Regarding Old Testament “Texts of Terror”

Regarding the Old Testament and Its “Texts of Terror”

Recently I reported and commented on a conversation with a Ph.D. student (not of the institution where I teach) who confronted me about “inclusivism” and the fact that he would not bother to risk his life in missions if he thought God had provided any other way by which people could come to know his grace and mercy unto salvation than hearing and believing the gospel of Jesus Christ (restrictivism). My point in reporting and commenting on that conversation was not to pick on that individual; it was to respond to a recurring theme in numerous conversation I’ve had with conservative Christians who claim that any belief other than restrictivism undermines evangelism and missions.

This same religion/theology Ph.D. student continued his confrontation by arguing that since God commanded Israel to slaughter all idolaters God would not save people in non-Christian cultures without them turning from their idolatry which (his point was) cannot happen without a Christian missionary bringing them the gospel.

Of course, that point is fraught with difficulties. First, where did God command his people to slaughter all idolaters? Second, it assumes that everything attributed to God in every Old Testament passage was actually God’s will. In other words, it assumes a certain literalistic view of inspiration and interpretation of the Bible (one I was taught in seminary to call “wooden”). Third, if taken to its logical conclusion, it implies that God wants his people not only to evangelize but to slaughter idolaters. There are so many problems with that argument that I find it sad that a Ph.D. student would make it.

Again, my purpose here is not to single out an individual who used a bad argument but to raise questions about the proper interpretation of Old Testament “texts of terror.” They are often mentioned by Calvinists to contradict my contention that the God of high Calvinism, insofar as that theology is consistent, is a moral monster. The question raised against me goes something like this: “In the Old Testament God commanded his people to slaughter all the men, women and children in Canaanite cities. Does that make God a moral monster?”

First, I think there is a huge difference between that and God predestining people to everlasting torment in hell. However, I admit that the texts of terror of the Old Testament are troublesome. (But no more than some “Old Testament Christians” I know should find Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount troublesome!)

Second, we have no way of knowing all the circumstances of those alleged divine commands and actions of the Israelites. All we have are reports that God told them to do these things and that they did them. The texts don’t explain the all the circumstances or reasons.

Third, nobody interprets all the texts of terror literally in the sense that they believe they are all equally God’s will. Among the most terrifying of them are the impreccatory Psalms. There the Psalmist, presumably writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, cries out to God and says he wishes his enemies’ childrens’ heads would be bashed against rocks. Surely that should reveal something about the Old Testament writers’ tendency to use “children” as a metaphor for punishment of groups of adults.

Of course, fundamentalists will cry “liberal!” against anyone who dares to question whether God literally commanded Israel to slaughter babies or slaughtered them himself (as in the killing of Egypt’s firstborn sons during the Exodus).

I adamantly reject that libelous accusation. Nobody takes everything in the Old Testament literally. Many stories in the early parts of the Old Testament especially are simply head-scratchers. The whole point of “progressive revelation” is to say that the New Testament sheds light on the Old Testament and helps us relativize some of the things attributed to God there.

Jesus said of children that “of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Should we relativize Jesus in light of the Old Testament or vice versa? What is the best clue to God’s character and will, Jesus or the author(s) of Joshua and Judges?

Whenever I ask such questions, someone accuses me of being “Marcionite.” That’s a pretty big stretch. Marcion wanted to exclude the whole Old Testament and portions of the New Testament from the Christian canon because of their “Jewishness.” That’s not my view at all. Is anyone ever called a Marcionite because she interprets the Song of Solomon symbolically?

“Liberal” identifies a certain kind of hermeneutic that is specifically accommodationist with regard to modernity. (Yale historical theologian rightly defined “liberal” in theology as “maximal acknowledgment of the claims of modernity.”) Many of the early church fathers interpreted much of the Old Testament allegorically. Were they then “liberal?” Hardly.

I’m a baptist. (I explained my reason for using the small letter “b” in an earlier post so I won’t go over that again here.) I tend to think there are two kinds of Baptists—New Testament ones and Old Testament ones. What were the earliest baptists—before the Particular Baptists (Calvinist baptists heavily influenced by the Puritans)?

