Response to Mike Warren Review
I want to thank Mike Warren for taking the time to write his critical review of my book. Despite our substantial disagreements and despite an unfortunate and dismissive tone throughout his review, Mr. Warren has raised a number of issues that are important and I’m glad I have the opportunity to address them in response to him. In this response I will move through Mr. Warren’s review piecemeal, quoting him, and then responding to the pertinent points.
Modern American Christianity is dominated by Pietism, and after pietistic Christians have found the Bible verses that give them their ticket to heaven and God’s comfort through trials until they get there, they don’t pay much attention to the rest of the Bible. If such Christians would ever read a book like this one, they would be an easy target for Stark’s attack on the Bible. Stark was such a target himself at one time. He says that he was raised in the Stone-Campbell movement (e.g. Churches of Christ, Christian Churches/Disciples of Christ), which promotes the typical pietistic slogans like “No Creed but Christ,” “No Book but the Bible,” and “No Law but Love.”
It is unfortunate that Mr. Warren begins his review by insulting the very people he hopes to persuade. Although I have no stake in defending pietism, Mr. Warren’s characterization of American pietism is so polemical and distorted that it tells us much more about Mr. Warren than it does about American pietism. Mr. Warren equates a flowery reading of the nice parts of the Bible and a neglect of the rest with pietism, and suggests that anyone persuaded by my book must not know the Bible very well. He claims that such Christians, in their ignorance, are easy targets for my book. To the contrary, I find that it is often those who are unfamiliar with the Bible who have such a difficult time accepting the arguments I put forward in my book; it is those who cherry pick the verses they like who blindly deny the reality of the conflict within the biblical texts.
Mr. Warren further insinuates that because of my association with the Stone Campbell tradition, I must not be very familiar with the Bible, an alleged fact which explains why I’ve adopted the positions I have. Mr. Warren on this point has alienated any Stone Campbell reader who may have looked to him for reasons to reject my arguments. To suggest that a strictly back-to-the-Bible Protestant tradition like the Stone-Campbell tradition is deficient due to a careless disregard for the Bible displays not the ignorance of Stone-Campbell Christians but of Mr. Warren. These sort of broad, sweeping generalizations and disdainful mischaracterizations of large swathes of American Christians don’t do Mr. Warren any favors, here at the outset of his review, but are unfortunately typical of what is to come throughout.
Of course, though he implies that my deficient views on scripture owe something to my connection to the Stone-Campbell tradition, Mr. Warren has not identified his own Christian tradition, but it is evident from certain remarks that he is likely a Reformed Calvinist. It is humorous to me that someone from a tradition committed to interpreting the Bible only through the filter of later traditions is willing to accuse strict biblicists who strive to come to the Bible on its own terms of flagrant unfamiliarity with the Bible.
Stark starts off the book claiming to find an example of divinely-sanctioned racism in Ezra 9 and 10, where some of the men had married foreign women contrary to the Law of God. Stark claims that “there is no hint in the narrative that the intermarriages posed any threat to genuine Yahwism.” Yet Ezra says that these foreign women “practice these abominations” (9:14) – the same “evil deeds” that caused God to cast the Israelites out the land to begin with (9:13). The original law gave the reason against intermarriage with the seven nations that occupied the land of Canaan as “they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods” (Deut. 7:4). Israelites were free to intermarry with nations other than those seven (Deut. 20:14-18).
Actually, Ezra forbids marriage with the following people groups: “the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites” (Ezra 9:1). This list is based on two passages in Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy 7 and 23. The former mentions all but the Moabites and the Egyptians. Deuteronomy 23 mentions the Moabites, excluding them from the assembly. Deuteronomy 23 also mentions the Egyptians, but in contradiction to Ezra: “You shall not abhor any of the Edomites, for they are your kin. You shall not abhor any of the Egyptians, because you were an alien residing in their land. The children of the third generation that are born to them may be admitted to the assembly of Yahweh.” In the law of Moses, the Israelites are expressly permitted to intermarry with Egyptians! Yet in Ezra, the Egyptians are excluded. Why? Because Ezra was a racial purist. As for the “abominations” mentioned in 9:14, they are not specified, nor is there any instance mentioned of an Israelite being led astray into the practice of non-Yahwistic rites. As I’ve argued extensively in chapter six, the claim that Israelites were not to intermarry with certain tribes because they might lead them astray to worship other gods is undermined by the fact that they are expressly permitted and often commanded to intermarry with certain other people from non-Yahwistic tribes! Clearly it was conceivable that bringing a wife in from a foreign culture was relatively safe, if the wife could be made to conform her worship to the Israelite norm. Yet there is no thought given to this in Ezra. The “abominations” practiced by the people of the land were just foreign religious rites—the same things Israelites did but to different deities. At any rate, see pp. 434-36 in John J. Collins, Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, for a cogent discussion of the problem of intermarriage in Ezra and Nehemiah.
The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy defends the historical-grammatical interpretation of Scripture. To refute this, Stark claims to find some passages that can’t be interpreted using the historical-grammatical method. One is Matthew’s quote of Isaiah 7 that the “the virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they will call him Emmanuel” finds fulfillment in the birth of Christ. Stark is unaware that there is a historical-grammatical interpretation that does not ignore the obvious fact that the boy mentioned in Isaiah 7 would be born in Isaiah’s own day, still a youth when the Assyrians would invade, destroying the crops and leaving nothing but curds and honey to eat. And yet the prophecy still applies to Christ because it’s an example of God rescuing a remnant in Israel because of the ancient promise to bless all the nations through Messiah who would descend from Abraham and David. See here for a fuller explanation: http://www.crivoice.org/immanuel.html.
Mr. Warren is being deceptive here. First, he claims I am not aware of the article by Dennis Bratcher when in fact I cite this selfsame article in my book in support of my position. Second, the article by Dennis Bratcher does not say what Mr. Warren claims it says. Bratcher argues (quite rightly) that Matthew uses the Isaiah 7 prophecy analogously to draw out the theme of “God with us.” The reality is, as Bratcher is aware, this is still pesher interpretation and not historical-grammatical. Mr. Warren is grasping at straws here.
Stark also uses Paul’s interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:4, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” as an example that contradicts the historical-grammatical approach. Paul comments, “Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was written for our sake. . .” (1 Cor. 9:9-10). The historical-grammatical approach does not exclude reading the Bible with some common sense and logic. Why would God have to command the owner of an ox to feed his income-producing animal that has a high replacement cost? Pure self-interest would take care of that. Using such common sense and logic, Paul reasons analogically from the oxen to humans: If brute beasts should be paid for their work, even though God is not really concerned that they won ‘t be, a fortiori, human laborers should be paid for their work.
Mr. Warren fails to take account of Paul’s language (“it was not written for oxen but for us”) and fails to do justice to the broader hermeneutical context of second temple Judaism that I outline in this section. See also the work of Richard Hays which I cite in my treatment of this text, which is the seminal work on Paul’s use of the Hebrew Bible. I simply used this as one example of Paul’s eschatological (rather than historical-grammatical) hermeneutic. There are myriad examples I could have used. See the relevant literature cited in my book.
