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

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), was 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. 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. 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 his 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 is 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.



  • Stephen

    Good stuff, but keep in mind that evangelical gatekeepers such as these folks think they’re immune to any kind of rhetorical, social, and the like analysis of them and their discourse. In fact, they would probably label (marginalize) such analysis of them as illegitimate attempts to “read their hearts” and “question their motives.”

    Whatever, standard Evangelical marginalize, scare, and power-play game. Rather than allow the possibility of, much less engage in, any kind of mutually-critical dialog, they prefer to marginalize and assure their audience that the “other” people aren’t really Christians and thus don’t belong at the table.

    Also, as we’ve discussed here before, it’s entertaining (to me at least) to note the similarities between what this panel did and the polemical strategies of early Christian heresiologists and polemicists. And this is not meant as a compliment…

  • David

    Man, this is the field I want to go into when I go into college next year, is it really this vicious?

    • Stephen

      Depends what you want to say within that field, David.

      • David

        I mean, I don’t know that I’d have anything new or interesting to say at this very moment, and I don’t want to claim as though I do when I don’t at the moment think I do. I’m in that weird place of deciding if I want my home to be in scholarship or ministry or both.

        Stuff like this just makes me facepalm. It makes me sympathize with my non-Christian friends.

    • Daniel

      Double-major. You’re doing yourself a disservice if you only do Biblical Studies. Step out of line, and your degree will become worthless — at least as far as the evangelical world is concerned.

      (Better yet, choose a different major altogether. Take Bib Studies electives, but use your undergrad to take courses you *won’t* get in seminary. English. History. Science. Math.)

      • Stephen

        FWIW, I agree with Daniel here. Even if you major in “Biblical Studies” at some Christian college, most seminaries will have you start all over again, if you will, and re-learn biblical studies stuff from the ground up their way. This is pretty standard. Sure, you’ll have somewhat of a head start, but it will not amount to much in the grand scheme of things. The way you study things as an undergrad is just different than the way you will study things at the seminary level…which itself is vastly different than how you will study things if you eventually pursue a PhD in Hebrew Bible, New Testament, or something related.

        Point is, don’t be worried about missing out on something if you aspire to get into biblical scholarship somehow but don’t major in biblical studies in college. In fact, there’s much wisdom, probably, in majoring in something that can get you a real job after college…in case you realize that ministry isn’t for you, in case you need to be able to do something else to support yourself and family, etc. etc. etc. As pointed out above, you can still take biblical studies courses as electives.

        This all said, if you’re going to a non-Christian college or university, majoring in Religious Studies is different than simply majoring in biblical studies. You will (usually) get a broader education as a religious studies major in a university setting that could be useful heading into seminary.

        • David

          I agree I graduated from college with a double major in religion and political science (neither helpful in finding a job) seminary was a real challenge because as Stephen said they basically wanted me to start over, and act as if I didn’t already have a degree in this stuff.

  • Mark Farmer

    I read Seibert’s book a couple of years ago. It is a model of competent, honest, searching scholarship that honors the profession and the gospel. It was of significant help to me in my own theological reflection as a pastor. May his tribe increase.

  • The Discerning Christian Blog

    Part of what is so frustrating is that I feel like all anyone can do against someone like Strachan is to say, “That’s bad! Stop it!” in so many words. We need to take some kind of action which actually threatens Strachan and others like him in a humane way. We need to do something which raises public awareness of the issue. The public, after all, fills the coffers of the schools.

    Ideas are just starting to bubble up in my head, but perhaps it is time for a demonstration, a protest, an internet event, or *something*. I feel like we’re either shouting in the darkness or preaching to the choir. People need to know what is going on. We need to do something about it.

    • David

      If the church were unified, discipline like this would be possible; we would be able to hold people like Strachan accountable for abusing their power for their own personal vendettas. Unfortunately, there’s no way to do that, there’s no way to truly hold Strachan accountable, and he knows it, which is why he took the opportunity to say what he did.

      • The Discerning Christian Blog

        The internet is unified. Groups like anonymous achieve success for this very reason: the internet provides people all over the world with a way to unify in support of a cause. We need to start a campaign of sorts so that people start to recognize this as a thing. I will have to blog about this tomorrow, perhaps.

        • LarryRR

          But ‘Anonymous’, effective as they are, are anonymous. Unless you’re going to render his blog inaccessible, or hack/re-write it, there’s little to be gained from protesting Strachan’s places of employment. Sadly, even protesting this guy will raise his profile and make him even a bigger evangelical celebrity (a la Dr. Robert Jeffress). There are two sides here and they will forever be at war – the inerrantists and relativists. The best you can hope to do, is marginalize the inerrantists’ influence and point out logical inconsistencies (how can God condemn abortion when He engages in infanticide?). Luckily, they’re doing the heavy lifting for you with blogs and panels such as the ones referenced here!

          • Drew

            Furthermore, if his blog is hosted on a site like Patheos, you wouldn’t be able to bring just his blog down without bringing down the whole site. Unless you found a vulnerability and used it just to do things to his blog. But those responses aren’t very mature anyway. I would just tell him that I’ve spoken to his boss, and he disagrees.

      • Marshall

        If the church were unified, we would have more stuff like this. Like it used to be when Luther went to school. Diversity is God’s plan at work.

