Sunday, March 6, 2011

Does Marcion still Haunt the Church?

Marcion of Sinope (ca. AD 85-160), considered a heretic by the early church, namely, for denying that the Creator God of Judaism is the same being as the Father of Jesus. For Marcion, YHWH was a cruel, tribal deity of Judaism that could not be placated, but the god of Jesus on the other hand was one of compassion, mercy, and love. Therefore, Marcion, when he worked out his own theological system, relegated the OT to inferior status.

Some might argue that some form of Marcionism is still prevelant in the Church today. It is not so much that the church has explicitly renderred the Old Testament as inferior, but the lack of teaching and preaching on 60% of the Canon leaves something to be desired. I don't want to speculate on why this is except to say that like, Marcion, the Church does not know what to do with the God of the Old Testament, especially with regards to violence. How do we reconcile the suffering, crucified, savior, Jesus Christ, with what seems to be the wrathful, vengeful God of the Old Testament?

Bartolomeo Passarotti, Italian 1529-1592: God the Father; pen and brown ink. Ackland Fund. 99.3

Some are endeavoring to take up this challenge. Paul Copan, author of  Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God, takes up the challenge of the 'new athiests' such as Richard Dawkins and others who deem YHWH as a boorish monster. I have read just a bit of this so far, and Copan seems to do an admirable job of dealing with this and other objections. On the horizon, IVP Academic  is scheduled to publish God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist? by David T. Lamb, who seeks to give a more comprehensive view of God in the OT without minimizing the difficult parts. Another book that deals with this problem is one written by Eric Seibert entitled Disturbing Divine Behavior: Troubling Old Testament Images of God, where the goal of the author is for an "engaged  and discerning reading of the Old Testament that distinguishes the particular literary and theological goals achieved through narrative characterizations of God from the rich understanding of the divine to which the Old Testament as a whole points." Again, the point seems to be in a word, "balance." Another volume, and one that is forthcoming (Sept. 2011; Baker Academic), authored by John Goldingay, Key Questions about Biblical Interpretation: Old Testament Answers,  also aims for the Church's partcipation, as the description reads in part, "In this volume he (Goldingay) explores twenty-three questions related to biblical interpretation, articulating creative, provocative explanations for today's church. The book is divided into four parts: concerning Scripture as a whole; concerning narrative; concerning the Old Testament as a whole; and concerning the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings." Apparently, Greg Boyd also will be writing a volume entitled Jesus Verses Jehovah: Wresting With the Genocidal God of the Old Testament in Light of the Crucified God of the New. The publisher at last note was pending and the release date was for 2010. Here reads Greg's abstract: "How could the God revealed in Christ who gave his life out of love for all people be the same God who commanded his people to engage in genocide against the Canaanites? For all who believe our understanding of God and our lifestyle should be exclusively based on Jesus, this is the most important, and the most difficult, theological question we face. I’ve probably read close to a thousand books and articles on this topic, but I know of no work that contains all the elements needed to adequately address this issue and that is written at a lay person’s level. This book intends to fill that void."

I pray that these volumes and others like them, will return the Church to the God of grace, mercy, and love found in both the Old and New Testaments.

1 comment:

Tony Siew said...

Thanks very much for this post, Matthew. The references are certainly helpful. I have linked it with my own blogpost on Sebastian Moll's book on Marcion.