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Joe Vanderstudent, a freshman at State U., falls out of bed at the early morning hour of 10:30 and heads for class. In his course, "The New Testament as Literature" he hears that the latest vote of the Jesus Seminar has proven conclusively (with all those black and pink marbles) that Jesus did not say seventy percent of the words that the evangelists report him to have said. Joe then goes to "English Literature 101" and learns that there is really no meaning in any text, and that any attempt to find the intent of the author actually does violence to the text. On his way back to his dormitory, Joe encounters a perky representative of the International Love Church on campus who tells him with a winning smile that unless he becomes a baptized member of the local branch of that church, he is certainly not a true, radical disciple of Jesus and probably not even a Christian. The Bible is clear on this, he is warned. That same day, in his late-night bull session with the guys and gals on the dorm floor, a number of his very bright and with-it friends opine that the Bible is the underlying cause of racism and homophobia, and that anyone who reads it is a borderline fascist.
Joe grew up in the Ninth Reformed Church of Pella, New Jersey. He was the star of his catechism class. He liked his church, and a few times even tried to read the Bible on his own. But now he is beginning to have new thoughts about his Christian heritage. His Bible sits on the shelf as a book he has outgrown. The religion of his parents seems a faith that is far too narrow.
What would motivate Joe to open his Bible again and to read it with joy and understanding? Before we can answer that question it is helpful to recognize two things. First, Joe's story is typical of many Christian students at secular universities. Second, both he and they face four complex challenges as they approach the Bible in the twenty-first century.
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