  • Nathan Smith

    Wow – I had no idea that Owen Strachan had risen to the ranks. I knew him from my days at Trinity and knew he was bright but this is incredible. He’s recently been appointed the Executive Directorship of The Council for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, taking the reigns from Wayne Grudem. He’s getting a lot of play and unique opportunities. I guess it doesn’t hurt to marry into Bruce Ware’s family. Policing other people’s schools is frustrating – agreed. Calling for someone to be dismissed with a challenge based upon a statement of faith – that’s arrogant. Especially because so many professors have to hold their academic confessions loosely at times in schools across the nation and because jobs are so scarce these days.

    • Martin


      You nailed it about why someone like Strachan rose so fast. I live at ground zero and can tell you the SOP is “doctrine over people” a tactic you might be famliar with. His father in law is the one who teaches that women are made in the “indirect image of God…a derivative”.

      We don’t have to go after people and try to ruin them to defend our view of God. It goes against every principal in scripture of loving God and loving others. these guys are uber Reformed and mimicing their dead heros. This sort of trash talk also rallies the troops which is needed right now with the SGM/SBTS problem.

      He crossed the line and it will come back to haunt him if he continues in this vein. I think he is too young to have been given so much pubic power so soon.

  • joel g

    I have to wonder whether Strachan is unaware that Messiah College is linked to the Brethren in Christ, which is historically an Anabaptist and pacifist denomination. Messiah won’t even allow military recruiters on campus for that reason.

    I don’t see how one can embrace Christian pacifism without at least some form of (for lack of a better term) “creative hermeneutics” with regard to portrayals of violence, especially in the Old Testament.

    • Josiah

      You raise an interesting point regarding hermeneutical readings of the OT by pacifists. Personally, I would say that Christian pacifism is taught by Jesus and the apostolic witness of the NT, and is therefore part of the new covenant.
      In contrast, the violence which God’s people committed in the OT was done under a different covenant. Although both covenants reveal something about the God who enacted them, they are also revealing about the particular people that God made each covenant with. That is, both parties to a covenant are responsible; Israel’s issue from the start was that they *struggled* to uphold their side. If we judge the first covenant and find it lacking, we’re agreeing that the new covenant was necessary. But the new covenant couldn’t be enacted in a vacuum, specifically, the history of Israel matters.
      Vengeance is the Lords, he will repay, even as he judges impartially. In his omniscience, justice, and love God is capable of punishing without committing sin. If he knows the end from the beginning, can we trust him to do what’s right, even when it challenges our sensibilities?
      Being a pacifist doesn’t mean that violence in the world is ignored due to naivety or ignorance, rather you have more reason to protest against it. Although violence results from the rebellion of Genesis 3, it is forgiven by the new covenant, and will ultimately be healed at the eschaton. Therefore, I see no reason for any hermeneutical gymnastics.
      [If there’s something I’m missing here, please point it out to me.]
      Blessings In Christ

      • Mary

        Are you saying that murder, rape, slavery, human sacrifice were ok under the “Old Covenant”? That is a rationalization and is exactly what this article is about. Can you not recognize evil when you see it? A good God cannot sanction or command evil, period. If you want to see what it was like in the OT, look at the extremist Muslims. Can you actually say that God would ever command the atrocities that these people propogate? How about honor-killings? It is in the Bible. In fact you could kill your child for disobedience of any sort. Why whitewash the bible and pretend that these things don’t matter?

        • Josiah

          I have sympathy for Eric Seibert’s views, although I haven’t read his books, just the blog posting’s that have appeared here. The blog posts I read didn’t address God’s judgement in the NT, they focused on his judgement in the OT, and they prescribed a hermeneutic of seeing things from a victims standpoint. Applied to the NT, you’d be seeing things from the perspective of those who would otherwise incur judgement (a few examples, 2 and 3 were largely given by you):
          1 false teachers and the deceived; the lost sheep who we’re to treat as gentiles and tax collectors – that is, the people who most need to hear the truth.
          2 jihadist’s and perpetrators of religiously motivated violence (praying for enemies).
          3 murderers, rapists, enslavers, those who carry out human sacrifice (pray for the witch-doctors who sacrifice young boys in Uganda – they need Jesus), and paedophiles certainly need to be on this list (no-one in the Western world is as hated as this category of people).

          When you see God’s judgement from the perspective of the ‘victim’, it ought to motivate you to do something about it, to share the truth in love. This is why I appreciate Eric Seibert’s interpretive methodology. However, as I haven’t read Eric’s books I have no idea how he handles God’s forthcoming judgement. But whether you affirm eternal damnation or annihilation, there is obviously a violent aspect here; only a universalist would object at this point.

          I don’t claim to know what God was thinking by allowing some of ‘those’ commandments into the law. Jesus stated that God’s intention in marriage was changed in the law because the Israelites demanded that divorce be included. It’s possible that there are other parts of the law which similarly reflect the ‘mood of the people’.
          As for the conquests, I’ll leave that for the experts, which is one of the reasons I appreciate this blog. Nevertheless, I’m interested in a popular level book by Christopher J. H. Wright which looks at this issue but that’ll have to wait until I’ve finished, ‘The Mission of God’.
          Blessings In Christ

          • LarryRR

            It’s hard to see much daylight between the God of the OT and the NT God of Revelation. If you’re on the wrong side, and the vast majority of humanity is, you’re toast, and SBTU panelists are all too happy to point this out. I do wonder if this message is contributing to rise of the ‘nones’ and an increased attention on universalism.

