Is God violent?
Brian begins this section by admitting that he has a big problem. It helped his new kind of Christianity to assert that the Bible is our cultural library rather than authoritative constitution, but he still has to wrestle with the fact that this library contains many bloody books. In Brian’s words, he needs a way to deal with the numerous “violent images, cruel images, [and] un-Christlike images” of God that are found in the Bible.
Most troubling is the God who appears in the Noah narrative. Brian complains that “a god who mandates an intentional supernatural disaster leading to unparalleled genocide is hardly worthy of belief, much less worship. How can you ask your children—or nonchurch colleagues and neighbors—to honor a deity so uncreative, overreactive, and utterly capricious regarding life?”
Brian solves his problem by misusing the concept of progressive revelation. Everyone recognizes that God reveals more of himself as the Scripture narrative progresses. In the Old Testament God told the Israelites that he was one (Deut. 6:4), and then at the incarnation and Pentecost he revealed that he was also two and then three. But note that God’s future revelation expands rather than contradicts what came before. New Testament Christians still believe that God is one, as much as any OT Jew, but they now confess that God’s oneness also makes room for three persons.
Conversely, Brian asserts that future “revelations” supplant and correct earlier passages of Scripture. So while he cannot “defend the view of God in the Noah story as morally acceptable, ethically satisfying, and theologically mature,” he concedes that this early, immature view of God was at least a step up from the stories of God told by other religions of its day.
I put the term “revelation” in quotation marks above because Brian seems to think that the God we find in Scripture is merely what humans at the time thought of him. He writes: “when we ask why God appears so violent in some passages of the Bible, we can suggest this hypothesis: if the human beings who produced those passages were violent and genocidal in their own development, they would naturally see God through the lens of their experience. The fact that those disturbing descriptions are found in the Bible doesn’t mean that we are stuck with them….”
1. Brian seems to agree with Feuerbach that religion—and in this case the Bible—is merely our human projection of God. Our view of God tells us everything about ourselves and nothing about what God is like. If this is his view—and his endorsement of Pete Rollins gives more reason to suppose that this is the case, then he needs to find another line of work. If we don’t have a revelation from God, then we’re all wasting our time here.
2. Brian writes that he treasures the Bible, even calling it God’s inspired Word, but then he says that much of it, especially the older parts, is just wrong. I am not able to make much sense of that.
3. Brian solves the problem of a violent God in Genesis 6 by saying that this immature deity is later replaced by the New Testament perspective on God. I wonder how this coheres with Brian’s comment in question 1 that he prefers the earlier Hebrew God Elohim over the later Greek God Theos. It seems that Brian only accepts the Bible when it says something he likes, and then fishes for a reason to justify his decision, even if the reason contradicts his argument for another passage.
4. Brian has embraced the red letter Bible, where Jesus’ words and actions count more than what Paul or Peter wrote. He said that one evangelical’s “transparent willingness to grant Jesus no more authority than Paul renders me speechless.” I am not necessarily trying to shush Brian, but I will second what the evangelical said: Paul’s epistles have the same authority as the words of Jesus, for both are the Word of God.
5. Here’s the kicker which you knew was coming. Brian alleges that those of us in “seminaries and denominational headquarters” who say that every description of God in Scripture is authoritative are guilty of “conceptual idolatry,” for we are “freezing” our “understanding of God in stone.”
Conversely, I think that God’s problem with idolatry is not that the idols don’t develop but that the idols are false gods. Did God oppose Baal simply because he didn’t move? Also, if a static understanding of God is conceptual idolatry, then wouldn’t God, who I assume has a perfect, unchanging understanding of himself, be guilty of this sin?