Let’s look at two early baptist Confessions: the Dordrecht Confession (1632) and the A Short Confession (Thomas Helwys) (1610).

Like many other Anabaptist statements of faith (and the early English baptists, followers of John Smyth and Thomas Helwys were called “Anabaptists”) the Dordrecht Confession contains an article (Article V) on Scripture. This one is entitled “Of the Law of Christ, Which is the Holy Gospel, or the New Testament.” (See W. L. Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions of Faith [Judson Press, 1959], p. 70.) It says of the New Testament that in it the “whole counsel and will of His [Jesus’] heavenly Father, so far as these are necessary to the salvation of man, are comprehended.  The Waterland Confession (1580) says of the doctrine to be preached and with which the people of God should agree that “It…is contained in the books of the New Testament to which we join all that which is found in the canonical books of the Old Testament and WHICH IS CONSONANT WITH THE DOCTRINE OF CHRIST AND HIS APOSTLES AND IN ACCORD WITH THE ADMINISTRATION OF HIS SPIRITUAL KINGDOM.” (Lumpkin, p. 59) In other words, not everything in the Old Testament is part of the doctrine to be preached and believed.

The very first “Baptist” confession of faith was John Smyth’s Short Confession of Faith in XX Articles (1610). It doesn’t mention Scripture at all. (It is, by the way, thoroughly Arminian. See Lumpkin, pp. 100-101.) The second “Baptist” (capital B) confession of faith was Thomas Helwys’ A Short Confession of Faith also dated 1610. Its article (27) on Scripture sounds very much like the Dordrecht Confession. It says that the doctrine to be “proposed to the people” by ministers, which “Christ brought out of heaven” is “written…in the Scripture of the New Testament, whereto we apply whatsoever we find in the canonical book of the Old Testament, which hath affinity and verity, which by doctrine of Christ and his apostles, and consent and agreement, with the government of his Spiritual Kingdom.” (Lumpkin, p. 109).

Without doubt the earliest baptists (including Baptists) were “New Testament Christians.” They did not think everything in the Old Testament was truth for Christians to believe and obey. That is, they read the Bible backwards, as it were. They relativized the Old Testament in light of the New.

John Smyth was, of course, the founder of one of the first Baptist congregations. The other one was founded by Thomas Helwys. Both fancied themselves Mennonites at times but found little acceptance by the Dutch Mennonites. The reasons were not so much theological as cultural. Smyth’s Short Confession of Faith in XX Articles does not touch on Scripture, but he did discuss the Old Testament in several of his writings including Parallels, Censures, Observations. I won’t get into it here, but Jason K. Lee, who taught church history at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, discusses Smyth’s view of the relationship between the New Testament and the Old in The Theology of John Smyth (Mercer, 2003).

Lee has an entire chapter on “Smyth’s Use of Typology” that makes clear by many quotations from Smyth’s own writings, that the considered the Old Testament inspired Scripture but relativized it in light of the New Testament and regarded it primarily as foreshadowing the New. “He sees the Old Testament as containing types or signs which point to a higher truth or principle. So, the types are not to be maintained, but the principles behind them are.” (p. 101) However, according to Smyth, the principles are all in the New Testament and stated more clearly there than in the Old Testament. One thing is clear: Smyth did not consider the Old Testament necessary for Christianity. However he did not think it should be done away with, either. (p. 100)

Later, among Puritan-influenced Particular Baptists, the Old Testament is elevated to a higher status and strenuous attempts are made to make the two testaments equal for Christians. However, in my opinion, no Christian has ever been able to accomplish that. Christians always interpret the Old Testament in light of the New and relativize the Old.

However, I keep running into what I call “Old Testament Christians” who seem to think it is necessary to take everything in the Old Testament literally and as applicable to Christians today. They’re never consistent, however, as they rarely believe the ceremonial laws and practices of the Old Testament are for today. I said they’re “never consistent” because, when pushed, they always admit that SOME parts of the Old Testament are not relevant to Christian belief and practice. It seems the main parts they want to hold onto and insist are still relevant for Christians (and America as “Christian nation”) have to do with killing (holy war, capital punishment, etc.). But I have never found one who believes EVERYTHING mentioned as a cause for capital punishment should be today.

