Thom Stark on Blasphemy for God’s sake

Youtube version.


This is the title of a provocative post written by liberal Christian scholar and writer “Thom Stark”.

He responded there to an email from a Christian struggling with ignoble things in the Old Testament.

Thom gave a definition of inspiration I am largely sympathetic to:

“And it would be that the slavery laws are wrong, and that they were written by humans who got God wrong. But we can find God throughout the pages of the Bible by using our God-given moral reasoning. Wherever there is truth, wherever there is justice and compassion, that’s where God is. That doesn’t mean those parts are really inspired by God while the other parts aren’t. The inspiration lies not in the verbatim language of scripture, but in the struggle of God’s community to know God, the struggle that’s reflected in the conflicting views throughout the Bible about who God is and what God desires. The inspiration of scripture is bigger than the words on the page; it goes deeper to the struggles of the people of God who produced them.”

It is formulated in a wonderful way and this logically means we can also find God in many non-Biblical books (a point Thom would obviously agree with).

I was less convinced by his answer to the next question.

3. If I am struggling in my faith, then how am I supposed to evangelize with confidence? In Matthew 16:15 Jesus tell us to evangelize, but it is hard to do so if I question parts of the Bible.

That question is based upon the assumption that an evangelistic message involves some claim about the inerrancy or infallibility of scripture. For me, and for most Christians, it doesn’t. Evangelism is spreading the Good News that in God’s community, justice and peace are available because of Jesus Christ. So evangelism isn’t just about preaching doctrines; evangelism is really inviting people to join a community that exists as an alternative to the unjust and violent structures offered by the world. Evangelism is an invitation to an alternative way of life made possible by the words and deeds of Jesus, and by his victory over the powers of sin (systemic injustice) and death.

I certainly agree with Thom that what he mentions are (important) aspects of the Gospel but this is by no means everything.

The Gospel is all about how people broken by their personal sins and the sins of others can find eternal life and communion with a God who is their loving Father.

Finally Thom has marvelous and very profound things to say about the concept of blasphemy.

Every time one says to a fundamentalists that the being he is worshiping is a monstrous tyrant, he often answers: “how dare you man criticize God Almighty?”.

Here is what Stark has to say:

4. Is it blasphemy to question God’s character? I question many of the laws in the Old Testament, and I am beginning to question God.

It is not blasphemy to question the character of the different portrayals of God in the Bible. That’s not the same thing as questioning God’s character. That’s just saying that the men who wrote the Bible sometimes were very wrong about God’s character. I would argue that it’s blasphemy to affirm some of the ways that God is characterized in the Bible. It’s precisely out of zeal for God’s character that so many Christians throughout history have been forced to reject certain portrayals of God in scripture. For instance, Gregory of Nyssa, one of the chief architects of the doctrine of the Trinity, rejected the idea that the tenth Egyptian plague (the slaughter of the firstborn sons of Egypt) could be an authentic, historical portrayal of God’s actions. A moral God wouldn’t kill children for the sins of their parents, much less for the sins of one man, the Pharaoh. Gregory, a very orthodox theologian, rejected the tenth plague as historical. His solution was to read it as allegory. To him the killing of the firstborn sons of Egypt was a metaphor for the Christian’s need to kill off all the beginnings of evil within ourselves. While I don’t reject his strategy, my strategy is to read the tenth plague as a condemned text—as a text that speaks to our capacity as human beings to misdirect our wrath, to punish the innocent because we’ve been somehow victimized. We all have the capacity to do that, especially as nations, and we continue to do it to this day. So I read that text as a warning—this is the wrong way to characterize God’s justice. It’s there for our instruction, but not as a positive example.

My second response to this question is simply, no, it is not blasphemous at all to question even God’s character. Job did it. And he had good reason to do it. Job never committed blasphemy, but he did call God unjust, and he did say that all the evidence showed that God wasn’t interested in doing what was right. If you want to call that blasphemy, then it’s blasphemy for God’s sake.”

I can only utter a loud “Amen!” after having read that.

Actually, we have the moral duty to defend the true perfect God against religious fundamentalists who are driving people away from Christianity by teaching atrocious non-sense.

When the Calvinist fundamentalist John Piper asserts that It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases.

we ought to condemn this egregious blasphemy with the strongest words.

Yet we should do that with love and compassion.

We should not, in a self-righteous manner, believe we are better persons than John Piper but just hope he will give up his extraordinarily morally offensive beliefs.

Actually I starkly suspect that it would be better if Piper was an atheist at peace with his moral intuitions than a fundamentalist believing that killing children in an atrocious way for the sins of their parents can be a good thing.


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