Wedding Photography, Sacrifice, and the ‘Price’ of Citizenship (CaPC)

“The Huguenins are free to think, to say, to believe, as they wish; they may pray to the God of their choice and follow those commandments in their personal lives wherever they lead. The Constitution protects the Huguenins in that respect and much more. But there is a price, one that we all have to pay somewhere in our civic life.

In the smaller, more focused world of the marketplace, of commerce, of public accommodation, the Huguenins have to channel their conduct, not their beliefs, so as to leave space for other Americans who believe something different. That compromise is part of the glue that holds us together as a nation, the tolerance that lubricates the varied moving parts of us as a people. That sense of respect we owe others, whether or not we believe as they do, illuminates this country, setting it apart from the discord that afflicts much of the rest of the world. In short, I would say to the Huguenins, with the utmost respect: it is the price of citizenship.”

– Justice Richard Bosson

photographySuch was the concurring opinion in the New Mexico Supreme Court’s recent decision to deny wedding photographers the right to refuse to photograph same-sex commitment ceremonies out of religious conscience. In a closely-watched case, the justices unanimously decided that Elane Photography had violated the recent New Mexico Human Rights Act (NMHRA) by not photographing same-sex commitment ceremonies.

Elaine Huguenin had a policy of photographing same-sex clients, but not same-sex ceremonies, as that would render her a celebrant and constitute an endorsement of the practice in violation of her conscience. The main decision rejected the distinction between action and identity in this case because marriage is so closely tied to sexual identity. According to the Justices, refusing to photograph a ceremony would go against the core point of the NMHRA. By refusing to photograph such ceremonies, in the court’s opinion, it “violated the NMHRA in the same way as if it had refused to photograph a wedding between people of different races.”

I won’t offer much comment on the legal coherence of majority decision. Others already have more ably than I could. Nor do I want to spend time talking about the nature of ‘equality‘, or whether ‘gay is the new black‘, or deal with the trope that this is the same thing as the Civil Rights battle.

But Justice Bosson’s concurring decision? Well, that’s something worth a few comments.

You can read them over at Christ and Pop Culture.

 

Tim Keller on Judges and OT Violence

KellerLast week I wrote a post engaging with Brian Zahnd on the issue of the authority and inspiration of the Old Testament. In dealing with the issue of the conquest narratives in Joshua and other places, a lot of people have trouble dealing with the apparent tension of the grace, love, peacableness, and forgiveness found in the New Testament with God’s commands to judge and destroy the Canaanites in the Old. Some will quickly move to justify the texts, not dealing with the understandably troubling nature of the narratives, while others will simply write them off as remnants of a more savage time to be left behind now that we have Jesus.

Well, the question came up again this week in Matt Smethurst’s interview article (and by the way, he does great interviews) over at the Gospel Coalition with Tim Keller on why Keller had written a study guide to the book of Judges:

Smethurst: The Israelite conquest of Canaan appears to give warrant for imperialism, holy war, and genocide. How can enlightened modern people take a book like Judges seriously?

Keller: Yes, in teaching the book of Judges you simply have to deal with this issue—you can’t ignore it. And in this brief space I can’t even list the issues and the various objections and answers. Maybe the most fundamental thing to say is that if you believe the rest of what the whole Bible teaches—that there’s only one true God, that for a period of time he spoke directly to Israel through prophets and through the Urim and Thummim in the priest’s breastplate, but that now, since Christ, he speaks to us through his inscripturated Word—then the conquest of Canaan makes sense.

Why? First, God alone has the right to judge people—only he knows what they deserve and what they will do if not stopped. He alone has the right to take a life. Second, in “holy war” Israel did not seek to imperialistically expand its wealth and power but acted as an instrument of God’s judgment on a particular set of people. Third, if you believe in the authority of the Bible as the only infallible way to know God’s will for us—then holy war today is impossible. God gives no warrant for it. That’s what we see when reading the Bible is read as a whole, with the New Testament completing and fulfilling the Old. Jesus specifically forbids Christians to take up the sword in his name, to spread the Christian faith by force. In short, if you believe the rest of the things the Bible teaches, the period of holy war makes sense. Holy war is not, therefore, a reason to reject what the rest of the Bible says about God.

