The Importance of Being Offended by God

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.

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12 thoughts on “The Importance of Being Offended by God

  1. Interesting post… One thought about Keller’s quote.

    The way it is written lends itself to mean that an intimate relationship with God should allow us to freely speak against God as well. Mutual contradiction may work for a marriage to create intimacy, so why doesn’t it work in our relationship with God…

    Why is an authoritative Bible the precondition to an intimate relationship with God? Doesn’t that then make us the “robots” since we can no longer speak against Him?

    I would like to read more of Keller on this point.

    What are your thoughts KC?

    Keith

    • Hey, Keith!
      I get what you’re saying, but I don’t think it’s actually implied in what Keller is saying. His point is that a relationship with God is a relationship with a PERSON, rather than a thing. Marriage is just one really good and obvious example of an interpersonal relationship–and specifically, the one that is dehumanized in caricature form by the Stepford movies. That’s all Keller’s point is meant to say. We shouldn’t feel it necessary to push it further.
      If you want to expose yourself to Keller as I have, I would send you here: http://sermons2.redeemer.com/redeemer-free-sermon-resource
      It’s amazing stuff! 🙂

      • I fully understand the quote and the intent of his message. I have never seen the movie so my frame of reference may be a bit different than someone who has seen it… (I have never even heard of it actually)

        I am just pointing out that the second sentence of his quote leads one to think that to truly have a personal relationship one must allow the other to contradict you, therefore, to be truly personal with God, he then would need to allow us to contradict Him. We all know that is not the case with God. To me this comparison seems a bit flawed and maybe to a non-believer a bit confusing.

        I have listened to many of Timothy Keller’s messages over the years, thanks for the link. I think I first discovered his preaching back around 2007 when I downloaded a conference message from desiringgod.org

        Pretty amazing man of God…

        Keith

      • Yeah… Frankly, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered anyone quite like him. And that’s saying a LOT. I’ve been blessed to know and know of some pretty awesome teachers.

        I’ve never seen the Stepford movies either, but I remember everyone talking about the original one when it came out when I was a kid (in the 70s). 🙂

        On the mutual contradiction thing: Whether it is necessary or not, God has, in fact, allowed us to contradict Him. Though Scripture does not say so in so many terms, there is something rather compelling about the idea that the placement of the tree in the middle of the garden was God’s intentional choice to allow for the possibility of our rebellion–so that we might choose better–that, only in the face of the possibility of evil, does our choice to love and obey Him mean anything. Sort of seems to suggest that maybe it is necessary after all. I don’t know… What do you think?

  2. I think the kind of criticisms you’re making here, KC, would be more effective and just a little bit more on target had you actually read the book. Reading a few snippets doesn’t give you the full argument, which in fact addresses all of the criticisms you’ve made here.

    • Thanks for dropping by and for interacting with me, Mr. Stark (please excuse me and correct me, if I’ve gotten your title wrong). Sorry to take so long to respond. I’m afraid I’m not a very good blogger, if quality is measured by daily activity.

      I hope you don’t mind me responding to your comments in a fairly head on and dialogical way. It is not meant as pugnacity—or even as pure resistance. I welcome your feedback and the challenges you’ve given.

      First of all, I can’t help noticing the resemblance of your first sentence to the recent blogosphere falderal over Rob Bell’s new book. As I understand it, a number of people objected to his thesis without having first read the book, and a number of others really took them to task. On this discussion, I would point here for a starting place.

      I guess it’s fair (to both of us) at this point, to ask you straight out: Does the title of your book accurately reflect the contents? Do you believe that the Bible “gets God wrong?” If so, I simply cannot imagine how reading the contents of the book would make any difference at all to what I have said in this post. But I am quite open and willing to have my imagination enhanced in this regard. On the other hand, if you do not actually think that way about the Bible, I would suggest that your subtitle is poorly chosen and that you should not be surprised when people make the sort of assumptions that I have made here.

      BTW, I know it’s a provincial, backwater simplistic view, but I have this wacky notion that, if the Bible were inaccurate about God, we could never know it, because the Bible is our supreme authority for knowledge about God. To put it another way, saying that the Bible is wrong about God is saying that God is wrong about God, and, well… you know. Besides being hubritic, that simply just doesn’t compute.

      I am curious about one other word in your comment: “addresses.” Do you mean by it that, if I read the book, all my concerns would be assuaged? Or that all of my arguments would be defeated?

      In general, though, I agree that it is best to give a more full hearing before rendering criticism. So I must confess to two problems that I have: The first is a reading problem. I do not read very fast at all (in all likelihood, I will read about 15 books this year), and so I must carefully choose the books I read. And to be honest, The Human Faces of God is not one I would probably have put on the list. Sorry…

      But in light of this dialogue, I find myself quite a bit more intrigued. Now, I probably would give it a try. This leads to my second problem, which is one of financial wherewithal. I simply cannot afford to buy very many books. So, I make this serious (and somewhat excited) promise: If you can get a copy into my hands, I will read it by May and then give a full, detailed and hospitable interaction with it here on TLW.