            Just curious, are you looking at God’s justice on a pedophile or on a non-believer? SBTU, and God apparently, lumps them both together. My guess is they would also object to your notion of the Law being subject to the mood of the people (didn’t Jesus say it was Moses, rather than God, that allowed divorce due to popular demand?). If you’re saying, by extension, that our view of God reflects the mood of the people, I’m in total agreement. This seems to me what Mr. Seibert could be doing (I haven’t read his books either but hope to do so in the near future). For many of us, the OT God simply can’t be reconciled with a modern-day sense of fairness and justice.

          • Josiah

            A couple of years ago I read, “The Moral Vision of the New Testament” by Richard B. Hays; it is this book which has convinced me that pacifism is taught by Jesus. When I first became a Christian I questioned how one applies the sermon of the mount, the answers I received at that time are dismantled by Hays.

            Matthew 5:19-20 was particularly convicting in my becoming a pacifist; Christian’s who subvert the teachings of Jesus won’t lose their salvation by not taking Jesus at his word, but surely, if someone loves Jesus they will do what he says, otherwise they’re just using his grace to get eternal life. cf Matthew 7:21, what is the will of the Father if not to take Jesus literally by doing what he teaches? cf Luke 11:27-28.

            Following from this, if someone calls themself a Christian and continues to abuse children, then the ‘fruit’ of their actions would lead a third party to suspect that the ‘tree’ is dead. However, if someone is wrestling with thoughts of paedophilia, I think that that is entirely different from acting upon those thoughts. The former is a struggle with temptation, and 1 Cor 10 says that God provides a way out. The latter is giving in to depravity and thereby denying Jesus. [I might not be communicating what I’m thinking very well, I’m attempting to contrast lust with committing adultery but against minors; a complicated and emotionally raw subject.] As a pacifist I would say that harming another is disobeying Jesus. By implication of what I’m saying: a person who struggles with childporn may still be a Christian, and they should get help; whereas someone who abuses children has probably already lost their struggle to overcome temptation and has decided to live out their sinful desires instead. If someone was a paedophile and then they became a Christian, then they would be in the same boat as the believer who struggles. – For now, that’s my take on it; feel free to critique – I’m open to seeing things differently, provided that that difference includes grace (I suspect that my present views aren’t that grace filled).

            I’m sure that SB’s and I would disagree on many things. For instance, biblical inerrancy is a human philosophy which goes beyond anything that scripture self-affirms. I’m against ‘once saved always saved’, I became a Christian in such circles, I’ve seen the logical conclusion which friends have drawn from it – “If I have doubts and don’t believe 100% now, then I guess I never actually believed.” I find the determinism of Calvinism abhorrent. And I’m a fan of craft beer and home brewing.
            Blessings In Christ

  • toddh

    What a tiny, sad version of faith that is afraid of questions about God and the scriptures. May other thoughtful Southern Baptists give voice to an informed faith that embraces the most difficult questions.

  • Adam Omelianchuk

    ““Will Boyce College leadership allow this this type of public display? We’re all watching and waiting to see.””

    You mean Messiah College?

    • Swartzendruber

      Adam – I believe that Pete notes he is mimicing Strachan’s quote to turn it back upon him and Boyce.

      • Adam Omelianchuk

        Ah, my bad.

  • Seeker

    Well Pete, once again, thanks for bringing this kind of stuff into the light and starting some dialogue. I thought Patheos was supposed to be “hosting the conversation on faith,” so why do blogs like Strachan’s not even provide the opportunity for people to respond? Doesn’t seem like much of a “Thoughtlife” to me if you are only in conversation with yourself Mr. Strachan… (I’d like to offer some thoughtful feedback)
    More importantly, perhaps it is just a nice coincidence that Greg Boyd also did a post today (March 7) entitled “Getting Honest about the Dark Side of the Bible.” I’ll be glad if somehow I can drag Greg into this conversation (Ha! sorry Greg!) by pointing others to his post on the ReKnew website, because it is another great example of how one can thoughtfully engage with the reality of some brutal material in the “Good Book”. (And he even brings Calvin into the conversation!)
    Pete, hope you can check it out if you get a chance… I think you’ll appreciate what Greg is saying…
    Mr. Strachan, Al Mohler and company: (I really hope you read this, but I won’t hold my breath!) I hope you and many of those you influence will take time to thoughtfully engage with those like Boyd, Enns, Seibert and many many others who are sharing similar thoughts. At the end of the day, many young evangelicals like myself have much greater fear over the damage caused by the violent view of God often espoused by Christian leaders than we do over those who are trying to constructively engage the Bible.
    I can’t wait for Boyd’s book “Crucifixion of the Warrior God” to hit the shelves. It is a book far overdue, and the Evangelical world badly needs it… Yes, may the “Warrior God” truly be crucified as we grasp the centrality of Jesus in all our thinking about God!
    Here is one great line from Boyd’s post for us all to ponder “…the more fundamental problem is that the dilemma we’re facing isn’t first and foremost about the clash between horrific portraits of God in Scripture and our moral intuitions. It’s rather about the clash between these portraits and GOD’S OWN SELF-REVELATION IN THE CRUCIFIED CHRIST.”
    Exactly!!! Come on Evangelical Peeps! Let’s keep using our God-given brains and have the courage to ask the very hard questions that must be asked of God’s violent portrayal in the Bible… I think God will be glad we did. :-)
    Peace, I’m outta here!

