How do we reconcile the “violent” Old Testament God with Jesus?

The slaughter of the Canaanites is one of the most troubling passages in the Old Testament. Not only has it been used to justify colonialism and ethnic violence, it also seems to reveal a picture of God that appears at odds with Jesus’ portrayal of God in the New Testament.

How should we try to understand this apparent contradiction?

Branson Parler, writing for the Missioalliance blog, offers some good thoughts about this question and particularly the attempt to downplay or dismiss the accuracy of the Old Tesament portrait.

“One popular answer is that the conquest narratives record Israel’s projection onto God rather than God’s actual instructions to Israel. God is not really judging the inhabitants of Canaan with Israel as his instrument, its proponents say, Israel is simply rationalizing its own selfish drive to possess the land. In order to transcend Israel’s faulty and murderous self-justification, they then encourage us to read later texts, such as the Gospels, over against these problematic earlier texts. The more this interpretation prevails the more popular it has become to speak of “God’s violence” rather than “God’s justice” or “God’s judgment.” After all, if unseemly OT texts simply amount to human projections onto God, then we create “God” in our violent image rather than witness to a God who is just in all his ways…

Yet there is a fatal flaw with this interpretive approach. In the biblical narrative, the logic of conquest, exile, and cross are actually tied together. The way we approach one determines how we approach all three.

….If you think the conquest narratives are problematic, the exile narratives are more so. In terms of sheer volume, the Bible talks far more about God’s judgment on disobedient Israel through Assyria and Babylon than it does about God’s judgment on the Canaanites. In terms of judgment and terror, the narrative in Joshua is quite tame in comparison to the covenant curses of Deuteronomy 28, which promise Israel that the destruction of one’s family, land, and property will drive people mad, that the horror experienced by Israel will become a “byword among the nations,” and that parents will cannibalize their own children. As Jeremiah laments, “With their own hands, compassionate women have cooked their own children, who became their food when my people were destroyed” (Lamentations 4:10). If the idea that “God judges sinful people through a chosen instrument” is a projection, then no one is projecting more than the biblical prophets who warn God’s covenant people repeatedly to turn or suffer the consequences.”

Parler points out that explaining away the conquest passages also has implications for how we understand Jesus and his mission:

“…[I]f accounts of God’s judgment are mere projections, of course, then Jesus’s beliefs about the exile and his own role in bringing about the end of exile were wrong. … if Jesus’s account of Israel’s covenant and his role in relation to it was wrong, then Jesus doesn’t reveal Israel’s God. Far from it, he reveals his own confusion and ignorance by projecting onto God the idea that he had to die for the sins of his people (a confusion then perpetuated throughout the rest of the New Testament). And of course if Jesus was confused about what the Father wanted, then he was neither the Messiah nor the eternal Son. In other words, if you pay close attention to the biblical narrative, you cannot consistently interpret Joshua as a projection onto God and Jesus as the full revelation of God.”

But what about using these passages to justify violence today?

“Many people think that if one affirms that God commanded Israel to do what they did in Joshua, then it implies God’s stamp of approval on any and all actions of war (or at least just war). But this is not at all the case. I affirm God’s providential use of Assyria, Babylon, and Rome to judge, but that does not mean that the actions of the rulers or armies of those nations were morally good. For example, after Isaiah notes that God is going to use Assyria to judge, his application of the message is not “Go join the Assyrian army”; for they too will be judged in turn for their wickedness (Isa. 10). Likewise, when Jesus notes that Jerusalem will be judged, he doesn’t encourage his followers to defect to the Roman armies…

The point of all this is recognizing God’s proper place and authority to judge. God has the right to do this; we do not.”

He concludes,

“[H]ere’s the rub: the God created by those who insist on talking about divine “violence” is more a projection than the God attested to by Joshua, Jeremiah, and Jesus. A violent God rather than a just God is the product of the contemporary failure to read Scripture closely, faithfully, and directionally.”

Read the whole thing here. It’s a great post.

For more books on the topic of the Old Testament wars, check out Is God a Moral Monster? by Paul Copan, God Behaving Badly by David Lamb, The God I Don’t Understand by Chris Wright, and Holy War in the Bible edited by Heath A Thomas, Jeremy Evans, and Paul Copan.

Did the Christian Middle Ages Help or Hinder the Scientific Revolution?

James Hannam, in a guest post on the nature.com blog:

“Few topics are as open to misunderstanding as the relationship between faith and reason. The ongoing clash of creationism with evolution obscures the fact that Christianity has actually had a far more positive role to play in the history of science than commonly believed. Indeed, many of the alleged examples of religion holding back scientific progress turn out to be bogus. For instance, the Church has never taught that the Earth is flat and, in the Middle Ages, no one thought so anyway. Popes haven’t tried to ban zero, human dissection or lightening rods, let alone excommunicate Halley’s Comet. No one, I am pleased to say, was ever burnt at the stake for scientific ideas. Yet, all these stories are still regularly trotted out as examples of clerical intransigence in the face of scientific progress.

