Over the weekend, me and Nicole went to three meetings where Mennonite scholar Ray Gingerich was speaking. His most interesting and challenging talk for me was the Sunday night one at Scripture Union House, Mt Hawthorn. It was a fundraiser for the Pine Gap 6, who are facing jail for doing a ‘Citizens’ Inspection’ of the Pine Gap (US) military facility in Australia.
His theme was ‘A violent God and a pacifist Jesus?’. Ray likes to ask a lot of questions and provoke his listeners into thinking. He has a curious mind which tends to go off on tangents he finds interesting.
His basic argument was that if Christ is the fullest revelation of God and he is pacifist, then God is pacifist too. Where the Bible suggests a violent God, we defer to our fuller understanding of God through Christ.
Ray was asked, ‘What about when the Old Testament reports God asking the Israelites to slaughter an entire town? Does that mean the writer had it wrong?’ His answer to this was round-about and a long time coming, but when it did come, it affected me a lot.
Ray referred to Yoder’s posthumous work The Jewish-Christian Schism revisited (which I haven’t read yet). In it (apparently) Yoder talks about how Jesus was in a certain stream of Judaism, one particularly influenced by the post-exilic prophets. It was these books of the OT that were at the centre of Jesus’ Bible. Add to that the fact that the canon was not yet nearly as stable as it is today for the Old Testament.
Ray’s answer presupposes that there is contradiction within the Old Testament and between it and the New Testament. These streams can’t all be right (‘a square circle’) – so we’d better decide which streams are life-giving and fit into the fullest revelation we have of God in Jesus.
I felt simultaneously suspicious and excited at this idea. It needs a lot more talking about.