According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Friday, March 8, 2013

Southern Baptist Call for Siebert's Removal re "Violence in the OT"

More Bullying by the Southern Baptists: but this time someone crossed the line

by Pete Enns
March 7, 2013

Recently, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary broadcast another “panel discussion,” this one taking to task Eric Seibert for his views on God’s violence in the Old Testament. Seibert posted a three part series on my blog, the first of which is here, and has written two books on the subject, The Violence of Scripture and Disturbing Divine Behavior.
In brief, Seibert argues, “At times the Bible endorses values we should reject, praises acts we must condemn, and portrays God in ways we cannot accept. Rather than seeing this as a sign of disrespect, we should regard engaging in an ethical and theological critique of what we read in the Bible as an act of profound faithfulness.” (from the above linked blog post)
The panel, consisting of Al Mohler, Phillip Bethancourt, Denny Burke, and Owen Strachan (more on Strachen below), were predictably alarmed about Seibert’s handling of the issue of God’s violence. Seibert’s position is certainly outside of their universe of theological discourse, and they felt strongly enough to record their hour long session and post it. There is nothing at all wrong about that.
As for the content of the discussion, the panel’s position amounted to a marginalizing, if not dismissal, of the moral and theological difficulties with Yahweh acting like every other tribal deity of the ancient world. [In their estimation,] since the Bible is God’s Word, whatever it says holds as valid and binding, the standard by which our sinful human hearts are to be searched and tried rather than that which must be judged by sinful humans. God says it, and that’s that. Disagreement on that point is an attack on the Bible and God himself. [Hence,] they are welcome to publicize their position to any and all who would listen.
I won’t take the time here to rehearse the arguments themselves. They are transparently driven by the need to protect perceived theological non-negotiables, and they have been raised and answered many times. If they do not feel the need to engage their critics, their arguments are not worthy of serious attention.
What concerned me more than the content of the discussion was the calculating manner in which Seibert was set up not only for failure but demonization. I don’t know how else to interpret Mohler’s opening where he juxtaposed Psalm 106 (“the Lord is good, his steadfast love endures forever”) to–and here I was waiting for a good old genocide passage like Deuteronomy 20, but instead Mohler read a rather inflammatory excerpt from Richard Dawkins about the God of the Old Testament being a moral monster.
Apart from the fact that Psalm 106 speaks to God’s steadfast love for the Israelites and is therefore 100% irrelevant for the discussion of violence toward outsiders like Canaanites, the implication of the juxtaposition is quite clear: Battle lines must be drawn, and Seibert and others who wish to discuss how to rethink God are on the wrong side of the Psalm 106/Richard Dawkins divide.
Mohler is stacking the deck, but I think alert readers won’t be taken in by it.
Next, the specter of Marcion was raised (2nd century heretic who called for a dismissal of the Old Testament and significant portions of the New Testament that made God sound too–well–Old Testament like). The rhetorical stab being made here was that Seibert’s rethinking of the God of the Old Testament because of things like the violence God is nothing more than a repetition of old heresies. It’s all been said before.
I might have asked the panel to speak to the Orthodox tradition that saw these same violent portrayals of God as incompatible with the nature of God and so allegorized these portions of the Old Testament, but I would venture to guess that the tradition of Orthodoxy would not carry much weight at SBTS. Regardless, rather than juxtapose Seibert to Marcion, perhaps an acknowledgment that the violence of God has been a perennial theological conundrum in Church History would have been a more noble way of setting up the discussion.
Elsewhere the panelists juxtaposed Seibert to Nietzsche and then repeating the accusation of Seibert’s “postmodern reading strategy.” I think an objective observer would be able to recognize quickly the use of scare words, and so engaging Seibert’s thinking was not the primary focus of the meeting.
I feel that both the content and the rhetoric displayed by the panel are unbecoming of learned Christian discourse, but we all have our blind sides and those factors alone are not motivating me to respond. I am far more alarmed by an episode involving Owen Strachan, Assistant Professor of Christian Theology and Church History at Boyce College.
When Seibert’s first post came out, Strachan quickly registered his shock. Of course, it’s Strachan’s blog and if he wants to be shocked he can, and if he wants to rail against Seibert and warn others of him, that is fine, too. But what he does next is not fine, but reprehensible, and something of which I feel he needs to repent publicly.
Strachan apparently felt that he was serving Christ and furthering his kingdom by driving home what he considered to be the incompatibility of Seibert’s views with those of Seibert's employer, Messiah College. I was incredulous as I read the following, and I feel I must quote Strachan at length (my emphasis):