Mr. Warren attempts a critique of my treatment of Ezekiel 20:25-26, but fails to do justice both to my argument and to the various texts involved:
Stark makes a big deal about Ezekiel 20:25-26. He claims that it’s an example of an inspired error. He says that it teaches that God commanded the Israelites to kill their first born as sacrifices, even though God condemns it in other places: “I gave them statutes that were not good and rules by which they could not have life, and I defiled them through their very gifts in their offering up all their firstborn, that I might devastate them.” But it doesn’t make sense that by obeying God’s command the Israelites could become “defiled” (v. 26).
Of course it makes sense. God wanted to defile them as punishment, and so he gave them a bad command, according to Ezekiel, but didn’t tell them it was a bad command. It’s not hard to grasp what Ezekiel is saying. Read my treatment of this text in chapter 5 to get the full picture.
Stark claims that this law is to be found in the law of Moses (i.e. Exo. 22:29), but obedience to the law of Moses was intended to make the Israelites more populous and prosperous (Deut. 28), whereas this law is supposed to “devastate them.” And it doesn’t make sense that, despite Starks claim that redactors have changed words, sentences and whole chapters in the Bible, they didn’t notice that in the verses that immediately follow that God condemns child sacrifice (v.31).
Mr. Warren is making a number of mistakes here. First he is conflating different sources (Exod 22 and Deut 28 weren’t written by the same source, and they were written hundreds of years apart). Second, I am not claiming that the authors of the legal material in Exod 22 believed that the command to sacrifice their firstborn was meant to devastate them. My argument is that this is a later interpretation by Ezekiel who is struggling and stretching to dispense with the longstanding tradition of child sacrifice in Israelite religion. Ezekiel is the only one who claims Exod 22:29 was a bad command, given as punishment, rather than given to make them prosper. Originally, the command there to sacrifice the firstborn children to Yahweh was intended to make Israel prosper, because at this stage in Israel’s history, they believed that Yahweh was satiated by human sacrifice. Finally, Mr. Warren seems to be confused with his reference to the fact that Ezek 20:31 condemns children sacrifice. Of course he condemned it! As I argue, his whole interpretation of Exod 22:29 serves the purpose of his condemnation of child sacrifice. He wants to dispense with the institution, and his novel interpretation of Exod 22:29 is his means for doing so. (The fact, therefore, that Mr. Warren thinks v. 31 challenges my thesis shows that he did not understand my clear argument to begin with.) The redactors, who worked after Ezekiel, shared Ezekiel’s disdain for the institution of sacrifice. There would be no reason for them to change this text.1
Mr. Warren then continues, saying, “Of course, his interpretation also contradicts many other passages in which God condemns child sacrifice.” Yes, I am aware of this. That is in fact my argument. The Bible contradicts itself because it was written by different authors who disagreed with each other. He asks, “Isn’t there an interpretation with less problems? There certainly is: God gave them these evil statutes indirectly, by allowing evil rulers to institute these evil statutes (cf. Rom. 1:28).” The trouble is, that is not at all what Ezekiel 20:25-26 says. I understand this is what Mr. Warren wishes Ezekiel says, but the reality is that it is not what Ezekiel says. Ezekiel doesn’t say God gave them the bad command indirectly. He says that God gave them bad commands in the wilderness, because they had been disobedient and he wanted to punish them. Their disobedience preceded God’s giving them bad commands. Read my treatment of the text to see why Mr. Warren’s protestations are in vain.
Chapter 20 of Ezekiel is explaining that the Israelites are being held captive in Babylon as punishment for years of rejecting the law of God, and as 2 Kings 17 recounts in regard to the northern kingdom, burning their children as an offering was one of those unlawful acts. From Jeroboam onward, most Jewish kings offered sacrifices to foreign gods, but child sacrifice is not mentioned until closer to the captivity. Like Pharaoh in his confrontation with Moses, in Ezekiel 20 God is saying that He hardened the hearts of these latter kings to institute child sacrifice as a judgment of depopulation against them for their persistent idolatry.
What Mr. Warren is doing here is just making up the Bible as he goes along. Ezekiel does not say that God hardened the hearts of pre-exilic kings. Ezekiel says that God gave bad commands to Israel back when they were in the wilderness. No amount of posturing or creative renarration is going to change that fact.
Those who have a problem with Calvinism will have a problem with this interpretation, but as Stark admits, the Bible teaches Calvinism.
Ha! I do no such thing as admit that “the Bible teaches Calvinism.” Mr. Warren is being deceptive again. Here is what I say about the Bible and Calvinism in my book: “Obviously one is going to find love in the text when one approaches the text with that expectation. In the same way, one would find violence in the text when one approached it expecting to find violence; one would find Arminianism when one sought Arminianism, and Calvinism when one sought Calvinism” (p. 37). I think we’re beginning to see a pattern in terms of the lengths Mr. Warren is willing to go to in order to refute my book (and the Bible itself).
Like other skeptics of the Bible, Stark is scandalized by Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac (Gen. 22).
Mr. Warren uses the word “scandalized” to make it seem as if I am unfamiliar with the long history of interpretation of Gen 22 and to make it seem as if my reading of the text is basically emotional. He is wrong on both counts. His subsequent interpretation of Gen 22 completely evades the points I make about the text in my book. He does not address my argument.
Another major claim that Stark makes is that Jesus was wrong about his coming in judgment within a generation. He says that N.T. Wright’s argument in Jesus and the Victory of God equating that coming with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple is “novel,” but apparently Stark is uninformed about the long history of this interpretation and the many recent defenses of this preterist view of the Olivet Discourse (See J. Marcellus Kik, An Eschatology of Victory; David Chilton, Paradise Restored, and Days of Vengeance; Kenneth Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell, and He Shall Have Dominion; Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness. There is a curious lack of citations by Wright, as if he was the first to think of this view).
Mr. Warren is again doing his best to try to discredit me, but he’s only discrediting himself. I am very familiar with the long history of the preterist interpretations of the Olivet Discourse. I was a preterist for years and have read thousands of pages of literature written by leading preterists. When I said that Wright’s reading of the text was “novel” I did not mean that Wright invented preterism; I just meant that he used some novel arguments to argue for preterism.
Jesus predicted that the temple would be destroyed within a generation of his sermon (Matt. 24:34), so that not one stone would be left upon another (Matt. 24:1). He told his disciples to flee to the mountains when the saw the abomination of desolation (Matt. 24:15), when Jerusalem would be surrounded by armies (Luke 21:20-21). A generation in the Bible is about 40 years (the Israelites were condemned to wander in the wilderness for a generation, and it lasted 40 years), and in A.D. 70, almost 40 years after Jesus’ sermon, the temple was destroyed down to the last stone. As Eusebius reports, Christians in Jerusalem were able to escape the slaughter because they heeded Jesus’ warning to flee to the mountains when they saw the city surrounded: “But the people of the church in Jerusalem had been commanded by a revelation, vouchsafed to approved men there before the war, to leave the city and to dwell in a certain town of Perea called Pella.” (History of the Church 3:5:3). The Arch of Titus in Rome depicts the articles of the temple being carried off and the Jews being led away in chains. It stands to this day as a testimony that Jesus’ detailed prophecy was fulfilled. (The details of Jesus’ prophecy hardly compare to the statements of Jesus bar Hananiah, who went around simply yelling “A voice against Jerusalem and the temple” over and over a few years before the Roman invasion.)
