What do we make of the atrocities of the Old Testament?

This is a slightly edited version of an excursus I wrote in this week’s notes for the Bible Survey Class I’ve been teaching at my church. Follow that link for more information on the class. Also, I’m well-aware that the second half of this is exactly the “angle” talked about in the venerable Pete Enns’ recent blog post. I wrote this before he posted that, but still, I wanted to put it up on the off-chance this articulation might be helpful to others.

In the books of Numbers and Joshua, God commands the Israelites to commit genocide on many different people, including their women and children. He also commands them to forcibly enslave others. And in still another story, he commands Moses to take the remaining virgins of this particular people of which they disobediently did not kill all, and divide them evenly among the soldiers and the “rest of the Israelites”. We can only imagine what for.

A few quick thoughts:

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a homosexuality post-script & conclusion

Most of last week on this blog was spent discussing some recent “conversations” about the Evangelical church’s relationship with the homosexual community. I first addressed conservatives, and then progressives (as well as some thoughts on the “willful persistence in sin” comment I hear from conservatives a lot). This week, we move on. But not yet. In response to some of the ways people have responded to these posts, I felt I needed to write this.

In conclusion to it all…

These posts I’ve written got a lot of circulation around the web (and to those who commented/posted links, I thank you), and so for anyone that runs across them, I want to make something clear:

It might seem odd that I’ve typed far more words and dripped more sarcasm in attacking the more conservative side of this issue, all while ultimately agreeing more with them at the end of the day. In the end, even with all of my many theological and social disagreements, I cast my lot with them, even though I know most of them would not have me.

These posts, hopefully, have been written in the same spirit as Mark Noll’s blistering attack on Evangelical anti-intellectualism, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, which he calls “an epistle from a wounded lover”.
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READ THIS BOOK: “Genesis For Normal People” by Peter Enns & Jared Byas

A theologian whom I respect and a professor with whom I went to seminary have teamed up to offer a really great book on the first book of the Bible. Genesis for Normal People: A Guide to the Most Controversial, Misunderstood, and Abused Book of the Bible is a walk-through of Genesis following its themes and history. They open with these words:

Genesis is an ancient story. This may sound like an obvious or even patronizing way to begin. Of course it’s an ancient story. But once we look at what this means, that short phrase might be the most important thing to remember about Genesis. It will guide the rest of this book, showing us how to approach Genesis and what we should expect from it.

For many, the opening book of the Bible is a little confusing. It reads strangely, it doesn’t “sound” like any other book of the Bible, and, as Christians, we don’t know why we would even want to read it (except maybe for the first few chapters, but even those have a bunch of problems of their own).

Ever wondered what a sane, intelligent, and faithful understanding of Genesis would be in light of the findings of science or history? Ever pondered what the relationship between Adam and Darwin might look like? Have you ever been confused by a random history channel special that cast doubt on some of the stuff in Genesis? Ever tried to read the darn book only to only to ask yourself why you started to in the first place? Do you want to know how it connects to the rest of the Bible? Would you want all this talked about and explained in everyday terms with little prior biblical or theological knowledge needed?

Well, this is the book for you. (If you’re still skeptical, you can read a wonderfully comprehensive review of the book here.)

A quick note for any atheists or skeptics that find themselves reading this: this book is also for you. As a champion of (what I feel are) “not crazy” ways of reading Genesis, I have received a lot of pushback from atheists over the years who try and argue that the only true and faithful ways to read the book are in those (what I feel are) “crazy” ways. They try and say that if you “accommodate” the difficulties in Genesis away, you no longer have the faith you were trying to defend in the first place, and so you might as well abandon the whole enterprise. I challenge you to read this book and walk away feeling the same way.


As far as obtaining the book, I have good news, and I have bad news:

Good News: it’s only $1.99 (for a limited time, then it will go up to $4.99)

Bad News: at least for now, it’s only available for Kindle E-Readers.

The Good News about the Bad News: you can download free apps on your computer, phone, or tablet to read the book anyway. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center showed that computers were the most popular device to read an ebook on; not a phone, tablet, or even a Kindle. So….you have no excuse.

Philly’s Outdoor Feeding Ban: Good for the City, the Church, & the Gospel (ii)

Yesterday I wrote a post about the Philadelphia ban on outdoor feeding of the homeless. I wrote about how the issue here is not about hunger, it’s about choice. It’s also not a religious freedom issue, as some groups say. These feedings have been one way that Christians have tried to accomplish their call to serve the homeless. Banning these outdoor feedings does not ban our service, just one particular way we’ve done it. Lastly, I talked about how honoring someone’s dignity is more about acting for their greatest good more than it is about creating space for them to choose whatever they want.

