On this fine snowy evening, I have come across Dr. Eric Seibert’s article titled “When the “Good Book” is Bad: Challenging the Bible’s Violent Portrayals of God.” You can access it and Dr. Owen Strachan’s response to this foolishness via the links at the bottom of this post.
In respectable dialogue, it is characteristic to be friendly, courteous, and generous. But this is the type of dialogue that takes place in peer-reviewed journals or over a drink at Starbucks. When someone kicks in my front door and is threatening the welfare of small children, or when a wolf has entered the pasture and is not exactly considering a respectful dialogue with the sheep, our mode of engagement must be different. We don’t at that moment start making coffee, we cock the Remington. We land staff blows to the head. To employ respectable discourse at this stage would be an act of surrender akin to parleying while Sauron’s army stands in the Pelennor Fields (see Douglas Wilson, “A Serrated Edge,” p. 11).
Some well-meaning but strategically challenged Christians will, no doubt, treat this as a tactical battle about how we interpret Scripture. But this is no tactical battle at all. It is a strategic one not about how we interpret Scripture (as important as that is), but about what Scripture itself is. Seibert has left the Evangelical camp and is now lined up with the Philistines. We Evangelicals take the Bible to be God’s inspired Word, and therefore to be inerrant. Seibert takes the Bible to be a book that can be judged false by the standards of fallen man.
Of course, I should be thankful that unlike other theological liberals Seibert doesn’t actually pretend to esteem the Bible. At least he is honest when he says “To put it bluntly: not everything in the “good book” is either good, or good for us” (Emphasis original). If not everything in the “good book” is good, we can discern quite easily that it’s not exactly the “good book” (Seibert’s quotation marks here a good hint to his view on this as well). But if the Bible is not the “good book,” what is it? If it is not the very inspired and inerrant Word of God, what claim can it possibly make to our allegiance and trust?
Certainly Seibert does not look to the Bible as the source of his ethical standards. In fact, it is the ethical teachings of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, with which Seibert has a problem. So he does not take it as a valuable source of man’s moral duties. Nor does he accept it as a source of truth about God’s character, for he says it portrays God in unacceptable ways. I should certainly like to know the source of Seibert’s revelation about the nature of God. If he rejects the Bible, which he obviously does, he is left without any standard for learning who God is and what He is like.
One might here say that Seibert doesn’t reject the whole Bible, but only parts of it (as it turns out, all the parts he happens not to like). But the Bible is not the sort of book we can sever into distinct parts, some of which we accept while others of which we do not. The claims and teachings of Scripture are an integrated and cohesive whole. To reject the commands of God in the Old Testament as immoral is to reject the very God of Scripture Himself. To say God is not able to command a life be taken is to say that God is not God at all, but a weak, ineffective sort of being held in check by a standard above Himself. And if the commands of the Old Testament are rejected, the very need for a Savior is also rejected. If God is not the source of morality, if we have not offended our Creator by our sins and disobedience to His commands, then the sending of His Son is an entirely pointless affair. In short, we can’t reject the Old Testament commands without also rejecting the New Testament Savior. And once we have done both of those, we have robbed Christianity of its core.
Some might here claim that it is just about believing in Jesus and the moral example He set, not about any other doctrinal baggage. But here again, Seibert does not have this road open to him. If the Old Testament is as bad as Seibert claims, then Jesus was no moral example. Jesus esteemed the Old Testament in the highest regard, living His entire life in light of its commands and claiming that not one iota would pass from the law and prophets until the end of all things (Matthew 5:17-20, an “iota” is the smallest written letter of the Greek alphabet). If the Old Testament is immoral and teaches us bad things about God, but Jesus came to fulfill it and taught that it is completely true and the law is good, then Jesus Himself is implicated as a propagator of immorality and falsehood.
It is often said that God made man in His image, and man has been making God in his image ever since. This is, unfortunately, a basically true statement. As fallen men, we tend to paint a God who looks just like we do. Theological liberals often say “Your God seems to hate all the same things you do.” But the opposite is also true. It’s funny how Seibert’s god tends to sound a lot like a 21st Century theological liberal. Historically speaking, it is the conservative view of God that has always challenged the broader culture on issues like homosexuality, gender roles, the ownership and treatment of slaves, etc. The liberal view of god has always matched the culture perfectly on these things. The conservative view has been steady and consistent over millennia. The liberal view varies in accordance with the polls. Conservatism, by its nature, hasn’t done much in terms of changing its perceptions of and teachings about God. Liberalism has changed and, by its nature, is always changing what it teaches about god(s). Liberals are a thermometer that tells us what the cultural temperature is like. Conservatives are a thermostat that sets the cultural temperature itself.
Ultimately, we must ask ourselves whether the Bible is revealed truth about God. If we answer yes, our duty is to discern that truth, but never to sit in judgment upon it. We, by the power of the Spirit, interpret what is said and apply it, but our job stops there. The finite and limited must not attempt to correct the infinite and unlimited God. If, however, we answer no, then we are left to despair in our meaningless state. We will never be able to make sense of things, being ruled only by our own desires, impulses and arbitrary whims. We will be able to make a god in our own image, but he will be a weak, powerless idol.
My message to Seibert is to repent of his idolatry and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. God abounds in mercy, despite the fact that Seibert argues otherwise. His blasphemies against the character of God can be forgiven.
My message to my Christian brothers and sisters, perhaps confused and fearful about this whole fracas, is to learn how to better defend your faith. An excellent book on this topic is Paul Copan’s “Is God a Moral Monster?”. Additionally, we must always exercise great discernment. There is no lack of wolves in sheep’s clothing, even at supposedly Christian colleges and even in Biblical studies departments. Stand firm in your faith by the power of the Spirit, and learn to recognize the strategies and tactics of the enemy for what they are. Expose the unfruitful works of darkness (Ephesians 5:11). Grow in the Lord and in the knowledge of the truth.