Note very clearly, Keller says that there are more concerns and more objections to be dealt with. Away with any suggestion that Keller deliberately ignored a host of problems. What he does do is raise three that help to address the charge that the OT narratives are indefensible and encourage violence.

  • God is the final, trustworthy judge.
  • Holy war served a limited, focused purpose in God’s economy: the judgment of people with whom he had been patient for hundreds of years.
  • The narrative logic of the whole of Scripture forbids violence to Christians for spreading the faith.

That last one deserves a bit more comment. Often-times you’ll see a biblical critic point to a particular text and say, “See, there, that story encourage X behavior (misogyny, violence, ecological carelessness, etc.). We can’t trust it and must move past it.” Or, they’ll simply use it as evidence that the Bible as a whole is flawed. The problem here is, yes, a problematic text, but even more, the fact that atomistic readings can distort the shape of any kind of text. This is one more example of why historical, narrative, and canonical context matters. You don’t know the meaning of any story, or really, any scene in a story, until you’ve reached the end.

And what do we see in the book of Judges when we reach the end of story, the full story that finds its climax in Jesus Christ? Keller says we can’t help but see Jesus:

He’s the ultimate judge—the perfect and unflawed Gideon and Samson. He is the ultimate king we don’t yet have but whom we need. Even at the terrible end of Judges, where a man gives up his spouse to death to save his own skin, we can’t help but think of Jesus our true husband who gives himself up to death in order to save us. Jesus in Judges, as usual, is everywhere.

This is why we need to be careful when dealing with the OT. If you simply rush to judgment, writing things off quickly because of a contextless, atomistic, moralistic reading, you might miss Jesus in the middle of it.

Soli Deo Gloria

P.S. I’d commend the whole interview to you here. Also, again, I’d commend this article by Paul Copan dealing with historical issue with the Canaanite conquest and OT violence.

Speech-Acts and the Peace of Jesus

Jesus talkingOne of the most interesting and useful concepts I picked up in my philosophy undergrad is the idea of a ‘speech-act.’ Speech-act philosophy takes as its basic insight that language isn’t just about representing thoughts, or making simple statements of fact, but that, we actually do things with our words. There are words that we say in order to accomplish or bring about a new state of affairs. There are innumerable examples of this sort of thing (promising, lying, etc.) and all sorts of distinctions that philosophers can, and have made, but we see the basic point that, some words can be more efficacious than others.

The classic example of this is the minister’s words in a wedding. ‘I now pronounce you man and wife’ doesn’t just state the fact, but actually creates the fact. Before that statement, the two are merely engaged, but after that, they are married.

Now, of course, theologians have taken this and done all sorts of things with this over the years. For instance, we can see that a number of very important theological concepts can be understood and refined with the concept of speech-acts. When God justifies us, he is making a strongly declarative statement that, not only asserts that we are just and righteous in God’s sight, but in fact, actually brings about that situation. Or, again, God’s pronouncement of forgiveness is a constitutive speech-act. God saying ‘I forgive you’ creates the situation in which you are a forgiven person. Actually, push back farther and you’ll realize that we’re dealing with a God who speaks the world into existence (‘let there be light…’ Gen. 1). Kevin Vanhoozer and Nicholas Wolsterstorff have done extensive work with this, but, it’s safe to say it’s a fairly common concept in Biblical interpretation nowadays.

Why bring all this up? Well, the idea of speech-acts came to mind as I was going through my recent study in John’s Farewell Discourses in Calvin’s commentaries. Commenting on Jesus’ words “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27), Calvin says:

By the word ‘peace’ he means prosperity, which men are wont =to wish for each other when they meet or part; for such is the import of the word peace in the Hebrew language. He therefore alludes to the ordinary custom of his nation; as if he had said, ‘I give you my Farewell.’ But he immediately adds, that this peace is of far greater value than that which is usually to be found among men, who generally have the word peace but coldly in their mouth, by way of ceremony, or, if they sincerely wish peace for any one, yet cannot actually bestow it. But Christ reminds them that his peace does not consist in an empty and unavailing wish, but is accompanied by the effect. In short, he says that he goes away from them in body, but that his peace remains with the disciples; that is, that they will be always happy through his blessing.