I don’t have definite answers about the Old Testament texts of terror. All I can do is place question marks over them and leave them there. I will not say, as some do, that they are false records of what God commanded invented to justify Israel’s holy wars. I just don’t know how to explain them. But I certainly don’t think they have any relevance for Christians. Jesus not only set aside Israel’s ceremonial laws and practices for his followers; he also revealed a side to God’s character and will only hinted at in the Old Testament (mostly in certain Psalms and in portions of the prophets).

I will boldly say that baptists, in keeping with our origins, ought to read the Bible backwards. That is, we must interpret the Old Testament in light of the New and relativize the former in light of the latter.

 

  • Matt

    Something I find helpful (even if it does not solve the problem), is the idea that God gave the Israelites commands because their hearts were hard (cf. the sermon on the mount). God interacts with people on an “as is, where is” basis. Surely this accounts for some of the OT (and NT) head-scratchers. Also part of the problem is the unwillingness of interpreters to put something in the question mark category. The idol of systematic theology dictates that we must have everything figured out. An airtight system is as illusory as it is idolatrous.

  • Zach

    Some good thoughts here. Two points/questions: John Goldingay suggests the opposite, that we should read the second testament in light of the first (not really the opposite, just that one should do both). Second, what’s your take on historicity of the OT? I’ve been struggling with that issue recently, the divide between maximalists (unless we can falsify it it happened) and minimalists (Davies, etc) who claim that it’s all made up, there was no Israel, and the whole OT was written during the Persian/very late date. Thanks for the input.

    • rogereolson

      Surely the truth must be somewhere between those two extremes. My experience is that all Old Testament scholars say what Goldingay does and I expect and respect that. After all, they have spent much of their lifetime devoted to studying it. Nevertheless, our baptist tradition is to read the Bible backwards. And the early church fathers certainly did it that way as well. I don’t know what tradition Goldingay belongs to, but I will bet its Reformed.

      • Zach

        I think he’s an Anglican or Episcopal priest. For my part, I don’t think you can discount either. NT Wright’s work has convinced me that there’s no way you’re going to understand Jesus without Israel. I also find much wisdom in the OT that isn’t in the NT; to me they’re both equally canon (as the early church fathers also decided!). Certainly fundamentalist readings are less than helpful, but the Old Testament is authoritative, though not on the level of the NT. I’m not a huge fan of the canon within the canon scheme.

        • rogereolson

          IMHO, everyone has a canon within the canon. My point was clear, I thought. Not that the OT is not part of the canon but that in matters of INTERPRETATION we read the OT in light of the NT. I’m sure Wright agrees with that.

          • Robert

            I think Wright will say that the OT gives vital context and narrative subsctructure to the NT. You’ll catch this if you read his “Justification,” where he advances the argument that many of Paul’s seemingly arbitrary proof texts are actually a shorthand way of him referencing a largely OT narrative scheme that would provide a great deal subtext to his audience (subtext that (a) is lost in a literal reading, esp. in certain translations; yet it is subtext that (b) can have significant implications for interpretation.

            Anyway, I think Wright would definitely agree that the NT trumps the OT in terms of our doctrine and rule of faith, but he would say that if you divorce the NT from its OT context, your understanding of the gospel is radically, perhaps dangerously, impoverished.

            That’s implicit in the title of another one of his books, “Climax of the Covenant”–that all the longings and foreshadowings of the OT reach their fulfillment (and radical reinterpretation) in the NT. The OT is not the gospel, but our understanding of the gospel is impoverished without the OT.

  • http://www.seekingfaithfulnessblog.blogspot.com Holly

    Roger – I just have to tell you how much I (STILL) appreciate your blog. My 19 year old already reads here and we discuss your posts.

    My 17 year old son has had lots of questions for me since he is reading thru the OT again – so I printed out today’s post and handed it out at supper for all of the teens to read.

    THANK YOU for helping me educate my children. :) (We homeschool.)

