When God Abuses

images-2Does the Old Testament portray God as abusive?

In our Old Testament Theology class, we must give two presentations about the topics covered over a given week’s reading in our textbook, Walter Brueggemann’s Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony. Dispute. Advocacy. My first presentation was on the topic of Yahweh as hidden, abusive and inconsistent. The next week’s assignment was covering the topic of Yahweh as unresponsive, unreliable and unjust.

These are Brueggemann’s categories, and they end up being pretty redundant. The same verses used for describing Yahweh has hidden are equally applicable for describing him as unresponsive, and vice versa. Further, his hiddenness and unresponsiveness clearly make him unreliable, as does his inconsistency. In which case, Brueggemann could have saved a lot of space and simply focused on Yahweh as abusive, unreliable and unjust. But to the extent Yahweh is unreliable and unjust, doesn’t this also make him abusive?

I’d argue yes. In fact, I’d argue the primary counter-testimony of Israel in the Old Testament, whether the authors intended this or not, is that Yahweh is abusive. Abuse is God’s defining action in the texts that push back against the central portrayal of God as loving, just, merciful parent and partner.

There are a number of reasons why I argue this.

Continue reading When God Abuses

Telling God’s Story, Not the Old Testament’s

tgscoredropYou might recall that way back, at the beginning of this blog, I compared the Old Testament to an embarrassing family member for whom one must frequently apologize. While I don’t feel that’s the case anymore, there remains a problem: How to teach it to children.

My wife and I have gone around this issue a few times since we had our first daughter more than four years ago, and our struggles have led us to Peter Enns, a biblical scholar we both respect for his willingness to both love the Bible and present it as it was intended to be read – as opposed to how modern-day Christians might like it to be read.

The problem as I see it with presenting the Old Testament stories to children is three-fold:

Continue reading Telling God’s Story, Not the Old Testament’s

These Books Will Change Your Life! (Or, More Important, Your Faith)

Apologies once again for the light posting last week. The family was out of town, which meant late nights for me and the consequent late mornings, as well.

But last week also featured the semiannual – or a little more often – tradition for us grad schoolers: The Ordering of the Textbooks. I’m not sure if anyone else gets as excited as I do about ordering textbooks, but let’s just say it’s definitely a highlight in my year. “You mean I have to order these books about a subject in which I am intensely interested? Well, if you insist …”

I’ve now been in graduate school for a year. A lot has changed in those 12 months, and a lot of it has been because of the books assigned by my professors. Some of the best, most challenging, most worldview-changing have been: Continue reading These Books Will Change Your Life! (Or, More Important, Your Faith)

When Fear and Arrogance Never Meet

Peter Enns has been running a terrific series of guest posts by Carlos Bovell, author of the forthcoming Rehabilitating Inerrancy in a Culture of Fear.

In his first post, Bovell talks about a question he had as he was struggling with his own beliefs on the topic of biblical inerrancy:

Why do believers have to wait for people like [Bart] Ehrman to publish books before we find out about all these problems with scripture, problems that scholars have known about all along?

This has been one of my complaints, as well. Growing up, I heard nothing about the disputed authorship of the Pauline epistles, or the probability of 2 Isaiah, or the paucity of historical, scientific or archaeological evidence in support of pretty much any event described in the Bible before the reign of King David.

In fact, I was taught quite the opposite.

I’m not saying my Sunday school classes should have been a lesson in historical-critical scholarship, but if the curriculum at my Christian high school could take the time to argue apologetically for the historical accuracy of, say, the Genesis flood account, certainly it could have taken the time to present at least the other side of the story.

Continue reading When Fear and Arrogance Never Meet

Chaos, Creation and Midterms

Believe it or not, it’s the middle of the semester. That means midterm time, and on Thursday I turned in our take-home, open-book, open-notes midterm. The assignment essentially was to write an essay about what we’d learned in class and through our readings so far, but the prompt was more than a page long. Good times!

It occurred to me, however, that as a summary of what I’ve learned thus far, it might be worth posting here as a helpful summary of things we’ve discussed – and the things I’ve learned that I didn’t have the time or memory to post about. I’ve edited it a little, mostly to remove parenthetical citations, which are important to the professor but wouldn’t have much relevance to you without some sort of bibliography. Also, I added some links, where appropriate and some bolding for emphasis to make it easier to get through.

The prompt boils down to this basic assignment: A friend walks up to you and says, “Why should I study the Old Testament? I believe it’s the inspired word of God, and I know the stories we learn as kids, so why should I bother learning anything else?”

My answer:

Continue reading Chaos, Creation and Midterms

Friday Psalm: Declaring the Glory of God

Friday mornings are tough. It’s the day after class, the end of the week, and I’m usually faced with the prospect of a late night covering high school football. So usually I’m tired, and I don’t really feel like blogging.

Therefore, I’m going to try out my first semipermanent feature for all seven of you out there reading this: the Friday psalm.

One of our class requirements is a psalm prayer journal, in which we write about a psalm, assigned by the professor, every day for a week. With me doing my journal in the mornings and class on Thursday afternoons, that means Friday morning is the debut of a new psalm for the next week. Why not share it with you? Perhaps you’ll get something out of it, too.

This week’s psalm is Psalm 19.

I won’t post the whole thing (you can click the link above), but here is an excerpt I like:

1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
3 They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
4 Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.  Continue reading Friday Psalm: Declaring the Glory of God

Finding Refuge in the Pentateuch

A narrative of the Flood:

YHWH saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. So YHWH said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth – men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air – for I am grieved that I have made them. Seven days from now, I will send rain on the earth for 40 days and 40 nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.”

YHWH then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and two of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven pairs of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive on the earth.”

And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood. Pairs of clean and unclean animals, of birds and of all creatures that move along the ground, male and female, came to Noah and entered the ark, as YHWH had commanded Noah. And rain fell on the earth 40 days and 40 nights.

For 40 days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; men and animals and the creatures that moved along the ground and the birds of the air were wiped from the earth.

The rain stopped falling from the sky. The water receded steadily from the earth.

After 40 days, Noah opened a window he had made in the ark and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. But the dove could find no place to set its feet because there was water all over the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew the water had receded from the earth. He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.

Then Noah built an altar to YHWH and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. YHWH smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart, “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.”

Hmm. Seems like something is missing. Continue reading Finding Refuge in the Pentateuch