Monday, May 21, 2012

The Canaanite Conquest, the Warrior God, and Hell: An Example of the Liberal and Conservative Distinction

Many people in the blogosphere took issue with my preceding post. I was offered no alternative definition of liberalism by any of them, as the definitions I gave I believe to be the best definitions available when the two words "liberal" and "conservative" appear in contradiction to one another in contemporary speech.But they did protest my use of the terms nonetheless.

However, what I said is best displayed in the approach to the Bible a "liberal Christian" and a "conservative Christian" often take. When approaching texts that deal with God's judgment in wiping away or punishing people in hell, one group attempts to redefine their concepts of God and man according to what the Bible says and the other group attempts to reject those portions of the Bible in one way or another as true depictions of God.

The latter group, of course, are what I have defined as liberals. Liberals are not people who interpret texts figuratively. They are not people who are "non-fundamentalists" or who concentrate their efforts on social outworkings of the gospel. Many who consider themselves liberals for this reason really aren't necessarily liberals at all.

Liberals, however, approach the Bible with themselves as the moral compass by which the things in Scripture must be judged. This is why liberals today will talk about all sorts of things in the Bible as being morally reprehensible and that must now be rejected as true depictions of God or what is right by a more enlightened society. Again, the Self is the primary interpreter of reality, and hence, it must judge all other authorities (e.g., the Bible and the Church) by its own experience (empirical or existential).

Hence, when we approach things in the Bible like the Canaanite Conquests or God slaying people as the Warrior of Israel (of course, He is also a Warrior against Israel at many times), or the idea of hell put forth by Scripture, these often do not accord with the God of liberalism in our modern context. God is loving and a loving God could never do those things. This judgment comes from the fact that the liberal likes the concept of love taught by the Scripture, but he doesn't like what he views as contrary to love (although if it were not completely absent of the creational trajectory of the theology of love taught by Scripture, such an acceptance of Scriptural love would cause it to accept the rest). His definitions of love, however, being something close to "acceptance" and "toleration" cannot make sense of a God of wrath, and so rather than change his concept of love, he rejects those portions of Scripture as true and chalks them up to the primitive musings of an ancient (i.e., less enlightened), violent peoples.

The real God (i.e., the God the liberal has imagined for himself) is not a God of wrath, but a God of love as love is defined by the liberal himself.

Now, if a liberal were a more violent man, His God would be as well. The point is not that all liberals believe the same about God, but that their beliefs about God are primarily based upon subjective experience, i.e., the Self, unbowed to a greater authority that might correct that belief (i.e., the Bible through the Church). In essence, the liberal can only be corrected if he or she is convinced to believe otherwise. He or she cannot believe otherwise just based on faith in a greater authority than Self. The Self must be convinced and then he or she will believe.

Hence, I'm not really saying that if you have an allegorical interpretation of the Canaanite Conquest, for example, that means you're a liberal. What I'm saying is that it is how you approach Scripture: with an attitude of submission to whatever it says or with an attitude of skepticism toward what it says as you stand over it in judgment, determining if you want to believe this and reject that. Such an attitude reflects that the Self as primary interpreter of reality is perched higher on the tree than the Scripture is in determining the nature of reality (e.g., who God is and what He is like, whether man rightfully goes to this fate in accordance with the God revealed in the rest of Scripture, etc.).

This is why liberalism cannot have true faith that denies the Self. It cannot say, God is loving and wiped out the Canaanites in accordance with His love. It cannot say, God is loving and will send people to hell in accordance with His love, because the Scripture says it is in accordance with who He is, and He is love. Instead, it must take a stand against that external authority and say, God is loving in accordance with my view of love, and therefore, the Scripture that speaks of Him otherwise must be radically reinterpreted or just completely rejected as untrue.

The liberal, as one who has trust in himself more than another, cannot be corrected on the matter. There can never be a submission of the Self because the Self is always in the highest seat of judgment. It must judge all views of God, including those found in the Bible and the Church. It must dissect Scripture and keep only those portions that accord with it. In essence, liberals all have their own Jefferson Bibles, even if they don't literally cut out the particular things said that they don't believe and paste in the particular things not already there that they do.

Hence, in liberal theology, the Bible must be redeemed by the Self rather than the Self being redeemed by the washing of the teaching of the Bible. Where the author of 2 Timothy commanded that the Scripture be used to correct, rebuke, reprove, exhort, etc., the liberal uses the Self for his correcting, rebuking, reproving, exhorting of the Bible. However, since it would be absurd to suggest that the human Self is greater than God's Word, the Bible must be reduced to the words of men that sometimes, and sometimes not, accurately communicate that Word. Other liberals just deny that it is anymore God's Word than any other religious document. Either way, its authority must be diminished in the presence of the Self however one chooses to accomplish that.

