Monthly Archives: May 2009

 

May

31

2009

 
 

May

30

2009

Trevin Wax|3:26 am CT

Pentecost Prayer

PentecostAlmighty God,
on this day you opened the way of eternal life
to every race and nation
by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit:

 Shed abroad this gift throughout the world
by the preaching of the Gospel,
that it may reach to the ends of the earth;

through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God,
for ever and ever. Amen.

 
 

May

29

2009

Trevin Wax|3:11 am CT

In the Blogosphere

Mark Galli: “Preach the gospel. Use actions when necessary.”

Scot McKnight offers a way of presenting the gospel that keeps the church front and center.

The difference between constructive criticism and a critical spirit.

John Frame says we should ask these questions of every film we watch.

A podcast with some young Baptist church planters.

Here’s a way to win Russell Moore’s new book, Adopted for Life.

Major layoffs at Christianity Today International. It’s a hard time to be in the print business. Pray for those affected by the changes.

Top Post this Week at Kingdom People: Personal Reflections on the Canaanite Conquest

 
 

May

28

2009

Trevin Wax|3:55 am CT

Personal Reflections on the Canaanite Conquest

Show Them No Mercy: 4 Views on God and Canaanite GenocideShow Them No Mercy: 4 Views on God and Canaanite Genocide does not quite deliver what it proposes. The introduction by Stan Gundry indicates that all four authors have the same view of the inspiration and authority of Scripture. Furthermore, the title indicates that four different views are offered. After having read this book, I conclude that the book fails at both these counts.

First, it becomes evident very quickly that the authors are not working from the same foundation of biblical inspiration. Cowles minimizes the testimony of the Old Testament and discounts its accuracy by denying that God commanded or commended the Canaanite conquest. How his view lines up with the doctrine of biblical inspiration or inerrancy is beyond me.

Secondly, there are not four views represented here, but only two. It is Cowles over against the other three contributors. The disagreements between the other three scholars are quite minor, so that the latter chapters differ more in emphasis than in the actual proposals set forth. Merrill, Gard, and Longman can, in many ways, be considered in the same camp, even if there are subtle distinctions between their views.

In reflecting on this book, I will point out some points of appreciation and criticism for each of the chapters.

C.S. Cowles

Cowles’ contribution is notably passionate. I enjoyed the spirited rhetoric which he employed to make his case. In the responses to the other authors, Cowles comes across as feisty and passionate, ready to drive home the implications of the authors even if they intend to pull back.

The problem with Cowles’ view is that he fails to take into account the loving and compassionate God revealed in the Old Testament and the angry and wrathful God revealed in the New. He conveniently avoids the Old Testament depictions of God as gracious and merciful just as he avoids the New Testament emphasis on judgment (not least in the words of Jesus himself).

Cowles never once explains why, if his view is correct, the New Testament authors do not seem to be particularly perplexed or embarrassed by the warfare accounts in the Old Testament. If Cowles is right that the New Testament, in effect, abolishes the inferior picture of God established in the Old Testament, why do we not see the warfare passages dismissed by the early Christians?

A second problem with Cowles’ contribution is his view of biblical inspiration. It becomes clear that Cowles sees the Old Testament as a collection of mainly human writings that record the experience of Israel. Therefore, the Israelites were sadly mistaken in their understanding of the will of God. Even though the Scriptures indicate that the conquest actually accomplished the will of God, Cowles insists that their view was faulty.

So is the Old Testament wrong?

In what sense is the Old Testament inspired if these accounts of God’s will are mistaken?

Yet there is a more serious accusation to be made against Cowles’ view, and this accusation concerns his understanding of salvation. Cowles departs from the traditional understanding of Christianity and advocates a view that more closely resembles the heretic Marcion than the early church fathers.

For Cowles, our problem is not our rebellion against God and our need to escape his just and divine wrath. Instead, our problem is our inability to comprehend the love of God. Jesus Christ came to show that God is actually loveable (39). This understanding of the work of Christ is in direct opposition to the evangelical view of sin and salvation.

Eugene Merrill

As I am in substantial agreement with the other three authors, I will offer just a few points of disagreement. Merrill goes too far when he claims that genocide cannot be seen as objectively right or wrong, saying that its divine sanction clears up that question.