    • rogereolson

      There was recently an episode of the sit-com “The Middle” that dealt with the Old Testament. “Brick” (the younger son who is intellectually inclined) just couldn’t believe the Bible in spite of his very religious sister’s and youth pastor’s attempts to help him. It ended with him saying “It’s a good story, though.” That was the last line of the show. I wish the writers had consulted some theologians before writing the episode. The way it ended was “either-or.” Either the sister’s literalist interpretation or Brick’s reading of it as just “a story.” I’m glad I could help your sons.

  • GP

    From a layman, that was inspirational. Thank you.

  • http://rwtyer.blogspot.com Rory Tyer

    I heartily recommend David Baker’s “Two Testaments, One Bible” to anybody struggling to conceive of the proper relationship between the OT and the NT.

  • Joel DeMott

    Dr. Olson,

    Have you interacted with Paul Copan’s book, IS GOD A MORAL MONSTER?
    If so what are your thoughts regarding his approach?

    • rogereolson

      I haven’t. It’s another book to put on my pile to read. Thanks.

  • http://theoperspectives.blogspot.com/ James Goetz

    Hmm, Good point. What must I do to be saved? Must I believe that the Lord literally commended the Israelites to slaughter infants for me to be saved?

    • rogereolson

      I know some fundamentalists who would say yes. I think the mainstream of Christianity would say no. That would be salvation by works (believing facts).

      • http://theoperspectives.blogspot.com/ James Goetz

        I cannot wait for the release of Jerome Creach’s next book, VIOLENCE IN THE BIBLE, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, to be published in 2012.

  • Ryan Driscoll

    Dr. Olson,

    I, like you, have a hard time wrapping my mind around the “texts of terror” in the Old Testament. However, my question focuses more on the part of your post where you talk about interpreting the Old Testament through the lenses of the New, rather than the other way around. I understand that the New Testament does provide new light on the Old Testament, in many ways, but do you think we run the possibility of making the OT fit our NT perspective when we follow that thought process? In other words, by using the NT to interpret the OT we run the risk overlooking the cultural meaning, overlook the circumstances surrounding the words the writer chose, and assume particular OT verses say more than they do. I know I am using a question to make a statement, but I am curious to hear your thoughts on this matter.

    • rogereolson

      I would go so far as to say that we should not focus on the cultural meaning, the circumstances, etc., except out of historical interest. Everything we need to know about God and salvation is in the New Testament. The OT was types and shadows. It provides some context for understanding the New Testament, but it provides nothing essential for doctrine or practice that Christians cannot find in the NT.

  • Steve Rogers

    God bless you for this.

  • Mikael Stenhammar

    I agree. A christocentric reading of the Old Testament, and the New as well, is key. It would solve a lot of hermeneutical problems today.

  • Jeff

    One reason the Israelites were killing the inhabitants of a particular place is because the Israelites were few in number. They were chosen for one reason, that was to bring Christ into the world. The Old Testament is about Jesus and what it took to bring Him here. If the Israelites had not killed their enemies, they would have lived among them eventually worshiping their idols, and taking their women as wives, eventually leading to this tiny race of people becoming almost, if not entirely, extinct. After man sinned, God used man to bring eternal life back….the result was Jesus. Since the fall of man, death is now the engine that drives life. Without death, there can be no rebirth. In order for there to be something new, something old must end….this is the story of the Old Testament, of Jesus, and of “life.”

    • rogereolson

      It seems they could have adopted the children and raised them as their own. Anyway, your comment doesn’t deal with the main objection many people have to the Old Testament holy wars which come close to genocide. What do you mean “without death there can be no rebirth?” Doesn’t the Bible say death is the last enemy?

      • Jeff

        The blood line of the Jews had to stay pure because that was to be the lineage of Christ. Just like the people creating a golden calf when Moses was away, or the wisest man to ever live, (Solomon) allowing the infiltration of other gods due to his many wives from other cultures. The inter-mingling of other cultures would have been the demise of the Israelites. I believe this is one reason, out of many, that they were told to wipe out other cultures. The entire Old Testament is a story of how Jesus came into our world. It’s a story of how He kept one select group of people on a course of “true north” so that through them the Messiah would come. The Israelites could not co-exist with these other nations and have the same outcome two thousand years ago.
        As far as death goes, Jesus said unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground it remains alone. Unless we die to the old man we cannot become new. Jesus died to bring us life…….everywhere you look, something has to die to bring forth new life. A grain of wheat (a seed), even plants and animals die to bring us life. It’s when we lose our life that we gain life. When the first Adam sinned, that brought death into the world, before that there was no sin or death. what the serpant meant for evil, God used for good…..He took death and used ot to bring life. Even His only son.
        Just my thoughts, thanks for letting me share. I love your blog. I’m a born again Christian, and I love things that make me think and study :-)
        Thank you sir….