  • Hallvard N. Jorgensen

    Perhaps this is a little naïve, but I do think that the best way of responding to “dismissive” Christians with a very conservative/fundamentalist view of the OT, is to go the extra mile, do hard research for oneself, know exactly why one thinks that they are wrong, and then present the arguments in a patient and loving manner, decisively and repeatedly, but in dialogue. Not unlike the way you (Enns) and Sparks have done. Cf. also the brilliant books of James Barr on fundamentalism.

    That’s hard work, but it’s the best way, I think. I’m saying this in the light of my own experience of going from a “southern baptist” standpoint and over to a more realistic one. I do not believe that they will relent by easy accusations that they are doing “bad” things, since in their estimation, they are obviously doing the right and pious thing, and serving God’s cause. They’ll have to be convinced in their hearts that things perhaps are not so simple. And that takes quite hard work, since the fundamentalist view of the Bible is like a mighty fortress, an intricate system, ingeniously designed to counter every possible objection (that is not to say that their counter-arguments are good; they are often intra-coherent, in a sense, though. But merely by “blocking out” large swathes of reality).

    In my pilgrimage, it was a real eye-opener to see the OT from a bit other angle than historical criticism, namely from the angle of the ancient world-view embedded in the Bible. Here I read Lamoureux’ Evolutionary Creation, Stadelmann’s Hebrew Conception of the world, John Waltons Genesis 1 as ancient cosmology etc. With “fundamentalists,” one must always “start where they are” and argue from an author or a viewpoint that they can accept as “ok or non-liberal”, and then take step by step from there. Again: From experience. It was this that really “opened me up” to more serious historical criticism of the Bible.

    The ancient worldview showed that indubitably, there is a lot in the OT view of the world that we simply cannot accept at face value in our times. (Three-story universe, earth as a disk, the firm dome above us, the heavenly sea, weather phenomena as expressions of God’s drawing near, God’s physically being throned above us etc. These texts are in my experience hardly discussed in the fundamentalist movement, except somewhat in young earth creationism)

    Then the conclusion will be that it takes theological thinking – not merely exegesis – to think rightly of God and his work in the world, and this would perhaps also be Seibert’s point. (Though I’m not sure I can follow him; I haven’t thought things through properly here yet.)

    • Amanda

      Thank you! As a young “liberal” Christian I’ve been struggling to find out which doctrines that I find repulsive in the churches and communities I’m at I should combat and how to go about it. I love how you framed addressing these issues in relationship and I will be bookmarking this to refer back to in my journey. I so appreciate your words because it may be a path to peace.

  • Graham

    There’s something very odd to me about 4 people sitting around judging others and conspiring to destroy their livelihood; all because he dared to ask honest questions. It makes it worse when they are supposed to be Christians. It seems too obvious a question to ask but who gave them this authority and was there a memo?

    I can’t help but notice a slight hypocrisy; secular colleges are chastised by some Christian groups for not allowing creation to be discussed and criticized decisions to fire teachers for sharing their views, yet these same groups are quite happy for Christian colleges to restrict what is taught and for teachers to be fired for sharing their views……

  • JB

    I wish I had a brilliant comment to make regarding Strachan, but right now all that come to mind is, what a dick.

  • Ed Gentry

    I live your world, have a formal theological education from a progressive but very evangelical institution. I do agree with what you’ve written above, and could have imagined writing something similar myself. I do have one concern for you – well for us actually.

    The NT itself does tend to setup some very strong dichotomies especially when interacting with those who oppose what is deemed to be orthodox faith. A few examples will do, but I’m sure you could supply more. Paul can be rather uncharatable to those who oppose him, he has very strong words for his opponents in Galatia, and Paul (or the writer of philippians) calls his opponents ‘dogs, those who do evil’. There is a strong concern for correct teaching in the pastorals, and I don’t need to remind you of extremely strong denouncment of opponents in Jude/II Peter. Even the beloved deciple is not averse to drawing lines and castigating his opponents.

    Given all this its not hard imagine that given right circumstance s Paul might also call for an institution sever a relationship with a teacher using much the same kind of language as Strachan above.

    To be very clear, I’m NOT suggesting that Paul would have agreed with Strachan, but only that for some kinds of teachers its hard to imagine that Paul – and others in the NT – would NOT have reacted as strongly or even more strongly. We have lots of evidence that they did exactly this.

    Now one might argue that we are don’t have the same kind of apostolic authority as Paul and the gang, and this is certainly true. Nevertheless reading the NT it does lead me to wonder if their aren’t in fact things that we should be willing to demonize, to speak strong about, to draw clear and hard lines. Now for many of us, my self included, most things on my list of things to demonize have to do with Justic. But in the NT this list also include items of theology and doctrine.

    So I have a question for us – and this is an honest question I don’t know the answer.

    Are there theological, hermenutical, or doctrinal issues that is as imperative? Are their issues that are so central that we should follow the NT’s example? How do we know? I’m sure that Strachan, though quite misguided in our view, would see himself as just following the NT example in dealing with harmful teachers.

    My question for myself and you is just how do we know what really matters, what hill we should be will do die on, and more importantly which hill should we be willing to demonize others on?

    • Marshall

      1 Corinthians 10:17 … Paul doesn’t call for Apollos or Cephas to be dismissed. “Is Christ divided?”

      • Marshall

        1 Corinthians 1:10-17. Duh! me.

      • Ed Gentry

        Thanks for trying to help make my point, but I’m not sure I’d read it that way. Paul’s point seems to be that the Corinthians were appealing to these teachers and so dividing themselves. I don’t see how he would be suggesting that Apollos or Cephas be dismissed.