Would Merrill say that we cannot see divorce as right or wrong? Or polygamy? Merrill leaves no room for a distinction between the perfect will of God and his permissive will.

The Bible shows that God sometimes makes concessions in this fallen world. At times, he accommodates the wicked world without expressly condoning these accommodations as his perfect will or preference. It is too much of a stretch to see the Canaanite conquest as God’s ideal.

Instead, we should recognize that God did command the Israelites to perform this task of judgment, but that this commandment represents a concession to the fallen state of our world, not a commendation of this action as a good in and of itself.

Daniel Gard

Daniel Gard’s chapter puts forth the view that is closest to my own. I appreciate his emphasis on the future-oriented nature of the Canaan conquest. He is right to see an eschatological continuity between the Old and New Testaments.

Gard also helpfully points out that the conquests of herem are not indicative of all the wars in the Old Testament. We are mistaken if we reduce the God of the Old Testament to a divine being who is always on the warpath.

Gard’s overall thesis is sound, but there is one place where his exegesis is flawed. He believes that the world will be utterly destroyed, based upon an incorrect reading of 2 Peter 3. The proper translation of the passage indicates that the fire that comes upon the earth in the Last Day is a purging, cleansing fire, not merely a destructive one.

Tremper Longman III

Longman’s chapter is beneficial in its attempt to establish a spiritual continuity between the Testaments. But it seems, at times, that Longman over-spiritualizes some of the principles from this type of warfare. He clearly believes in the historicity of the events, but he too quickly moves to the spiritual lessons that we can take from the conquests. I doubt that the Old Testament authors would have understood these events in this way.

All of the authors would have done well to emphasize more substantially that genocide in the Old Testament never takes place on ethnic grounds. The Bible does not condone a sense of ethnic superiority among the Israelites. In fact, God acts against Israel at times because of her own wickedness.

The view of the Old Testament is that God uses nations as the agents of his wrath toward wickedness, even the sin of his own people. Only within the context of God’s sovereign judgment can we make proper sense of the herem ban. Once we turn the picture around, Gard and Longman are correct to point out that the real question should be: Why does God allow any rebellious person to survive?

Conclusion

Reflecting upon the whole of this book, I cannot help but wonder if perhaps we are trying to answer questions that the early Christians did not ask.

Is it possible that we are seeking to fit the Old Testament stories into a different metanarrative, a Western framework of human rights and earthly progress?

Perhaps we can make better sense of the Canaanite conquest if we recall the storyline of the Scriptures. God chose Israel in order that he might bless the world. Yet even in the overarching Story of that blessing, there are cases in which God comes in judgment upon wickedness.

The Bible holds these two truths together: God judges the wicked now, even as his ultimate purpose is to bless all the nations in the end.

written by Trevin Wax  © 2009 Kingdom People blog

 
 

May

27

2009

Trevin Wax|3:44 am CT

Other Ways of Dealing with the Canaanite Conquest

merrillThe second position put forth in Show Them No Mercy is from Eugene H. Merrill, professor of Old Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary. Merrill uses the term “Yahweh war” when speaking of the Canaanite conquests. “God initiated the process by singling out those destined to destruction, empowering an agent (usually his chosen people Israel) to accomplish it, and guaranteeing its successful conclusion once the proper conditions were met.” (65)

Merrill takes us through the relevant Old Testament passages that describe these battles. He distinguishes between regular battles and those that display the “undeniable traits” of genocide. He then seeks to reexamine the accounts from the standpoint of Christian theology and ethics.

Merrill frames the conquests within the story of God’s choice of a people through whom to bless the world and bring salvation. Seen in this light, Yahweh war is not so much about eliminating the foreign gods from the land, but about elevating Yahweh as the true God in the eyes of his own special people (80).

According to Merrill, the wars described in the Old Testament must be seen through the prism of holiness – both the holiness of God himself and the holiness of his chosen people, Israel. The battles are intended to protect the holiness of Israel (81) and showcase the utter holiness of God. Radical destruction of the enemy is necessary because God’s reputation and sovereignty is at stake. Israel becomes the divine instrument of God’s judgment in the Old Testament, but no Christian can excuse or condone such warfare today (85).