Commentary on John 14:27

…his peace does not consist in an empty and unavailing wish, but is accompanied by the effect.” Calvin reminds us that when Jesus speaks ‘peace’ to us, he’s an effective speaker. When we wish each other peace, if we actually mean it, it’s just that–a wish. We’re not in a place to grant our own wishes. When Jesus speaks peace, he’s an authoritative speaker who can actually bring that peace into our lives–in fact, by speaking it, he brings it. He can do this because, as Paul says elsewhere, Jesus is, in himself, our peace (Eph. 2:14).  He is the one who brought about the reconciliation that is the foundation of peace in his cross and resurrection in our place, so that, united to him by faith, we have the peace that he himself is (Col 1:20-22).

In other words, when Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”, he wasn’t just blowing smoke.

Soli Deo Gloria 

Either Way You’re Gonna Get Cut

vine“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” -John 15:1-2

Jesus tells us here that, whether you bear fruit or you don’t bear fruit, either way, you’re gonna get cut. “Come again?” If you’re someone just sitting in church, hearing the Gospel but not responding, not growing, not developing the faith and showing no signs of spiritual life you’re going to be cut by the Lord. AND, if you’re someone who has responded in faith, is growing, developing, deepening in your love by the Spirit’s power, and showing the good fruit of good works, you’re going to be cut by the Lord. This is straight from Jesus’ mouth.

The Gardener, The Vine, and the vines
But why? Because God is a Gardener, the Great Vine-dresser attending to the health and growth of the Church which draws its life from the Son, the True Vine. To get where this is going, you have to understand the image of the vine. The image Jesus uses here is one drawn from the OT. Israel is often compared to a vine that gives or does not give the fruit of true obedience. Here, Jesus tells us that he is the True Vine, the one that Israel was always supposed to be. He will do all that Israel should have done and be all that Israel should have been.

Now, building on that, he compares as branches that have been grafted onto a good vine. As Calvin reminds us, Jesus is using this image to tell us “that the vital sap — that is, all life and strength  — proceeds from himself alone. Hence it follows, that the nature of man is unfruitful and destitute of everything good; because no man has the nature of a vine, till he be implanted in him.” (Commentary on John 15:1)  On our own, we can do some relatively (outwardly) good things, yes, but to work truly spiritual works, those that are pleasing to the Father, producing true fruit, we need to be dependently drawing on the grace of the Son. In other words, the goodness of the Messiah only flows to us as we’ve been made a part of his people, being united by faith with Christ.

Here’s the thing, when you’ve been around long enough, you start to see that there two kinds of branches appearing to be connected to the vine. There are some branches that bear fruit and some that apparently have only been outwardly grafted on. Some people have joined up with the Messiah outwardly, but never started to draw life from him. Instead, at best they’re harmlessly taking up space on the branch, or at worst, they’re impeding the growth of the other branches. Others have taken hold of Christ by faith, or rather been grasped by Christ, and they’ve begun to take on the character of the original vine and are producing real fruit.

Thing is, as a good gardener, God cuts both. The dead branches get cut to clear them away for the health of the whole. If it’s not growing and giving off fruit, it’s dead wood.  The live vines he prunes so that they might give more fruit.

The Cutting Tool
Now, the interesting thing is that he uses the same tool to do it: adversity. It doesn’t say this explicitly in the text, but I think it’s a legitimate inference from the surrounding context. Jesus is preparing his disciples to deal with his absence. He talks to them about the comfort of the Holy Spirit, their need to remain in him, the opposition they’re going to face in life because of his name, and so forth. One of the main themes of the Farewell Discourses (John 14-17), is comfort in the face of adversity.

Adversity will often-times reveal the character of our faith; is it merely superficial, that of dead branches, or deep and true, one that draws life from the vine? How do we react when the bills start stacking up? Or marriage stresses? Or a difficult semester? Maybe a break-up? Divorce? Death? An unruly child? A church community divided against itself? Hostility from co-workers? Unrelenting health issues? I could go on for pages here, but you all know the adversity that life brings–the cuts.

And the cuts reveal the character. So, when adversity hits, do we get bitter, or cling harder? Do we shake our fist up at God for “failing” to give us what he never promised, or dig deeper into the gospel-blessings that he has provided for us in Christ? Do we feel robbed by God, or held by God? Does our faith deepen and grow, or die and grow cold? Do we strive for greater obedience and hope, or plunge ourselves into rebellious apathy? Will the cut lead to death, or deeper life? The same cut, the same adversity reveals the nature of the branch.

