Monday, February 4, 2013

Should We Challenge the Values, Ethics, or Portrayals of God in Scripture

A professor at Messiah College recently said:
"When the Church grandly proclaims the Bible to be the Word of God, it gives the impression that the words of Scripture are above critique and beyond reproach. We are taught to read, revere, and embrace the Bible. We are not taught to challenge its values, ethics, or portrayals of God."

I discovered this quote here: An excellent initial rebuttal by Dr. Owen Strachan, Professor SBTS and Christian rapper.

Here’s something about the author of the quote above: Dr. Eric Seibert, Professor of Old Testament, Messiah College. Much of Seibert’s work is centered on addressing the problematic portrayals of God in the Old Testament, especially his violence. He is the author of Disturbing Divine Behavior: Troubling Old Testament Images of God (Fortress 2009) and The Violence of Scripture: Overcoming the Old Testament’s Troubling Legacy (Fortress 2012). Seibert is also a licensed minister in the Brethren in Christ Church and the Director of the Peace and Conflict Studies Initiative at Messiah College. He is currently working on his third book, Disarming the Church: Why Christians Must Forsake Violence to Follow Jesus (Cascade).

OK, here’s the deal. As the reviewer in the link at wordpress (just above) points out, there’s a difference between a friendly discussion at Starbucks and keeping a wolf out of your sheep. Dr. Seibert obviously has a problem with God Almighty and has taken it upon himself to de-violence God, and perhaps even to emasculate Him; and, to do so in addressing the church. In other words he is a wolf among the sheep.
But let me talk to you as if across the coffee table. (Laying down the gun I would use on the wolf, and I’m sure Dr. Seibert would not approve of that imagery.) Does the Bible have Sin in it? Certainly! Is God ever the author of sin, as in its originator? No. Does God act Sovereignly to affect people in such a way that their sin becomes greater? Yes. Take Pharaoh for example, God hardened His heart. But that is a far cry from what Dr. Seibert is saying. And I point this out because he is not alone!

Dr, Seibert said, “the Church … gives the impression that the words of Scripture are above critique and beyond reproach.” Well, yes, and it should. The words are above reproach. That doesn't mean we are to emulate everyone in scripture. We should not brag like Joseph, lust like David, or deny Christ like Peter. We are not to use violence to advance our own ends. But then we are not the nation of Israel, executing God's judgment on groups of people who had taken the land that God promised Abraham. The USA is not Israel. I’m not even positive that modern day Israel is the same Israel of the Bible. (But I would err on the side of caution and not stand against modern day Israel either.)

But that’s not what Dr. Seibert said; he said we are too use human judgment to critique the Word of God, and that we should bring reproach upon it. That’s something else altogether!
He also says, “We are not taught to challenge its values, ethics, or portrayals of God." Implying, I believe, that we should do so!

I believe we are called to study and understand it’s portrayals of God. Sometimes those portrayals are conditioned toward human understanding and attribute to God certain emotions that in humans would be borderline, if not fully, sinful or at least human-centered. Emotions like jealousy, anger, shock, and revenge come to mind. But to understand God is to see these played out in a divine and holy way. No one else has the right to be jealous except God the creator and deliverer. God is wrathful God and He has the right to be because He is also the God of perfect love. Not knowing Love like He does keeps me from fully understanding His wrath and anger.

I also want to say there is room in the Christian life for a discussion on the role of violence and whether Christian passivity in the face of violence is always right. While I believe in the concept of a “just war” I’m not sure I’ve seen one in my life time. Maybe so, maybe not. But I do not believe the OT passages that Seibert has trouble with teach me to go to war, or use violence, especially at the drop of a hat. What we need is responsible teaching and understanding of scripture not his way of dealing with it.

There are difficult to understand passages in the Bible. I do not find the bloody wars of Israel to be joyful portrayals except to note when the shackles of oppression are thrown off. I do not rejoice in the doctrine of Hell. Which is more fully developed by Christ Himself that any OT prophet. But I know this. His ways are higher than mine. His thoughts are higher than mine. His love and holiness and vengeance and wrath are greater than mine and I trust Him.