Previous installment:A Review of Thom Stark’s “The Human Faces of God” – Chapter 10
I’d like to make some concluding remarks about the book.
I am happy to acknowledge that Thom is smarter than I am. He’s better educated than I am. And he’s a better writer than I am. My objection to his book has nothing to do with Thom. I have good will toward him, and respect his accomplishments. Rather, my criticism is of his book and the point it tries to make.
The point of Thom’s book – that the Bible is a seriously-flawed book and that Jesus was wrong about a material point in His teaching – is destructive to faith, Thom’s and everyone’s who believes him. The purpose of my review has been to demonstrate where and why he is wrong, and to offer an alternative. The alternative is Jesus – an increase in, and focus on, our awareness of Jesus Christ.
Jesus cannot be the Savior of the world if He is not the Messiah of Israel. And he cannot be the Messiah of Israel if He is a false prophet. In Deuteronomy 18, Moses described a false prophet as one who speaks something in the name of the Lord that does not come true. In his chapter eight, Thom rightly pointed out that Jesus spoke emphatically that His return would be in the generation of His contemporaries. To say that He did not return in His stated timeline is, therefore, to say that He has earned the label of false prophet.
To skirt the alleged falseness of Jesus’ testimony on such an emphatic and established point would be an affront to Moses, an affront to the truth, and an affront to Jesus Himself. I can respect someone who questions Jesus’ identity on the basis of His perceived error on this point. I don’t think, however, that Jesus wants us to give Him a pass on this. On the contrary, He said that heaven and earth would pass away before His words did. To keep Him as the center of your life when you believe that His words did fail is not something He would expect.
I happily and confidently declare to you that Jesus’ words were true. That He did keep His promise. And that His promise was fulfilled when He said it would be. It was we who misunderstood Him. (See Jesus Christ Has Already Come Again.) Jesus is faithful and true. For Thom to say “Jesus is wrong” – which is the whole point of chapter eight – is…wrong.
As for the Bible, Thom began his litany of complaints against it without seeming regard for the esteem in which Jesus held it. That is, Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “I did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.” Nevertheless, He saw things in it no one else had ever seen – and it was these previously unseen things that He came to reveal…and fulfill. Any familiarity with His life at all leads one to recognize that the entirety of the Scriptures would need to be re-thought in view of His pronouncements about it. Jesus did not go about circumcising infants as Abraham had, or sacrificing lambs as Moses had, or mustering an army as David had – and yet He claimed to be fulfilling all that had directed those men. Something was up. And the Scriptures could no longer be viewed in the old way if Jesus was to be taken seriously.
To therefore go back and critique those Scriptures as if Jesus had never made this pronouncement about them – not to mention all the other times He taught on them, giving that same dramatic innovation in perspective – is to invite the sort of confusion in which Thom dwells. On the other hand, to embrace the new dimension of understanding that Jesus brought is to render moot most of the concerns Thom raises.
That ancient Israel had a bloody past is undeniable – but that Jesus came to bring an entirely new change in direction from that narrative is equally undeniable. As David was too bloody to build the temple that Solomon would build, so Yahweh was too bloody to build the temple that Jesus would build. As Solomon used the plans and materials his father had provided, so Jesus used the plans and materials His Father had provided. The Divine David was a man of war; the Divine Solomon was a man of peace. In neither case, however, has the Divine done wrong.
Thom finds things in the Bible that confuse or trouble him. But rather than looking at the Bible through the eyes of Jesus, he simply reads the Old Testament in his own understanding – and gets lost along the way. He concludes not just that the Bible is fallible, but that it fails in many morally deplorable ways. In the end, he offers no reason for continuing to be committed to it other than his familiarity with it. That is, it’s part of his upbringing, his culture, and his interest. Where does that leave someone whose upbringing and culture involves different books, or no books at all?
Thom is like a fellow who says he has a friend who is a murderer, a liar, a racist, and more – but then will act surprised when no one else wants to befriend the guy. Thom then protests, “But I’ve known this guy since I was a kid.” Huh?
I really don’t think Thom realizes the destructive force of his argument, because the argument has already wreaked havoc on his own faith. But Christ is faithful to His word and can renew Thom to Himself. May we all be drawn closer to Him today.
I had thought that the issue of the New Testament canon would come up in Thom’s book and so I promised to deal with it. However, it never did, so I’ll comment briefly on it now. Practically speaking, Jesus demonstrated that there is no reason to question the core Old Testament canon. As for the New Testament canon, there is even less dispute about its contents. Apostolic origin as perceived by those who lived closest to that age has always been considered the standard for inclusion. Apostles are significant, of course, because they were personally commissioned by the Lord, just as the prophets had been personally commissioned by Yahweh. (For more, see Why the Bible Can Be Trusted; or The Depth of Corroboration to the Testimony of Jesus Christ; or The Nine Men Behind the New Testament.)
In the first garden, the tempter provoked Eve with the rhetorical question, “Indeed has God said…” It was spoken with diabolical intent, and it had devastating consequences. The introduction of doubt about the word of God is no small thing. I do not for a moment think Thom wrote his book with diabolical intent – but that is its consequence for those who believe it. And that is why I have spoken so strongly against it. I have witnessed seekers shaken by its arguments. I felt compelled to offer an alternative. And I’ve offered it for Thom as much as for any of his readers.
I agree wholeheartedly with Thom that fundamentalism has a deservedly poor reputation. And I would add that this is becoming increasingly true for broader evangelicalism as well. However, Thom’s answer to this of moving leftward on the theological spectrum is no solution. Move far enough in that direction and you become agnostic. After that, the only thing left is atheism. Moving rightward is no solution either.
If moving left or right is unhelpful, what then is the solution? Yes, of course…looking upward. Moving leftward or rightward is merely changing the “people of faith” with whom we associate. Only in reorienting ourselves upward do we truly practice faith. For faith must be in God (Hebrews 11:6) – and not in people (Jeremiah 17:5-8). And while we can be encouraged by the faith of others, faith is ultimately a private act of the individual human heart.
We must see Jesus our Lord with the eyes of our heart. We must believe the only enduring earthly source we have about Him, which are the Scriptures of the prophets and the apostles. His Holy Spirit is speaking to us all, but having a reliable written standard against which to compare all that we think is God is an extra grace for which we can be extra thankful. It is “the more sure word of prophecy” (2 Peter 1:19). It is the “jar of manna” kept before the Presence, to remind us the daily provision of His Spirit promised to us. The Bible is not intended to replace His Spirit – the Bible tells us of His Spirit!
Could we get by in this life with the Holy Spirit only? Yes. But without the Bible, some subsequent generation would eventually lose the conviction that there is a Holy Spirit…and there would be no “sure word of prophecy” with which to restore it.
There are many temptations to doubt Christ in this world, but He is honored when we resist them. And He have given us the means of doing so – the very means He Himself used to resist temptation (Matthew 4:1-11). Let us not treatly lightly what was purchased for us with so great a price.
There are indeed many human faces in the book of God, but there is one face that shines above and beyond all others (2 Corinthians 4:6).
Blessed be His name. And blessed be His word.