Admittedly, Galileo was put on trial for claiming it is a fact that the Earth goes around the sun, rather than just a hypothesis as the Catholic Church demanded. Still, historians have found that even his trial was as much a case of papal egotism as scientific conservatism. It hardly deserves to overshadow all the support that the Church has given to scientific investigation over the centuries.

That support took several forms. One was simply financial. Until the French Revolution, the Catholic Church was the leading sponsor of scientific research. Starting in the Middle Ages, it paid for priests, monks and friars to study at the universities. The church even insisted that science and mathematics should be a compulsory part of the syllabus. And after some debate, it accepted that Greek and Arabic natural philosophy were essential tools for defending the faith. By the seventeenth century, the Jesuit order had become the leading scientific organisation in Europe, publishing thousands of papers and spreading new discoveries around the world. The cathedrals themselves were designed to double up as astronomical observatories to allow ever more accurate determination of the calendar. And of course, modern genetics was founded by a future abbot growing peas in the monastic garden.

But religious support for science took deeper forms as well. It was only during the nineteenth century that science began to have any practical applications. Technology had ploughed its own furrow up until the 1830s when the German chemical industry started to employ their first PhDs. Before then, the only reason to study science was curiosity or religious piety. Christians believed that God created the universe and ordained the laws of nature. To study the natural world was to admire the work of God. This could be a religious duty and inspire science when there were few other reasons to bother with it. It was faith that led Copernicus to reject the ugly Ptolemaic universe; that drove Johannes Kepler to discover the constitution of the solar system; and that convinced James Clerk Maxwell he could reduce electromagnetism to a set of equations so elegant they take the breathe away.

Given that the Church has not been an enemy to science, it is less surprising to find that the era which was most dominated by Christian faith, the Middle Ages, was a time of innovation and progress. Inventions like the mechanical clock, glasses, printing and accountancy all burst onto the scene in the late medieval period. In the field of physics, scholars have now found medieval theories about accelerated motion, the rotation of the earth and inertia embedded in the works of Copernicus and Galileo. Even the so-called “dark ages” from 500AD to 1000AD were actually a time of advance after the trough that followed the fall of Rome. Agricultural productivity soared with the use of heavy ploughs, horse collars, crop rotation and watermills, leading to a rapid increase in population.”

Read the whole article.

For more about Christianity’s contribution to science, Hannam’s book The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution is available now.

HT: Wintery Knight

Does the Bible contain Errors? Steve Chalke and Andrew Wilson Discuss

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Recently, Steve Chalke has argued that the Evangelical community needs to face up to hard questions about the Bible. In a paper called ‘Restoring Confidence in the Bible’, Chalke suggests we need to rethink how we understand scripture and  move away from approaching it as ‘inerrant’ or ‘infallible’ and instead view it as a progressive ‘conversation’ with God that continues today.

He sat down with Andrew Wilson to discuss this and other issues in a series of debates hosted by Justin Brierley.

Watch the first discussion here.

An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design

Last year, Bradley Monton, a philosopher of science and an atheist, gave a lecture for the Reason and Science Society on the topic of Intelligent Design. In the lecture he considered the arguments for intelligent design and argued that intelligent design deserves serious consideration as a scientific theory. Monton also offered an account of the debate surrounding the inclusion of intelligent design in public schools and presented several reasons why students’ science education could benefit from a careful consideration of the arguments for and against it.

RSS have kindly made the video available (check out their YouTube channel for other videos and a few debates with  several of the Thinking Matters team). For more by Monton, check out his book on Amazon.

The Preconditions of Evangelism

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Our church is currently doing a class on evangelism and we recently worked through some of the things necessary to keep in mind when sharing our faith. It was a useful talk and especially relevant to what we do as apologists (maybe even more so).

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Outline

1. Love must be our primary motivator.

  • Remember that God is the Primary Evangelist and His motive is Love.
  • We have received His love and it should fill and direct us.
  • Love, care, and compassion should be our motivation to share the Gospel and explain Christianity to those who are perishing.

2. Remember our own need for the Gospel

3. We need to actually know and have confidence in the Gospel.

4. Remember that one size does not fit all.

Compare the way Jesus deals with people in John 3:1-15, John 4:7-26, and Mark 10:17-22. Compare the way Paul talks with others in Acts 13:13-42 with Acts 17:16-34.

5. Prayer is not important – it’s essential.

Since God is the real evangelist we must depend on him for every aspect of a person’s coming to know Him.

For other talks in the series go here.

Why doesn’t God just do whatever it takes to make people believe in him?

Here’s something I’ve heard many times, often called the problem of divine hiddenness, recently articulated to me by a Facebook friend:

It would seem that an all loving god would not make it so damn hard to understand and believe when it could be so easy to make somone believe by any number of means. In fact god would know exactly what it would take to make me or anyone believe. why not do that?

Like the question, “When did you stop doing drugs?” this is not the sort of question we should answer directly, because it makes several bad assumptions:

1. IT ASSUMES THAT BELIEF = FAITH

But James 2:19 says that even the demons believe. Imagine God provided special evidence to an atheist that compelled her to believe he was real. Would she love him as a result? Or would she maintain that even though she was certain he existed, Yahweh is a monstrous deity not worthy of worship? Most atheists—especially new atheists—would say the latter. So if God wanted them to have a loving trust in him (faith), it doesn’t seem like proving his existence would get the job done.

