Thom Stark is kicking my ass.
Here’s how bad it is: I thought I was a hard-nosed atheist always ready to find some unsavory bit of the Bible to bring up. I thought I looked at the Bible with an unromantic eye.
Then along comes Thom Stark with his book The Human Faces of God. He’s a Christian in the Stone-Campbell tradition. That connects him to the grandson of Barton Stone, my hero Charles Chilton Moore, so I like him already.
Human Faces of God is his argument against inerrancy, but he also brings out all of the ugly parts of the Bible and faces them head on.
Stark makes me look like Josh McDowell. Or better, like John Shelby Spong, a Liberal Christian desperately trying to wring some inspiring lesson from the text and think the best of its authors. I thought I had left that behind, but Stark is forcing me to realize that I’m still thinking in that mode.
You may remember my interpretation of the Book of Job, which I see as a lesson in the “otherness” of God, a being beyond our understanding of good and evil.
Stark’s having none of that:
Ultimately, the book of Job never acquits Yahweh of the charges brought against him by Job. In fact, the narrative does not shrink back from impugning Yahweh, vindicating Job’s accusations that Yahweh does what he will simply because he can. […] Job is never told why he had to suffer, and today’s pious readers tend to see an air of mystery and profundity in that fact. But they miss what would be obvious to the ancient audience. Although Job does not know why he suffers, the audience is privy. Job is suffering because the gods in the heavens have made a wager. (p.8)
I think I’ve said something about how impressive it was that the creators of the Jewish canon were able to tolerate the diversity of views in the texts they selected.
Stark has another theory:
… bringing the broad corpus of literature under the domain of the establishment helped to ensure that it could not be used to inspire dissenting ideas. The genius of appropriating dissenting texts in service of establishment orthodoxy lies in that fact. Thus editors were put to work revising the texts, reframing the perspectives to give them a pro-establishment spin. (p.13)
This is scholarship without apologetics. If we discovered a cache of Babylonian writings spanning a thousand years, this is the way they’d be treated: without malice, but also without charity.
I haven’t even gotten a copy of the book yet. I’ve just been reading the (surprisingly generous) preview on Google Books. It’s made an incredible splash amongst the bible blogs. Not necessarily because his arguments are new, but because he’s put together a very forceful and very convincing presentation in a book that’s accessible to a wide audience.