There are two things humorous here about Mr. Warren’s claims. First, Eusebius does not say, as Mr. Warren claims, that the Christians fled to the mountains. Second, when Jesus told his disciples to flee to the mountains, he was giving them some very poor advice. As N. T. Wright notes, “This is scarcely to be taken as a reference, after the event, to the actual happenings of AD 66-70. For a start, Titus and his legions were occupying the Mount of Olives and Mount Scopus, the two highest hills overlooking Jerusalem; fleeing to the hills would mean surrender and/or death.”2 Just one more thing Jesus was wrong about in the Olivet Discourse. Jesus ben Hananiah was certainly on safer ground, as he kept his prediction of the temple’s destruction rather vague.
Stark says that Jesus was wrong because Jesus says that his coming is after the temple is destroyed, so his coming cannot be equated with the temple’s destruction, but must refer to a bodily appearance, which never happened. Stark assumes that the “abomination that causes desolation” is the desolation itself. It’s not. Jesus says that there is still time to escape at that point. The armies have surrounded Jerusalem and the destruction is “near” (Luke 21:20). The armies of the Roman General Vespasian surrounded Jerusalem in A.D. 68; the temple was not destroyed until August-September of A.D. 70.
First of all, it’s not clear what Mr. Warren is suggesting the “abomination that causes desolation” is. He says it is not the desolation itself. OK. The only hint he gives as to what it is is in his reference to Luke 21:20: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.” Is Mr. Warren suggesting that the abomination is the surrounding of Jerusalem by the Roman armies? It seems that’s what he is saying, but again he’s unclear so I could be wrong. What I think he’s suggesting is this: The abomination that causes desolation is the surrounding of Jerusalem by Roman armies in 68 CE, and the desolation itself is the destruction of the temple in 70 CE. If this is what he intends to say, this is frankly a rather silly interpretation. Note here also that Luke does not even use the term “abomination that causes desolation.” Only Matthew and Mark use the term. But Jesus’ use of the term was a reference back to its use in Daniel as a code for the desecration of the temple when Antiochus IV sacrificed a pig to Zeus on the temple altar. That was the “abomination that causes desolation” in Daniel. So when Jesus picks up that term and applies it to the Roman invasion, he means that Rome will desecrate the temple. I would not say that the “abomination that causes desolation” and the “desolation itself” are the same thing, even though Mr. Warren claims my whole case somehow rests on that alleged assumption. Obviously the desolation is subsequent to the abomination, but it is clear that the abomination refers to the desecration of the temple.
At any rate, all of this is moot, and completely irrelevant to my argument, as well as to the text itself. Jesus clearly says that the temple will be destroyed and that the Son of Man will return to gather elect, all within one generation of Jesus’ lifetime. There’s no getting around that, as I’ve argued extensively in my eighth chapter, and Mr. Warren’s protestations certainly haven’t managed to get around it. Yet they continue:
Also, Stark claims that the tribulation must be global based on “all the tribes of the earth” (Matt. 24:30), but it makes more sense to understand this as “all the tribes of the Land,” as in the land of Israel, especially since the tribes are “those who pierced him” (Rev. 1:7).
No, “land” does not make more sense of the text, since in the very next verse it is clear again that the scope is worldwide, since the angels of the Son of Man are sent out to the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other, in order to gather the elect and (by implication) return them to Jerusalem. That makes it clear that the word in v. 30 should be read as “the whole earth” rather than just “the local land.” Moreover, why would all of the tribes of the land of Israel mourn at the sight of their liberator, at the very time of the restoration of Israel, when the tribes are being brought out of diaspora? It is not the tribes of Israel that are mourning, but the tribes of the earth, and this is quite clear in the text.
Stark devotes a chapter to the claim that remnants of an early Israelite polytheism are found in a few texts. Psalm 82 depicts God holding council among the “gods,” and then denouncing them for judging unjustly by being partial to the wicked rather than upholding the rights of the poor and weak. Who would have a job like that? Heavenly beings or human rulers? The latter makes more sense. It’s a common complaint that God makes against human rulers (Exo. 23:6-8, Isaiah 1:23, Jer. 22:1-4, Prov. 18:5, Amos 5). God says that these “gods” will die like any other human ruler (Ps. 82:7) – because that is what they are.
No, again Mr. Warren resorts to adding words to the text in order to achieve his desired interpretation. The text does not say that the gods will die “like any other human ruler” as Mr. Warren claims. The text says, “I say you are Gods, sons of Elyon, but you will die like mortals.” The text does not say “like any other mortal.” It says that the gods will be killed by the up-and-coming king deity, as in numerous ancient near eastern myths.
The fact that some of the terms used are similar to terms found in the Ugarit myths of a father god that ruled over his family of lesser gods is not enough to equate the two, given the context.
In fact the divine council motif is not found only at Ugarit (which is in Canaan and thus Israel) but ubiquitously throughout the ANE. If Israel had no concept of the divine council with a father deity and children deities, they would be the only one in all of the ANE, but in fact, we see scores of evidence that they shared this conception throughout the Hebrew Bible, Psalm 82 being only one of many such texts. And I’m not sure what “context” Mr. Warren is referring to that assures him the divine council is not in view in Psalm 82. The context of the Psalm is established in the first verse: “El has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment.” This is the standard picture in the ANE. Mr. Warren’s claim that Israel uses the same mythological language as all the other ANE cultures but that Israel means something entirely different by it has no support in the text and is nothing more than apologetic special pleading—the very definition of special pleading.
And even if these gods are heavenly beings of some sort, they are not ontologically on par with the God who is judge over all the nations on earth (v. 8). On this view, Psalm 82 could be seen as mocking the Ugarit view and eradicating its lesser gods.
It seems that Mr. Warren is wholly unfamiliar with the Ugaritic material. If he were familiar with it, he couldn’t make this argument, because the Ugaritic material also has a God who ascends to be judge over the other deities. There is no “ontological” difference between this god and the others. It’s that this particular god has bested the others, defeated all challengers. This is the same thing we see in the Greek pantheon, with Zeus as the king of the other gods. It’s the same in Ugarit, Babylon, and pretty much everywhere—obviously Israel included.
Many Ugarit gods (Baal, Asherah) and Ugarit practices (worship of dead ancestors, worship through drunken orgies, making images of the gods, worshipping multiple gods) are repeatedly condemned by the Hebrew prophets.
This is quite obvious. Israel was monolatrous. They believed in other deities but condemned the worship of any but Yahweh. It is no argument against the established academic position that Israelite prophets condemned the worship of foreign deities. In fact, most of those condemnations assume the existence of those deities. It is not until Jeremiah and Second Isaiah that the existence of other national deities is denied outright, as I argue (following the consensus) in my book.
On the other hand, some of the names and descriptions of various Ugarit gods are used for the Hebrew God (Yahweh, El Shaddai, El Elyon). Similarity of language does not prove that the same exact beliefs are being adopted, no more than the use of Greek by New Testament writers proves that Greek philosophy was being adopted them. They worked with the language that was available and adapted it for their own uses.