Believers need to know that Jesus never promises protection from the ordinary troubles of life, or the particular problems that attend with following him in the world. They need to understand that, so when the Gardener’s pruning tools go to work they accept it as the perfecting work of God in their life, instead of his careless abandonment. Again, either way, you’re gonna get cut–but for the person who has truly been in-grafted, they can know that the cuts come from the good hand of the master Vine-dresser whose aim is to cut away the dead parts of your life. We need those cuts so that the new, true life of Christ can flow more freely and result in even great fruits of righteousness and life. Trust the Gardener when the cut comes and remain in the Vine.

Soli Deo Gloria

Jesus Wasn’t a Stoic (Or, the Difference Between Socrates and Christ)

spok

Spock, the perfect Stoic. Kinda, not really.

It’s often remarked that the Christian moral ethic we see in the New Testament and the Fathers shares a great deal of similarities with Ancient Greco-Roman philosophies on offer at the time such as Platonism, and especially Stoicism. And it’s true, that superficially, there are. I remember in one early medieval philosophy class, reading Augustine’s comments on how much closer to Christianity the Stoics were as opposed to the Epicureans, who were universally condemned by the Fathers, (and, well, anybody not Epicurean).

That said, while many of the moral precepts are shared across the two systems, Christianity and Stoicism, their moral grounding, or logic, are structurally in different universes. Charles Taylor highlights this difference with respect to “affirmation of ordinary life” and the two systems’ “asceticism” or ethics of self-denial:

Christianity, particularly in its more ascetic variants, appears a continunation of Stoicism by other means, or (as Nietzsche sometimes says) a prolongation of Platonism. But for all the strong resemblances to Stoicism–for instance, its universalism, its notion of providence, its exalting of self-abnegation–there is a great gulf. In fact, the meaning of self-abnegation is radically different. The Stoic sage is willing to give up some “preferred” thing, e.g. health, freedom, or life, because he sees it genuinely as without value since only the whole order of events which, as it happens, includes its negation or loss, is of value.  The Christian martyr, in giving up health, freedom, or life, doesn’t declare them to be of no value. On the contrary, the act would lose its sense if they were not of great worth. To say that greater love hath no man than this, that a man give up his life for his friends, implies that life is a great good. The sentence would loses its point in reference to someone who renounced life from a sense of disenchantment; it presupposes he’s giving up something.

Central to the Judaeo-Christian notion of martyrdom is that one gives up a good in order to follow God. What God is engaged in is the hallowing of life. God first called Israel to be a “holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). But the hallowing of life is not antithetical to its fulness. On the contrary. Hence the powerful sense of loss at the heart of martyrdom. It only becomes necessary because of sin and disorder in the world…to turn to the paradigm Christian case, that Christ’s teaching led to his crucifixion was a consequence of evil in the world, of he darkness not comprehending the light. In the restored order that God is conferring, good doesn’t need to be sacrificed for good. The eschatological promise of Judaism and Christianity is that God will restore the integrity of the good.

This is, of course, what makes the death story of Jesus so different from that of Socrates, however much they have been put in parallel. Socrates tries to prove to his friends that he is losing nothing of value, that he is gaining a great good. In his last request to Crito, to pay his debt of a cock to Asclepius, he seems to imply that life is an illness of which death is the cure (Asclepius being the god of healing whom one rewards for cures.) Socrates is serenely troubled. Jesus suffers agony of soul in the garden, and is driven to despair on the cross, when he cries, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” At no point in the Passion is he serene and untroubled.

-Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity, pp. 218-219

In Christianity, the world is good and so are the world’s goods. God made them and to suffer their loss is true suffering. While there is evil in it, and the satan works corruption throughout it, creation is still of inestimable value.  And so, self-denial, when it involves something other than sin, is not a denial of the goodness of those things we give up.

