A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

What Do We Do With That Violent, Judgmental God of the New Testament?

It's a familiar meme we often hear-- the God of the Old Testament is violent and blood-thirsty, while the God of the New Testament is loving and kind. The Old Testament is about law and condemnation; the New Testament is about grace and acceptance. The two Testaments portray two different deities.

But it's simply not that simple.

I've been reading the fifth edition of Alden Thompson's book, Who's Afraid of the Old Testament God. It's a substantive and enjoyable read that I highly recommend. Alden writes,
Wasn't it Jesus who suggested that certain people deserved to have a millstone fastened round their necks and to be drowned in the depths of the sea (Matt. 18:6)? and didn't he openly call some people blind hypocrites, comparing them to an old burial ground, full of dead men's bones (Matt. 23:27-28)? And then there was Peter. For all practical purposes he told Ananias and Sapphira to drop dead (Acts 5:1-11). To add to the stories, Paul told the church at Corinth to deliver one of their brothers to Satan for the destruction of the flesh (1 Cor. 5:13). Finally, we must not forget the book of Revelation: Blood, dragons, pits of fire, and even a God who spews people out of his mouth (Rev. 3:16)
Alden's point is clear: it is too simplistic to pit the Old and New Testaments against each other as if they are two separate canons which not only have very little in common, but have completely incompatible views of God. I am certainly not suggesting that these violent texts are not difficult nor perplexing, but they exist in the New Testament as well as the Old. So writing off the latter does not solve the problem. To be sure, the New Testament offers us a fuller revelation, a revelation that finds its climax in Jesus Christ. We Christians read the biblical narrative through a christological lens; and such a lens re-focuses the entire biblical narrative as it points to Jesus. This is not a rejection of the Old Testament. The Old Testament was Jesus' Bible, but the New Testament puts the Old Testament in focus in a fuller and fulfilled light.

So for Christianity's neo-Marcionite cultured despisers, who toss out the Old Testament because the violence and judgment offend their modern sensibilities, if you are going to be consistent, the New Testament has to go as well.

We must not forget that the church has affirmed from the very beginning that the Warrior God of the Old Testament and the Crucified God of the New Testament are one and the same... and we cannot understand the coherence of such a seemingly disparate claim without the entire biblical narrative to guide us.


Henry Neufeld said...

Giving up the essential connection between the Old and New Testaments is one solution I think is unacceptable, and I know both you and Alden take that view. I recall Alden once, when teaching in a UM church here in Florida, told the audience, "You may not like the Old Testament, but Jesus did."

I'm looking forward to having the two of you as guests for our Energion hangout (using Google Hangouts on Air) on June 2!

Steve Heyduck said...

I don't think "Warrior" is an adequate summary of an OT understanding of God. Which makes me wonder, then, if "Crucified" is an adequate summary of NT.

Thanks for making me think. It's not so easy, you know!

Allan R. Bevere said...


I'm looking forward to the Hangout.

Allan R. Bevere said...


Thanks for your comments.

I wasn't using either term as a summary. I was attempting to reinforce that the God who fights for Israel and the one who rejects violence willingly taking the violence on himself, are one and the same.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Hi Allan, I would greatly wonder if Greg Boyd's work released after this post was written might have impacted your thinking, and how on this matter. Of course the basic point made here remains true, although Boyd to me seems practically at times to deny that. I've read *Cross Vision*, but not *Crucifixion of the Warrior God."