Pursuit of Percipience

the blog that nobody reads which I write to silence the voices in my head

Tag: society

Social Justice is Hitler

Advertisements

Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God (Book Review)

James Jordan, in his book Crisis, Opportunity, and the Christian Future, writes…

The gospel as presented in Acts and by the early Church took this form: “You are living in isolation, lowliness, despair, chaos, and bondage. But there is a New World! There is a New Creation! There is a New Kingdom! You can leave behind your old horrible life and come into the warmth of the Church. You can join us at the table and sing psalms with us. You can come under the oversight of our elders, and be part of a new family.” (Page 44)

The medieval Church taught our civilization what God’s law is. Faced with social anarchy on all sides, early European rulers heard the gospel this way: “You are living in hell. But God has given His law! God has shown the way to live! Christ is King! You can submit to His High-Kingship and lead your people into a new way of life!” (Page 45)

The medieval Church fell into sin when the law ceased to be a wonderful guide to life and became an oppressive threat demanding good works as a way of “meriting the merits of Christ.” … Thus, the Protestant Church taught our civilization what God’s freedom is. Faced with bondage to law, the Reformers preached the free conscience under Christ: justification by faith alone. We are familiar with this doctrine, but notice that it is only really “heard” by people who have some knowledge of God and of the law. Once that prior knowledge has drained out of society, the Protestant message no longer has the power it once had.” (Page 45-46)

The famous Protestant sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God written by Jonathan Edwards was very effective in its day; a day when most of the American people were quite knowledgable of God, Christianity, and the bible; a day when the people should have known better than to turn away from God. But that day has obviously passed in the west, and a different presentation of the gospel is needed. James Jordan suggests looking back to the early Church and how they presented the gospel to people who were somewhat in the same situation as non-believers today: “You’re alone. You’re miserable. Come into the family of Jesus.” This message is what they’ll hear and understand.

zahndBrian Zahnd also understands this need for a fresh gospel presentation, and offers one with his book Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God. But, is he offering a truthful presentation? I would say no. Zahnd is, what I like to call, a “Postmodern Jesusist“. Another term I could use is “Neo-Marcionist”. According to his narrative in the video above, I think Zahnd has always been a Marcionist, although ignorantly so (listen from 1:00 – 1:25). And his solution now is not to dismiss Marcionism altogether, but to worsen it by creating a kind of “Postmodern Marcionism”. Zahnd writes on page 60, “I’m a million miles from the second-century heresy of Marcion … My approach to the Old Testament is nothing like Marcion’s. I call the Old testament sacred scripture.” That may be, but that’s why I will say Zahnd’s approach to the O.T. is a really just a new twist on the Marcion heresy.

In the first chapter, he mostly expands on what you see in the book trailer. But as he does so, he also builds up to the idea that the authors of the Old Testament simply did not have a full revelation of God. They had an inferior revelation and therefore not a true one. He quotes the apostle John: “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” So, since they didn’t have Jesus, they didn’t have a complete revelation. I can agree with Zahnd that their revelation of God was incomplete in the O.T., but I disagree with the idea that an incomplete revelation is necessarily false. There are some things that don’t change in their nature with an increase or decrease in size. Like truth. Truth is truth, whether known fully or not. When you take your kid to a restaurant, and order something for him from the kid’s menu, the food is the same food the adults eat, it just comes in a smaller portion. Truth’s nature is the same in large portions as it is in small portions. The revelation of God given to Israel was not in the fullness that would later be given in Christ, but it was still true.

In the second chapter, Zahnd constructs a couple of straw men for you to attack, or to identify with, depending on your agreement with him. For example, if you agree that God commanded the genocide of the Canaanites under Joshua, then you are open to Christians today committing genocide. In regards to the genocide, and other stories like it in the O.T., Zahnd gives three options on how to deal with the problem: 1) Question God’s morality; 2) Question God’s immutability; 3) Question how we read scripture. He rightly rejects options 1 & 2, but then goes on to give a method of reading scripture which is entirely based on postmodern philosophy: The O.T. authors wrote what they wrote not because they had a true revelation from God, but because of their biases and their warrior tribalistic worldview.

Zahnd seems to have little to no understanding of holiness, justice (apart from “social justice”), and covenant. He writes: If you’re going to imagine divinely endorsed genocide, you should not imagine yourself as Joshua but as the unfortunate Canaanite whose entire family and village have just been murdered. Instead of always seeing yourself as the cowboy, try being the Indian* sometime. (Page 44) First of all, was a holy God unjust in destroying the Canaanites?† Thankfully because of the person and work of Jesus, I don’t have to be destroyed like the Canaanite. I can be saved and created new. I can also enter into a covenant with God, just like Joshua was in covenant with God. Joshua wasn’t a blameless man, but he was in covenant, and that makes all the difference. I will imagine myself as Joshua.

(Note: If you read Jonathan Merritt’s article about this book, then you can skip the first two chapters. And before reading this book myself, I wrote a blog article about Merritt’s article, which I think is a good answer to the first two chapters as well.)