Merrill concludes his chapter by evaluating the New Testament scenes of apocalyptic judgment. Though he argues for “moderate discontinuity” between the Testaments (due to his Dispensationalist viewpoint), Merrill admits that the scenes of Yahweh war reappear in the final book of the New Testament. Therefore, “Yahweh war… is descriptive of the ages-old struggle between the sovereign God of Israel and the church on the one hand, and the devil and his demonic and human hosts on the other” (91).

Furthermore, “the issue… cannot be whether or not genocide is intrinsically good or evil – its sanction by a holy God settles that question. Rather, the issue has to do with the purpose of genocide, its initiator, and the particular circumstances of its application” (93).

gardThe next proposal is from Daniel Gard, associate professor of exegetical theology at Concordia Theological Seminary. Gard makes the case for what he calls “eschatological continuity.” This approach describes the genocide of the Old Testament as a type of an eschatological event that will find ultimate fulfillment in the future (115).

Gard spends a good deal of time defining herem – the practice of “the ban” in which all spoils must be devoted to Yahweh and all life must be destroyed (116). He seeks to demonstrate from the biblical accounts that defeat in war is a mark of “divine retribution.”

Pointing out the times that Israel is defeated because of the decree of their own God, Gard reminds readers that it is God (and not human armies) who determines the final outcome of an earthly conflict. The Old Testament reveals God turning against his own people, although he promised to preserve a remnant (123).

Instead of seeing discontinuity between the Testaments, Gard argues for an eschatological framework for the Old Testament. In Chronicles, for example, he sees Saul, David, and Solomon as representatives of judgment, restoration and final redemption (130). David, as the warrior king, is a type of Christ, the Warrior who will be the leader of the final, eschatological battle. Christians today exist in a Davidic Age, in which the battle against the Evil One still rages. Yet, we anticipate the new Solomonic era, in which peace will be forever established. However, before this peace can take effect, God will impose the herem ban upon the entire earth and destroy this present world (135).

Throughout his chapter, Gard continually turns to eschatology in order to make his case regarding the continuity between the holy-war texts and the New Testament. “The God who commanded and, at times, personally executed herem against the enemies of Israel is the same God who will execute judgment and destruction at the end of time” (135-6).

In the present age, the church has no authority to fight for God, since we have no territorial or political boundaries. However, Gard argues that those who attack the church attack the Lord himself, and the enemies of the church will be destroyed by the Lord at the end of the age (138).

In explaining how this view of God is compatible with the example of Jesus, Gard appeals to mystery. “If there is a problem in understanding God’s commands and actions, the problem resides not in him but in human limitations.”

Furthermore, he writes: “A more pertinent question than why God commanded such brutal practices as the extermination of the Canaanites is why he did not command the destruction of the entire human race in time and history” (140). Ultimately, the answer for such questioning is found in Jesus, who is both the Lamb of God who lays down his life for sinners and the Judge who will return to fight for his people.

longman_tremper_webThe final position in Show Them No Mercy is set forth by Tremper Longman III, professor of Old Testament at Westmont College. Longman gets to the heart of the issue: How are we to read the Old Testament in light of the New Testament?

By taking readers through the different battles recounted in the Old Testament, Longman points out the overarching principle that God is present with the army in battle. He makes the case that herem warfare is worship.

Before the warfare began, the people of God were to seek the will of God, prepare themselves spiritually, make sacrifices, and keep the ark of the covenant (the mobile symbol of God’s presence) (164-7). During the battle, the march with the ark resembles a religious procession. The warfare strategy clearly relies on God’s involvement in the battle as what ultimately determines victory or defeat. After the battle, the army was to march back and return the ark to its place in the sanctuary. Likewise, there was celebration with music and dancing as all the enemies were utterly destroyed and their spoils devoted to the Lord. (172).

What about the innocent women and children who were slaughtered? Longman does not mince words:

“We must point out that the Bible does not understand the destruction of the men, women, and children of these cities as a slaughter of innocents. Not even the children are considered innocent. They are all part of an inherently wicked culture that, if allowed, to live, would morally and theologically pollute the people of Israel” (174).

How does Longman make the case for spiritual continuity between the Testaments? He argues that there are four phases of holy war in the Bible.

First, God fights the flesh-and-blood enemies of Israel.

Second, God fights Israel when they disobeyed his command.

Third, the Bible prophesies that God will come in the future as a warrior.

Fourth, Jesus Christ fights the spiritual powers and authorities.