  • mark

    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.”

    Or might it rather be that WE endorse values that we find in certain parts of “the Bible,” without considering how such passages (let alone ALL parts of “the Bible”) fit into an overall scheme or theory of revelation. Like, what reason do we have to believe that in the overall scheme of revelation such passages are intended to endorse the values they embrace for the overall scheme?

  • Ed Gentry

    The Bible is not an ideological monolith – even if we just consider the first testament. There are values praised by parts of the first testament that are elsewhere, rejected, or at least softened, subverted, or mitigated.

  • Nate Johnson

    One issue Dr. Enns raises gains my sympathy – that of ‘mis-contextualizing a quote’. Not to justify such journalistic practices, but it’s done more frequently than we’d like to think, and it is usually prompted by the ‘market place’, which needs to get readers to buy into something sensational. This includes 1) titles 2) captions 3) photos and content. And not to be too simplistic, these decisions are often complex.

    That being said, I am rather taken back at Dr. Enns’ attack, which is a form of another kind of bullying, on ‘the call’ for an institution, i.e., Messiah College in particular and Evangelicalism at large, to ABIDE by their stated confession. Words used approvingly in Enns’ article, e.g., ‘gatekeepers’, as though this thing is terribly one-sided; it is not. Many liberal institutions are ‘gatekeepers’ from another angle. MY POINT is that these various institutions (and individuals) are guilty of, well, dare I say – NOTHING! Go ahead fight with your pen for your confession (formal or informal), but it seems here, the real bullying is an attempt to intimidate those who call upon an individual to honor the institution’s guidelines, and if he/she will not, then, as last resort, encourage have the institution act consistently with it. What’s wrong with this? Maybe Messiah’s confession is wrong; maybe Evangelical institutions do not allow ‘enough’ academic freedom. All of this perhaps is true, but to bully someone who is calling upon an institution to act consistently with their stated beliefs is an honorable call. I think, Strachan, would praise the integrity of Seibert if he would leave Messiah College, and IN PRINCIPLE, Strachan would also approve if the college changed their stance to allow for Seibert’s position (though I would expect Strachan to express regret and no doubt critique such a stance). He is merely wanting institutions to act consistently with their convictions. This to me is a good thing.

    I also take issue with Enns’ critique of Mohler, when Enns says, “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…” Excuse me? 100% irrelevant? Not the last time I check good, sound hermeneutic principles. To be sure the praise of God’s steadfast love is within the context of his covenant people, but surely with the universal implications imbedded within Abrahamic covenant, which preceded the nation of Israel, there certainly is SIGNIFICANCE to be gleaned from Psalm 106 toward outsiders, i.e., gentiles! In short, I would like to see Dr. Enns enumerate the principles that should guide an institution as it attempts to live within its confessional parameters. What does this look like? Can he affirm as moral an institution to live within the confines of its confession?

    • peteenns

      Nate, Strachan is a 31 year old young man calling for the dismissal of a 16 year, tenured professor. He has acted childishly and irresponsibly, he needs to be disciplined by his elders at his institution, and I am not bullying him by calling him out on trying to publicly destroy a man’s career. Also, Ps 106 refers to God’s love FOR ISRAEL, not the nations. With every text cited we cannot simply download any other text we feel we should draw into the argument, as if at every moment there is an “eternal simulteneity”(as J.D. Levenson calls it) with all texts. But don’t lose my main point. Mohler’s use of the psalm was to set Seibert up to be trashed by juxtaposing it to Dawkins. That is shameful.

      • Nate Johnson

        Peter, I too sense the inappropriateness of what was done. Perhaps a public statement is indeed justified.
        In terms of Mohler, I counted no less than seven instances where Mohler praised Seibert for his honesty, academic thoroughness, familiarity with sources and candor to just name some. I thought he demonstrated an exemplarity that is very rare in this polemical age. I only hope to emulate it in my own exchanges where there is disagreement. He did such a good job, I thought it was contrastive of Strachan’s institutional challenge.
        Your insight into the motives of Mohler are questionable. The commendations I listed are counter-factuals, and I do not believe they constitute a set up “to trash” Seibert. Indeed, he even said that evangelicals are infamously guilty of ‘ignoring’ these kinds of issues. He wasn’t saying Seibert is to be directly associated with Dawkins; he was juxtaposing extremes, and from what I could tell, he believes Seibert falls somewhere in between. Mohler’s silence seems to suggest that he either agrees with Strachan’s move, or it was a shortcoming on Mohler’s sensibilites, but anything more than this seems to overstep the data.
        Lastly, in terms of “eternal simultaneity’, if Levenson means that there is no unifying thread, then of course I demur. In terms of “every moment there is…with all texts,” I hope I wasn’t being that careless :) I see a difference between meaning and significance; therefore, the fact that God is said to be good to Israel, does not negate the ‘spill-over’ for other peoples, especially when there’s been ‘provision for inclusion’ and ‘promise for their inclusion’ within related texts. Much like the oft quoted 2 Chron text whereby God promises his people that “If they repent… God will heal their land.” Yes, it was a promise to Israel, but in the Psalms there are promises to bless ‘any nation’ that does such and such. The meaning and looming promise is restricted to Israel, but significance can be responsibly gleaned for other nations as well, no?