[Seibert] is subverting the faith of his readers and, I assume, his students. I don’t know what could be more problematic for a biblical studies professor than this. Remember–these aren’t my interpretations. I’m pulling direct quotations from his piece. He’s put his argument out there in public on a widely-read evangelical blog. He’s invited engagement; his unbiblical and spiritually dangerous argument deserves it.
It will be interesting to see how Messiah College responds to this. Will it take its own statement of faith seriously, as Steffan and Christianity Today pointed out? Or will it treat its confession as unimportant? Do professors at Christian schools need to abide by their doctrinal statements, or not? Is a statement of faith just a piece of paper with some well-intended but ultimately inconsequential thoughts, or does it shape the life and health of the students entrusted to the school by God?
Confessions aren’t for policing. They are for health. Doctrinal statements aren’t designed to punish, though that should happen if needed. They are intended to lead people to flourishing. In this doctrine, a school or a church says, you find the core of biblical teaching. This is what will give you life. This is what will bless you and lead your feet on sure paths. We offer this to you to guard you, protect you, and keep you. We will answer to God in some sense for your soul, and we are doing our utmost to shepherd you to glory.
It is therefore good and right and gracious when a school upholds its own standards and protects its students so that Satan cannot destroy them. And it is devastating when a school allows it standards to grow lax.
**Will Messiah College leadership allow this to happen? We’re all watching and waiting to see.**
With many others, I am praying that good will come from this, that error will be corrected, that the truth will be vindicated, that God’s Word will not be attacked but will be seen as right and true and without error and loving and good and life-giving.
And that students, young men and women who are put in the care of professors by their parents and churches, will thrive in Jesus Christ, triumphing over darkness and doubt and sin.
This is not a veiled comment. Strachan is publicly challenging Messiah College to terminate Seibert–which is to say he feels both called upon and competent to insinuate himself into a matter that, if I may be blunt, is none of his business. I cannot fathom the level of either self-delusion or a confused sense of spirituality that would lead a Christian professor to do such a thing.
What complicates the matter is the Christianity Today article Strachan mentions. The author, Melissa Steffan, in what strikes me as an incendiary piece of journalism, for some reason raised the specter of Seibert’s fitness to teach at Messiah, though hardly as confidently as Strachan. But, in what appears to be nothing more than a dig, Steffan felt it was of high priority–while writing under a strict word count–to cite a critical comment by Scot McKnight from his blog when Seibert’s Disturbing Divine Behavior was being discussed.
The use of the quote strikes me clearly as an attempt to cast Seibert in a bad light rather than simply report a story of interest. I know McKnight and contacted him, and, although he was clear he disagrees with Seibert’s position, he was not pleased with how his quote–in the midst of a lengthy vetting of the book–was used.
Far more disturbing was the deliberate use McKnight’s name in the title of the Facebook link to the article–thus giving the impression that the core of the CT piece and Strachan blog was McKnight condemning Seibert. The link has since been reworded after McKnight contacted Strachan.
All this is bad enough, and I was hoping that the issue would be raised in the panel discussion and that Strachan might give some account of his actions. Mohler did raise the issue, and Strachan justified his actions thus: ”I wanted to look at Seibert’s argument in light of his school’s confession of faith.
Really? Why? Just because? And after “looking,” Strachan made it the core element of his post. Again, why? The lengthy quote above makes clear why. Strachan wanted to nail Seibert and get him fired--for the good of the kingdom so that Satan could no longer destroy Messiah college students.
But Strachan had more to say. He next relayed anecdotes of students he has known who entered Messiah with a strong faith and left with a weak faith. As Strachan put it, the pieces fell into place, knowing now what Seibert teaches there. (Apparently Strachan is unaware that all schools, including his own, have all sorts of anecdotes.)
Strachan’s use of anecdotes in a public forum to build a case against a professor, a department, and a school is at the very least unwise, and at worst borders on immaturity. Such rhetoric will safely be ignored by wiser heads, but, to mimic Strachan’s words, “Will Boyce College leadership allow this this type of public display? We’re all watching and waiting to see.”
Without any disrespect intended, in my opinion the position of the panel on divine violence is theologically and hermeneutically naive and untenable, and their rhetoric unfair to Seibert. But neither should cause us to lose sleep because these things can be ignored. But Strachan crosses a line.
In exercising zeal to maintain sound doctrine, Strachan and others should also remember the biblical admonition to lives lives that reflect that doctrine (Titus 2:1). As a Christian college professor myself, that is something Christian college students need modeled for them, not public personal attacks [yes, it IS personal when someone is gunning for your job] against Christian brothers with whom you have a theological disagreement.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Scott McKnight, Disturbing Divine Behavior