This is actually what I argue, it’s just that the evidence shows that Israelites adapted the language in different ways, and that the adaptive process was relatively late. In my fifth chapter I show how over time Yahweh and El Elyon were conflated into the same deity, but it didn’t happen immediately. It took centuries. As for his analogy with Greek, it is a faulty analogy. Nobody claims that the NT adopted Greek philosophy because it was written in the Greek language. That’s absurd. Scholars identify where the NT writers borrowed from Greek philosophy when it is clear that certain ideas are derived from Greek philosophy. And it’s the ideas in the Hebrew Bible, not the mere fact that it is written in a cognate Semitic language, that leads scholars to identify points of contact between Israel and its ANE predecessors and contemporaries. Obviously there are differences between Israelite mythology and Ugaritic mythology. Of course, there are differences between Ugaritic mythology and Babylonian mythology. The mere fact that there are differences doesn’t mean one is special or correct. This is special pleading. But the reality is, we can’t make broad-brush appeal to unspecified differences and hope the clear points of contact and similarity become blurred. This is more apologetic sleight of hand.
The Higher Critics simply beg the question of naturalism – they assume that all knowledge must come from earthly sources and not from an absolute God that speaks in the midst of history in propositional language to humans.
This is called the historical-grammatical interpretation. And no, higher criticism does not assume that all knowledge must come from earthly sources. But it does assume that where ideas are the same throughout cultures, there is probably contact and borrowing between them, or at least general conceptions they all share even if direct exposure to specific texts or oral traditions isn’t feasible.
Assuming the truth of the Bible, polytheism is a degeneration from an original monotheism; and it might be that the various names used to describe the true God eventually became names for different gods in Ugarit.
Assuming the truth of the Bible, the opposite is clearly the case.
Stark also appeals to Deuteronomy 32, arguing that a god named Elyon (“Most High”) (v.8) is depicted as ruling over the god Yahweh (“the Lord”) (v.9). But Elyon is not a name, it’s an epithet, a description. Deuteronomy 4:19-20 has Yahweh doing the job of Elyon in Deuteronomy 32: Apportioning the possessions of all the nations and actively taking Israel as His unique possession – not passively receiving it. There certainly is no necessity to Stark’s interpretation (following Mark Smith). You only find two gods there if you want to.
First, I’m well aware that Elyon is an epithet. But what is an epithet? A term used as a descriptive substitute for the name or title of a person, such as The Great Emancipator for Abraham Lincoln. So El is referred to as Elyon; the epithet functions as a name. Second, he claims that in Deuteronomy 4, Yahweh is doing what Elyon is doing in Deuteronomy 32. By this he must intend to imply that Yahweh and Elyon are considered to be the same deity. There are two problems with this argument. First, Yahweh is not doing in Deuteronomy 4 what Elyon is doing in Deuteronomy 32. In Deut 4, Yahweh is giving the land of Canaan to Israel, not apportioning the possessions of all the nations, as Mr. Warren claims. In Deut 32, when Elyon apportions to the deities the various nations, he gives the people of Israel to Yahweh. There is no contradiction here. But there are other texts where Yahweh and Elyon are conflated into the same deity that Mr. Warren could and should have used to make this point. But let’s assume for a second that Deuteronomy 4 did conflate Yahweh with Elyon (it does not). Mr. Warren’s argument would still fail because, as I pointed out in my book, and as numerous scholars such as Frank Moore Cross and David Noel Freedman have shown, the poem in Deuteronomy 32 was written very early, ca. the eleventh century BCE (I dated it even more conservatively, earlier, in my book so as not to cause a stumbling block to conservatives). But Deuteronomy 4 was written much later, centuries later. The poetry in the Pentateuch (Song of the Sea, Miriam, Song of Moses, Song of Deborah) is much earlier than the prose narratives. Thus, that is why when we look at Deuteronomy 32, we see an earlier view wherein Yahweh is the son of Elyon. It is not until later, after the rise of the monarchy, that the two are conflated and Yahweh assumes Elyon’s place as high god over the pantheon. Mr. Warren claims that “you only find two gods there if you want to.” Well, no. I didn’t want to, but there are in fact two gods there. A father doesn’t give an inheritance to himself, yet the text says that Elyon gave an inheritance to Yahweh. The text says that Elyon divided up humankind according to the number of his sons (the deities in the pantheon). It doesn’t say he divided up humankind according to the number of his children, plus himself. All of this is clear in my book, but apparently Mr. Warren missed it.
Which brings me to another issue. Stark claims that proponents of higher criticism aren’t biased. They just follow the facts. Well, gee, if Stark says it, it must be so!
Well, in fact, I don’t say it. I make no such claim. I do not say proponents of higher criticism aren’t biased. I say (rightly) that they do not come to their conclusions because of the bias attributed to them by fundamentalist Christians—namely, the anti-supernaturalist bias. Many proponents of higher criticism believe in the supernatural, and believe that God intervenes. The claim I made is that so-called “higher” critics follow a consistent set of interpretive principles, whereas inerrantists change their principles frequently in order to suit their controlling bias—the bias that says the Bible must be without error. I argue all of this quite extensively and it is very clear what I say and what I do not say. It appears that Mr. Warren has as much trouble interpreting me as he does the Bible. Nevertheless, Mr. Warren continues:
His statement ignores the demise of the falsification criterion of logical positivism. All facts are interpreted facts. It ignores how secularists define “science” to mean naturalism, making it a foregone conclusion that their “scientific facts” will exclude evidence of the supernatural.
I ignore none of these things. These realities I (and most biblical critics) happily accept. (Try reading John J. Collins or Dale Allison and see if they’re not fully aware of the demise of logical positivism!) Mr. Warren himself ignores that the majority of biblical critics are believers, whether Jewish or Christian, who do not have a closed, naturalistic worldview.
More specifically, it ignores interpretive issues that directly relate to biblical archeology. Stark pretends that debates in archeology over theoretical methods don’t exist, like the debate over processual archeology versus postprocessual archeology. He pretends that there cannot be secular biases in research.
No, I do not pretend this at all. My point is that there are Christian biases which undermine the historical-grammatical interpretation of the Bible. But the anti-supernaturalist bias is a red herring—fundamentalists always resort to this claim but the reality is that biblical critics don’t come to the Bible and say, well, this can’t be true because it’s supernatural, therefore I must find a naturalistic explanation. They have a consistent set of hermeneutical principles that are applied across the board, whether the subject of investigation is the Bible, the Homeric Epics, or what have you. Of course, there are ongoing debates about methodology, and those are important, and sometimes they lead to revision of previous conclusions. But it’s not enough just to sloppily appeal to the tentative nature of scholarship that all good scholars embrace and love and claim that that fact undermines any conclusion scholars come to that happens to reflect negatively on the historicity or veracity of the Bible.
Modern secularism is anti-authoritarian and morally pluralistic, so interpretations of evidence that undermine monotheism and promote polytheism will tend to be very attractive.
Secularists often take pride in their “humble” attitude that the “scientific” approach to truth is that truth is never achieved because new evidence can always overturn previous views, in contrast to “close-minded” absolutism. But when they find evidence that they think undermines the Bible, it becomes the indisputable. Final Answer.
No, not in the slightest. Again, biblical critics generally aren’t motivated to undermine the Bible. I know because I know many of them, and many of them want to try to salvage the Bible as best they can because they don’t like it when the evidence undermines it. Sure, there are some scholars out there who are hostile to Christianity or Judaism but that fact alone isn’t sufficient to prove that they’re not using valid methodology to come to their conclusions. This is sloppy argumentation and empty rhetoric.
