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The faithless promises of God’s covenants and evangelical tenure

The faithless promises of God’s covenants and evangelical tenure January 13, 2016

Theologian Ben Myers cuts to the ugly heart of the theological figleaf Wheaton College administrators have been using to whiten their faculty: “Another thing about Wheaton: Do Christians and Jews worship the same God?

Myers reaches back — way back — to some of the earliest Christian writers responding to the rise of Islam. Some of them did indeed, like Wheaton’s administrators and the white evangelicals posting #ThankYouWheaton in support of them, argue that Muslims worshipped a different God. The problem, though, as Myers points out, is that those same writers tended to be viciously anti-Semitic — arguing in even stronger language that Jews worshipped a different God.

And that is not a minor problem. It’s a huge theological mistake with implications that pervade just about every aspect of Christian teaching. When you’re stating that Jews and Christians do not “worship the same God” — which is what Wheaton’s leaders are implying and what many of their #ThankYouWheaton supporters are explicitly stating — you’re doing Very Bad Theology that has a long track record of leading to Very Bad Things in history.

Here’s Myers’ conclusion:

So, back to the Wheaton Question: do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? However you answer will have implications for how you answer a more basic (and, theologically, more important) question, whether Jews and Christians worship the same God, i.e., whether the God of Jewish monotheism is the same as the one God revealed in Christ.

I’ve been seeing a lot of attempts to weasel around this by retconning a kind of grandfather clause, allowing that the pre-Christian Jews of the Hebrew scriptures might have worshipped the same God, but that this is no longer true after Christ. (They understandably have a difficult time stating precisely when, exactly, the cut-off date is for this supposed grandfather clause.)

Grafting
Note: Setting fire to the rootstock plant would probably not be healthy for the branch grafted onto it.

We don’t need to Godwin this discussion by spelling out the real-world implications of this fuzzy theology, so let’s instead just focus on something that’s dear to the hearts of our friends at Wheaton and their army of hashtag irregulars: Their salvation.

These folks insist that they are “saved” — that they are rescued from Hell and headed toward Heaven — because of faith. They have faith in God and God is faithful. God will faithfully keep God’s promise to them of salvation and everlasting life.

But if Jews do not “worship the same God,” then we’re dealing with a theology that says God is faithless — that God has broken faith with God’s “everlasting covenant” with Abraham and his descendants. “God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable,” the Apostle Paul wrote, but this Very Bad Theology suggests that’s not true. It suggests that God’s everlasting covenant with Abraham was just a hollow promise — a meaningless contract that could be arbitrarily and unilaterally revoked at any time.

You know, just like tenure.

So, then, if God’s gifts and his call to the children of Abraham are, contra Paul, “revocable,” then what confidence can our friends at Wheaton have that God’s gifts and call to them are not equally disposable? They’re “standing on the promises,” as the old song says, but if God broke God’s promises to Abraham, then those promises seem like thin ice. The God they believe revoked a promise to Abraham can just as easily, at any time, revoke any promises to them.

So are they “saved”? Maybe. But they can’t be sure. All they have is faith in a faithless God.


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