it is not uncommon for an innocent Bible reader to read a text like the flood of Noah or the death of the firstborn in Egypt and wonder how in the world God can be involved in such actions, and then to ask what such acts would inform the Bible believer about what God is like.
Some just tell such folks to knock it off or to silence such critical thoughts or they offer thoroughly unacceptable theories, but others want to ponder such texts and to do so within the faith and within some kind of traditional view of the Bible. One such scholar is Eric Seibert at Messiah College, and his new book is called Disturbing Divine Behavior: Troubling Old Testament Images of God.
After sketching the principle passages, Seiberts makes a few suggestions, and I want to call your attention to three and see what you think:
1. The God who really is and the God who is sketched in the Bible, that is, the Textual God vs. the Actual God, must be distinguished. And here he is saying that the Bible’s depictions of God are from a human point of view and reflect Ancient Near Eastern views of God that are not modified.
2. The God of the Bible, he says, must be judged by God in Jesus or Jesus as God so that what conforms to Jesus is the Actual God and what doesn’t may be the Textual God.
3. And he argues that the Bible’s inspiration is “general” instead of “comprehensive.” He doesn’t care for accommodation theories and finds the traditional evangelical view of plenary inspiration too problematic so he concludes that inspiration is general instead of comprehensive.

- Peter Enns

To be Continued -


  1. Love Dr. Enns. I was about to say that I'm going to enjoy watching the ongoing self-destruction of the branch of religion represented by people like Stanchen. But not only is that not very Christian of me, a lot of well meaning common people are being and will be hurt by the destruction of the false form of Christianity which they have gotten themselves into. I just hope that the inevitable destruction continues to pick up pace and quickly results in the completely irrelevance and discrediting of these oppressive, power stained men (and their female enablers). Not to be judgmental or anything! ;P

    1. I continue to be interested in this topic and it seems to me that it has been percolating within the rank-and-file of the church for awhile now. The better course of action is to provide answers to this topic rather than denigrations about others re honest questions being asked of God. Eric Siebert is only reflecting what many think they see in the OT (people like Richard Dawkins, my past professors at university, etc) and to that extent we need answers, not calls to be more "zealous and faithful" to the Bible as you well point out. Part of the answer lies in not separating out the Actual God of the bible from the Textual God of the bible, but in Jesus' identity of YHWH of the OT as His God, who is, Himself, YHWH become Incarnate amongst His creation. Here we have a baseline to begin with, a baseline that Siebert mentions many articles earlier as a possible answer to the charges of a dipolar (ethical) God. One which he says that the Jesus of the NT may be the answer to the YHWH of the OT - One who doesn't simply judge, but loves, and loves intensely. Just as the Jesus of the NT not only loves, but judges intensely (ultimately, Himself, upon the Cross). Charges that may transcend mere human editorial in the OT/NT to find a consistency between the God portrayed in both Testaments. That said, I'll start with McKnight's review of David Lamb's book, "God Behaving Badly," and see if we cannot discover another line of thought alongside the several that Eric Siebert has proposed. Thus transitioning this discussion from one of biblical interpretation to that of "theology proper" (e.g., "the study of God"). Thanks.