Stark presents his claims as if he has found the Final Answer on the Bible.
Nonsense. Here is how I present myself:
This book developed out of my personal and honest struggle to come to terms with my own very sincere and active faith. It is the product, so far, of my quest for truth, and as threatening as the truth can often be, those who believe that all truth is God’s truth should not feel threatened by the contents of this book. I do not claim to have a secure grip on truth, but the pages that follow reflect the truth as I understand it, and it is a truth that—while initially threatening to my identity—has now set me free. My intention, therefore, is not to undermine the faith, but to pursue a mature faith, to faithfully integrate my religious convictions with my commitment to honesty, and thus to offer a holistically faithful account of scripture and its role within the church. (p. xviii)
If I speak elsewhere as if my position is correct, Mr. Warren will have to forgive me, but I am persuaded it is, until persuaded otherwise (which happens a lot, actually!). Nevertheless…
You would never know from Stark’s book, for example, that any scholars have challenged Smith’s view of polytheism in the Bible (see, e.g., Richard Hess, Israelite Religions: An Archeological and Biblical Survey).
Richard Hess’s book has some valuable information in it but it is a travesty of biblical criticism. Hess is an apologist first and a scholar second. For instance, in his treatment of Deuteronomy 32 (which we discussed above), Richard Hess just flatly ignores any evidence damning to his thesis. Hess says:
Now as to the matter of Deuteronomy 32:8-9, I translate the Hebrew as we have it: “When the Most High (Elyon) gave nations their inheritance among humanity, he established boundaries for the people according to the number of the sons of Israel. (He did this) because Yahweh’s allotment is his people. Jacob is the portion of his inheritance.” To find “sons of God” in place of “sons of Israel,” you need to rely on the Greek Septuagint translation, which actually has “angels of God.” It is not in the Hebrew.
Seeing this come from Hess surprised me, but I suppose it really shouldn’t. He translates this according to the Masoretic Text (“according to the number of the sons of Israel”). When he says that to find “sons of God” instead of “sons of Israel,” one needs “to rely on the Greek Septuagint translation [LXX]” and that “sons of God” is “not in the Hebrew,” he exposes his ignorance here. It’s almost as if he wrote this in 1946, before the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. He says “it’s not in the Hebrew,” and by “the Hebrew” he is referring to the Masoretic Text. The Masoretic Text says, “sons of Israel.” But the Dead Sea Scrolls (Hebrew texts which are about a thousand years older than the Masoretic Text Hess relies on) say, “according to the number of the sons of the gods.” Those who are trained in textual criticism know how to tell which reading (“sons of the gods,” “sons of Israel”) is most probably the original reading. Precisely because the Greek Septuagint says, “according to the number of the angels of God.” I talk about this at length in my book (chapter 4). But Scholars know that the reading in the Dead Sea Scrolls is what the scribes were translating into Greek when they produced the Septuagint in the third century BCE (also about a thousand years older than the Masoretic Text). “Angels of God” doesn’t derive from “sons of Israel”; it is a translation of “sons of the gods.” At the time the Septuagint was translated, Jews were monotheists and so they interpreted references to the “sons of God/gods” as “angels.” (I show why this couldn’t have been the original meaning in my book.)
So, when Hess writes that “It is not in the Hebrew,” what he really should say is that, “it is not in the MT.” The change of “sons of the gods” to “sons of Israel” is what textual critics call a tiqqune sopherim (a pious alteration of the problematic text).
So, the picture here is clear: El Elyon (God Most High) divided up humankind according to the number of the sons of the gods/God (read: his and his consort’s children), and Yahweh’s portion was his people, Jacob his allotted inheritance. Yahweh is clearly depicted as El Elyon’s son in this very early Hebrew text. The land and people of Israel are given to Yahweh as Yahweh’s inheritance.
I go over all of this much more fully in chapter 4 of my book, and detail other evidence pertaining to polytheism in the Hebrew Bible. That Hess doesn’t even mention the evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls (indeed, he seems to be completely oblivious to it) I think is quite telling.
Moreover, Mr. Warren keeps referring to the polytheism in the Bible as “Smith’s view” as if Smith is the only or principal proponent of the view. In fact, the vast, vast majority of biblical scholars are aware of this reality in the text. Mark Smith is just a more recent and accessible proponent of the longstanding consensus. See the numerous works by Frank Moore Cross. It’s really the established consensus of scholarship, and Hess and a few other Evangelical scholars (Evangelical first, scholar second) are in the small minority. That’s not to say that majority is right just because it’s the majority (I’m not making that argument). I’m just clarifying the reality of the situation because Mr. Warren makes it sound as if the polytheistic view is obscure or heavily contested. It isn’t, at all. Many devout believers who are also biblical scholars concede this reality with no problems.
Stark’s treatment of the arguments for inerrancy are shallow. He makes the common but false claim that inerrantists think that the Bible’s own claims of inerrancy are sufficient to make it so.
Again, Mr. Warren is being deceptive. I make no such claim. I am responding directly to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy when it lists as one of the reasons they confess the Bible’s inerrancy that the Bible claims inerrancy for itself. I take down that argument, but that’s not my only argument against inerrancy. It is one argument amid a whole armada of arguments, which are directed at the positive arguments for inerrancy found in the Chicago Statement. If my arguments against inerrancy are shallow, it is because the Chicago Statement’s arguments in favor of inerrancy are shallow.
Rather, the reason that the Bible’s own claims of inerrancy are important is because it gives us a reason to consider the claim.
Much like the Quran and the Book of Mormon and other religious texts which claim inerrancy for themselves. The same sorts of arguments that disprove the inerrancy of these texts also disprove the inerrancy of the Bible, but fundamentalist Christians are only willing to employ those arguments against other texts. They have a great deal of common sense when reading the Book of Mormon. But when it comes to the Bible, the common sense goes away and the reading strategy switches from critical to apologetic.
But after denouncing appeals to the Bible’s teaching on its own inerrancy, Stark tries to prove that the Bible is not inerrant because the claim of inerrancy is not explicitly made for some of the books. He completely fails to address the arguments by implication that inerrantists have given for the inerrancy of many books in the Bible.
I don’t fail to address them. I show that’s precisely how the idea of the inerrancy of the whole Bible developed in the first place!
Stark’s treatment of inerrancy also completely fails to consider the basis for inerrancy. He says that the all or nothing view of inerrancy begs for a psychological explanation. No, it begs for a philosophical explanation, which Stark never addresses. He calls the philosophical argument “the core” of the inerrantist argument, but then simply dismisses it as unbiblical. The inerrancy of the Bible is based on the nature of the absolutely sovereign Creator as the source of all facts and knowledge. By His nature, God cannot err regarding any fact, whether spiritual or material. He is the one that assigns the meanings to all facts. As argued in such books as The Protestant Doctrine of Scripture by Cornelius Van Til and Inerrancy: An Inescapable Concept by R.J. Rushdoony, such a God necessarily exists in order for intelligible experience to be possible, and this entails a uniquely Christian theistic epistemology involving Biblical apriorism.
I directly deal with these fallacious claims in my third chapter. It’s one thing for Mr. Warren to conveniently ignore arguments I make that undermine his position; it’s another thing altogether for him to claim that I never made them, when they feature prominently in my book.