This is why Jesus was not a Stoic. When he gave up his life for us on the Cross, he was truly giving something up–it was a real sacrifice. This was no mere, cost-less martyrdom for the truth, but a painful, arduous self-giving for our sakes. In giving his life, he was affirming the value of life and working to restore it to its intended glory. But, of course, this leads us to the truth of the Resurrection. Christ’s sacrifices of the good for us was total, but not final. It was not an end in and of itself, but a means to a greater end–the redemption of creation.

The same is true for us at a microcosmic level. We sacrifice all things, excepting sin, with a knowledge that, while a real loss, all that was good about it will be received from God’s hand once again: “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.”(Matthew 19:29) That actually puts Christians in the ironic position of being able to more readily sacrifice natural goods–for others, for righteousness sake, etc.–while still appreciating them in a way that a Stoic never could. We should enjoy them with great joy while we have them, grieve them when lost, joyfully anticipate their restoration in the glory to come.

All that to say, Jesus wasn’t a Stoic–neither are his followers.

Soli Deo Gloria

Should Pastors (or any of us) Read the Word on an iPad? (CaPC)

bible ipad

I have a Bible app on my phone and I love it. I usually use it in the morning to listen to my daily readings as I putter around making coffee and becoming human again. I’ve sat down with a number of my students and helped them download that same app in order to show them how easy it is to read a chapter a day instead of spending those 5 minutes checking some inane Reddit thread that, like sugar with teeth, will eventually rot their souls. (I might have to pay for that one later.)

That said, there are some real misgivings about the way the tech format can shape the way we encounter the Word. Over at the Gospel Coalition Matthew Barrett raises some good questions about  pastors using tech in the pulpit in his thoughtful article “Dear Pastor, Bring Your Bible to Church.”

You can read my summary and response over at Christ and Pop Culture.

The Cure that Killed the Patient (Or, Sorry Zahnd, Marcionism isn’t a Better Option)

tumblr_mr9zzaTmj01rj8v6zo1_400A while back John Piper put out a video that defended God’s right to judge the Canaanites by the hand of the Israelites in the conquest narratives of the OT. He said something along the lines of “God is God, he made you and doesn’t owe you jack, so if he takes your life, you really have nothing to complain about. Also, God can use whom he pleases to do so.” Roughly.

Predictably, some people got mad. I mean, I get that. It’s a tough subject and any answer is going to be kind of awkward (although, honestly, at this point Piper could say that God loves kittens and somebody would snark, “But only elect ones, right?”). Beyond just general Facebook furor when it hit, it recently provoked a frontal-assault/response from author and pastor Brian Zahnd. For those who don’t know, Zahnd has been a rising voice on the Evangelical/Post-Evangelical Left since his book “Beauty Will Save the World” came out last year. I actually read it and loved it, even if I did have some qualms about the pacifism peeking out here and there.

Well, pacifist though he may be, Zahnd came out guns blazing with accusations of voluntarism against the monstrous God of Calvinism, and, just the slightest bit of Muslim-baiting in his provocatively titled, “John Piper and Allahu Akbar.” As you might have picked up, I didn’t love this post quite as much as the book and I’ll get to why in a minute. But first, a few quick caveats.

To be clear, I don’t particularly care to defend Piper’s views here as he is a big boy who can defend himself. Nor is this is denial that the OT narratives involving the conquest and destruction of the Canaanites require some serious consideration. They do. Actually, while we’re on the subject, I’d commend Paul Copan’s work on the subject in the book “Is God a Moral Monster?” or this summary article paying attention to historical, genre, and canonical considerations here. Finally, I too am very concerned about the misuse of Scripture to promote violence.

What I do want is to look at is Zahnd’s reponse, which, to mind, left something to be desired in terms of theological honesty as well as, well, ‘soundness of teaching’? (I don’t want to say orthodoxy, given his clear, robust Nicene and Chalcedonian faith.) Yes, I’m putting on my argumentative Reformed hat again, which I do try to stay away from, but, in all fairness, Zahnd shot first.

Well, without further ado, here are a few points in no particular order.

Yeah, never taught that.

Yeah, never taught that.

