Sunday, July 01, 2012

Roger Olson's made-to-order God

I’m going to comment on a couple of statements Roger Olson made in a recent book review.

His entire post is a target-rich environment, so I’ll have more to say at a later date. But for now:

Where we judge that Scripture presents God as saying or doing something he would not say or do, we should confess that “these texts tell us more about the purposes of their human authors than about the purposes of God.” We will simply admit that the author of Deuteronomy wrongly believed (as Luther did) that God told his people to slaughter their enemies.

How does Olson know, apart from God’s self-revelation in Scripture, what God’s prepared to say or do? What is Olson’s standard of comparison? Apart from Scripture, how is he in a position to predict what God wouldn’t say or do? What’s his independent source of information?

Perhaps this is his explanation:

When we run across elements of Scripture impossible to reconcile with God’s character as revealed in Jesus Christ, we ought to bite the bullet and admit they are simply wrong, the result of the humanity (finiteness and fallenness) of Scripture.

Several problems:

i) Jesus never indicated that OT depictions of God are “simply wrong.” Jesus never questioned the inspiration of the OT.

ii) Why does Olson think that Jesus is nicer than Yahweh? The Jesus of the Gospels (not to mention Revelation) isn’t some hippy guru who doles out bland, grandmotherly aphorisms about love, peace, and brotherhood. The NT Jesus has a real edge to him. He’s not somebody you want to get on the wrong side of.

iii) According to Olson, Scripture doesn’t select for the true God. Rather, the true God selects for Scripture. Scripture doesn’t tell you who the true God is. Rather, your prior knowledge of the true God tells you what scriptures are true. You can’t use the Bible to identify God. Rather, you have to use God to identify Scripture.

But in that event, how can Olson use Jesus as a benchmark? How does he know what Jesus is really like?

He can’t default to the NT, because he doesn’t consider the Bible to be reliable. What makes him think his Jesus is the real Jesus, rather than the Jesus of Marcion, Elaine Pagels, or John Dominic Crossan?

Given his low view of Scripture, he can’t begin with the NT portrayal of Jesus as a given. Rather, he has to begin with Jesus, then use that to determine which candidates for Scripture match up with Jesus.

But if he can’t begin with Scripture, how can he begin with Jesus? He has no alternate source of information? There are some extrabiblical traditions about Jesus, but even if they were trustworthy, they are hardly enough to constitute a frame of reference.

If the OT doesn’t select for the true God, then the NT doesn’t select for the real Jesus. In both cases, given Olson’s methodology, you have to begin at the end, then work your way back. You have to begin with what you already know about God or Jesus, then use that determine which Biblical depictions are true or false. So how does he kick-start the process?

1 comment:

  1. "So how does he kick-start the process?"

    I think that would not be that hard to figure out. Truth above all about God, for Olson, is that God is Love, like it is for most Arminians a starting point. So if you have that presuppositional truth combined with how the "natural man" defines love, then follow almost automatically the common questions of "natural man" like "If God is Love then why ....... (everyone who has heard those questions knows what we can fill in the dotted line)?"
    If then you happen to be a theologian or "believer", you have to defend God and draw Him as an acceptable God for "natural man".
    If then there are places in the Scriptures (from where we can know God as this is the only source in which He reveals Himself to us) which do not line up with how we want Him to be, there must be something wrong with that revelation. Now we come to the real problem that is already revealed to us in Gen.3 :1 where the devil starts with a question, "Did God actually say, 'You shall not eat of any tree in the garden'?" Answering Eve's reply he assures her, "You will not die!" And ever since "natural man" believes in the devil's assurance, rather than what God says.
    That is why e.g. many Arminians question Calvinism with false dichotomies like that of humans (many times examplified with "innocent" women and children), being mere victims in cases of crimes.
    The notion that since Genesis 3 NO ONE deserves to live, but that ALL should die, is swept from the table as unacceptable for "natural man".
    Now if we are still willing to believe that there is a God, we have to "defend" Him and make Him acceptable for "natural man" and tell him that God loves him, no matter what is said throughout the Old Testament about God's wrath upon sin.
    The result now is that WE "natural men" determine what is true and what is false and We tell God who He has to be and how He HAS to reveal Himself to us.
    What utter self-imagination that works out in the laughing of Satan who sees it happen again in this time of history that theologians think he is right, "You will be like God."