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Friday, April 22, 2005 

Holiness II -- Bishop Spong and The OT

I just finished watching Tavis Smiley's program on KET (the PBS affiliate here in Louisville) which featured former Episcopalian Bishop John Shelby Spong, who has long been a critic of Evangelical Christianity -- authoring books such as Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, Resurrection: Myth or Reality?, and Why Christianity Must Change or Die. Smiley was interviewing him regarding his newest book, entitled, The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible's Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love. Smiley asked Spong about his positions set forth in the book and Spong responded with a tirade regarding how conservative Christians view God all wrong, seeing Him not as a God of Love, but rather as one having wrath. Smiley replied that he did not see those two traits of God as "oxymoronic," which he later clarified to mean "mutually exclusive." He explained by offering an illustration involving how Spong would likely have to discipline his four daughters as well as love them. Spong charged back that no child psychologist in this country would advocate using corporal punishment in order to discipline a child and went on to suggest that viewing Jesus as a human sacrifice to God for the sins of His people constitues divine child abuse and simply is not rational or loving.

So why do I reference all of this? Well, this to me epitomizes the view to which many on the outskirts of Christianity hold. In addressing the question Tavis Smiley posed regarding our need for God's discipline, Spong simply replied that he did not want to view God in this way and preferred to see God's main purpose in helping us to become "more human." He quoted Jesus in John 10:10 ("I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly"), though he prefaced it by saying that he had no clue whether Jesus actually said it or whether it was made up. He said his point of bringing up this text was to say that this is how he prefers to see God -- as being there to bring us to self-actualization.

The view that I think this sets forth is what I will call the "Cafeteria-Style Jesus." All of us have at some point gone through a cafeteria line like Piccadilly (my favorite), Morrison's or Luby's (the place you go to die -- inside joke -- you can ask me about it later). Unfortuantely, it is too expensive to choose everything in the line, so you have to pick and choose what you want the most. A meat here. A veggie there. This kind of bread. And of course, that piece of pie. In the end you get a custom made meal for you, all within your budget. That's how I have seen Jesus portrayed as of late. Some will say, "You know I like that loving Jesus, but that wrathful one who says He came to divide household against household and mother against father -- I'm not so sure about Him." One girl on a discussion board I read referred to Jesus's words regarding hell and concluded with, "What's up with that Jesus?", as though He was a schizophrenic. I guess today the real Jesus is much like taking everything in the Cafeteria line -- too heavy to handle, too much to swallow, and too expensive to buy.

So what does this have to do with holiness? Well, in the Old Testament, before Jesus was revealed, God was seen as holy. He was to be feared and to be revered. The word "holy" in the OT is derived from the stem qds. Hence, words such as qodes, qados, and qiddes all refer back to this same root. According to scholars, the word gets it origin from ancient languages such as Akadian and Ugaritic. In all of these cases the word carries with it a view of "separateness" and invokes the image of something that is all together different and set apart, something to be feared and venerated. In fact, as we examine the OT, it seems that the word "holy" was often used to bring about fear in the hearts of God's people. God tells Moses to take off his shoes for he is on holy ground. The people are told continuously to abstain from certain things or actions for they profane the name of God who is holy. And in all of this, there is a certain draw of the people toward God. They participate in all the prescribed rituals just to draw near to this God whom they fear.

But in today's society, drawing near to God means making Him in our own image. Churches today spend millions of dollars to get people to see Jesus as your "homeboy" or as the gentle lamb who just wants to be your friend. They encourage people to seek a God who is all about them, who just wants what is best for them. I am sorry, but this is not the God of the OT, the Father of Jesus Christ, the Author of the Universe. It is a watered-down, "Cafeteria-Style" deity who is user-friendly.

The message of Jesus Christ means nothing if the God of the Old Testament and Jesus Himself are not One in the same. The doctrine of the Trinity, though believed by many, should be scrapped if indeed the two testaments are mutually exclusive. If Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, then how is it that the Father changes so much? It just doesn't make sense. And revisionists who say that we must view the OT as narrative and as God working within the culture of the people, not really wanting the Israelites to destroy the tribes of the land they would eventually take, how do they explain this sudden change in God's character that now because of Christ He would indeed change the culture instead of catering to it? Was He not strong enough in the OT times to harness the culture and to change it? Certainly, the Roman era was not any less brutal.

So I think I have boiled it all down to this -- people like Bishop John Shelby Spong don't want to revere God. The fear of God is far from their hearts and what they really long for is comfort -- comfort for their sins, comfort for their lifestyles, and comfort for their guilty hearts. They don't want a Jesus who declares that violent men take the kingdom by force and in whose mouth proceeds a double edged sword by which He will slay the wicked.

So here's the choice -- will you follow the God of the OT and the NT and His Son Jesus Christ or will you ignore the parts of the Bible (both Old and New) that you don't like and instead say, "I'll take a slice of that Jesus and a side of this teaching. Oh, and of course, give me some of that comforting pie!"? According to Vodie Bachaum, the choice is not just about personal preference, it's a choice to follow Christ or a false gospel that has no power to save.

Until Christ is Formed in All of Us,

DR, I read and agreed with your post. I've had a lot of experience with a lot of churches, and I have found Bible believing, Spiritfilled, born agains in some very unusually settings. There is this supernatural thing happening in the circles I'm currently part of, sort of like a venn diagram of churches where Jesus is at the center (that's the teacher in me talking). I have heard the word coming from many different voices...we must get back to the WORD of GOD, we must get back to the foundations of our Faith. But then one guy talks about the Word of God being speaking in tongues and another says that the foundations are those laid by Martin Luther, or some pope. I must say that I am really shocked that Evangelicals have now been lumped with Catholics and New Agers. One of the leaders of the denomination that my husband is a pastor through, Open Bible Standard Churchs, said "don't be a label, be a church". By some standards we are an emergent church, perhaps some might even label us post modern...in style perhaps, but as someone on the inside, I can say with some certinty that we do not preach, serve or worship a watered down Jesus. And the Bible in the Open Bible pulpits or front rooms has 66 books in it.

Along this line of the unchanging God, I have been reading Joshua lateley, and most recently the 5th & 6th chapter where Joshua "by Jericho asks a man with a drawn sword, 'Are you friend or foe?', the man answers, 'No! I am the Captain of the Lord's Host!' and Joshua falls to his face in worship. The Captain then, in contrast to angels, tells Joshua to remove his shoes for he is standing on Holy Ground.

This seems to be a picture of the Son of God similar to the one we find described by John in the Revelation.


You bring up a great point. This is an example of a theophany in the OT which many believe to be pre-incarnate appearances of Christ. Regardless of whether this is the case or not, there is a stricking resemblance to the God of the OT and the Jesus Christ revealed in the book of Revelation. He is definately portrayed as being the leader of a great army who will avenge His Father's glory. And not only that He is a great warrior from whose mouth proceeds a double-edged sword that is used to slay the wicked. Very similar indeed to the OT Israelites who defended the glory of God against idolatry by the sword.

Great points. Thanks for contributing.


How is it that using an apocalyptic view of Jesus which is admittedly difficult to interpret as your "model" of Jesus not a Cafeteria-Style Jesus?

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Paul was not interested merely in the ethical principles of religion or of ethics. On the contrary, he was interested in the redeeming work of Christ and its effect upon us. His primary interest was in Christian doctrine, and Christian doctrine not merely in its presuppositions but at its centre. -- J. Greshem Machen.

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