Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism

Moralistic, therapeutic deism, a term first used by Christian Smith, seems a fitting description of much of what passes for Christianity in North America. The followers of this religion believe in a God who wants them to be good, wants them to feel good about themselves, doesn’t need to be consulted except in case of emergencies, and who will accept all good people into heaven.

One unfortunate result is that such people read the Old Testament as a series of morality tales, leading to conclusions that play up the foolishness and waywardness of Old Testament characters. Such a reading altogether misses the redemption story that is an essential ingredient of these histories. The New Testament points to these histories as God’s way of revealing little by little his plan of redemption.

The translators of the Authorized (King James) Version were men of remarkable humility. When a Bible passage could legitimately be understood in two different ways, they did not believe they had a right to choose between them. They placed one in the text and the alternate rendering they placed in a note beside the verse. I’m afraid that all North American editions of the Bible have eliminated these alternate readings, and subsequent translators have not had the same hesitancy about choosing one over the other.

In Judges 11:31 Jephthah’s vow is that whatsoever came out of his house “shall surely be the Lord’s and/or I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” The Hebrew text contains no conjunction, yet the context seems to demand one. The translators inserted and in the verse and or in the note for that verse. Then we are told in verse 40 that “the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament/talk with the daughter of Jephthah.” Lament is in the verse, talk with is in the note. These alternate readings, which the translators deemed to be credible renderings of the Hebrew, seem to be the more likely meaning in light of God’s hatred of human sacrifice and His blessing on Jephthah

The stories of Jephthah and Samson seem to be almost universally misunderstood. If Jephthah was as foolish and wicked as he is often portrayed today, why did the Lord bless his vow and give him victory over the Ammonites? And why is he listed in Hebrews 11:32 as a man of faith? The message that we should take from the story of Jephthah in Judges 11 is that he sacrificed himself to save his people from their oppressors.

It is nowhere said that he offered his daughter as a burnt offering. His daughter did not go up and down on the mountains to lament her impending death, she was lamenting the fact that she would never have children, and thus her father would have no posterity. This was a tremendous sacrifice for a man in Israel and links the story of Jephthah with the account of Abraham offering his son. Both are part of the redemption story, foretelling the time when God would offer His only Son for our redemption.

Samson was for twenty years a judge in Israel. If we read the account, we find that most of the things which modern preachers and writers find so disreputable were done by Samson at the prompting of the Spirit of the Lord. The Spirit of the Lord did not leave Samson until he forgot that his great strength came from the Lord. He told Delilah the secret of his strength, but it appears that by this time he hardly believed anymore that his strength was the result of his vow as a Nazarite. The Spirit of the Lord left him, with painful consequences. Then, while a captive and slave of the Philistines, he renewed his vow and gave his life to set his people free from the domination of the Philistines. This is the message of the story of Samson that is entirely missed by those trying to draw a moral lesson from his supposed misdeeds. Samson is also mentioned as a man of faith in Hebrews 11:32.

To the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus said: “O fools and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.: ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:25-27). A little further in the same chapter, he says: “All things must be fulfilled that were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures” (verses 44-45). Today we have both the Old and New Testaments, why are so many still slow of heart to believe the evidences of the redemption story that are found in Old Testament history?

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