        • Jeff

          One more thing I would like to add, and correct me if I’m wrong.
          One main difference between genocide and what the Israelites did to other nations would be mindset and intent.
          Genocide in modern day it seems is the word used when a group of people attempt to exterminate another class or race of people due to racism, hatred, or because of religious differences. The term “genocide” was coined in 1944 by a guy named Raphael Lemkin. He used the word to describe what the Germans were doing to the Jews.
          The Israelites in the Old Testament were not attacking the others for these reasons……they were attacking them for what they could/would do to the Israelites. It was a case of “strike first” and leave no enemies. The intent was self preservation. “Total warfare” is a military term. It’s what Grant resorted to to finally bring an end to the civil war, and what America did by dropping some energy on Hiroshima. Genocide on the other hand is a different mind-set with different intent – It’s what Hitler tried to do to the Jews, and what America almost did to the Indians. In either case there was no real threat.

          Just my thoughts.

  • Bev Mitchell

    OT and NT Baptists; reading the Bible backwards; these are great images and the first one is sadly too true. It seems many didn’t get the memo from Jesus, Paul, John, James, Stephen and friends that the OT needed to be read in an entirely new light. And these authors even left us with hundreds of specific examples of how to ‘read backwards’. Crossway has a useful list at http://kindle.esvsb.org/c36

    We could even say that one of the major functions of the OT is to give us the Bad News (we can’t do it) while the NT delivers the Good News (Christ has done it so we can do it, in Him).  At the basic level, both are so simple we have to really strain our brains to avoid the two messages. The Bad News: sin and evil exist, are powerful and we have no natural abilities for resisting the lies and temptations they bring. Even when God makes covenants with us, delivers us in many ways, provides us with laws written in stone no less, and even deigns to walk with us, live with us in his tent/temple and be so close that only a curtain separates us from his glory, we cannot overcome evil and sin. The Good News:  God stepped through the curtain and entered our world-the creator became the creature in order for evil and sin to be vanquished by Christ who was raised by the power of the Holy Spirit who is now present and active in the world to help us build God’s Kingdom. Surely this is the part of the Book we should begin with and reference everything to!

  • Joel Kime

    Along with Rory’s recommendation, I would like to suggest David Dorsey’s approach: http://www.ccctucsonmedia.com/pdf/Dorsey.pdf. He argues for a compromise which sounds like it might align well with your position. The OT is not for NT believers at all, but it is also completely for NT believers. I’ll let Dr. Dorsey sort that out in the article.

    • rogereolson

      He calls it a “theocentric approach.” As a Christian, I prefer a “Christocentric approach” (to hermeneutics).

  • Anita Schroeder

    I think we have to understand the difference between life and death for human beings here and now and eternal life (or death). The wages of sin is death, not eternal damnation. If someone is punished for sins as in the Old Testament Judgments of people for wrongdoing that is in this life. You steal you are punished, you lie you are punished, you murder you are punished. That does not mean that the punishment is eternal punishment. It is just punishment in this life. The correlation to eternity is that in eternity we will be judged by our works and will be given places in eternity based on how we overcame in this life. The judgment is not a judgment between heaven and hell but a judgment for rewards and places of authority in heaven. “Know you not that you will judge angels” “For those who overcome I will give a white stone” etc.

    • rogereolson

      I don’t get your point. How does that relate to OT holy war including slaughters of children?