      In any case, I really do appreciate that you have honored my humble little blog by interacting with me. If you are ever in the Portland area, I would love to grab a coffee or a beer with you and get to know you.
      Thanks again! 🙂

      • Well, the criticisms of Rob Bell’s book turned out to be false, as he is not a universalist.

        But my point was that all of the criticisms you made here are issues that I address clearly in the book. I didn’t say I answered any and all of your potential questions—just that I addressed all of the criticisms made in this post. And I didn’t say that just because I addressed those issues, that automatically ends the discussion and I win. I just pointed that out, because your criticisms would look different if they were interacting with my actual arguments. As it is, you’re critiquing my title and a snippet you grabbed from a preview. If that’s really all you need to know to dismiss the book, then fair enough. The book isn’t written for people who already have their minds made up. It’s written for people who care more about having a faithful account of Scripture (an account faithful to Scripture itself) than about being faithful to ecclesiastical dogmas about Scripture, and are therefore willing to allow the textual evidence lead them wherever it goes.

        No need to apologize for the fact that my book didn’t make your top 15 list. It’s hard to take offense at that when it comes from somebody who (literally) judges a book by its cover! 😉

        Unfortunately, I don’t have any copies of the book at present. And I’m broke too.

        You are free, of course, to write whatever you please about whichever book titles strike you as wrong or dangerous. Just consider my initial comment a challenge, for the future, to give other authors an actual read before you dismiss them. (The case of Rob Bell should serve as a lesson on that score. Poor John Piper made a bit of a fool of himself.) In this case, however, I’ll gladly take one for the team.

        All the best,
        T

      • Okay. Thanks, Thom.
        Before going into a response, may I bluntly ask: Have I assumed rightly that you are, indeed, a Christian? Are you my brother by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? If you noticed in the original post, I suggested as much by distinguishing between those who attack the Bible from outside the church and those who are taking a wrong approach to it from within. All of my interaction with you has been on the assumption that we hold in common trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord. Am I right about that?

        Now to the response:
        I understand what you mean by being faithful to “ecclesiastical dogmas about Scripture.” And while I wouldn’t agree that that phrasing really identifies my convictions on the subject, I’d have to agree that it’s probably just as fair an assumption for you to make about me as mine have been toward you. 🙂

        I would suggest, though, that if you really think about it, you might realize that you are doing the very same thing you think I am doing–just from a different angle and with a different set of sources of extra-biblical info.
        In other words, you think I am letting church dogma, and not Scripture itself, dictate my view of Scripture–a charge to which I will plead guilty, but only in the slimmest of senses.
        What I have said about you is that you are apparently (an important adverb) letting your view of Scripture be dictated by other things, and not by Scripture itself.
        What are these other things? This, it seems, is the question I cannot answer very well without actually reading the book. But from what I can ascertain, I would hazard to guess that it basically adds up to an amalgamation of your own reasoning and experience (i.e. cognitive and emotional thinking), together with the ‘findings’ of some research you have done (i.e. what you are calling “the textual evidence”).
        I don’t mean to be insulting, but I simply have to disagree with anyone who stands in judgment of Scripture–on any ground, from any angle–and claims to be “faithful to Scripture.”
        The Scriptures do not communicate any message like, “Dear reader, please take the things I’m saying about God with a grain of (historical? cultural? contemporary theological?) salt.” On the contrary, the Scriptures communicate a message more like this: “Dear reader, I am the very word of God Himself, brought to you through His prophets and apostles. Whether or not you like or are inclined to believe what I have to say is irrelevant. You need to conform to my message.”

        One last word: At this point, you may be thinking of me as someone who is just undereducated about things like textual criticism or higher criticism or linguistics or what-have-you. I assure you, I have plenty of exposure to these things. It’s just that, in the end, it is the word of God which reigns supreme.

        Thanks again, Thom! I really appreciate the dialogue!
        I can completely understand, if you don’t have the time to keep replying. (Heck! This is my blog, and I almost can’t afford the time! 🙂 ) But you are always welcome! I will always do my best to respond!
        And who knows?! Maybe I’ll read your book sometime! 🙂
        Shalom!

      • On Rob Bell: I always thought he was kinda silly anyway. Isn’t he the one with those “Nooma” videos?… Where he teaches stuff like ‘Peter wasn’t sinking in the water because he didn’t believe in Jesus. After all, Jesus wasn’t the one who was sinking. The problem was that Peter wasn’t believing in himself.’ Yeah… Never mind the awful exegesis… That’s just plain dumb. 😉

  3. Interesting stuff….like the special guest author. I assume Thom’s title to be much like most folks statement in conversation, not accurately describing what they meant?

    • Yeah, I guess…
      I really don’t mean to be nasty, but I think people like Bell and Stark and their defenders are throwing up a bit of a smoke screen with this, “read the book, don’t just judge it by its cover” thing. When the book’s title includes the phrase “What Scripture Reveals When It Gets God Wrong,” there’s not a lot of mystery about the author’s opinion of Scripture or of himself as a person who is fit to judge Scripture.

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