  • Craig Vick

    Sadly, I think there are deeper issues here, at least too deep for me to resolve. From this well Strachan’s behavior is almost inevitable. The problem is that confessions of faith do not serve well as gatekeepers. I write this being a member of a confessional institution and conscious of the fact that I have no workable alternative. To see what I mean let’s do a little thought experiment. Suppose a professor signs a confession of faith and then does the work of a professor. Investigation, thought and hard work lead our professor to a view that rubs as an irritant against said confession. Suppose our professor thinks as follows: “My research and thought has brought me to a point where I now see as true a teaching that seems to conflict with the confession I signed. I don’t see where I’ve gone wrong, but for the sake of all the good things Strachan has assured me a confession can bring I’m going to not believe my findings. I’m going to affirm with all my heart the party line.” Would we want to study under such a professor? I wouldn’t.

    • Nate Johnson

      Craig, I’m sympathetic, but the answer is not to decry those who want to ‘hold’ and ‘protect’, but rather to focus on confession itself. If one wants a lot of academic freedom, then seek an institution that allows it. If you ‘grow’ and see that your beliefs have changed, then in the name of academic freedom and personal conviction, then move on. I do not accept your supposition that a professor, who holds to a particular confession, is incapable of teaching well about a topic. It just doesn’t follow.

      • Craig Vick

        I wouldn’t argue, at least in the abstract, that holding to a particular confession makes one incapable of teaching. My example is of a professor holding to a confession in spite of what he or she sees to be true. I’m not really sure this is even possible without some double mindedness. It reminds me of the old joke where a fourth grade Sunday School teacher holds up a picture of a squirrel and asks, “Class, what is this?” One of the students blurts out in response, “It looks like a squirrel, but I know the answer must be Jesus.”

        Your advice to move on has merit, but I’m looking at the problem more from the point of view of the gate keepers. I don’t see that a confession serves them well since, at least in my thought experiment, it actually promotes double mindedness. I do see the need for the gatekeepers. I wish I had better counsel for them. Of course, we could argue that we just need to find the right confession. I have my doubts.

      • Andrew K.

        If one wants a lot of academic freedom, then seek an institution that allows it.

        And thus why I cannot take Nate Johnson seriously, even if he is a sock puppet for Owen Strachen. I would say, BY DEFINITION, an academy should have academic freedom. If a college wants to hold to some kind of “confession,” then don’t call yourself a university, because you are not. I would even question if such a school is worthy of being called a school.

        • Pam

          I agree with this. An institution that doesn’t allow real thought – including the right to challenge ‘accepted’ positions – is not a proper academic institution.

    • peteenns

      Strachan’s understanding of the function of confessions is naive, and the common rhetoric of those in power.

      • Stephen

        I’ve always found the rhetoric about confessions by Evangelical confessionalists like Strachan highly amusing.

        On the one hand, they emphasize that if someone teaches something at odds with a confession, that person should lose his or her place at the confessional table, whether that mean job at the confessional institution in question, pastorate in the confessional denomination, status as a legitimate confessional Christian who can participate in the conversation, etc.

        On the other hand, they bristle at the claim that in advocating such a position they are being “close-minded,” hindering inquiry about the Bible and Creation, or even unscholarly. At this point they tend to use clever rhetoric about confessions not being for punishment and restriction, but for (to quote Strachan) “flourishing” and bringing “life.” Other people have advocated that confessions actually bring true “freedom” to operate with the confession, etc.

        Three brief thoughts:
        (1) It’s amusing to see how such folks very much use confessions as clubs to stipulate limits on inquiry about the Bible, and yet energetically reject such representations of what they’re doing, especially the notion that they are thus being unscholarly or restrictive of inquiry. This, IMO, illustrates, at least in our culture, the deep Evangelical commitment to the notion of “academic” and “scholarly” legitimacy. It’s very important that they can represent themselves as holding the true and legitimate scholarly high ground. It also surely illustrates their participating in and (tacit) affirmation of the ideal of “freedom” and the like. I don’t bring this up as inherently critiques, per se, just as illustrations of characteristics of the sociology of Evangelicals.

        (2) As Pete pointed out, such rhetoric tends to be deployed in very un-self critical ways. E.g., it’s one thing to go all confessional and purport to champion “honesty” when you’re not the one faced with losing your ability to support yourself and your family; it’s entirely different if you trumpet that value when faced with such things.

        (3) I’m sorry, but the clever rhetoric about confessions as for “flourishing” and the like are just ridiculous when it comes to talking about inquiry, study, scholarship, etc. That’s like saying that jail cells exist to promote real freedom for the person locked inside. Are you kidding? I seriously have no respect for this argument in the least when it’s used by Evangelical confessionalists to represent what they’re doing as still true inquiry, concern for “truth,” “scholarship,” etc. I guess it’s fine if they want to be confessionalists, but (and let’s invoke their favored rhetoric of “honesty”) they should be “honest” about what they’re doing: stacking the deck so that their views CANNOT be criticized and setting up social and institutional conditions that ensure the dominance of those who affirm and commit to furthering the enshrined ideology (“theology”).

        • peteenns

          Spot on Stephen. You ought to write a book–or at least some articles :-) The same rhetoric of confessionalism is evident at Westminster Theological Seminary and I am sure others as well.