  • Josh

    I recently read some really good blog posts by Greg Boyd on this subject that he wrote about three years ago. One of the more interesting post was called “The Teleological Exegetical Principle and O. T. Violence”. He argues that just as the law is understood from “teleological exegetical principles” so should O. T. Violence. Here is the link to his blog post
    http://www.gregboyd.org/blog/the-teleological-exegetical-principle-and-ot-violence/

    • rogereolson

      I always enjoy Greg’s perspectives. We think much alike. That article gives me something to think about, a new way of looking at things. I’m not sure if I agree or not.

      • Percival

        Actually, I think Greg also says he’s not sure he agrees completely with that approach. I seem to remember him expressing that this article was an exploration of the idea.

  • http://www.ironstrikes.com drwayman

    One of my favorite OT “texts of terror” is in Genesis 34. I know that there are implications of protecting honor and disgracing Jacob that cloud my “favoriteness” but I think it quite clever to have men circumcise themselves and then kill them before they healed, while they were defenseless. Even though the men who were killed were enemies, I can’t see God approving of such behavior, especially using one of the signs of His covenant with Abraham in such a dastardly manner.

    • Jeff

      God did not aprove, neither did the boys daddy (Jacob) aprove.

  • Bev Mitchell

    PS
    It is very encouraging to see that The “put the NT first” approach is really gaining steam (again). Pete Enns, for example, has correctly identified Sunday School as an important place to concentrate this emphasis. His new series with Olive Branch called “Telling God’s Story” focuses only on the NT, parables, Jesus etc. in the younger grades. I like his argument for moving away from traditional “Bible Stories”. He says, ….”these are not children’s stories and they were not written to be moral guides. These are complex ancient narratives that bear nuanced theological lessons intended for adult readers and thinkers. That does not mean that children can’t benefit from them. It just means that these stories may not be the best place to start with six year-olds.” see http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/

  • Richard Worden Wilson

    Roger, I can see why some might suggest you are at least a virtual Marcionite since you say things like “The OT was types and shadows. It provides some context for understanding the New Testament, but it provides nothing essential for doctrine or practice that Christians cannot find in the NT.” “Some context ,,, nothing essential”? Understanding the NT is completely dependent on understanding the OT. Every experience of everyone, every thought, every teaching, every doctrine, every practice, everything of any significance in the NT can only be understood in light of the covenant community’s recorded writings in the OT. Without a truly historical grounding in the OT it seems that one would devolve into some kind of a Platonically de-Judaized NT, the substance of the Jewish Messiah Yeshua a mere type of some trans-historical shadow. Perhaps you overstated your perspective, but I found it troubling.

    • rogereolson

      So you think a person who has only the NT cannot be saved? Or a church that has only the NT cannot have all the necessary doctrines for being Christian? Well, if that’s what you think, please give some examples. What’s in the OT ONLY that is necessary for salvation? What’s there ONLY that is necessary for sound Christian doctrine?

      • Richard Worden Wilson

        My concerns weren’t soteriological but historical and hermeneutical. A NT without any conceptual dependence on the OT doesn’t exist. There is no NT doctrine of Jesus and the Apostles that is not dependent on their understanding of OT doctrines. Consciousness and doctrinal conceptions both depend on historical continuity; this applies all the more to faithful representation of doctrinal matters. Sure, we can conceive of a saving message being conveyed to another by a person who doesn’t have in her/his possession a copy of the NT. But a church without the OT would not long retain faithful doctrine. So, to turn your questions around, what in the NT necessary for salvation or doctrine is unrelated to the OT? 8>)

        • rogereolson

          I didn’t say any NT doctrines or ethical commands are “unrelated” to the OT. I said they are not dependent on it. But you didn’t answer my question. Identify one crucial Christian doctrine that requires OT support that could not be derived or defended from the NT alone.

          • Richard Worden Wilson

            There are no NT doctrines that can be derived from the NT alone, in my mind. If all major NT doctrines are “related” to those of the OT they are in some sense “dependent” on the latter. The only sense in which NT doctrines could be considered independent of those of the OT is if you grant The Church, or some church, authority to maintain faithful doctrine and practice independently of scripture. There is no New Covenant without there first being an Old Covenant. So, to answer your question: the “new covenant in My blood” for one. OSISTM

          • rogereolson

            It may be possible better to understand that saying of Jesus with the OT in view, but I don’t think the doctrine it expresses (atonement) is dependent on the OT. I never denied that there are things in the NT better understood with the OT background in view.

