone to teach it to me. You know, like calculus.
For example: “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God” (6:8-10).
Huh? Romans is filled with this approach to explaining how Christianity works: a looping style of prose that keeps repeating words and returning to ideas without moving forward that quickly. Jesus did not speak like this. He spoke in a plain, direct manner that made his ideas easily grasped and understood by all. Even when speaking in parables. And in theory, Paul is carrying on the ideas championed by Him. So why choose this style? Seems more for show than to serve a function.
But perhaps people just like this style of writing because they hearing a poetry in the delivery. Okay, fine. But in terms of content, there’s only some mention of what Jesus did—a focus on the dying part, mainly—but no mention of all the great, specific work he did and whom he really touched (the poor, needy). Basically, this book of the Bible makes sure that everyone knows they need to stop sinning.
So if you want the pomp and circumstance of the Bible, start here. If you want the core details that actually show you what happened and why, read a different book. My first thought when I read that this is people’s favorite book was: huh? Have they read any of the Gospels? It seems that if you wanted a condensed version of the morals and values, these are what you need, not someone’s interpretation of what happened. Go to the original source and don’t settle for the supposed hype of this book.