Calvin’s “Ism”

Zahnd found a cute short-hand for Piper’s theology of sovereignty, or rather, that of “Calvin’s disciples”, which he dubbed “Calvin’s Ism.” He then proceeded to rail on it, lamenting the way Piper and others would go to such great lengths to defend the “Ism” to the point of creating a monstrous voluntaristic/nominalist God whose will is what it is, simply because it is, and so forth. Don’t you know that we should look at Jesus, not what Calvin thought about Jesus?! Away with such Greek-philosophy-influenced, metaphysical barbarisms!

scumbag girardIt’s typical anti-Calvinist boilerplate that fires up the troops and so forth, so I get it. As one of “Calvin’s Disciples” though, I simply wanted to stop and point out that, as a matter of historical fact, Calvin strongly repudiated the overly-voluntaristic and nominalist tradition popular in his day at the Sorbonne flowing from theological giants like Scotus and Ockham. (Incidentally, I always find it funny when guys who basically riff off of French social theorists like Rene Girard’s scapegoating theory when it comes to the Gospel, have the gall to call out “Greek philosophical categories” in more traditional theology.)

Calvin explicitly rejected a view of God’s unrestrained will, or absolute power, divorced from God’s justice or God’s goodness. While he unabashedly defends God’s complete sovereignty over human history, he simultaneously condemns “that absolute will of which the Sophists babble, by an impious and profane distinction separating his justice from his power.” (Institutes 1.17.2) That’s just one among many examples.

Again, it’s a fun phrase, and when you’re driving the punch-line home, why not pick a baddie to rip on your fanbase already doesn’t like? Calvin’s perfect for that, especially since most people haven’t actually read him much. But, in this case, Zahnd should probably find another whipping boy to pin the voluntarism charge on.

Killing is Not Always Murder

Moving more to the point, Zahnd tells us that God could never have ordered the conquest and judgment of the Canaanites in the way the narratives portray it because that would involve killing which is murder and God would never order murder.

So for some this next point might seem basic: while all murder is killing, not all killing is murder. For others, this is a basic false distinction that they rejected as un-biblical a long time ago.

I’ll just say that a prima facie reading of the Scriptures, especially the OT legal code (Exod. 21), shows that while God hates human death, the law that he handed down seemed to recognize a distinction between killing and murder. Actually, very early on in the narrative of the Torah, we find out that the reason he allows for some killing is precisely because he hates murder (Gen. 9:6). Murder is unjustifiable, but executions and judgments seemed to be accounted for and even commanded by God himself in various places in the OT law and the subsequent narrative. Of course, that raises the issue of the reliability of the OT on this point.

Which brings us to the really big issue with Zahnd’s post.

Marcionism isn’t a Better Option 

See, Zahnd says we shouldn’t let something like the Old Testament slow us down when we’re thinking about these things:

And don’t let the Old Testament work you into a corner. You don’t need to defend the Old Testament to the extent that you find it necessary to justify genocide. God forbid! We can simply say this…

The Old Testament is the inspired telling of the story of Israel coming to know their God. Along the way assumptions were made and they didn’t get everything right. Keep reading the Bible until you come to Jesus and then center your reading of all Scripture in the light of Christ.

This is a perfect example of what Andrew Wilson has called the “New Marcionism“, which, while not explicitly repudiating the OT the way Marcion did, insists on seeing such a radical discontinuity between the God we see testified to in the OT and that of the NT that it has much the same effect.

Let me unsympathetically paraphrase Zahnd for you to see the problem: “The ancient Israelites who wrote the Holy Scriptures got some stuff wrong, but we know better now that Jesus came. We know that Jesus would never order something like that, so we know that God didn’t order something like that, so just don’t trouble yourself about it. The verses are just wrong. I mean, sure, Jesus said that the Scriptures all pointed to him (John 5:39), and the law is to be perfectly fulfilled (Matt. 5), and we can assume he read those parts, but he couldn’t possibly have meant all of it. Sure we have parallels in the NT with Revelation and God raining down judgment, etc. not to mention Jesus himself casting down judgment of his own, but again, don’t let that trouble you. Nevermind the deeply pervasive theology of God the Warrior who goes before Israel in battle that informs much of the OT, and depends on some of those “mistaken assumptions”–just try and skip those bits. I mean don’t worry that this even figures into Luke’s telling of Acts as a conquest narrative. Just squint until you see it properly. God wouldn’t do anything like that. I mean, don’t bother trying understand the difference between God’s administration of covenant justice in Israel v. the Church because of Christ’s ushering in a new phase in redemptive-history. It’s not that the same God can manifest his eternally good and beautiful character in consistent, but historically-distinct ways. We have the much easier option of saying the Israelites just got it wrong. Simple as that. Don’t worry about what that does to undermine the authority of the OT and its ability to actually point to Jesus Christ. Please don’t trouble yourself with the way this sort of crypto-Marcionism might spill into the subtle anti-Semitism of viewing the Old Testament as an inherently inferior text like the old-school German Liberal scholars who made this sort of argument popular back in the early part of the 20th Century. I mean, no big deal.”

