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Pastor, Rabbi Team Up for Book Written in Blogosphere

A rabbi and Baptist pastor are collaborating on a book-in-progress exploring the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount being written in front of God and everybody.

Mike Smith, pastor of First Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and Rabbi Rami Shapiro, director of the One River Foundation, an educational institution promoting dialogue on matters including religion, launched the Mount and Mountain blog March 17.

An introductory post describes it as a “conversation” with a goal of turning the blog into a book. It invites readers to add comments, some of which will be incorporated as “sidebars.”

Smith and Shapiro worked together on a previous book, Let Us Break Bread Together: A Passover Haggadah for Christians, in 2005. They reflect on their experience in “Good Will for the Common Good: Nurturing Baptists’ Relationships with Jews,” an educational video produced by the Baptist Center for Ethics.

Smith came up with the idea for a book dealing with the Ten Commandments and Sermon on the Mount in a dialogue format allowing both authors to comment from the perspective of their respective faith traditions.

“I thought it would useful to present a particular Jewish rabbi’s take on the commandments and the sermon along a Christian pastor’s,” Smith said in an e-mail interview. “The dialogue format allows us to explore our different starting places, reach conclusions (whether similar, at odds, or simply different), and force each other to try to think more clearly. In the process we also hope to model at least one way in which Jews and Christians may engage in respectful yet honest conversation. In the end, the model may be more important than any given conclusion.”

Involving the general public by writing a first draft through a blog was Shapiro’s idea. “Our goal is simply to discover for ourselves what we have to say about these texts, what the texts have to say to us, and to have our ideas enriched by those of the other and by those who add comments to the blog,” Shapiro said in an e-mail to EthicsDaily.com. “We will need a good editor to massage all this into a coherent book, but I think it might prove viable.”

The authors staked out their starting positions March 17. “For me the Bible is a human document,” Shapiro began. “It is not so much God’s revelation to humanity, as humanity’s seeking out of God and godliness. Because the Bible is a human document it reflects the best and the worst of what we are capable. When it reflects the best, I believe the author is in touch with God and revealing godliness by speaking in what I call the Voice of Love. When it reflects the worst, I believe the author is out of touch with God, and speaking to the needs of ego in what I call the Voice of Fear.”

Smith said he views the Bible as a “human/divine book” and a tool that “must be interpreted and applied.”

“Personally, I attempt to interpret all of scripture in light of what we know of Jesus,” Smith continued. The Ten Commandments and Sermon on the Mount, he said, “are best seen as God’s vision for his people, individually and collectively.”

Twenty-two back-and-forth postings later and up to the Third Commandment, the duo were still getting along. “Just when I was hoping for a good ol’ knock-down drag-out fight, it turns out we agree again,” Shapiro quipped March 30. “Maybe we need to bring in a shill.”

Beyond entertainment value, Smith said he thinks writing the first draft in public may result in a better book. “Readers have the opportunity to raise questions, challenge our reasoning or conclusions, provide additional insights, point to other resources and the like,” he said. “In typical publishing, outside input is sought primarily after a first draft is written or even later in the process. We hope to get input much earlier and so have time to reflect upon and be affected by it.”

Shapiro and Smith’s previous book, a Passover “haggadah” (a prayer book used in the Seder ritual) written specifically for Christians is still in print and used in churches and other organizations.

Smith said reaction to the first book on the whole has been positive. “Some commentators felt uncomfortable with the project,” he said, “most often because they feared it representative of a larger challenge in American religious culture: assimilation of Jews into Christian culture.”

Shapiro explained his reason for doing the book in 2005. Churches are going to hold Seder services anyway, he said. “I’d rather they do it properly.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.