  • Drew

    One book that really helped me was Disturbing Divine Behavior by Eric Seibert. Very honest and refreshing book.

  • http://michaellanderson.com/blog Mike Anderson

    I’m curious what you think of New Covenant Theology. It sees itself as heir to the Anabaptist understanding of the Law and covenants, a christocentric interpretation in which the Old Covenant was only a shadow or type of what was revealed in the New Covenant. For example the Decalogue was not given to NT Christians and is not binding upon them as “moral law,” but the law of Christ written upon our hearts incorporates nine of the ten commandments, the Sabbath being fulfilled by Christ for the people of God who rest in Him by faith (Heb. 4:9-10). Perhaps you are familiar with NCT proponents such as John Zens, Gary Long, and David Moffitt, whose primers I found helpful.

    From what little reading I’ve done it seems most NCT proponents are Calvinists, though I don’t see why that would be fundamental to their understanding. Actually I’ve encountered at least one Calvinist blogger who blames Piper-style hedonism in “New Calvinist” churches on antinomianism, and antinomianism on New Covenant Theology. True Calvinist churches I suppose stick with Covenant Theology.

    • rogereolson

      I will need to look further into New Covenant Theology. I’m not familiar with it. From your basic description it sounds good.

  • Drew

    Dr. Olson, if you prefer a Christocentric approach to hermeneutics, Seibert is your guy.

  • Tim Reisdorf

    Hi Roger,

    I think Jesus would firmly defend the God of the OT against all who would speak against Him. I’m somewhat confused by the direction of some of the conversation – pitting the God of the NT versus the God of the OT, or which authors best display God. They are speaking of the same God. What the OT and the NT say about God are true – both of them. I believe that in sorting out the details and perspectives within this framework, there is a wide range of acceptable positions.

    I am somewhat sympathetic to your student’s perspective on Exclusivism v. Inclusivism. If there is another way other than faith in Christ, then it is not spelled out nor guaranteed. And if there is another way, we still have the “preferred” way. In so many ways, God is a God of happy surprises, so I’m an Inclusivist in an idealistic sense. But in the day-to-day world, Exclusivism ought to be the preferred mode of operation.

  • rey

    “In other words, it assumes a certain literalistic view of inspiration and interpretation of the Bible”

    And once you’ve jettisoned that literalistic view of inspiration, you will not only jettison the idea that God really commanded the OT genocides but also the idea that God will burn good people in hell simply for not joining your church(!) or not believing in the mythology of the virgin birth(!) or not believing Paul is a real apostle(!) or even not believing Jesus ever existed at all.

    • rogereolson

      I don’t understand what you wrote. Look at the grammar of your comment. Did you mean that once a person jettisons the literalistic view of inspiration they will not only jettison that but also the idea of not believing that Jesus ever existed at all? Did you intend the double negative there? Maybe it would be a good idea to proof read and correct your comment before submitting it. This one doesn’t make sense.

  • M Burke

    Gnosticism lives

    • rogereolson

      That’s cryptic. Explain.

  • http://notoutofreach.wordpress.com Tobias Sänger

    What helped me in dealing with this issue (violence in the OT) were these three perspectives:

    1 – When I studied the Book of Joshua, I read Jerome Creach’s commentary on it. When it comes to ‘the ban’, he follows Origene in saying that this was not a call to genocide. The book of Joshua itself and historical findings show, that the taking of the land was actually gradual. Plus, every city first had to be offered the chance for peaceful surrender.

    2 – The violent desires of the Psalmists are being interpreted by Eugene Peterson and Miroslav Volf as the way to be honest before God about your feelings, and as the right way to not end up actually doing these things you sing about. You express your hate before God and then leave it there.

    3 – Alexander MacLaren in one of his commentaries on the Pentateuch actually says that we should not complain about the violent measures in the old days. According to him, it is totally OK to say that these were just different (rougher) times, which required different measures.

    • rogereolson

      C. S. Lewis said the same as Peterson and Volf in his wonderful little book on the Psalms.

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