I notice an increasing trend within evangelicalism. We might identify this with the evangelical left, although it’s becoming more widespread and mainstream. Right now I’m picking on a segment of evangelicalism, but we have parallel developments in Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, so don’t foster the illusion that you can take refuge in those alternatives.
I notice the freedom that many professing Christians feel to just set aside whatever they don’t like. To openly and brazenly disbelieve whatever they find displeasing or hard to believe. They have no sense of obligation to submit their hearts and minds to the wisdom of God speaking in his word. No sense of duty to believe anything that happens to rub them the wrong way.
As a result, they feel free to make the Bible more acceptable or credible (as they deem it) by any means necessary. To unilaterally recreate the Christian faith or creatively reinterpret the Bible.
This takes as many forms as what is held to be morally or intellectually offensive. If the creation account is thought to be hopelessly unscientific, then men like Enns, Seely, and Walton tells that that’s because the narrator inherited an antiquated conception of the world. Employed obsolete cosmological notions. People back then didn’t know any better.
If evolutionary biology is thought to put too much pressure on the historical Adam, we simply redefine Adam. Adam becomes a metaphor for Israel. Or Adam becomes one man among many preexisting hominids, whom God singles out.
If we don’t like the Bible’s masculine linguistic bias, we retranslate it to our liking. If we find male headship offensive, we either reinterpret the offending passages or say the Bible is irremediably misogynistic in that regard, which we’re at liberty to disregard (e.g. R. H. Evans). Same thing with homosexuality.
If we take umbrage at God’s command to execute the Canaanites, we reinterpret that to mean it’s just the conventional rhetoric of violence, which needn’t be confused with actual events (e.g. Rowlett).
And we readjust our theory of inspiration to accommodate these modifications. God superintends error, and it’s our calling to discern the voice of God in the cacophony of jarring voices within Scripture.
If we perceive an irreconcilable conflict between divine foreknowledge and human freedom, then we cut the Gordian knot by denying God’s knowledge of the future. Or we declare that God must play the hand he was dealt (W. L. Craig).
If we don’t like everlasting punishment, we substitute annihilationism or universalism. Easy as that.
If we think it’s unfair for death to terminate the opportunity for salvation, we stipulate purgatory and postmortem salvation (e.g. Jerry Walls).
If we think it’s unfair that everyone didn’t enjoy the same spiritual opportunities, we posit that “God could place a person anywhere He wants in human history, regardless of how that person might freely behave in different circumstances. But my suggestion is that God, being so merciful and not wanting anyone to be damned, so providentially orders the world that anyone who would embrace the Gospel if he were to hear it will not be placed in circumstances in which he fails to hear it and is lost. Only in the case of someone who would be saved through his response to general revelation would a person who would freely respond to special revelation, if he heard it, find himself in circumstances where he doesn’t hear it” (W. L. Craig).
If Calvinism rankles, we preemptively dictate that whatever the Bible means, it can’t mean that (e.g. Wesley, Rauser, Olson).
Now the problem I have with all these efforts to make the Bible more believable is that, if I granted their assumptions, their efforts to make the Bible more believable would make the Bible less believable. And that’s because they are clearly manipulating Scripture or theology to yield a desired result. Whenever there’s any tension between the Bible and their prior commitments, Scripture must always adapt to their prior commitments, not vice versa.
But that becomes an exercise in make-believe. Theology as fiction, where you rewrite the story to provide an alternate ending which you find more agreeable.
By contrast, the Bible contains a lot of flinty, gnarly, intractable material. Material that resists domestication.
Take Judges. Along with Lamentations, this may be the nastiest book of the Bible. It contains a series of atrocities. Mutilation, dismemberment, disembowelment, eye-gouging, human sacrifice, gang rape &c. This is not a nice book. Not a hymnal.
But, unfortunately, that’s what makes it so believable. Because, unfortunately, that’s very true to life. The Bible has that raw, gritty, gruesome verity. The very effort to sanitize the Bible makes it less realistic. And in so doing, makes it less credible. That’s projecting how we’d like things to be, rather than how they actually are.
All this moral squalor supplies the dark backdrop for the Bible’s bright redemptive vision. Hope in the shadow of despair. A fallen world is an ugly world. But only a fallen world can be redeemed.
As we reject the offending passages of the Bible, we ironically sink back into the very depravity at which we take offense. We revert to the heathen brutality which the Bible graphically depicts, as a warning to God’s people. That’s the lesson of Judges.