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Book explores new ways of understanding the Bible


Reading the Bible After Christendom

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Lloyd Pietersen

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Mennonite Church Canada/MennoMedia joint release
February 17, 2012
-Steve Shenk

WATERLOO, Ont. and HARRISONBURG, Va. — Should Christians in North America and Europe understand the Bible in fresh ways in an era when Christianity no longer dominates Western civilization?

Yes, says professor Lloyd Pietersen, who wrote a book on the subject, Reading the Bible After Christendom.

Western Christians now have a chance to understand the Bible better, Pietersen says. They can read it without the constraints of Christendom, which ruled European society for centuries when the church and state working together. Anabaptists and other radical reformers had it right in the 16th century when they opposed the idea of Christendom.

The alliance between church and state began when Roman emperor Constantine adopted the Christian faith and marched his army through a river for a mass baptism. This led to an officially "Christian Europe" and to a faith that was alien to that of the earliest church, says Pietersen.

The unravelling of Christendom in recent generations has resulted in biblical illiteracy and declining church attendance and. But it also means that the church has returned to the margins of society, where it can exercise a more healthy witness than when it dominated the institutions of society.

"Reading the Bible after Christendom is inevitably a reading from the margins," says Pietersen, "and should be done in community in ways that engage with the Bible as prophetic, subversive, and sustaining for the Christian journey."

Pietersen argues for elevating Jesus and the Gospels in reading the Bible. The teachings of Jesus should be central to any Christian biblical interpretation, he says.

Walter Brueggemann of Columbia Theological Seminary in New York, a leading American theologian, wrote the foreword to Reading the Bible After Christendom.

"Given the highly visible and unmistakable failure of the Constantinian system," he said, "this fresh reading may be just what is required, not simply to revive the church but to mediate the moral energy needed for a new society."

Reading the Bible After Christendom belongs to the new "After Christendom" series by Herald Press. The first title in the series, Worship and Mission After Christendom, was written by Alan and Eleanor Kreider, and released in 2011.

Pietersen is senior lecturer and research coordinator in New Testament studies at the University of Gloucestershire. He is a founding member of the Research Centre for the Bible and Spirituality based at the university.

An accountant by background, Pietersen serves as treasurer for both the British New Testament Society and the Anabaptist Network in Britain and Ireland.

He is also author of The Polemic of the Pastorals: A Sociological Examination of the Development of Pauline Christianity. He co-edited several volumes, including New Directions in Qumran Studies.

Pietersen lives in Bristol with his wife, Sheila, a physician. They are founding members of Bristol Peace Church.

Reading the Bible After Christendom is priced at $22.99 CAD and is available at or by calling 800-631-6535.

Herald Press is the book imprint of MennoMedia, a ministry of Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA.<.em>