2. IT ASSUMES THAT GOD HAS NOT ALREADY GIVEN SUFFICIENT EVIDENCE

But as (1) suggests, the problem atheists have with God is not strictly evidential in the first place; it is relational. Which is why Romans 1:18ff notes that, far from not knowing the truth, all people naturally do know about God, since his existence is clearly perceived in creation—but they suppress it in unrighteousness. Now, atheists obviously won’t tend to admit this, even to themselves; just as I would not have when I was an atheist. But looking back on my attitude and beliefs during that time, it is very obvious to me now that I was deceiving myself, and that Romans 1 was exactly right. Indeed, the Bible’s ability to accurately expose the human heart was something that I found quite convincing when evaluating its claims. It has the ring of truth about it.

3. IT ASSUMES THERE IS SUCH A THING AS CONVINCING EVIDENCE TO AN ATHEIST

But if the Bible is correct that unbelievers suppress the truth in unrighteousness, then any evidence for God will be suppressed in the same way—reinterpreted, no matter how implausibly, to point away from God. In Luke 16:31, Jesus observes that, “If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if one rises from the dead.” I’d lay good money that if an atheist saw someone rise from the dead, she would look for a scientific explanation—and assume there was a scientific explanation regardless of her success—rather than believe it was a miracle. That being the case, what could God possibly do to convince her, when she will resolutely reinterpret any evidence to fit her godless worldview?

4. IT ASSUMES GOD WANTS EVERYONE TO BELIEVE IN HIM

But where is this taught in the Bible? Scripture is explicit that, because we are naturally enemies of God, none of us will ever love him without he himself taking the initiative and fixing this relational problem we have. It isn’t something we can do. Left to our own devices, we will always hate God. He must change our attitude; make us willing to see the obvious. That is what the phrase “born again” means—to have God replace our “hearts of stone” with “hearts of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).

This is why Yahweh has always chosen whom he will save, and left the rest. That is what Israel is a model of. God does not intend to save everyone. Rather, as Romans 9:16-18 puts it:

So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I caused you to be raised up, that I might show in you my power, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then, he has mercy on whom he desires, and he hardens whom he desires.

Cross-posted from my blog.

Edward Feser reviews A Universe From Nothing

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“The bulk of the book is devoted to exploring how the energy present in otherwise empty space, together with the laws of physics, might have given rise to the universe as it exists today. This is at first treated as if it were highly relevant to the question of how the universe might have come from nothing” until Krauss acknowledges toward the end of the book that energy, space, and the laws of physics don’t really count as “nothing” after all. Then it is proposed that the laws of physics alone might do the trick” though these too, as he implicitly allows, don’t really count as “nothing” either.

His final proposal is that “there may be no fundamental theory at all” but just layer upon layer of laws of physics, which we can probe until we get bored. But this is no explanation of the universe at all. In particular, it is nowhere close to what Krauss promised his reader” an explanation of how the universe arose from nothing ” since an endless series of “layers” of laws of physics is hardly “nothing.” His book is like a pamphlet titled How to Make a Million Dollars in One Week that turns out to be a counterfeiter’s manual.”

Read the whole thing here.

HT: Chris Reese

Sam Harris’ Moral Landscape, challenged

This is my response to the Moral Landscape Challenge, an essay competition with a 1,000-word limit.

Hey Sam; thanks for the opportunity to interact with your views. If I understand The Moral Landscape correctly, your central thesis is that moral truth exists and can be scientifically understood. This seems to cash out in two critical claims:

I. Moral goodness, broadly speaking, just is whatever supports or increases the well-being of conscious minds;
II. Science, in principle if not always in practice, can discover facts around, make predictions about, and ultimately guide the process of promoting this collective well-being.

I know you’ve already faced a lot of criticism about (I) in particular, so I hope I won’t be beating a dead horse. I’m going to assume (I) for the sake of argument and agree with you: a person who denies that morality is about promoting well-being simply isn’t making sense. I hope to persuade you that your own moral beliefs actually reveal the opposite: it is the person who thinks that morality is about promoting well-being who isn’t making sense.

Read more

Ravi Zacharias at UPenn Open Forum

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Ravi Zacharias recently spoke to students and faculty at the University of Pennsylvania. The topic of the forum was “Is Truth Real? A Conversation on Science, Ethics, and Philosophy”. Ravi was joined for the Q and A with Nabeel Qureshi.

Auckland Event: Discussing The God Delusion and Has Science Buried God?

Next month, a discussion group kicks off in Auckland to consider Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion and Has Science Buried God? by John Lennox. The group will meet on Monday evenings and include a mixture of discussion and clips from the debates between Lennox and Dawkins. Here are the full details:

Format: DVD screening interspersed with discussion.

When: 7.30pm Mondays (beginning on the 3rd of February).

Where: 15 Sainsbury Road, Morningside, Auckland.

Cost: Free (donations welcome).

For more details contact Gerald at gerald@gzv.co.nz or call him on 027 2468 218.