As I mention above, Zahnd is correct in writing that the O.T. Israelites did not have the fullness of revelation that would come with Jesus, but truth is truth, and we don’t read the bible like a Muslim reads the Quran; we don’t apply Naskh to the bible.‡ Before Jesus completed His work on the cross, God operated in the world a certain way, and after Jesus, God operated in a different way… and the O.T. is still a true account of who God is. Zahnd even applies Naskh to the sacrificial system — a system which is integral to Christianity. True, we don’t sacrifice animals anymore, but that’s because those sacrifices ended with Christ. But according to Zahnd, because of verses like Psalm 40:6 and Hosea 6:6, God never wanted the sacrificial system at all — so you can now ignore most of the Pentateuch.

As I read the third chapter, I found myself agreeing with most of what Zahnd says of Jesus being the greater revelation of the Word of God, but I kept asking, “But is the O.T. true? Does it truly portray God?” Zahnd says no, and for no good reason. He just doesn’t want it to be true — the O.T. doesn’t line up with his postmodern narrative. While he does believe that Jesus taught a new way to live, he doesn’t seem to believe that the world radically changed with the death and resurrection of Jesus — indeed, he doesn’t know the old world of the O.T. doesn’t exist anymore. Zahnd’s view of Jesus isn’t scandalous or radical; it isn’t radical enough!

In later chapters, Zahnd writes about hell and eschatology. I don’t have an issue with his take on hell, which is similar to C.S. Lewis and what you’d find in The Brothers Karamazov: Hell is an inability to love and be loved, and the gates are locked from within, not without. His view of eschatology and the book of Revelation is what you’d expect; something I think would be similar to what Rob Bell would teach — and I don’t have a huge issue with that either. But for the most part, these later chapters are more of the same of what I described above.

I find myself wondering: Why not just accept the O.T. at face value? What is the real reason Zahnd would reject so much of it? Is it because of years of theological study? No. Most people’s theology (if not all people’s theology) is not based on biblical study. It is based on personality and worldview. In order for Zahnd to believe what he wants to believe about Jesus, he has to reject the O.T. portrayal of God. He is offended at the O.T., and this is his way of dealing with it. Is he correct though? No, I don’t think so. He takes too much liberty in deciding which parts of the bible are true, and which are not, and he bases his exegesis on unreliable ground. For two thousand years Christians have understood that Jesus’ death on the cross was an atoning work satisfying God’s wrath towards sin and sinners. Why must we change that belief now? Because of postmodern philosophy?

I do agree that there is more to the cross than just Jesus dying for sin. N.T. Wright has written a lot of good stuff on the whole idea of the righteousness of God. I am happy that someone like Zahnd can write the book he’s written and this conversation can continue. I agree with Zahnd that the goal of Jesus is to restore the world (and not destroy it). And I do agree that the Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God approach to sharing the gospel doesn’t work these days, and something fresh is needed. But Zahnd compromises too much.

I’m going to give the book 3/5 stars.

A book I recommend people read instead of Zahnd’s is the above mentioned Crisis, Opportunity, and the Christian Future by James B. Jordan. James B. Jordan is an excellent Old Testament scholar and he explains much of the issues people might have about the difficult sections of the Old Testament. You can listen to his lectures by clicking here.

* I wonder if he’s referring to the Comanche Indians.
When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you. (Deuteronomy 18:9-12 ESV)
‡ See the Quran 2:106

Related Reading…

In the Fullness of Time

Postmodern Jesusism

Jesus and Covenantal Righteousness

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy Quotes #18

War and Murder

Some pacifists indulge in calling war murder. Ever since men could speak, murder and war stood approximately at opposite ends of the scale of social processes. The murderer was and is pre-tribal; he expresses his will against another will. War defends the order to which the warrior has surrendered part of his will because he believes in a higher, supernatural peace and order between men which depends for its existence on his acts. Not to go to war, means to desert the peace which my body politic has established. Not to murder means to respect the continuity which my body politic has built up.

~from The Origin of Speech, page 29

Social Justice

Any term given an unnecessary modifier should always be treated as suspect. Social Justice, for example. Why do they add the Social? Social Justice is a special kind of justice that only applies to a small group of people. Anyone not in that special group will actually have justice, real justice, pushed aside.

Social Justice is Affirmative Action.

Social Justice is the fight against White Privilege.

Social Justice is the minimum wage.

Social Justice is restitution for slavery ended over a century ago.

Social Justice is equality of output, regardless of input.

Social Justice is not justice for all.

Postmodern Jesusism

pm jesusThere seems to be a new religion being invented today, which I think is best called Postmodern Jesusism. It’s not an entirely new thing. It’s really just a new twist on the ancient “Old Testament God = bad / New Testament God = good” Marcionist idea. It goes like this: God didn’t really command all that nasty stuff in the Old Testament. The authors of the O.T., not having a complete revelation of God, just did what they thought God wanted them to, and then recorded it as though God really told them to do it. For example, God didn’t really tell Israel to invade Canaan and destroy the people there (Deuteronomy 7:1-2); the Israelites just thought God told them to do that, because that’s what they wanted to do, and so they did it, and then recorded it as though God told them to do it. In other words, the O.T. is lying about God.

