On hating the Sermon on the Mount

Beware the blogroll of the wise – it can lead you far away from where you thought you were going. Through one of the sites in my RSS feeds I stumbled across the blog of Andy Naselli, an Evangelical theologian in (where else?) the United States.

One of his top posts of 2012 was about the reaction of unreligious people to the Sermon on the Mount. He was prompted by a conference talk on Exodus 19 by Timothy Keller, a presbyterian pastor in Manhattan.

During his talk, Dr Keller repeated a story told by Virginia Stem-Owens in her article "God and Man at Texas A&M". In 1987 Stem-Owens was teaching a course on rhetoric at that university and assigned – from the textbook – the Sermon on the Mount in the Authorised Version, asking her students to respond to it. This is a transcription of Keller's remarks introducing the story.
You know nineteenth century liberal theology, and you know people say, would say "oh, the important thing is not what you believe about doctrine or dogma or anything like that. The important thing is that you just live like the Sermon on the Mount, because it's so beautiful: that's what a Christian ought to live like" – They clearly have never read it.* Because when [Stem-Owens'] students read it, this was a couple of things they said "I did not like the Sermon on the Mount, it made me feel like I had to be perfect, and no-one is". Here's another one that said "the things asked in this sermon are absurd, to look at a woman like that is adultery? to be angry and insult someone is like murder? these are the most extreme, stupid, unhuman statements I have ever heard.
*Msgr Knox said the same thing about people who claim to like The Imitation of Christ.

Stem-Owens said: "At this point I began to be encouraged. There is something exquisitely innocent about not realizing you shouldn’t call Jesus stupid."

Anyway, Naselli reproduces what I believe is the whole article by Stem-Owens. It is a good read.

I'll return to my usual diet of Popes, Monks and mocking the media soon.