Stark claims to find several contradictions in the Bible, but they are all refutable, most of them easily, although a few require a skilled knowledge of ancient Hebrew.
So refute them.
Stark discusses various problems with connecting the chronology of the Old Testament with archeological research into what was happening in various cities at particular points in history. It’s true that there are some disconnects between the two in a number of cases at this time, but as the secularists say, science is always provisional. Empirical evidence can’t even settle who shot JFK just a few decades ago.
Right. In other words, right now it seems that the archaeological evidence is damning to the biblical conquest accounts, but who knows? Maybe one day evidence for the existence of whole cities the Bible claims existed will magically appear! Until then, we’ll just reserve judgment.
Look, there are some cases where the evidence is very tentative and we can’t do much with it. Good archaeologists are very careful here not to say more than can be said. But in other cases, the evidence is clear as day, and archaeologists who were hoping for one thing are forced to concede another. Several devout Christians went to dig sites hoping to corroborate the conquest narratives and after painstaking searches were forced to concede the Bible got it wrong. I detail these accounts in my sixth chapter.
Stark mentions that according to the standard view of the archeological evidence at Jericho, Israel entered Canaan about 200 years after Jericho had been occupied. Stark fails to mention that every other detail of the conquest of Jericho has been confirmed: The walls fell down so that the debris fell outward, forming a ramp for the Israelites to attack the city that sat on higher ground; the city was completely burned; the city was destroyed at the time of the year that the Bible says – after spring harvest; the city fell quickly as evidenced by the abundant grain that remained; the outer wall had houses built into it like the one Rahab is described to live in, and a section was found still standing, which would have spared Rahab and her family. An Egyptian siege would have been by starving the city before the harvest, and then ramming the walls in. Although C14 provides the older date, the era of the pottery supports the Biblical chronology. Recent C14 dating of the Egyptian New Kingdom dynasty also gives an age that is systematically up to 200 years older than archeological dates (see Hendrik J. Bruins, “Dating Pharaonic Egypt,” Science, Vol. 328, 18 June 2010).
See the literature referenced in my sixth chapter on Jericho. Mr. Warren is obfuscating the facts. But he also fails to note that about Jericho I am more tentative in my conclusion. I say it is “possible but highly unlikely,” based on the archaeological evidence, that an occupation could be dated to the period of the conquest. But Mr. Warren fails to note that there is zero archaeological evidence whatsoever for a mass exodus of Israelites from Egypt. He further fails to mention the six other major sites I detail in this section, sites where the archaeological evidence clearly contradicts the biblical accounts.
Stark criticizes the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy because the authors say that the doctrine of inerrancy is upheld despite the fact that not all difficulties in Biblical revelation have been resolved. Stark makes the false assumption that Christians arrived at the doctrine of inerrancy by a purely a posteriori method of examining all the statements in the Bible and not finding any that that they didn’t fully understand in relation to all other facts.
No I don’t.
Because the human mind is finite, no worldview is without unresolved problems. When comparing rival systems of beliefs, the issue will be which presuppositions of each worldview, despite the lower-order problems, make most sense out the world. We all treat contradictions as merely apparent when treating them as real would undermine the intelligibility of our world.
I think I showed adequately why belief in the inerrancy of the Bible is not one that is conducive to making “most sense out of the world.” But the doctrine of biblical inerrancy is not a “worldview.” It is one feature supporting a worldview, and it does a poor job of it, as I showed. It’s true that when our worldview is challenged we look for ways to reconcile our worldview with the new, challenging data, or to find ways to dismiss the data, or reinterpret it. But when we use inconsistent and contradictory principles to maintain our worldview, our belief has become pathological, not rational, and that is what I show is necessary in order to maintain belief in the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. Moreover, I point out that since the Quran claims inerrancy for itself, if the claim is enough to get a rational human to “consider” the claim, then Christians should all be Muslims too, if they afforded the Quran the same apologetic privileges they afforded the Bible. But the reality is that not every claim merits our investigation. Some claims immediately bear the burden of proof, and the claim that a book written over thousands of years by hundreds of individuals is without error in everything that it affirms is a claim requiring special proof. The burden of proof is on the inerrantist, and no one should accept the doctrine of inerrancy unless the burden of proof has been satisfied. Would a Reformed Christian accept the doctrine of the inerrancy of the Book of Mormon without having the burden of proof satisfied? Not typically.
There are some claims that don’t require special proof or that don’t bear the burden of it. Inerrancy is not one of them. It is a special claim that applies only in one instance in all of human history. By definition, that is a special claim bearing the burden of proof. Therefore, any contradiction to such a special belief is going to require strong evidence explaining the contradiction in terms palatable to the challenged worldview.
The Biblical worldview, with its insistence on the absolute rationality of the Creator, is actually the historical and philosophical basis for science (see How Should We Then Live? by Franky Shaeffer’s dad). The Enlightenment philosophes claimed science as their own after the foundations had already been laid in medieval Christendom.
Actually, this is a fallacious claim that has been refuted over and over again, yet that hasn’t stopped Christian apologists from continuing to make it.
A major theme in Stark’s book is that the Bible is immoral, particularly when the Israelites were commanded to completely destroy the seven nations that occupied Canaan, including the women and children. His argument is mainly a repeated use the fallacy of appeal to pity, with an ad Hitlerum fallacy thrown in for good measure.
Here is another confused criticism and false accusation by Mr. Warren. He claims I employ two fallacies in my chapter on biblical genocide. First, the fallacy of appeal to pity. What is this? It is a fallacy in which someone tries to win support for an argument or idea by exploiting his or her opponent’s feelings of pity or guilt. Here are some examples of an appeal to pity: “You must have graded my exam incorrectly. I studied very hard for weeks specifically because I knew my career depended on getting a good grade. If you give me a failing grade I’m ruined!” “What do you mean I can’t get a job here? All my friends work here! This is unfair! You’re going to make me cry. How could you do this to me?” “Would you buy your luxurious meals and fancy clothes if you knew that there were children in India who spend their days naked and unfed?” “I’m positive that my work will meet your requirements. I really need the job since my grandmother is sick.”
Is this really what I do in my chapter on genocide? Not in the slightest. Granted, I open with a vivid portrait of genocide, asking the reader to imagine what it would be like to witness the sudden massacre of one’s family and friends. But I do not use this to prove that the biblical texts are immoral; I expressly use the anecdote to remind the reader that we are not discussing abstract philosophical ideas, but genocide, which is a real world atrocity with horrendous real world effects on real people. I then proceed to evaluate the biblical and apologists’ justifications for biblical genocide and show how these justifications are contradicted in numerous places in the Bible itself. To argue that there is no legitimate reason to slaughter a group of children is not an appeal to pity; it is an appeal to morality and basic decency. In fact, I show that various voices in the Bible itself condemn the killing of children for the sins of their parents. I am not making an argument from pity; I am not asking the reader to pity slaughtered children and therefore to conclude that the Bible is wrong. I am asking the reader to recognize that there is no moral justification for the killing of children. I deal with numerous attempts to justify the killing of children, and show how they are inconsistent, problematic, and how they all ultimately fail. These are logical arguments. I am not saying that it is reasonable to kill children but we shouldn’t out of pity for them. That would be an argument from pity. (I know my homework is late but you should give me an A because my daughter is sick.) I am arguing that it is never reasonable to kill children for the sins of their parents, which is what takes places in the biblical conquest narratives. The genocides were therefore immoral.