Again, the conservative is not without the problem of the Self. I've said before on this blog that there are really only two religions in the world: Christianity and the religion of the Self. Hence, everyone struggles with it. However, the problem I am describing with liberalism is that there is no way for the Self to be corrected if it remains in the highest place of judgment in terms of interpreting reality. The Self needs to be bowed to, and corrected by, the external authority of Scripture if it is to be subjected in its beliefs and practices to Christ (i.e., if it is to repent, which is the context of the denial of Self pericope in Mark).

It is one thing for a conservative to struggle with Self. It is another for liberalism to exalt it unhindered by what is external to itself. A liberal can always self correct, again, if the Self is convinced of something better, but it can never have the type of faith that believes contrary to what he sees as the best explanation for God, man, reality, etc. And that's the problem. There is no salvation without submission. There is no following Christ without denying the Self the right to determine what is true and right. There is no justification without faith, no redemption without repentance, no being conformed to the image of Christ without being course corrected by what is outside the non-conformed image of Christ that is the present Self. That's why liberals can't be Christians, because the religion of the Self cannot allow for it. Hence, as said before, there can only be a conservative Christianity. "Liberal Christianity" is a contradiction in terms.


  1. Another great post. I've found the complaints about the word "liberal" to have completely missed the point, which was about ultimate authority. Is it internal or external? And I haven't seen that your use of liberal is actually off the mark either. For instance, I just googled "I'm a liberal Christian" and this post popped up first. It illustrates your point perfectly.

  2. Thanks Nick. That's another great example. I have to say, I'm not surprised that some people are upset, but I am surprised that these distinctions are not just self evident to people. It makes me wonder if people really understand why there is such a rift between the two groups that go beyond individual issues and caricatures. And I honestly think the above understanding has the possibility of not just excluding some people but also including others who were formerly excluded based on the wrong criteria for what really constitutes being a "liberal."

  3. So you're not bothered by the thought of God commanding the murder of men women and children, commanding children be hacked to death simply because they have the wrong parents, and that's what makes you conservative? Or is it the fact that you may be bothered by it but you still accept it because you read it in the Bible?

  4. No, it's that I seek to make sense of Teaching X in light of Teaching Y of the Bible, rather than assume I already have everything I need to know how to process it. In fact, in the case cited, a biblical understanding of love requires that chaotic agents be removed in order to save God's children. And if you're familiar with the Bible, you'll know it has nothing to do with to what parents one is born (Rahab was a Canaanite and Achan an Israelite of Israelites from Judah), but one's allegiance to the source of good and love versus the evil associated with the worship of self. If you want to know more about it, you can find my blogposts entitled, "Noah's Flood: A Love Story," "The Canaanite Conquest: A Love Story," and "Hell: A Love Story." What you're suggesting is that it is more loving to let chaotic agents destroy God's children than it is to destroy those chaotic agents, something any sane human being would never do himself in real life.

    But the real issue is the approach. That's the subject at hand, not the individual topics. The issue is whether one has a submission to the external authority of the Scripture enough to give it the benefit of the doubt, have faith that it accurately teaches what is good and true, and seeks to understand (i.e., a faith seeking understanding rather than demanding that you be convinced so that you can "believe" (I'm not sure what type of belief that is when you have to see it for yourself in order to believe it).

  5. So biblical love is kill their children before they kill God's children? It's sort of like the biblical equivalent of a preemptive strike. So that's what Jesus meant when he said hit their right cheek before they hit yours.

  6. Apparently, you didn't read what I wrote. I flat out said it was a preemptive strike and such is mandatory of true love. It's actually a rather complex argument the Bible makes, not because it's hard to understand in general, but it is impossible to understand with your attitude and current set of beliefs that are not in submission to seeing things through Scripture.

    So let me just ask you, If you knew for a fact that a child would grow up to kill all of your children, and God knew it too, and He commanded you to kill that child first before he had the chance of doing so, would you see God and yourself as loving for doing so or as evil because a child should never be killed? Or would you see yourself and Him as more loving if He did not command you to kill that child and you let that child grow up to kill your children, knowing that this is in fact what he would do? Do you treat all threats this way, or just if they are humans who you seem to attribute a "right to live at the expense of other human lives." By not killing the Canaanites, God destroys His own children. By killing them, He saves them.

    Would you apply this same objection to removing a diseased child from a village in order to save the entire village? Or do you think it is more loving to let the entire village die in order to keep around one child who is going to die anyway?

    I'm trying to get an assessment of whether you think that in particular contexts the killing of a child is unacceptable or in all contexts no matter what.

