BEMA Podcast creator and author Marty Solomon
Marty Solomon shown teaching during one of his recent study tours in Israel
Marty Solomon interacts with attendees of his book signing gathering at The Book & Cover
photo by Paul Payne
Marty Solomon discusses his new book "Asking Better Questions of the Bible" at The Book & Cover
photo by Paul Payne
Marty Solomon's recently released book "Asking Better Questions of the Bible"
After being raised in a fundamentalist evangelical community in southern Idaho, Marty Solomon found his faith at a crossroads as a young, naïve pastor in his mid-20s.
So Mr. Solomon, who was in Chattanooga on Tuesday for an event at The Book & Cover bookstore promoting his recently released book, Asking Better Questions of the Bible: A Guide for the Wounded, Wary & Longing for More, began asking questions, believing there was more to the Bible than his upbringing and training had delivered up to that point. His unrest led him to various mentors and academic voices that enabled Mr. Solomon to begin to understand the Bible through the lens of a historical Jewish perspective.
This inspired a trip to Israel in 2008 with one of his mentors, Ray Vander Laan, a journey that radically changed the trajectory of his life and ministry. The historical writings of the Bible came to life for Mr. Solomon, recognizing that his calling as a pastor and teacher would be focused on the invitation to partner with God in pursuing the concept of shalom in our world today.
Mr. Solomon is the president of Impact Campus Ministries, a ministry focused on college students at 20 campuses across nine states. He is also the creator of the widely-popular BEMA Podcast, a walk-through guide of the Bible and its surrounding history which deconstructs common readings of the Bible and attempts to reconstruct them through historical context.
The BEMA podcast began in 2016 as a convenient platform for Mr. Solomon to get his weekly lessons to his students. But the popularity of the material produced by Mr. Solomon and his co-host, Brent Billings, has led to more than 10 million downloads of the material with an active audience of around 150,000 engaged listeners with a catalog of more than 300 episodes.
Mr. Solomon’s book is a scaled-down framework of the podcast in more concise form. The rough draft was actually written in Chattanooga in 2021 over the course of a week’s stay, and has now blossomed into what Mr. Solomon hopes is the first of several books.
“I never know how people view me,” Mr. Solomon said in a recent interview. “I’m just a normal dude and I’m not nearly at some weird celebrity status where I though my voice was book-worthy. I love books, books are amazing but I’m not important enough to write a book. That’s what I told myself. But I had someone approach me about writing a book, and I said ‘Let’s see where this goes.’ I wasn’t seeking this, but others told me I needed to have a book in the world.”
Mr. Solomon, who now resides in the suburbs of Cincinnati, Ohio, understood his own struggles with his faith were becoming prevalent in society. The work of the BEMA podcast and his book provide a breath of fresh air in contrasting the Western view of the Biblical versus the historical Jewish perspective of the original text.
“We were going through our own deconstruction back in the post-modern era around 2000,” Mr. Solomon said. “I was too prideful, too young, not comfortable enough with my questions at that point to admit that I had. I knew there was a whole wide world that I wanted to know everything about and I acted like I knew everything about and I didn’t know anything about.”
But when returning from his initial pilgrimage to Israel, Mr. Solomon recognized that he was indeed on the right track in unlocking the keys to his faith.
“I got into questions in the Western world, where it was like all those questions had validity,” Mr. Solomon said. “But then when stepped into the more Eastern Jewish world, I realized questions are what drive this whole thing. Not only are they valid, they’re literally where you start. Then those questions took on a completely different reference point of depth and this is where the journey begins. The first wave was validation, the second wave was realizing how essential they were to the world of the Bible in the first place. The Bible was begging me to ask those questions.”
Mr. Solomon’s book explains how the Western view tends to emphasize providing answers, a quest in proving the truth of the Bible. Embracing the Bible from the historical perspective was not only liberating, but it aroused an innate curiosity of the true meaning of the text.
“My parents gave me the Bible and Jesus at an early age, for which I am eternally grateful. But I was trained in youth group to be ready to give an explanation, to present the Gospel at any moment,” Mr. Solomon said. “Having answers, not questions. I can appreciate what drove that, but that is so unhelpful for speaking to people’s hearts. The very essence of what it means to be human, the deepest stuff that we wrestle with, you don’t address that with certainty. If there’s anything that post-modernity has taught us, it’s how little we actually know about material things that we think we should know.
“Let’s be more honest about the deepest things we wrestle with as human beings. It’s that authenticity where you actually love and affirm one another, that’s when people see God in us not because of our certainty. We have built an entire evangelical world around certainty because we were in a culture war, an intellectual war, a theological war and we’re going to win that by being right. The truth of the matter is that we really weren’t at war on any of those fronts.”
The subtitle of Mr. Solomon’s book points to helping the “wounded, the wary and longing for more”. He is hopeful the detours he encountered in his own spiritual journey will resonate with others experiencing similar disillusionment.
“I was the wounded. I was wary. The evangelical world I was trained in was not working, it was uncompelling,” Mr. Solomon said. “A healthy life of faith is evolving and learning. It sets us free to keep diving in and taking chances and learning new things and asking big questions.
“It’s about letting ourselves be changed and not being ashamed because I changed. I think we focus on the fact that if I change then it means I was wrong before. That’s what it means to be human. Celebrate the change. Don’t be ashamed of the previous lack of where you were. Celebrate the fact you are alive and growing and evolving. I hope I’m not the same person ten years from now. What a lousy waste of a decade if I’m still the same person. It’s a wonderfully freeing experience.”
With popularity of his podcast now available in a more digestible format, Mr. Solomon desires that his book will prompt others into a fresh examination of their own faith walk and eliminate much of the fear and guilt present in evangelical circles. The book was written for anyone, no matter their background or pedigree, who has a desire to know more about the Bible.
“The conversations we’re having about the Bible are boring,” Mr. Solomon said. “Does the Bible have nothing to say to all the things that matter to us and the things we’re going through with our children and grandchildren, the things that are happening all around us? Because those conversations are possible and we’ve lost any sense of imagination and I don’t mean subjective imagination, but objective imagination. We don’t need another book telling us how to do religion. We need to start having a different conversation. To me that sparked my questions and prompted me to write a book about questions, because it validates so much of what everyone else is going through.
“I’ve been frustrated by what we often do with the Bible, so my greatest hope is any resource I create is just a tool that helps people unlock better readings of the Bible. Anything that makes people say, ‘I didn’t think I love the Bible, but I love the Bible.’ If people ever feel that, that is what I live for. That is what God has made me to do.”
Those interested in ordering Mr. Solomon’s book, finding more information on The BEMA Podcast or participating in his tours to Israel and Turkey can go to www.martysolomon.com for more information.
Email Paul Payne at email@example.com