SPRING HILL — The Rev. Robert Barnes hopes to use a monthly Bible study at Dayspring Church to reach out to men in the community and answer some moral questions they might have.
The study, titled "Sex and Violence in the Bible," will use materials developed by Ra McLaughlin of Third Millennium Ministries in Orlando. It will be from 7:30 to 9 p.m. on the third Wednesday of each month, and men of all ages — Christians and non-Christians — are invited.
"We'll discuss and reflect on the 'rated R' portions of the Bible that churches or Bible studies generally cannot address in mixed company," Barnes said. "We'll look at the story itself, its purpose in the overall narrative, how the original audience would have responded to it, and how we properly respond to it."
The course will address questions such as "Is all killing wrong?" "Is the death penalty taught in Scripture?" "Does the violent destruction of God's enemies portrayed in the Bible mean that Christians need to be more violent today?" "Is mixed martial arts morally allowed, or should blood sports be shunned by Christians?" "What does the Bible really say about homosexuality?" and "Are there instructions in the Bible about how a husband and a wife ought to behave in bed?"
Barnes, 45, said these questions are often "off limits" in churches.
"We either never address them, or when we do we edit out parts we don't believe should be there, with no sense of 'Hey, I wonder why God put this here in the first place? Well, never mind, we'll just edit it out.' So generations of people end up with a sense that the Bible was written by four spinsters having afternoon tea rather than by men with a very male sense of justice and honor," he said.
This is one reason some men don't attend church, Barnes reasons.
"Only 34 percent of men go to church regularly, compared to 45 percent of women," he said. "One reason is that pastors have feminized the Bible by preaching and teaching only on the parts that appeal to, and do not offend, women. This is why a seminar on how the Bible addresses sex and violence is needed."
While the course will not shy away from tough subjects, it will be respectful of men and women, Barnes said.
"It will not be intentionally bawdy," he said. "The Bible uses very colorful language at some points, and we'll try and put it in modern terminology without being course."
Barnes gave a sample of a typical class.
"We will not take a simple moralistic Sunday school treatment of David slaying Goliath. That is not the point of the story at all," he said. "We will look at how these stories actually were received by the original audience and used by other authors in Scripture and judge from that how they apply in our lives."
That treatment will cause men to look at their own hearts, Barnes said.
Barnes believes there is a need for men to participate in this type of study, where they can explore the Bible with other men.
"Men need to learn to not skip over certain parts of the Bible that they've never heard sermons on and to discover that God included frightening stories of war, fighting, rape, murder and suicide in the Bible for a purpose — so we would learn what the Bible actually teaches about these issues that plague us."
These are all issues people are confronted with on a regular basis, Barnes said.
"Yet to actually read the Bible stories about them is frowned upon, let alone preach on them," he said. "We hope to not only give a brief message, but teach these men the principles they need to recover the whole Bible for themselves, and for them to discover that it speaks directly to them and the modern world."
While women are not encouraged to attend, Barnes said the course will benefit them in another way.
"Women need their men and boys to have a safe place to talk about these topics," he said, noting that boys should be accompanied by a parent. "They need men and boys who know how to (have a) dialogue about these issues in an appropriate way. If you've been around many men and boys, you know they have no idea how to actually discuss sex and violence with proper vocabulary and principles so that they can come to some conclusions that will help them and their families."
With the help of the course, families will be able to better communicate with each other, Barnes said.
Barnes, who received the Gold Medallion Award from the Evangelical Christian Publishing Association in 2008 for his work as managing editor of Tyndale Publishing's Discover God Study Bible, has been the senior pastor at Dayspring, a member of the Presbyterian Church in America, since 2007. This will be the first time he has taught the class at the Spring Hill church.
"We have not done any of these studies in our church," Barnes said, "but in a previous church I served, this was the most popular Christian education class."