The fifth phase is the final battle in which Jesus will come again as warrior and king (175-83).

Longman believes that this spiritual continuity is easily observed once we recognize that “the war against the Canaanites was simply an earlier phase of the battle that comes to its climax on the cross and its completion at the final judgment. The object of warfare moves from the Canaanites, who are the object of God’s wrath for their sin, to the spiritual powers and principalities, and then finally to the utter destruction of all evil, human and spiritual” (185). The Canaanite judgment serves as a preview of the final judgment.

Tomorrow, I will offer some thoughts on these proposals.

written by Trevin Wax  © 2009 Kingdom People blog

 
 

May

26

2009

Trevin Wax|3:37 am CT

One Way of Dealing with the Canaanite Conquest

cowlesThe first contribution to Show Them No Mercy: 4 Views on God and Canaanite Genocide comes from C.S. Cowles, professor of Bible and theology at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego.

Cowles makes the case for radical discontinuity between the warfare narratives of the Old Testament and the revelation of Jesus Christ in the New. According to Cowles, if we attribute the command for ethnic cleansing to the intention of God, we create severe problems for Christian theology, ethics, and praxis (15).

Cowles’ essay is marked by passion. His analysis cannot be accused of being expressed from the lofty tower of academia. Instead, he forcefully brings the reader face to face with the horror of mass extermination, describing in gut-wrenching detail how this killing took place, including the killing of women and children.

For Cowles, there is no synthesis between the Testaments on this matter. When it comes to the issue of divinely initiated and divinely sanctioned violence, we should acknowledge a radical discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments.

“The starting point in forming a truly Christian theology is not what the Bible teaches about God in general but what Jesus reveals about God in particular,” Cowles writes. We are to see God, “not like the first Joshua, a warrior, but like the second, the Prince of Peace” (23).

The heart of Cowles’ case against the genocide in the Old Testament is his sharp distinction between the God portrayed in the Old Testament and the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

“The God portrayed in the Old Testament was full of fury against sinners, but the God incarnate in Jesus is not” (28). Jesus reveals to us the true God who does not “engage in punitive, redemptive, or sacred violence… God does not proactively use death as an instrument of judgment in that death is an enemy…” (30).

In Cowles’ view, Jesus’ revelation of God stands over against the Word of God mediated by Moses. Perhaps because he knows this discontinuity could make his opinion theologically suspect, Cowles marshals John Wesley for his cause, affirming a quote by Wesley that Jesus came ” to destroy, to dissolve, and utterly abolish” large sections of the Torah (35).

How can we speak meaningfully about the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures if Cowles’ view is correct? Cowles answers questions about inspiration by appealing to Christological criterion. What results is a view of the Old Testament that is inferior to the New, since the understanding of God has progressed since the time in which the Old Testament accounts were recorded.

Cowles seeks to demonstrate this progression by pointing to the advanced theological reflection of the Chronicles, in comparison with the earlier writings. He focuses on the progressive understanding of Satan, so that by the time the Chronicles were written, “the Jews had begun to project some of the darker attributes of Yahweh onto a contradivine being, Satan” (38).

The New Testament unveils God to us in the person of Jesus Christ. The mission of Jesus, according to Cowles, is to “pull back the curtain and let us see the beautiful face of God.”

The people in the Old Testament did not have the capacity to gather the light of God’s truth. Christ comes to reveal the non-violent, true God. “Before he could reconcile us to God, he had to show us a heavenly Father to whom we would want to be reconciled: a God who is for us rather than against us, a God of love and grace who can be loved in return” (39).

How does Cowles’ proposal affect our view of the Old Testament accounts? The Israelites merely acted upon what they believed to be God’s will. But they were wrong. God honored their obedience, even if he despised their atrocious behavior.

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at three other views on the Canaanite Conquest.

written by Trevin Wax  © 2009 Kingdom People blog

 
 

May

25

2009

Trevin Wax|3:32 am CT

Show Them No Mercy

Show Them No Mercy: 4 Views on God and Canaanite GenocideIn the latter years of the previous century, the world saw a marked increase in ethnic violence.

Whether it was ethnic cleansing in Bosnia or the mass murder of Tutsis at the hands of Hutus in Rwanda, the increase in violence worldwide was clearly evident. After Americans and Europeans only reluctantly became involved in ending these crusades, the horror of such atrocities hit home with us after the turn of the century, when Islamic terrorists attacked the United States in the name of Allah and on a mission of jihad, or “holy war.”

