Archives For apologetics

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If you have engaged in serious discussions with skeptics about God and the Old Testament, you know it won’t be long before someone will play the Amalekite card – and let’s be honest, it’s a game-changing card (read the  war texts in my previous post).  There’s a temptation to  fold at this point and hope that the next hand deals something better (“Hey, I know! Let’s talk about love!”). However, there is far more to the story (I should note here I am indebted to the writing of Christian apologists such as Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan and organizations such as the Christian Think Tank).

As a teacher, I often have parents call me because their child came home with a tale of woe featuring my ineptitude as a teacher and my complete failure as a human being.  How else to explain that “D”?  I offer a perspective they did not hear from little Johnny.  More often than not (I’m not perfect) we resolve the situation pretty quickly.  It turns out there was more to the story than they initially heard.

We have a tendency to judge the actions of others before we fully appreciate the complexity or depth of the situation. That even applies when the ‘other’ is God and the ‘full story’ is actual world history.  As this series unfolds, I will attempt to reveal the context and complexity more clearly.  Let’s start with some observations about the Amalekite culture. Continue Reading…

In my previous post in the God of War series, I mentioned the violent, Old Testament “elephant in the room” that left me conflicted about God’s nature. We may not like how Christianity’s critics have been more than eager to point out God’s apparently  homicidal proclivities in the Old Testament, but we Christians have often stayed pretty far from these stories ourselves.

Speaking of the stories, here are some of the more difficult passages:

When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations — the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you —  and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.  Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you.  This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire. (Deuteronomy 7.1-5)

However, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes.  Completely destroy them — the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites — as the LORD your God has commanded you.  Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the LORD your God. (Deuteronomy 20.16 and following)

This is what the LORD Almighty says: `I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt.  Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.'” (I Samuel 15.2 and following)

There are other war passages similar to this, but you get the picture. Several questions immediately spring to mind:

  • Did God actually command Israel to do this, or did the Isrealites just invent this divine sanction to justify territorial greed or genocidal tendencies?
  • If God did command this, doesn’t wholesale slaughter of nations seem a little incompatible with a God who we claim is characterized by attributes such as Love and Mercy?
  • What in the end, do we learn about the nature of God? And will we like what we learn?

We will work our way through these questions starting with the next post, “God of War: Playing the Amalekite Card.”

Until then, here’s a question: What explanations have you been given concerning the passages I mentioned?

God of War

Anthony Weber —  July 13, 2012 — 5 Comments

The entire concept of a God of justice and mercy ordering the slaughter of thousands of people  on many occasions I find abhorrent.This is an issue I have always had profound trouble with and one I suspended judgment on when I began to believe.. The responses to this problem I have seen so far (God did them a favor, they were like cancer, or God’s justice is beyond ours) seem to me to be lame or inappropriate.”   – from a letter to Timothy Keller

Let’s be honest: The Old Testament God sometimes seems cranky and eager to smash something.  That is a daunting image of God, especially when compared to the mild and humble picture of Jesus. If the New Testament God is Mr. Rogers, the Old Testament God is Randy Couture. However, neither of these caricatures is accurate. This post is the first part of a series on an often uncomfortable topic:  God of War.

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Growing up Mennonite, we never talked about God and war.  We read the story about David and Goliath with as much detachment and inner condemnation as we could.  We wondered how much we should cheer for David’s mighty men, who were the elite forces of their day. We cheered when Sampson brought the temple down, but with some guilt.  (Plus he had long hair, and that was a problem for us too.) So what do you think we did with all the God-ordained wars in the Old Testament?

Nothing.

We loved Jesus when he said “love your enemy” and “turn the other cheek,” but God?  God in the Old Testament was sometimes treated like the crazy uncle who shows up at family reunions.  Nobody really knows how to interact with him or explain him to others. Continue Reading…

Appraising Doubt

Anthony Weber —  June 12, 2012 — 11 Comments

In Praise of Doubt: How to Have Convictions Without Becoming a Fanatic, by Peter Berger and Anton Zijderveld, is an ambitious work aiming to alleviate some of the hostility between differing world views. As odd as the title may sound, it provides some ways of understanding how doubt is not always a bad thing.  But while offering some helpful ideas, it fails to lay a foundation that transcends the very problems it critiques (more on that at the end).

The book begins by noting the role of reason and science in eroding faith over the past 250 years.  Voltaire’s writings and the French Revolution ( which actually enthroned the goddess of Reason in a church in Paris) serve as iconic markers for the beginning of the Enlightenment.  Auguste Comte soon paved the way for a very influential empiricist science, as seen in the later philosophies of Mark, Durkheim, and Weber. The modern path to secularization seemed inevitable. When Neitzsche finally declared God was dead, many believed this would be the final nail in the religious coffin. Continue Reading…

 

Luc Ferry’s a Brief History of Thought recently caught my eye as I wandered through a local bookstore.  Not only did it promise an entire history of the human ability to think, it promised to do it briefly.  How is that not a win/win?  It’s a bold endeavor, claiming to give perspective on the effectiveness and impact of 5 key philosophical eras in human history, beginning with the Greeks.  The strength of the book is Mr. Ferry’s ability to summarize complicated worldviews in a way that is accessible and interesting.  The weakness is perhaps inseparable, as a philosophical overview for a mass audience is a tough venue to accurately capture philosophies that have transformed the world.

I will do my best to summarize both his claims and my reasons why I think that, while insightful, Mr. Ferry’s conclusions fall short of being convincing, particularly when it comes to his view of Christianity. Continue Reading…