GQ’s inclusion of the Bible in a list of 21 overrated classic books has drawn expressions of pity for the popular men’s magazine.
“Our response as believers should not be defensiveness or outrage,” said Union University Bible professor George Guthrie, “but pity for those who have never glimpsed even the smallest ray of beauty, the song of hope found in the Bible’s wonderfully cohesive story.”
Last week, GQ’s editors published a list of “21 books you don’t have to read and 21 you should read instead,” compiled by “a group of un-boring writers.” At no. 12 on the list, novelist Jesse Ball recommended scrapping the Bible in favor of Agota Kristof’s novel The Notebook.
“The Holy Bible,” Ball wrote, “is rated very highly by all the people who supposedly live by it but who in actuality have not read it. Those who have read it know there are some good parts, but overall it is certainly not the finest thing that man has ever produced. It is repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned.”
The Notebook is preferable, Ball wrote, especially if readers like the “nasty bits” in scripture.
For spiritual edification, GQ’s contributors recommended the 1927 novel Death Comes for the Archbishop, which, when read, is “like having a spiritual experience,” wrote novelist Claire Messud.
Also nixed by GQ from the list of must-read books were J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, two titles by Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and by David McCullough’s John Adams.
GQ’s editors wrote in an introductory note to the list, “Not all the Great Books have aged well. Some are racist and some are sexist, but most are just really, really boring.”
Guthrie, author of several New Testament commentaries, recommended believers “take the GQ comments in context and with a very large grain of salt.”
“This is the same list that deems ‘The Lord of the Rings’ as ’barely readable’ and David McCullough’s historical pieces as the ‘driest, boringest tomes you’ll ever sludge through,’” Guthrie told Baptist Press (BP) in written comments. “To say that the Bible is ‘repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned’ is understandable coming from a secular person who has never read the Bible with an intent to hear, never studied even a small part, in all its complexity, to understand what is going on in its pages.
“To collapse the majesty of the Psalms, or the counter-cultural, creative, sacrificial ministry of Jesus, or the bizarre but breathtaking vision of Revelation into a tag of ‘foolish’ or ‘ill-intentioned’ is sadly laughable,” Guthrie said.
A representative from the Museum of the Bible in Washington countered GQ’s assessment of scripture by noting numerous “stories of different cultures under different challenges that drew on the Bible for courage to bring forth a better society.”
“Let us note Bartolomé de las Casas,” Museum of the Bible director of content Seth Pollinger, told BP, “a Dominican theologian in the sixteenth century that set out biblical and natural-law arguments about the inherent dignity and rights of the Native peoples of the New World to justify their resistance – against European conquest.
“Healthcare was significantly influenced by Florence Nightingale. Her commitment to nursing was profoundly affected by the Bible, a book she studied throughout her life. Isaac Newton is considered the greatest scientist of his age, perhaps of all time. He is renowned for his theories of motion and gravitation, which he believed were fully consistent with biblical teachings,” Pollinger said in written comments.
“We could also point to the Bible inspiring Gutenberg who printed the Bible as his first major book, Desmond Tutu in his opposition to Apartheid in South Africa, Martin Luther King in mobilizing the civil rights movement in the U.S., Elie Wiesel arguing for hope after the atrocities of the Holocaust and St. Josephine Bakhita rescuing children in East Africa from sex trafficking,” Pollinger said.
Some seminary professors took to Twitter in response to GQ.
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) President Daniel Akin said the list of overrated classics “says more about GQ than the Word of God.”
Andreas Kostenberger, senior research professor of New Testament and biblical studies at SEBTS tweeted of GQ’s editors and contributors, “God, open their eyes!”
Relevant magazine echoed many of the criticisms voiced by others but added that GQ’s “hot take does have one line that totally hits the nail on the head: ‘The Holy Bible is rated very highly by all the people who supposedly live by it but who in actuality have not read it.’”
Relevant quoted LifeWay Research’s 2017 finding that “Americans have a positive view of the Bible,” but “more than half of Americans have read little or none” of it.
Still, according to a Facebook post by evangelist Franklin Graham, “The Bible is the best-selling and most widely distributed book in the world. Recent estimates put the number that have been distributed since 1815 at more than 5 billion copies – and over 100 million are printed every year.”
“There’s nothing more powerful, and there’s nothing more needed by mankind than the Word of God,” Graham said. “Maybe the GQ editors need to read it, again. The subject of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is Jesus Christ. And one day soon, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)