Comic-Con International day two: ‘God is disappointed in you’

A book aimed at popular culture opens the door to dialogue.

By Michael Parnell

With a title like that, I had to be a part of this panel.

Panels are the biggest part of Comic-Con. They allow companies to promote things like movies and television shows.

The panel with this title dealt with a book by the same name written by Mark Russell, with illustrations by Shannon Wheeler. It’s a series of summaries for each book in the Bible. Russell read through the Bible six times and read many books that deal with biblical criticism. The result is a tongue in cheek description of both the Old and New Testaments. They are humorous and, some may think, sacrilegious.

When asked where he got his idea, Russell replied that it began as a conversation in a bar. He said people knew he used to go to church and would ask about his knowledge of specific parts of the Bible. This got him to thinking and he decided to write a review of the Bible. The title comes from the conclusion he came to — the Bible tells the story of God’s disappointment with us.

At the beginning of the panel, Russell presented a 10-minute PowerPoint presentation that included ideas like “The Bible is fan fiction.” He also said that Jesus was resurrected because you cannot kill someone who can bring the dead back to life.

Moving to the serious side of the experience, Russell said he believed that one writes about things which wound us. He implied that being raised in a Pentecostal family was painful and his experience of church was damaging.

Russell stated that he went to Sunday school as a child, but when he began doing his research he realized he did not know the Bible. By implication, it means that we Christians do not know the Bible.

One of his conclusions is that the Bible is not a unified story. God changes from one who has anger management issues to being concerned with real estate to being concerned with scrap booking. That latter description refers to all the “begats” in the Bible. The “begats” are “shout outs” to those who are easily forgotten in the timeline of Israel. Jesus’ appearance shows the end of God’s desire is in real estate.

The Bible also gets interpreted to meet the needs of those who read it. One of Israel’s needs was for God to be a lawgiver. Russell says that God for Americans is God as Walmart. We create God in our own image as a way to meet our needs.

In response to a question about Westboro Baptist Church, Russell said Westboro is 2,000 years too late. Then he said to single out gays as being the worst sinners is an example of creating God in your image. There are so many other sins that the Bible speaks about. Why ignore all the others sins and focus solely on gays?

When it comes to the central message of the Bible, Russell concluded that all of us are broken and we need God to medicate ourselves. And Jesus’ message is that we need to change ourselves. When that change takes place, then the world must catch up to us.

As I listened to Russell, I was struck by the fact that he truly loves the Bible. Does he have questions about the Bible? Yes, but the message of Jesus was something with which he could resonate.

He was asked if his relationship with the Bible had changed. He said that it had and it was more complicated.

Russell has done a service to the church. His book allows us to have a dialogue about the Bible with those who may not come to our church but may read his book.

I told him that I felt that this dialogue is important. And it needs to be a dialogue, because we need to come to this work and those that read it with an open mind, heart and spirit. To dialogue is to meet people where they are, not where we want them to be. For too many of us Christians, we begin dialogue from the wrong place.

We dialogue from the point of view that we are right and those we speak with are not. Non-Christians see us as being resistant to discussion. Our sense of certainty becomes a wall of separation between us and them.

When the panel was finished, I told Russell I wanted to apologize for how the church had wounded him. How much better would our witness be if we owned up to what we have done in the name of our interpretations of the Bible? How much better would our witness be if we found the openness to meet people where they are and work from that point of view?

— Mike Parnell, who writes commentary for ABPnews/Herald, attended Comic-Con International, a multigenre entertainment and comic convention held annually in San Diego. The year’s event, which ran July 24-27, was expected to draw more than 120,000 people.

Previous columns:

Comic-Con International day three: ‘Be excellent to each other’

Comic-Con International day two: ‘God is disappointed in you’

Comic-Con International day one: The day of greed

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.