Disturbing Divine Behaviour : a review part 2

Seibert’s solution to disturbing divine behaviour is a christocentric hermeneutic. He acknowledges that the New Testament itself has some trouble images of divine behaviour. But he insists that we can trust the depiction of Jesus in the New Testament and use him, as the fullest revelation of God, as a guide to interpreting disturbing divine behaviour. He defines the God revealed by Jesus:

• Jesus reveals a God who is kind to the wicked – such as when he calls on us to love our enemies. This aspect of God’s character is only sometimes revealed in the OT.

• Jesus reveals a God who is nonviolent – again the command to love our enemies; throughout the gospels, Jesus never endorses or promotes the idea of God as a divine warrior. He lived nonviolently himself and rejected violence as a way to achieve justice. Ultimately, Jesus’ nonviolence is revealed in his death on the cross.

• Jesus reveals a God who does not judge people by causing historical (or natural) disasters or serious physical infirmities – recall Luke 13:1-5, where people ask Jesus what sin the Galileans committed that God let them be killed by Pilate

• Jesus reveals a God of love

Seibert goes on to show his dual hermeneutic in practice – critiquing disturbing texts with a christocentric hermeneutic, but also affirming them by seeking to find what ‘salvageable’ from such passages.

His final chapter offers some practical suggestions for ‘talking about troubling texts’:

• Stop trying to justify God’s behaviour in the Old Testament – a suggestion that is immensely liberating for me, if indeed I can follow him to here.

• Acknowledge how these texts have fostered oppression and violence

• Help people use problematic images responsibly and constructively

• Keep disturbing divine behaviour in perspective – that is, remember how much of the Old Testament is not troubling.

Seibert has an appendix dealing with Jesus’ eschatological sayings and whether they can be said to reveal a nonviolent God. Strangely, his treatment of hell doesn’t even consider universalism as an option – that is, the idea that ultimately God will reconcile all people to himself. It is at least as supportable of many of the things

I need some time to discern whether I can follow Seibert to where he goes. But his book gripped me. For once I found myself unable to put down a theology book,when usually they are something of a chore to read.

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4 thoughts on “Disturbing Divine Behaviour : a review part 2

  1. Jesus himself demonstrates that the OT is not inerrant when He accuses Elijah of having called fire down from heaven to murder people by a different spirit than God (Luke 9:54-55) and says that Moses gave a precept on his own authority that was at variance with what God actually wanted (Mat 19:8) and when he says the Jews never saw his Father’s shape nor heard his voice (John 5:37). Again, when he says “You’ve heard it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies…” (Matt 5:43) he shows the Old Testament was in error on what God really wanted. And when he says in Matt 5:45 that His Father “sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” he shows that God didn’t really cause a three year drout in the days of Elijah due to the king being wicked, for God “sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” That drout, therefore, must have only be natural and not judgment from God according to this doctrine of Jesus that God doesn’t discriminate against the wicked by not sending rain for them.

    Absolute inerrancy of the OT should never be asserted as a Christian dogma, and therefore the inerrancy of any passage that relies heavily on Old Testament argumentation (Romans 9 especially) is immediately questionable.

  2. As to hell, I would go with such verses as Luke 12:43-49 where Jesus shows a gradation of punishment rather than standard eternity in hell for everything, and 2 Cor 5:10 and similar passages that seem to imply proportional punishment that actually meets the crime.

    2 Corinthians 5:10 “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.”

    Rom 2:6-8 “Who will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath,” — Interestingly the duration of the reward of the righteous is mention but the duration of the punishment of the wicked is not.

    Notice also Romans 2:5 “But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God;” — how can you treasure up more wrath unless punishment is proportional to your sins? If everyone gets a standard eternity in hell, you could not treasure up anything more than that.

  3. Hi Nathan,
    Seibert is an author that I must read. I find myself in very substantial agreement (I am assuming you have correctly interpreted him).

    Like Seibert I believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the key to understanding both the bible and the character of God.

    Those evangelicals who hold to a direct identity between the words of the bible and the Word of God would find Seibert’s approach “liberal” whereas some evangelicals who find an indirect identity between the words of the bible and the Word of God probably would not have too much difficulty agreeing with him.

    Shalom,
    John Arthur

  4. Hi Nathan. Well done on your review. “Stop trying to justify God’s behaviour in the Old Testament” – this is is immensely liberating for me as well, but I’m not sure I can cope with shredding the historicity of the OT as the price to pay for this liberation. I can probably cope with some embellishment of stories, but having huge chunks of OT that refer to things that never actually happened is (no pun intended) disturbing.

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