  • DDueck

    This discussion seems to be completely in line with our/your/my fundamentalist/evangelical roots. The evangelical world was formed by creating walls to determine who was in and who was out. I believe that Strachan and his ilk believe strongly that their very purpose as an evangelical is to call for Messiah College to dismiss Siebert. This is one of the many reasons why I am an uncomfortable part of the evangelical world. I also am thankful for the Brethren in Christ church which I attend for handling issues of this sort in a respectful manner.

  • AJG

    Strachan seems like a little weasel to me. From his view that women are created by God to work in the home, to his pithy little insults where he calls men who choose to stay at home to raise their children “Man-Fails” to this. He’s a coward who doesn’t even allow comments on his own blog.

  • Paul

    Well, it could be worse. Instead of calling for his job he could be out gathering sticks for a good old fashioned burning at the stake. So we have come a long way. Maybe. Or maybe not.

    I think Pete is unto something important here. We are too narrow in what we allow our professor’s say. You cannot protect truth by silencing opposition. In fact the act of silencing may be a sign that it is not truth that is being defended at all. And any form of silencing is really a participation in the violence of our sometimes limited but real unsavory past in these matters.

    • rvs

      “The act of silencing may be a sign that it is not truth that is being defended at all.” –Nice point.

  • Dr. Dee

    One issue is unexamined here. Did Dr. Seibert actually violate his institution’s statement of faith, which simply affirms the Bible’s authority. Did Dr. Seibert deny the Bible’s authority or did he interpret the Bible in ways that question certain models (theological constructs) of biblical authority. Seibert seems to me to affirm the Bible’s cumulative authority, or the cumulative vision of the canon providing its own correctives for aspects of scripture that are problematically inconsistent with other facets of scripture. You can quibble with whether he is successful or not, but it is not self-evident that he violated his institution’s statement of faith.

  • tony springer

    Can anyone really be shocked at this coming from sbts?

  • rvs

    –”Theologically and hermeneutically naive and untenable.” Yes, bingo, and it needed to be said loudly. Thank you for the lucid comments and the precise rhetorical analysis. The rhetorical strategies used against Seibert are unethical, as you note, not to mention childish. Immature theologians are always afraid of intelligent arguments for reasons that are obvious, sadly, and Strachan is no exception. This panel–in general terms–has a lot of growing up to do.

  • Mary

    They can shoot the messenger (Seiburt) but the message will not die.

  • Mary

    Why do people prefer dogma over truth?

  • Barry Matlock

    At moments like this, I find the KJV rendering of the last line of Acts 26.14 helpful.

  • Jared H

    Pete, I haven’t read enough of your own material to know if you’ve covered this somewhere, but in relation to the wider issue of the violence of God and how we cope with this within our faith and doctrine of Scripture…
    - the material is clearly a problem for us
    - so we need to find some way of dealing with it that is not Marcionite.

    The way in which I have tried to do so is by way of Calvin’s concept of ‘accommodation’ – that God accommodated the revelation of himself to the capacity of the people to understand and act on it. There is a significant paragraph in the Institutes illustrating this (1.17.13) and comments in his Genesis commentary on ch 1. Although I haven’t read the material in his commentary on the Pentateuch the late David F Wright (Edinburgh Prof) wrote some interesting articles setting out that Calvin not only taught a theological accommodation but an ethical one as well – taking account of the difficulties we find.

    I have not found any detailed exposition of the problem referring to Calvin and his idea and think it might be a fruitful opportunity for someone with your own expertise to develop. It’s somewhat counter-intuitive for Calvinists to think of him in a way that appears to make theology and ethics more open and developmental! I’d he interested to hear your thoughts.

    On the specifics of this case, wholly agree with you and it must be especially painful for you. Blessings.

    • peteenns

      Jared, you might want to look at some of Kent Sparks’s stuff, namely Sacred Word Broken Word. He too like the notion of accommodation. I’m good with it too, but I’ve used an incarnational model to try to grasp this. I did a series of posts last summer on violence, and you can find them easily enough searching here. One you might be most interested is entitled (something like) “God lets his children tell the story”.

      • Jared H

        Thanks Pete – will check them out.

  • Mike Nichols

    I am a convert to the Orthodox church. One of the reasons I left the evangelical church was because of stuff like this. First, the literal – and in my view, slavish – reading of the Bible. And second, and more important, is the equation of the church to the ancient Israelites. Every commandment (well, not every; just the ones they choose) of God to the Israelites is applicable to Christians 3-4 millennia later. I am aware of the doctrine that the church is the fulfillment of God’s covenant to the Jews, and that some see Christians as being in some way Israelites (but God forbid, not Jewish). It rings false in my view, and is one of the reason people, particularly young people, are leaving the evangelical churches in droves.

    • Seraphim

      That’s incorrect and it is not the Orthodox view. According to the Orthodox Church, the Church is the fulfillment of the promises that God made to the people of Israel. Just survey the liturgical texts of the Church and see how much they reference the exodus, Moses, the Prophets, etc. Evangelicals largely believe that Israel and the Church are separate- Orthodoxy teaches that they are identical. Read the Fathers on the Old Testament brother. They teach that it is Scripture. Check out Chrysostom on Isaiah, or St. Philaret on Genesis.

