Saturday, July 28, 2012

The new Marcionites

I’m going to make some comments on this post:

Before commenting on a few specific statements, I wish to make a general observation. Increasingly, objections to Calvinism are bundled with objections to the OT. You see this with Arminians like Randal Rauser and Roger Olson. And we see this same thing with Peter Enns. In this post, his criticisms of the OT run in tandem with criticisms of Calvinism.

Yahweh is too much like the God of Calvinism to separate them in principle or practice. The family resemblance is uncanny. Increasingly, those who attack the morality of Calvinism attack the morality of the OT, and vice versa. These are parallel objections.

There is some logic to this development. But this attack on Calvinism admits that Calvinism is too Biblical for its own good. Calvinism is faulty because Scripture is faulty.

To some extent this represents a dramatic shift from traditional objections to Calvinism. Traditionally, Arminians try to argue that Calvinism is unscriptural. Now, however, they are using the opposite argument: that Calvinism is scriptural to a fault. That it’s too wedded to a false view of God we find in Scripture.

All pretense of honoring the authority of Scripture is openly and brazenly abandoned. Critics of Calvinism used to maintain the appearance of deferring to Scripture, but Scripture itself is now in the crosshairs.

They attempt to put Calvinists on the defensive for believing the Bible. How dare you believe what the Bible says about the Canaanites! What kind of person are you!

The approach is indistinguishable from militant unbelievers like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.

But then he would need to address squarely Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount that “death to our enemies” is no longer valid.

Several problems with that appeal:

i) Jesus doesn’t share his view of the OT. Jesus ranged all over the OT to prooftext his mission.

ii) The Sermon on the Mount is telling Christians how to treat their enemies. It’s not telling us how Jesus will treat his enemies.

In that respect, Enns is ignoring what Jesus says about eschatological judgment in Matthew. Jesus, as the eschatological judge, will consign his enemies to everlasting punishment.

Far from softening the OT, that ups the ante. Executing the Canaanites pales in comparison with eternal damnation.

iii) Increasingly, the critics of Calvinism are resorting to a Marcionite dichotomy between the evil God of the OT and the good God of the NT. But that’s alien to the NT use of the OT. Alien to the viewpoint of Jesus, the apostles, and other NT writers.

It is not at all clear that these biblical stories were even written to depict “what God did.” Recent work has made the case that the book of Joshua is not a “conquest narrative.” Rather, using conquest as a narrative setting, Joshua is a statement about what it means to be an insider or an outsider to their community. The conquest stories are symbolic narratives that point to a theological truth.

Even if we accept that claim for the sake of argument, these narratives symbolically depict the character of God. A God who symbolically orders the wholesale execution of the Canaanites. Even if (ex hypothesi) that’s a symbolic illustration of God’s character, the “theological truth” which that (allegedly) symbolic narrative illustrates is just as antithetical to Enns’s kinder gentler understanding of God as a literally depiction. Increasingly, the critics of Calvinism are resorting to a Marcionite dichotomy between the evil God of the OT and the good God of the NT.

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