Second, Mr. Warren claims I throw in an argumentum ad Hitlerum fallacy “for good measure.” What is this? The reductio ad Hitlerum is an argument that says a policy is unsound because Hitler adopted it. So, for example, someone employs the reduction ad Hitlerum when s/he says, “We should not have censorship because Hitler had censorship,” implying that censorship is wrong because Hitler used it. It is a guilt by association argument, or a slippery slope argument. “We start censoring our media now, the next thing you know we’ll be rounding up Jews.” This is the reduction at Hitlerum. Is this what I do in my chapter? No, it is not. There is no disputing that the conquest narratives depict genocide. I have no need to argue, genocide is wrong because Hitler did it. That would be backwards. Hitler was wrong because he committed genocide. When I reference Mein Kampf in my chapter, I do so to compare the way that perpetrators of genocide use propaganda to justify their acts. I compared certain biblical apologists who argued that the Canaanites were a cancer on the society with statements in Mein Kampf to that same effect. Do I argue that genocide propaganda is wrong because Hitler used it? No, of course not. I simply use Hitler to help identify genocide propaganda. I could have used any number of genocidal regimes who made similar statements about the objects of their indiscriminate slaughter. The point is to do comparative genocide, not to establish that genocide is wrong by reference to Hitler. If we do not accept Hitler’s propaganda for genocide, why do we uncritically accept the same propaganda themes when employed by Christian apologists or biblical writers?
Even still, my argument does not rest in the slightest on the association I make between certain Christian apologists and other genocide propagandists. Among other arguments, I make an extensive argument that even the biblical propaganda itself is inconsistent with the Bible. For instance, it is said that the Canaanites are to be wiped out because of their abominable worship of others gods, and Israel is forbidden from intermarrying with the Canaanites. Yet Israel is expressly permitted to intermarry with other tribes, non-Yahweh worshiping tribes, just so long as they don’t live within the borders Israel is annexing from the Canaanites et al. Thus, it is clear that the “eradication of the cancer” justification is just employed to justify a narrative in which Israel commits a series of morally atrocious acts. But when it comes to tribes outside of Israel’s allotted land, apparently their idolatrous practices aren’t cancerous at all. Israel is allowed to intermarry with them! The same is true in Numbers 31. Israel destroys the five major cities of the Midianites and takes all of the women and children captive. This incenses Moses because the Midianite women are going to lead Israel astray, as they had before. So Moses orders the soldiers to execute every non-virgin female, and every male child. But he orders that the virgin maidens be spared and integrated into Israel. What? Virgin Midianite girls didn’t worship their parents’ foreign deities also? Of course they did. The virgin girls would have been just as much of a threat to pure Yahwism in Israel as their mothers would have been. We’re dealing with propaganda literature here, not clearly-defined moral principles.
He makes an attempt to find a logical contradiction in saying that God’s commands for humans are derived from God’s character, and yet saying that it is permissible for God to do things that humans are forbidden from doing. But just as a judge in a human court can do things that a private citizen is prohibited from doing, like putting people in jail, God’s position as Judge of the cosmos puts him in a position to ethically act in ways that are forbidden to humans. God’s commands to humans are derived from God’s character, but fitted for the limitations of the human condition.
So in what way is it ethical for God to kill a child for the sins of the child’s parents? I do not dispute that there are cases where God can act in ways that humans cannot. But to kill an unborn child in its mother’s womb, or to kill an infant, for the sins of her parents, is not something that falls within the purview of one with authority to execute the law. This is lawlessness. I deal with this at some length in chapter six. I would encourage those interested to consult my argument there.
Stark condemns God’s commands, or rather, claims to prove that God did not command those things but they must be a human invention, because “we all know” that killing children is always immoral.
I do not claim to prove that God did not command genocide. Again, Mr. Warren misrepresents me. (Not a very careful reader.) I stated that I do not believe that God commanded genocide. I stated it as my position. But I never made the claim that my arguments had “proven” that God did or did not command genocide. How anybody could “prove” that God did or did not do anything is beyond me. Nevertheless, because I have found no good explanation for how God can be good while ordering the execution of infants, I conclude that if God is good, then God did not order the execution of infants. I am supported in my logic here by William Lane Craig, one of the foremost Evangelical Christian apologists, as I detail in chapter six.
. . .“we all know” that killing children is always immoral. (Abortion is immoral then, and we all know it?)
This is a silly sleight of hand. No, we do not all know that abortion is always immoral because we do not all agree on the question of when a fetus becomes a child. Obviously I know where Mr. Warren stands on the question, and I am closer to Mr. Warren than to the ardent pro-choicers, but we all know that it is immoral to kill a child once it is viable, and even pro-choicers agree that it is immoral to kill a fetus against the mother’s will!
Mr. Warren subsequently embarks upon a rant claiming that I made the voice of the people the voice of God, and that I am the prophet of this God (read: humanity), and that my God is fickle and while we condemn Hitler and Stalin today, we didn’t in the past and we may not in the future. He says:
Stark claims that the genocide commands in the Bible are purely human commands, but then proposes that humans would be better gods than the God of the Bible.
This is absolute malarkey. I do claim that the God of the Bible is largely a human construction, but I never claim that humans are gods and that humans would do a better job than the humanly-constructed God of the Bible. This is nothing more than an intentional mischaracterization of my position to score brownie points with a sympathetic readership who haven’t actually read my book. Mr. Warren is lying to discredit me. What does that say about his own position, that he has to lie to defend it?
In reality, what I claim in the book is that we humans today are no better than the humans who constructed the God of the Bible. I claim that we need to study and be intimately familiar with our scriptures for precisely that reason, because in the text of scripture, when we look at the human faces of God, we see ourselves. So when we see a God of genocide, we see those selfsame tendencies in ourselves. I never claim that humanity is its own god, nor does my position imply or necessitate such a view. What I claim in the book is that I believe the true God will guide us into all truth if we are willing to listen to the Other, and if we are willing to look at ourselves, our texts, and our traditions critically. Without such a self-critical posture, I argue, it is impossible for God to speak to us, and that is why humans have a fickle grasp on morality, because we are not naturally self-critical beings. It is when we are more interested in blindly justifying ourselves and our texts and traditions that we lose sight of God, the God who is often seen most clearly in the Other—the Samaritan, the Philistine, the Gentile, the poor, the imprisoned. I believe God will lead and guide us into truth and justice, but only if we are willing to listen, together, to others, and to be self-critical of ourselves and our own most sacred artifacts. I have no problem understanding that Mr. Warren despises my position and my brand of faith, but there is no reason for him to put words in my mouth and essentially lie about what it is I believe.
He further obfuscates my position, but this time I attribute it to an inability on his part to understand how a world without foundations can function, and not to an intentional attempt to misrepresent me:
not only can he not condemn genocide in the conquest of Canaan, he can’t condemn anything. He admits that his view provides no foundation for morality, yet claims that he is not advocating relativism. But with no rules to restrain the will of the majority, anything could be deemed ethical.
