In Bad Faith, Tom Drake-Brockman focuses on the Jewish concept of hesed. He examines how this form of ethics—roughly translated as “loving compassion”—drove Jesus’ ministry and how its neglect by orthodox Christian leaders led to a “distortion of the spiritual humanist mission of Jesus Christ.”
In smart, well-articulated arguments, Drake-Brockman contends that the metaphysical Jesus of faith promulgated initially by St. Paul, distracted from Christ’s core teaching: to end the suffering of the poor, sick and lonely. Jesus wasn’t interested in being worshipped, the author contends; he sought to challenge “human evil and power structures” and asked us to do the same.
The Reformation perverted Christ’s humanist teachings, Drake-Brockman asserts. Martin Luther’s belief that faith should trump reason and good works ultimately led to injustice against the poor and Jews. Nazism, he writes, “found plenty of traction in Luther’s…anti-Semitic bigotry.”
Not all propagators of Jesus’ teachings missed the point, he adds. The author demonstrates how medieval Christian mystics, including Julian of Norwich and Hildegard of Bingen, whose beliefs and spiritual works stressed female equality, embraced Jesus’ understanding of hesed.
Drake-Brockman provides copious citations and examples to support his claims. His methodical examination of Pauline Christianity calls into question the work of such Bible scholars as Preston Sprinkle, which often ignores the importance of Christ’s social justice mission. The author logically carries his points step-by-step to the conclusion that Christianity must reform itself to combat the ills of our times.
Overall, Drake-Brockman illuminates how closely related Jesus’ teachings were to Jewish social justice teachings in first century Palestine. While there are writing missteps (misspellings, punctuation mistakes and unnecessary words) and most scholars would object to his idea that Jesus was familiar with the Jewish mysticism of Kabbalah (which developed more than a millennium after Jesus’ death), his arguments are provocative and generally well-grounded.
Readers of Bart Ehrman and those interested in the Jesus Seminar will find much to debate and discuss here.