Nathan Schneider

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Is God a Moral Monster?

Recently, I’ve been asked about difficult passages in the Old Testament. Namely, the accounts of God prescribing the mass killing of entire nations. The argument usually goes something like this, “What about the parts of the Bible where God commands that the Israelites wipe out the Canaanites? How could God command this? If God is like that I would not want to follow Him.”

Certainly, these are difficult passages and no one should feel wrong for seeking answers to such issues. Christian apologist William Lane Craig said, “these stories offend our moral sensibilities.” However, it is interesting to point out that in many cases those who will bring up such arguments against God also want to borrow from a Judaeo-Christian worldview by claiming objective moral values. In any case, it’s important to keep in mind a few points when trying to understand one of these difficult texts:

  • Events in the ancient Near East need to be taken in their historical contexts. Our postmodern world is different from the one experienced by those in Scripture. They had different customs, rituals, and ways of life.
  • The accounts in the Old Testament need to be taken in the larger context of God’s meta-narrative (the Bible as a whole). The overall theme of Scripture is focused on Jesus and God’s redemptive work for all of human kind.
  • If God is the author of human life, He is the determiner of a person’s fate. *If one declares that God was wrong, one is acknowledging moral values, which necessitates the existence of God.

I had the privilege of sitting under the teachings of Paul Copan while at Palm Beach Atlantic University. He has written extensively on the topic and he proves to be helpful in dealing with these issues. In fact, his most recent book, Is God a Moral Monster?, was just released this year by Baker Books and deals with this topic. Here are some of the points we discussed in class as it pertains to the Canaanite issue:

  1. People who object to the command to kill Canaanites must first ask about the source of their moral standard; typically, this turns out to be the God of Scripture.
  2. God’s purposes are ultimately to bring salvation to all the nations through Abraham and his offspring (Gen. 12:3) – even if this involves punishment in the meantime.
  3. War was a practical reality in the ancient Near East (ANE). Like all other nations back then, Israel had to fight to survive.
  4. God, who is the author and giver of life, is cheating no one by taking his life up again (What about infants and children? They would actually go to heaven and be delivered from this morally-twisted culture).
  5. In many cases, Israel’s enemies struck first, not Israel.
  6. Because God is holy, there comes a time – whether in this life or in the life to come or in both – when God must deal with the unrepentant, wicked persons for the sake of his righteous character.
  7. Yahweh directly punished the morally corrupt cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19), but he indirectly punished the morally corrupt Canaanites by using Israel.
  8. In the book of Joshua, the biblical text indicates that the conquest of Canaan was far less sweeping and harsh than many assume (e.g. God’s command to the Israelites to not marry any of the Canaanites – could not have been total obliteration).
  9. The “military motif” may not be the only one to consider in Israel’s taking Canaan; other factors need to be considered (such as infiltration and internal struggle).

Further Resources: Paul Copan’s Website
Is Yahweh a Moral Monster?
How Could God Command the Killing of the Canaanites?


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What Is the End Goal of Christian Theology?

Simply put: the end goal of Christian theology can be nothing short of changed lives.  The word “lives” is plural because not only does the learner seek to be transformed by the study of the gospel of Jesus Christ, or the whole of the biblical narrative, but the leaner also seeks to communicate what he has received to the people around him.  In other words, Christian theology must encompass both spiritual transformation and great commission goals.

One of the key words in the title’s question is the word “Christian.”  This implies that the exercise of this particular discipline can only be accomplished through the work of the Holy Spirit as it transforms the individual Christian.  There are two versus that help here.  First, 1 Corinthians 2:14, “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”  In other words, someone without the assistance of the Holy Spirit cannot understand the things of God.  Gregory Thornbury helps explain this in the first chapter of A Theology for the Church, “It is not that man cannot receive the truth about how he should respond to God but that in his natural state he does not want to receive the truth about the God of the Bible.”  This is not only a statement of difficulty for the unbeliever, but also a charge to the Great Commission.  One cannot obtain salvation through head knowledge because without salvation, there can be no head knowledge.  We must connect people with Christ first.

A second verse that is helpful in understanding the emphasis on “Christian” theology is Colossians 2:3, “in whom (Christ) are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”  This is an amazing declaration!  Paul has said that ALL wisdom and knowledge are in Jesus.  Outside of Him there can be no understanding of how everything fits together in an individual life or in the universe as a whole.  The Christian need not follow any “wind of doctrine” or the “trickery or man” because they are false and only imitations of the only real truth.

The before mentioned goal of Christian theology can also read, “the end goal of Christian theology can be nothing short of knowing God and making Him known.”  The verb knowing and the term “changed lives” can be interchangeable in the definition.  The reason for this is that knowing God, growing in the knowledge of Christ, leads to change.  I’ve heard someone illustrate it this way, “If I told you that I had been run over by a truck, you would expect to see the marks that proved I was hit by a truck.  How much more should my life look different after an encounter with the living God?”  We should seek to live radical lives for Jesus and his kingdom.  This ambition begins with knowing our Savior and the good news of God’s meta-narrative.  However, this cannot be the end.  Gregory Thornbury, in his definition of theology makes the great commission his focus, “a good definition of theology is: ‘the attempt to explain God’s self-disclosure in a consistently faithful manner.’”  Notice the emphasis on sharing verbally. Ultimately, our goal as Christians is to not simply know God, but know God for the purpose of others knowing Him as well.

This is life-giving!