This is nonsense. I do condemn a lot of things; just because I don’t have a foundation doesn’t mean I can’t know right from wrong. Mr. Warren goes onto claim that I believe that there is no ultimate right or wrong. This is absolutely false. Just because I don’t believe we have access to an infallible guide to morality doesn’t mean I don’t believe morality exists, nor does it mean I don’t think we have any access to it at all. My position is that our moral claims must be made with humility, especially when they are claims that would impinge upon the rights of others. I believe that an integral, indispensable part of the process for discovering what is moral and immoral from situation to situation involves listening to those with whom we do not agree, and listening for the voice of God. This is something that Mr. Warren needs practice doing, because he continues to misrepresent me:
Stark repeats the common liberal charge that the composition of the Bible is a product of schemes to secure political power. Yet in the last chapter of Stark’s book, he reveals that the purpose of his book is to make the world safe for liberal political causes. (He mentions opposing the capitalists and granting political power to the homeless and illegal aliens.)
Really? I reveal that, do I? I reveal that the “the purpose of my book” is to advocate for “liberal political causes”? Give me a break. Where do I mention “opposing the capitalists”? I make a reference to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “growing opposition to free market capitalism” later in his career, but give no indication either way as to whether his opposition was good or bad, right or wrong, or something in between. I simply mention it. Later, I reference the sacral character of modern political discourse, how we make “sacrifices” in sending our children to war in order to defend our economic orders, and I referenced the way we make sacrifices “to ensure the victory of capitalism over socialism.” But I do not indicate that I think socialism should win and that capitalism should lose. I don’t make the opposite claim either. I merely am pointing out the way that we use sacral language to narrate our so-called “secular” adventures. Finally, I refer to globalization and the way that cultures are being homogenized under its influence, but opposition to the homogenization of cultures and to savage globalization is not opposition to all forms of capitalism. Mr. Warren misrepresents.
As for Mr. Warren’s claim that I mention “granting political power to the homeless and illegal aliens,” I am not sure exactly what in my book he is referring to. I do make this statement:
Being a Christian means rejecting allegiances to nation states and to any artificial lines that have been concocted by powerful men and women in order to divide human beings from one another. It means denying fatalism and nihilism the power to dictate what we do. It means loving the alien among us. It means proclaiming a vision of a society that is actually good news to those who are captive to debt. It means coming together to live as an alternative to inhuman structures (political, economic, and otherwise) that seek to conquer us by dividing us. In Christ, we are all united. That is the vision of what it means to be an ecclesia, and that is the vision the church has to offer up as a gift to the world.
I mention poor people and aliens, so perhaps that is what he is referring to. Maybe somewhere else I did mention giving “political power” to the homeless and aliens (although I wouldn’t have used the term “illegal aliens”). I think basically all human beings should have political power, equal political power, regardless of their social status. I was under the impression that the United States of America (where Mr. Warren and I both currently live) was a nation which cries out: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” I think that’s a good attitude for all nations to have; I think we need to be more cosmopolitan, and I strongly oppose the way current U.S. policy is seeking to deprive human beings of basic human rights on the grounds that they are not U.S. citizens. We are all humans; we are citizens first and foremost of earth, together.
Anyway, Mr. Warren claims that these few statements I make toward the end of my book are really what my book is all about. He’s implying that I have a distorted reading of the Bible because it serves my political purposes. This is nonsense. First, my readings of the biblical texts that feature in my book tend to contradict my own political views. Second, when I do discuss “contemporary application,” I preface that discussion and conclude it with a clear caveat:
These are my own applications of the text, and I do not pretend that they are necessarily the right or the only applications that should be drawn from the text. Of course, what is the appropriate use of the text will vary from context to context. Each confessing community must decide for itself how to make these and other texts useful for its own purposes. In what follows I am merely attempting to show how it is possible to hear God’s word, despite it. . . . These have been my own attempts, and I do not pretend that my musings should take the place of the discernment of the community. Each community must decide for itself how to make these and other texts useful for its own purposes; I have only made a few suggestions in the hope that my readings may prove useful to some. I have wanted to show how it is possible to hear God’s word, despite it. Beyond my own proposed readings, however, my argument has been that we must be honest with our scriptures, and that in many cases confrontational readings must be adopted, if we are to be honest with ourselves. (pp. 219, 231)
Clearly, then, Mr. Warren’s claim that my applications of the text are the whole “purpose” of the book is flatly contradicted, twice. I included those caveats at the beginning and end just so that conservative ideologues (Mr. Warren is an advocate for a “Christian civilization”) couldn’t use my own applications of the text as evidence that my whole book was nothing more than a way to sneak in a liberal political agenda. As if I needed to argue against inerrancy to justify a liberal Christian politics! There are countless inerrantists, prominent public figures, who do just fine deriving a liberal agenda from a Bible they believe is inerrant and/or infallible. Nevertheless, despite my disclaimers, Mr. Warren went ahead and made the false accusation anyway. I shouldn’t be surprised. Clearly, as anyone can see in the block quote above, the purpose of my book is emphasized in italics. (That’s even in italics in the book itself!) The purpose of my book was to argue that the problematic texts in the Bible need to be confronted, rather than swept under the rug or defended, if it is our goal to see ourselves truthfully. The Bible is our mirror. How we read it is how we see ourselves, and if we can’t read the Bible critically, then we will have trouble being critical of our practices, convictions, and endeavors.
Stark claims that he is still a Christian because of his Christian upbringing and because he still thinks that Jesus is an engaging person. But Stark denies that Jesus is Lord or Savior.
More misrepresentation. I do not deny that Jesus is Lord or Savior. I say that we need to be critical of the language of lordship, since it is derived from the ancient institution of slavery.
Stark claims to still believe in God, but he says that he rejects a God that issues moral commands.
No, I say that a good teacher teaches and that a bad teacher gives you all the answers. I believe that God teaches us what is true and what is good, but not through a divine command format.
It would be equivocation to call Stark’s finite being “God” with a capital “G,” or to call Stark a Christian. Thom Stark is the prophet of the religion of secularism, proclaiming his own way to political salvation by turning away (literally, apostasy) from the Biblical God and Christ.
Mr. Warren is entitled to his opinions. I don’t expect fundamentalists like him to be able to understand a faith like mine. I believe that it is impossible to have faith if we are certain we have the answer. We can’t have faith until we’re able to admit that we really don’t know. Then and only then, when we step out to pursue love and justice, will we be acting in faith. As for the charge that I am a “prophet of the religion of secularism,” that is interesting, since I don’t believe secularity exists!
Mr. Warren entitled his review, “A Book Full of Bad Reasons to Reject the God of the Bible.” I think I’ve shown, to the contrary, that Mr. Warren’s is a review full of bad reasons to dismiss my book. It is full of straw men, sleight of hand, and indications that Mr. Warren is a careless reader both of my book and of the biblical text. It is of course to be expected from those who are committed to defending the inerrancy of the Bible. But I do want to thank him, again, for taking the time to write it and for raising these issues, many of which I think are very important ones.
- In an earlier edition of this response I mistakenly took Mr. Warren’s reference to “v. 31” to be a reference to Exod 22:31. He didn’t specify chapter and book and the antecedent was Exod 22, so that’s why I misunderstood him. My thanks to Jared Thompson for pointing out my error. [BACK]
- N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 353. [BACK]