In a dispute with the Pharisees in John 10:35, Jesus tells us that the scriptures cannot be “broken.” The Greek word there is luo which can be translated “to destroy, to tear down, the break to pieces” (Louw-Nida 20:35).  Essentially, it can’t be ignored, released, explained away, or rendered null or void. Except, that’s exactly what Zahnd suggests we do with those uncomfortable bits.

On ‘Christocentric’ Readings (Or, The Cure that Killed the Patient)  

Here’s the thing, when your “Christocentric” reading of the Scriptures leads you to ignore or deny parts of Scriptures the way Christ says shouldn’t happen, you might be doing it wrong. Realize that this isn’t about whether we’re going to read the Bible in light of Jesus, but about how. Does the revelation of Jesus Christ crucified and risen shed light on and transfigure the testimony of God’s dealing with Israel, or simply deny, or downgrade its validity by cutting chunks out?

Of course, this goes to the deeper theological question who we’re going to allow God to be? Will we allow him to reveal himself as a God who, though simple in essence, is narratively-complex in his self-rendering in the history of Israel?  “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exod. 34:6-7) Do we let Jesus be both the one who longs to shelter Jerusalem under his wings to save them, all the while forcefully proclaiming God’s impending, violent, judgment on their sins (Matt 23:29-39)? Do we allow for the full picture of Jesus to emerge, or the one we’ve shoved into our pacifistic Procrustean bed, and shave off the verses that don’t fit?

Tom needs a drink after that.

Tom needs a drink after that.

While some of us are tempted to take Zahnd’s path of essentially rejecting prior revelation as the mistaken assumptions of our spiritual fathers, Might I suggest a surer, admittedly less comfortable, course? It is a route that N.T. Wright offers up in his answer to Wilson on the issue of the New Marcionism:

“There are many many things that God does, has done or will do which are not waiting for my approval or sanction before he does them. You know that line, “Many people want to serve God, but usually only in an advisory capacity.” Bonhoeffer said that putting the knowledge of good and evil before the knowledge of God is the primary sin in Genesis 3. They go for the knowledge of good and evil rather than what God says. Now that could just be an escape; it could just be throwing up our hands and saying we don’t know anything about God (when the whole point of the gospel is that we do know who God is, because of Jesus). However, if it’s the crucified Jesus, and if the cross means what it means in the light of the whole history of Israel, which is focused onto that, then … these narratives are the way in which all of those horrible, puzzling ambiguities, and all the awful things that happen – like Jesus saying, “what about those eighteen on whom the tower of Siloam fell?” – there’s a sense that the cross gathers up all those puzzling, tragic horrible fragments of life, and says swoosh this is where it’s all going.

“I hold this within the framework I articulated this morning, which is to say: from the call of Abraham onwards, what God is committing himself to do is to act to bring about the restoration of the world, but to act through deeply flawed human beings, who constantly need to be reminded that they’re deeply flawed. That then produces all kinds of (to our mind) ambiguities. And I see all of it coming together in the cross. The cross is the moment when I see Israel’s God performing the salvific event, which is simultaneously the worst and most blasphemous act of judicial, theocidal murder than one can ever imagine. And somehow the cross itself says: these things are now reconciled.”

Of course there’s more to say, but I’ve already said too much for what’s an allegedly short blog post. (May God forgive my lies.) The end of the matter is that while Zahnd may find Piper’s alleged voluntarism to be a gross misrepresentation of Jesus by distortion, his own neo-Marcionism leaves us with a highly-abridged Bible, and therefore an abridged Jesus, which is hardly an improvement. While offering a solution to the Bible’s problematic texts, Zahnd is inadvertently administering the kind of cure that kills the patient.

Soli Deo Gloria