Since September 11, Christians in the West have demonstrated a renewed interest in the idea of “holy war,” especially since the Old Testament clearly recounts certain narratives in which God not only commands, but also commends the absolute destruction of nations, including women and children.

How are we to understand these difficult passages of Scripture?

How can we maintain our trust in a good God when he commands Israel to engage in what appear to be genocidal atrocities?

Show Them No Mercy: 4 Views on God and Canaanite Genocide (Zondervan, 2003) is a book that seeks to provide a response to these difficult questions. Under the editing hand of Stan Gundry, four scholars tackle the issues of Old Testament divinely-sanctioned genocide, seeking to provide a way forward so that we can make sense of the warfare narratives in light of the coming of Jesus Christ. This week, I want to look in detail on this book.

Tomorrow and Wednesday, I will briefly summarize each of the four positions and later on this week, I will offer some personal reflections on each contribution.

written by Trevin Wax  © 2009 Kingdom People blog

 
 

May

24

2009

Trevin Wax|3:23 am CT

In Evil Long I Took Delight

In evil long I took delight,
Unawed by shame or fear,
Till a new object struck my sight,
And stopped my wild career.

I saw One hanging on a tree,
In agonies and blood,
Who fixed His languid eyes on me,
As near His cross I stood.

Sure, never till my latest breath,
Can I forget that look;
It seemed to charge me with His death,
Though not a word He spoke.

My conscience felt and owned the guilt,
And plunged me in despair,
I saw my sins His blood had spilt,
And helped to nail Him there.

Alas, I knew not what I did,
But now my tears are vain;
Where shall my trembling soul be hid?
For I the Lord have slain.

A second look He gave, which said,
“I freely all forgive;
This blood is for thy ransom paid;
I die that thou mayst live.”

Thus, while His death my sin displays
In all its blackest hue,
Such is the mystery of grace,
It seals my pardon too.

With pleasing grief and mournful joy,
My spirit is now filled;
That I should such a life destroy,
Yet live by him I killed.

- John Newton

 
 

May

23

2009

Trevin Wax|3:59 am CT

Mark Driscoll on Little-World Negatives

driscollAt last month’s Gospel Coalition, Mark Driscoll gave some wise counsel on avoiding what he calls “little-world” negatives – people who are so wrapped up in one stream of Christianity that they cannot see the positives outside their little world.

“Little world negatives… There are differences between boundaries. There are city boundaries (your church, your denomination, your network).

“Then there is your state (your theological team). I’m Reformed complementarian. There are certain borders around that, inerrancy and complementary gender roles and things of that nature.

“Then there is your nation. For me, my nation would be evangelicalism. I want to be on good terms with evangelicals. I don’t want to declare war on evangelicals in the same way that Illinois shouldn’t declare war on Iowa…

“People who are ‘little-world’ get scared of anyone outside of their proverbial city. You didn’t go to the same seminary as me? You’re suspect!

“You don’t buy all your books from one publisher? Look at your bookshelf sometime. If you have three or four publishers that constitute the totality of your library, you may have turned your theology into a prison and not a home, a place you’re not allowed to leave to go visit other brothers and sisters.”

 
 

May

22

2009

Trevin Wax|3:57 am CT

In the Blogosphere

Kris Allen wins American Idol and gives the show its heart back. This article explains how the underrated dark horse of the competition made it to first place and why Americans chose heart over hype.

10 Basics every man should have in his fishing tackle box.

An interview with SBC president, Johnny Hunt, about the Great Commission Resurgence.

Fascinating article from a Jew who gets “jittery” when it comes to Jesus. Do Jews have a Jesus problem?

Billy Graham’s delivery of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” compared with Jonathan Edwards’ original.

Z interviews Kevin DeYoung about his book, Just Do Something.

Speaking of Kevin, here is a post about bloggers who are either too critical or too nice.

What happened at Nicaea.

Al Mohler analyzes President Obama’s speech at Notre Dame and concludes that Obama is now “talking about talking about abortion.”

Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, appears on Fox News, explaining why more people are identifying themselves as pro-life.

Top Post this Week at Kingdom People: The Future of World Magazine – An Interview with Marvin Olasky