But now we have the complete revelation of God in Jesus, and Jesus is a passivist, therefore the portrayal of God in the O.T. must be false. See?

In an article written by Jonathan Merritt*, it says this…

What has changed [from the O.T. to the N.T.] is not God but the degree to which humanity has attained an understanding of the true nature of God. The Bible is not the perfect revelation of God; Jesus is. Jesus is the only perfect theology. Perfect theology is not a system of theology; perfect theology is a person. Perfect theology is not found in abstract thought; perfect theology is found in the Incarnation. Perfect theology is not a book; perfect theology is the life that Jesus lived. What the Bible does infallibly and inerrantly is point us to Jesus, just like John the Baptist did.

The obvious problem with the argument made above of course is that all we know about the teachings of Jesus is from the Bible, but the Bible is “not the perfect revelation of God.”

Peter Enns, in his book The Bible Tells Me So, defends the same position when he writes:

[T]he ancient Israelites were an ancient tribal people. They saw the world and their God in tribal ways. They told stories of their tribal past, led into battle by a tribal warrior God who valued the same things they did – like killing enemies and taking their land. This is how they connected with God – in their time, in their way. (Kindle location 888)

This new way of reading the Bible is a nice convenient way of making the Bible fit with our current enlightened view of the world. It’s a shame that for the past 2000 years, the Church didn’t notice it. But thankfully, we now have the philosophy of postmodernism and deconstructionism.

Postmodernism pushes the idea that all truth claims are really only power grabs. And deconstructionism teaches that we can’t take anything at face value; we must deconstruct every claim, every written work, and look for the implicit biases of the authors.

Postmodernism is resentment masquerading as superior morality.

What our Postmodern Jesusists don’t seem to get is that the Bible is the story of how God invaded this world, starting with the small seed of Abraham, in order to completely destroy the old fallen world and inaugurate a new and perfect creation. This invasion/transformation doesn’t happen all in one shot; it’s a gradual process that will one day fill the whole world (Daniel 2:35, 44). Before Christ, the bloody birth of Israel was a violent but necessary state which God had to set up in order to introduce His saving plan into this bloody and violent world. And God didn’t want Israel to be a warrior nation. Once they were established after the removal of the Canaanites, God wanted them to be a peaceful nation of priests, standing as mediators between God and the Gentile nations. When Israel was faithful to that role, they were at peace with the nations; when they were unfaithful there was war.

Did things change after Jesus? Of course! But not in the way Merritt suggests. The role of the Church is not to pick up guns, invade nations, and kill unbelievers. And I agree with Merritt when he writes, “…we are forever prohibited from using the Old Testament to justify the use of violence.” But Old Testament Israel, once established, wasn’t justified to use violence either, unless it was to protect the nation from destruction. Israel needed to exist – it was the only road to God in an evil and violent world. That world, the “old world,” was destroyed on the cross, and a new creation has been birthed through the resurrection of Jesus, and it grows through the Church – not through physical warfare (although that sometimes might happen, especially if defensive), but through spiritual warfare. And we mustn’t forget, the physical and spiritual worlds are indeed interconnected.

Today the Church fights the true enemy: the powers, principalities, and spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12). That’s what O.T. Israel was fighting against too, but for them it was hidden behind flesh and blood (and wood and stone) enemies. For us, it is revealed for what it truly is. Because of this, Christians fight on a new plane of existence, one in which the true enemy is brought down.**

Postmodern Jesusists confuse evil with good and good with evil. Because they don’t understand the concepts of holiness and covenant, they accuse God of unjustly destroying innocent people. And seeing their folly, instead of correcting their view of the O.T., they decide it’s best to change the story: “Did God really say…?” Well, only according to those primitive unenlightened Israelites, I guess.

After thought….

What about nations warring against each other in today’s world? Is it okay for Christians to fight for Canada against Christians fighting for Germany in WW2? Well, those are human wars. Those aren’t necessarily wars having to do with the kingdom of heaven invading the earth (although they might be). The world is still in a predominantly fallen state, and wars still happen. Christians, whose first allegiance is to the kingdom of God, have to decide with a clear conscience how much they want to get involved in human wars. Fighting Nazi Germany was a good thing, in my opinion. Perhaps invading Iraq wasn’t. I’m not 100% decided on these issues yet.

*Merritt’s article mentioned above is based on the book Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, which I purchased and will read soon. Perhaps I’ll do a review on it. [Update: read my review here] I already see though that those who endorse the book, Rachel Held Evans, Tony Jones, Walter Brueggemann, Sarah Bessey, Brian McLaren, and others, are indeed the high priests of Postmodern Jesusism.

**Notice in the O.T., there is rarely any mention of demons, and the leaders of Israel are never engaged in battle against demons — they do stand up against the priests and followers of Gentile false gods. But, when Jesus shows up in the gospels, there are demons everywhere, and the disciples do engage in warfare against the demons. I’ve written more about that in the related reading links below.

Related reading…

In the Fullness of Time

Jesus and Covenantal Righteousness