  • krwordgazer

    I’m disturbed by the language of the shepherding/dominionist movement being used here:
    “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.”
    In light of this, Strachan’s insistence that the Bible is uniformly good and loving is essentially the 2-rules parody, which goes as follows:
    “We have two rules here. A. The leader is always right. B. If the leader is wrong, see Rule A.”
    In other words, if you have a question, the hierarchy-enforcers above you should shut you up. This is what he seems to me to be fundamentally saying. Any child who points out the lack of clothes on the emperor is to be silenced lest anyone else hear. Actually engaging with the difficult texts and finding a way to make sense of them other than by denying what they actually say, is out of bounds.

  • Jon Hughes


    I’m with you 100%, and shall be praying about the situation.

  • Seeker

    Not positive, but I think Owen Strachan may have decided to remove the controversial post from his blog here on Patheos?? I just looked for it, and could not find it. If so, glad that he decided to remove it…

    • Seeker

      Uh, I think I spoke too soon. Must have just been wishful thinking on my part… It looks like it is just a problem with the Patheos site, because you can easily access the original post via the link Peter provided. Sorry for the confusion.

  • Barbara

    I’ve read the entirety of all of this without any prior knowledge and it has been fascinating and disturbing. I believe one woman has chimed in. There seems to be a great deal of outrage expressed by the men on the various sides of the debate. I think people are smart enough to judge for themselves the intent of those making statements, etc. They will vote with their feet. We still have such a long way to go to have unity and peace in Christian brother and sisterhood. No one really responded well to the young student. I say, “get above the fray. Open your heart to the Gospel and let God lead your belief. He will guide you on the path. We all make mistakes as we follow and as we lead. Jump in! You will be a fine pastor.” God bless us!

  • Andrew

    Ed above is completely right: “The Bible is not an ideological monolith – even if we just consider the first testament. There are values praised by parts of the first testament that are elsewhere, rejected, or at least softened, subverted, or mitigated.”
    Which is why talk of ‘biblical values’ is nonsensical.

  • James

    This is exactly why I have separated myself apart from the these evangelical gatekeepers, if not all with the evangelical tradition.
    It is these reactions and accusations that snuff out the will of those in the faith that are honestly struggling with biblical/theological/philosophical issues.
    I’m just being honest.
    Mohler and his gang of thugs have been getting on my nerves.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    God says it, and that’s that.

    Al’lah’u Akbar…

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    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.

    “A fanatic is someone who carries out what God would Will if God only knew what was REALLY going on.”
    – don’t know where I heard that one, but it’s appropriate

  • Jeremiah

    Haven’t we all figured out by now that Boyce is just the pen where Mohler keeps his attack dogs?

  • Mike Sangrey

    I’ve always liked this quote:
    “The free exchange of ideas cannot be subject to any government but courtesy.” — Joseph Garnier

  • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist

    First of all, Strachan has demonstrated – every chance he gets – that he is not a thinker. Period. He has always been a polemicist. This is not an excoriation, but an objective analysis of his words and writings. The elements of critical thinking are public, and Strachan does not make use of them. Sadly, this could very often be said of Mohler. He has an agenda, and objective analysis of facts is not part of that agenda. All that to say that I think you may be expecting too much out of panels like this one. When I was a student at SBTS it was routine to hear students snicker at these panels because they were obvious attempt at self-reinforcement. Put boundaries around acceptable think, etc., etc. Mohler et. al. had not intention of interacting with Seibert’s intellectual arguments. And they didn’t. No surprise.

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  • C.M. Granger

    Why would Messiah College require subscription to a certain body of doctrines if they did not intend to enforce adherence to those doctrines? How is it wrong for Strachan to expect them to do what they apparently intended to do when they put such a requirement on the table in the first place?

    Messiah College should simply scrap their doctrinal requirements and drop the pretense.

  • Seraphim

    Actually, as an Orthodox Christian, your representation of the Orthodox tradition, though common, is not accurate. Orthodoxy sees allegory as one essential element of Biblical interpretation, but this is not so at expense of the literal. The whole idea of replacing literal readings with allegorical readings is on its face absurd. If the book of Joshua is ONLY valuable as an artificial allegory, then it would be more honest to simply dismiss the book from the canon. The best example of literal reading (even of very tough texts) within the Orthodox tradition is the Patristic reading of Jepthah’s sacrifice. It is regarded as historical by the Fathers.

    Seibert’s problem is that he doesn’t make a serious effort to read these books within the Christian tradition at all. Are they troubling? Absolutely. Do Mohler and the Southern Baptists gloss over them? Yep. But simply declaring that they represent the “textual God” instead of the “real God” doesn’t solve anything. Faux outrage at the accusation of Marcionism doesn’t make the accusation false: Seibert’s views of these texts are nearly exactly the views of Marcion. To say that Yahweh acted, throughout the Hebrew Bible, like any other tribal deity is troubling. Jesus and the Apostles clearly believed that God was at work in ancient Israel in a way that He was not at work in other nations. The New Testament use of the Old must have some basis in reality, and yes, I acknowledge that the NT reflects 2nd Temple methods of exegesis, which include but are not limited to midrash and typological interpretation.

    My problem is not one of dogmatism here. It’s a matter of consistency. There are certain things which would simply invalidate Christianity. That the Bible might contain some mistakes and contradictions doesn’t invalidate Christianity. Saying that there was no historical Adam or historical flood doesn’t invalidate Christianity. However, saying that God was not uniquely at work in ancient Israel DOES invalidate Christianity. If Seibert believes this, he should be consistent and declare himself a very liberal Christian or an agnostic.

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