    Of course, most scholars believe that this is hyperbolic war language, since the Canaanites are not wiped out and the language mimics other ancient Near Eastern war rhetoric where most of the women and children are not actually killed; but my point is simply that I believe this is something that is consistent with who God is. Or do you believe that God does not actually control life and death? If you do believe that He does, I'm not sure what you're objection is to the Conquest accounts, since God kills people, including little children, every day.

    In any case, your rhetoric displays the very rebellion I mention above. A liberal can be offended by God and object to Him all the day long, but this is why he cannot be a Christian. His rebellious heart and mocking speech will not quiet down long enough to be corrected by the Master. It's this demand that God conform to the Self that is on display so vividly in this discussion.

  7. btw, I would encourage you to make an actual argument rather than do as so many people who only disagree via their disgusted Self and merely post their empty assertions. If you have an argument, I'd love to hear it. If not, I really don't want to waste time on addressing snarky comments that only prove my point in the end. Hence, any further posts by you without an argument will just be deleted. I'm sure you'll understand, having displayed such rationality thus far. ;-)

  8. "It's actually a rather complex argument the Bible makes, not because it's hard to understand in general, but it is impossible to understand with your attitude and current set of beliefs that are not in submission to seeing things through Scripture"

    It's possible the Bible is not making a complex argument at all but rather you are and you are going out of your way to formulate this argument to make the less palatable stuff in the Bible easier to swallow.

    That's one of the real difference I've between conservatives and liberals. Both sides recognize uncomfortable and troubling things in the Bible. Conservatives will jump through all kinds of hoops to try and show how the Bible is really saying something else or it's not as bad as we think (it's biblical love to slaughter children and babies if they happen to be born to the wrong people, after all it's really only an either or choice, kill or be killed, no other options) whereas liberals call it as they see it. Liberals let the Bible be the Bible while conservatives try to make it something else. So the Bible ends up having complex arguments that you can discover if you just study it hard enough and find the secret hermeneutical key to unlock the whole thing.

    I thought about answering some of your other questions and addressing the issues you raised but I've been in enough internet debates to know your last paragraph reveals this wouldn't be a worthwhile discussion to have.

  9. It's not a conversation worth having because you don't have the knowledge base to have it. That's not a dig, but just a flat out observation. I do nothing but read liberals, so I know what they do well. The problem is that you have no understanding of how presuppositions and ultimate beliefs work. If you did, you wouldn't present one side as apologetic and one side just dealing with the facts. That evidences your lack of education on the subject. Everyone has ultimate beliefs and must attempt to fit the data into their framework. My comments above come from a deep understanding of the literary and theological arguments and assumptions the Bible makes of which you seem completely unaware.

    The problem with that, of course, becomes the leveling of accusations by those who don't know better that the other side is just looking for something to fit their worldview. Well, I think that's true of everyone. The issue for me, however, is that I don't need the Bible to be literal. I'm completely fine with an allegorical interpretation of those things, so you have no idea what you're talking about. I came to my conclusions based upon what the Scriptures actually argue (again, a theological understanding of which you seem completely oblivious). If you understood the creation theology upon which the entire Bible rests its theology and ethics then you might have a chance at understanding why the destruction of chaotic agents is an essential to love the group those agents would destroy.

    But the real hypocrisy is that you're committing the very thing you claim is exclusive to conservatives. You don't like what the Bible says on the matter and so you have to try to scramble and explain why it isn't true that God would condone such a thing. Your an apologist for your ultimate beliefs like everyone else. Don't be duped by the hubris of scholarly credentials (of which I have far more than you do) to think otherwise.

    The truth about a lot of liberal scholarship that just concludes that the Bible must be primitive and contradictory is that it wants to read the Bible like a "See Spot Run" book, where everything is just obvious and no complex literary or theological argument is being made. Instead, if it could stop its constant polemic against Christianity, it would be able to see that it should be reading it as Shakespeare or Melville. But if that's where you want to hang your hat, that's up to you. Thanks for commenting.

  10. BTW, I wanted to further note that I've only hit on one aspect in discussing the Canaanite Conquests with you. The other side of the coin is God's wrath toward sin and how that affects one's offspring. Of course God places particular people as the children of particular people so it's not as though it's just a luck of the draw. I believe the children of Canaanites would grow up to be even worse than their parents, as sin expands in its depravity with each unredeemed generation. But I think if one does not approach Scripture in a trembling at God's Word, does not understand the biblical concept of love within covenant and creation theology and ethics, etc., there is no point in pursuing the other points concerning God's wrath upon the wicked, who our society sees as close kin in terms of their false religions and wayward practices.