Today, I want to talk about how this ban is actually good for the Gospel in this city.
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Philly’s Outdoor Feeding Ban: Good for the City, the Church, & the Gospel (i)

Update: the second (and final) part of this article is up, where we discuss some ways to look at this theologically.

Just over a month ago, Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia announced a controversial plan to ban the outdoor feeding of homeless individuals in the city parks and on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, home to many of this city’s finest museums, including the soon-to-open (and just as controversial) Barnes Foundation.

This has been met with the expected and understandable anger and protest from many of the city’s hunger-based non-profits and faith-based homeless ministries that participate in these outdoor feedings (the ban is still in process and has not been enforced yet). Some leading homeless advocates support it.

Many of these religious groups understandably feel like this move is an over-reach of cold, heartless government, trying to keep the church from doing its God-given call to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. Many have felt like this is an imposition on the religious freedom of the Christians of Philadelphia.

I would like to, as humbly as possible, disagree.

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Creation: a suffering world through a suffering Lord | Lent {4}

Lent is a season in which God’s people meditate on the slaying of Jesus on the Cross and all that is within them (and the world) that made that Cross necessary. To that end, we’ve been meditating on the fact that Christ is the Lamb who was “slain before the foundations of the world”. We’ve been thinking through what it might mean that Jesus, in some sense, has been suffering for all time (and some theological issues along the way).

So far, we’ve talked about how this is a reflection of an eternal attribute of Jesus. There has been an aspect of suffering and death woven into the depths of his nature and character since before time began.

But at some point, time began.
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A Shout-Out to My Mennonite Pacifists Out There…

Being in Pennsylvania, I meet lots of people that either consider themselves Mennonite, or at least were raised that way. One of the most well-known aspects of Mennonite belief is their unwavering commitment to pacifism (or, as a commenter corrected me below, the Mennonite “doctrine of nonresistance”). Hanging out with one of my new raised-Mennonite friends the other evening, she showed me (with pride) the above picture that has hung in one of their family’s houses for a long time. It struck me as beautiful as well, especially the second quote. Here it is, nicely typed out for optimal readability and convenience:

“It is our fixed principle rather than take up Arms to defend our King, our Country, or our Selves, to suffer all that is dear to be rent from us, even Life itself, and this we think not out of Contempt to Authority, but that herein we act agreeable to what we think is the Mind and Will of our Lord Jesus.”

–Thirteen Mennonite Ministers of Pennsylvania, May 15, 1755

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God loves me. But does he like me? (on being “Christ-like”) | Advent {8b}

[This is Part 2. Read Part 1 here.]

My church has been doing a series called “The Other Christmas Stories” where we’ve been going through other texts in the Bible that comment on and meditate upon the event of Advent. The first message was preached on that quintessential Advent text, John 1. The preaching on these verses really struck me:

But as many as received him, to them he gave power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
— John 1:12-13

The sermon went on to remind us that in these verses is a promise that the Advent did not happen in order to make us into something we are not, but rather to give us the power to become who we most truly are (children of God). Now, I want to be clear. I grew up in Church hearing that phrase “be who you are” (and hearing it in music), and in certain seasons that thought has been helpful to me, but I’m not quite trying to express the same sentiment.
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There is No One Like You (Adv, Days 23/24; HelloGoodBye 09/10) by David Schrott [GUEST POST]

[Through college up through about a year and a half ago, I ran a little online magazine called Reform & Revive. It’s dead now. While it was going on, one of my best friends, David Schrott, was one of our contributors. He’s an amazing drywaller, photographer, writerperson, and boyfriend (also here, here, and here). This is a post he wrote for R&R back in 2009 at the end of a particularly trying year for him. It’s one of my favorite Advent meditations I’ve ever read, and so I wanted to share it with all of you. Enjoy.]


“I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer.”
–I Timothy 2.8, NIV

There are these days, when it is so difficult to find words that wrap around concepts, that, no matter how concrete in one’s mind, find it impossible to find substance in the barrier we use to communicate called language. In those moments, it seems that experience does precede existence and existentialism, for a moment, seems fun (and fun is clearly the wrong word, but for to-day, for this beautiful-day-before-Advent, will have to do).
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Welcome to Advent. 2011. {1}

Yesterday was Day 1 of the season of the Church Calendar known as Advent (latin for “coming) . From now until Christmas, we spend time intentionally mediating upon the truth this season brings: God has come among us, clothed in the vestiges of human flesh.

