Previous installment: A Review of Thom Stark’s “The Human Faces of God” – Chapter 6
Thom has a single purpose in chapter 7 of The Human Faces of God: What Scripture Reveals When It Gets God Wrong (and Why Inerrancy Tries to Hide It) and that is to discredit the story of David killing Goliath. Thom is sure that Goliath was slain, but he’s also sure that someone other than David did it. He offers an exceedingly painstaking explanation of how he comes to this conclusion. (Why do I get the feeling, having read this far in the book, that Thom would have been just as comfortable writing a chapter here about how he was sure that David did the slaying, but that it was someone other than Goliath who got slain?)
As I’ve said before in this review, you can find this argument, and others like it, in the syllabi of any liberal seminary. You can similarly find refutations of it in the syllabi of any conservative seminary (Thom gives you snippets of the latter, but not the fuller accounts you’d find in the authors’ own books).
Any text that is thousands of years old is going to have textual issues (closer to home, the Kindle edition of Thom’s book that I’m reading misspells soldier as “solider” on page 151 – but I’m not going to conclude from this that Thom’s book is not a faithful representation of his thinking). To resolve these ancient textual issues requires approaching them with a hypothesis. Liberal scholars approach the issues with the hypothesis that natural explanations best explain any issue. Conservative scholars approach the issues with the hypothesis that supernatural explanations are just as valid as natural ones. Occasionally, a liberal scholar’s research will eventually lead him to abandon his hypothesis and accept supernatural explanations. Conversely, there are conservative scholars who eventually become liberals.
I was someone did not begin reading the Bible until his late 20’s. When I did start reading, it was with the assumption that the Bible could be naturally explained. However, in reading it, and specifically in reading about Jesus, I became convinced otherwise. I went from relying on natural explanations to relying on whatever Jesus said.
I had never encountered anyone like Jesus. I still haven’t. His words and actions similarly distinguished Him from anyone I had ever read about in history. I realized that Jesus was either the real deal or else He was a fabrication. The problem with His being a fabrication, however, was that His words and actions could not have been fabricated. Whoever invented Him would have to think like Him because there was no human pattern Jesus could have been following, and therefore no other source for His way of thinking. But if someone thought like Jesus, he would not lie. As I continued reading the Bible, I quickly concluded that Jesus was just too credible, unique, and consistent to have been fabricated – by anyone, much less by different writers at different times.
Jesus accepted the Old Testament without question as the word of God. While His life was unique in the annals of human history, He lived it by imitating the best of people He read about in the Bible – for He had the faith of Abraham, the zeal of David, patience of Job, the leadership of Moses, the wisdom of Solomon, the endurance of Naomi, the insight of Ruth, the humility of Isaac, the integrity of Joseph, the fervor of Elijah, the courage of Joshua, and on, and on, and on. Jesus’ thinking was formed and informed by the Scriptures. He did not engage in esoteric debates and academic dialogues with Pharisees and Sadducees about who wrote what book of the Bible when. He did argue with them about what the Scriptures would have us believe and do. Jesus grew up listening to the word of God, trusting it, and obeying it. I want to read the Bible the way He did!
My argument against Thom in this chapter (and throughout the book) is not to respond to his polemic tit for tat – that would be to merely produce a mirror image of his error. For while I would be glad to stand with the inerrantists against the errantists when it comes to the reliability of the Scriptures and the goodness of God, the ongoing trivial pursuit is damaging to both sides. Jesus would call it “straining out gnats and swallowing camels.”
I’m thankful for the scholars of good will who labor on every point of the theological spectrum, but Jesus did not die to produce scholars or theologians. Rather, He died to reproduce in us His own character – regardless of our occupation. That is the purpose of 1 Samuel 17 – to reveal Christ. The purpose of this account was indeed initially to tell of what David did to Goliath, and the glory it brought God. But the ultimate purpose of this passage – and of every Bible passage – is to reveal Christ. Thus we are to see in these pages our Savior challenging death itself – the most dominant ruler that world had ever known. At least it was the most dominant until a greater Ruler arose from the dead, never to die again. Death has been beheaded – everyone is going to heaven! Nevertheless, judgment is upon us – so be careful how you get there!
Thom’s title for this chapter is The Shepherd and the Giant: Government Propaganda. He begins with the story of George Washington’s childhood encounter with an axe and cherry tree, and how it has been revealed to be fiction. Why in the world Thom doesn’t draw from this the lesson that had David not been the one who slayed Goliath, that fiction would have been similarly exposed by those who knew better, is a question best answered by remembering his goal: he wants you to doubt that the Bible is always telling the truth. Thus, drawing positive conclusions about the Scriptures and about God are not his habit or focus.
I am glad that Jesus, by contrast, did trust the Bible to always tell the truth about things. And that He was, after suffering for a time, grandly rewarded for doing so.
Next installment: A Review of Thom Stark’s “The Human Faces of God” – Chapter 8