Recently, I was alerted to the release of a new book called The Human Faces of God: What Scripture Reveals When It Gets God Wrong (and Why Inerrancy Tries to Hide It). While I am not a fundamentalist inerrantist (I have a much higher view of the Bible than that), I find that I have a terrible gag reflex at the sound of such a book title. Like anyone, I am accustomed enough to hearing this kind of slighting talk about the Bible from outright critics. But nowadays, this stuff is coming from within the walls and halls of “evangelical” Christianity. And that I find very troubling, indeed.
When I heard of this book, I read the publisher’s blurb and then went on Amazon to have a looksee inside. I read a little excerpt from somewhere in the middle where the author, Thom Stark, was pointing out what, to him, was obviously biblical material that was getting God wrong. Specifically, he was referring to the genocidal wars of Israel under Joshua and others. Surely, the loving God, the Father of Jesus, would not command His people to “murder” every man woman and child of an entire people group.
While I can agree that it is more than a little unsettling to think of God in this way, I continue to be amazed at the way many Christians are taking their abreactive feelings toward such biblical testimony and running with them—clear to the point of jumping with both feet into a whole nest of logical and theological aberrations.
Last night, I was listening to an online sermon by Dr. Timothy Keller (who has suddenly become one of my very greatest heroes in the faith). At one point, he addressed those who want to be called Christian and want to let certain parts or aspects of the Bible inform their life and faith but who do not accept all of the Bible as God’s authoritative word, because it offends their sensibilities. He spoke of what he called a “Stepford god.” This image perfectly captures just exactly what is wrong with the thinking of folks like Stark.
So this morning, I googled the words “Stepford god.” And sure enough, there was no shortage of talk out there in the blogosphere about Keller’s point. In fact, it turns out that he uses this very image in his book The Reason for God. I have not yet had a chance to acquire the book, but I am thankful to the many bloggers who have already excerpted this passage on their own blogs so that I could copy it for mine: 🙂
If you don’t trust the Bible enough to let it challenge and correct your thinking, how could you ever have a personal relationship with God? In any truly personal relationship, the other person has to be able to contradict you. For example, if a wife is not allowed to contradict her husband, they won’t have an intimate relationship. Remember the (two!) movies The Stepford Wives? The husbands of Stepford, Connecticut, decide to have their wives turned into robots who never cross the wills of their husbands. A Stepford wife was wonderfully compliant and beautiful, but no one would describe such a marriage as intimate or personal.
Now, what happens if you eliminate anything from the Bible that offends your sensibility and crosses your will? If you pick and choose what you want to believe and reject the rest, how will you ever have a God who can contradict you? You won’t! You’ll have a Stepford God! A God, essentially, of your own making, and not a God with whom you can have a relationship and genuine interaction. Only if your God can say things that outrage you and make you struggle (as in a real friendship or marriage!) will you know that you have gotten hold of a real God and not a figment of your imagination. So an authoritative Bible is not the enemy of a personal relationship with God. It is the precondition for it. —The Reason for God, pages 113-114
This is absolutely fabulous! Keller once again hits the nail right on the head. I would like to add one thought, though. I have little doubt that Dr. Keller would agree with what I am about to say and would, in fact, articulate the point far better than I am about to do.
It is not merely my individual sensibilities or your individual sensibilities which the Bible offends. It is not merely our individual will which it crosses. If that were the case, only the most brazen and bold theological rebels would be able to muster the hubris to stand in judgment of the Scripture and make for themselves the kind of Stepford god Keller describes.
In actual fact, there is the enormous weight of societal opinion about certain things which bears down upon each one of us, and this plays a huge role in what we think we can or should believe about practically anything. Sadly, this includes the Bible. It is a matter, not merely of individual, but also of societal sensibilities which are offended. And it is probably accurate to say that it is also a societal will which is crossed.
So much is this the case that, even if a person would concede the point that Keller has made here, he is not very likely to abandon his low view of Scripture. For he knows that society is going to brand him as rude, narrow, and even bigoted, if he begins to be a Bible believer in the sense that is called for here by Keller. And that is a heavy weight—too heavy, I think—for many people today to bear.