Yes, this time of year was arbitrarily chosen centuries ago to recast pagan lunar festivals in a new light. Yes, many of the traditions of Christmas (fir trees, gift-giving, wreaths, etc.) find their source in pagan socio-religious rites. Yes, Jesus was probably more likely born in April, not December. Yes, Christmas has been co-opted by commercialism and consumerism. Nevertheless, this time has been set aside for nearly two millennia so that Christians around the world could, with one mind and heart, dwell upon the depths of the glory given to us in the events that transpired all those years ago.
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A Death Penalty Follow-Up

Last week, I wrote a post about the recent case of Troy Davis and how this had inspired me to rethink and reconsider my position on the use of Capital Punishment by the government to punish those convicted of crimes they deemed worthy of such a response. In my attempt to be nuanced, I fear I may have given a wrong impression of where I stand now.

I think some people may have walked away from the post thinking that I believe that the government should have the right to bring the death penalty to bear upon some criminals, but Christians shouldn’t actually do it (or something like that). This isn’t quite the case.

Let me restate what I’m thinking even more clearly and simply: I don’t see a justification for Christians supporting the use of Capital Punishment by the government in any case. 

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Troy Davis, Capital Punishment, & the Death of Conscience

This is a tough one to write. And it’s long. I broke almost all of my personal blogging rules in this, but I just need to get this out. I’ve spent the past two days with this post and it’s central ideas rolling around in my head and even now as I sit to type, I have little knowledge how it’s all going to come out.

Today, for the first time in my young life, I shed tears for a man that was executed at the hands of the State. Two nights ago, Troy Davis was finally executed in Georgia for the 1989 murder of an off-duty police officer. Questions still abound concerning his guilt and innocence, the politics at play in the various boards and courts that refused to change their minds, and the calcification of a seemingly dispassionate justice system  that renders helpless the voices of those it presumes to protect. This New York Times article perfectly captures the complexity and tension that exists right now over this topic.
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A Theology of Wikileaks: is there a Christianly way to view all this? {2}

 [Part 2 of 2] In my previous post, I referenced a series of articles a wrote a couple years ago concerning the relationships between the Church and State.  I talked about one article where I pointed out that “the Apostle Paul advocates for Christians to support the government and seek to change individuals rather than institutions by being the Church to the broken world around them (which will in turn shape institutions)”.  I then showed how Paul stayed politically neutral most of the time, except when the government was acting in a way that kept him from living as a faithful member of the Church of Christ.

I then concluded that “political views are generally theologically-neutral and are up to the individual Christian’s conscience except when the State hinders the Church from freely being the Church to the world around it. At that point Christians are called, I feel, to engage in whatever means necessary to remain independent and able to do that which they are called to do: preach, gather, serve, give, and love.” Continue reading

On History & Economics, a Book Review: “Popes & Bankers”by Jack Cashill

cashillI have a new article up on Patrol Magazine (yeah, I know; it’s the first in a long while).  Patrol recently changed up the philosophy and design of the site, making it much more of a blog-type format, as well as trying to focus more on consistently substantive and “Christianly” reflections on the world today.  In the spirit of that, today was posted I review I wrote for Thomas Nelson Publishers on Jack Cashill‘s newest book, Popes & Bankers.  Some of you may remember that while I was in the middle of reading the book, I wrote for Patrol about Cashill, and how I thought he was a propagandist, revisionist historian, and (frankly) crazy.  I also mused about how it was that Thomas Nelson Publishers, a Christian publishing house came to publish this particular book.  This caused a response from someone involved in the nonfiction acquisitions process at Thomas Nelson that was involved in getting Popes & Bankers published.  I get what he was saying at the time, but even now, after having finished the book, I stand by what I said.  You can read the exchange below after the link and the break.  Enjoy the review and leave your comments!

Review: “Popes & Bankers,” By Jack Cashill | Patrol Magazine

Here was the exchange:
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My Brother’s Keeping (Happy Birthday, Matthew)

As is now becoming a typical preface to the American twenty-something story, I was raised in an Evangelical family. It wasn’t until high school though that these ideas began affecting my soul. But, being in my watered-down southern Baptist experience, the spiritual appetites this “awakening” had produced were never satiated.

I longed for the deeper things of God that I had only then, 16 years or so down this journey, realized were even there: a God that cared about far more than “consistent quiet times” and “witnessing to my friends”; a God whose call for me was not first and foremost to fight the modern-day vicars of Darwin (my public school science teachers). It was only then that I was introduced to a God whose call for me was a call for me–a deity far more interested in my enjoyment in Him rather than my service to Him.

It seemed like all of us at my church reached these realizations in the same season. Unfortunately, though, we felt like our church wasn’t there with us. Me and my crew of fellow impassioned “youth groupies” who met at the J.A.M. House (Jesus And Me) every Wednesday night longed for growing miles deep when the church seemed far more interested in growing miles wide.

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