Continuing on the subject of the Moral Monster Objection
These are not new objections and there is a body of literature discussing it. Most people raising the objection today probably do very little reading or research into it. Again, as I’ll get into later, this is because they are dealing with moral intuitions, not really arguments.
There are three contemporary books on my shelf that deals with this subject:
- Peter Craigie’s The Problem of War in the Old Testament
- Christopher Wright’s The God I Don’t Understand
- And Peter Enn’s The Bible Tells Me So
Before I get into this I want again to say that I doubt reading these books would convince a skeptic. Why not? Because again these objections for many lie at the level of moral intuition, not argument. These books will probably be most helpful
- to people who WANT to believe but are struggling with these passages
- scholars or philosophers who want to wrestle with the questions as arguments
Peter Craigie: The Problem from Above
Craigie’s The Problem of War in the Old Testament Nicely categorizes the issues in three pots.
- The problem of God: The OT Warrior vs. Jesus’ God of love
- The problem of revelation: how and why all this material is in the Bible at all
- The problem of ethics: how should all of this inform our own ethics
Craigie addresses these things from a scholarly perspective with things to think about and plausible assertions. Again, I doubt the book would satisfy skeptics. It’s primarily written for pastors and Christian thinkers who wrestle with the issues but probably aren’t hovering over “the line”. This is more of a “high brow” approach
Christopher Wright’s Question and Answer Book
He takes on the subject in two chapters “Three Dead Ends” and “Three Frameworks”. Dead ends first.
- It’s an OT problem that the NT puts right (the Problem of God)
- The Israelites thought God said it but they got it wrong (The Problem of Revelation)
- It’s an allegory for spiritual warfare (Church Father’s approach)
Wright races objections to all three responses. He asserts that we take a “framework” approach, which is basically the task of “re-framing” events through a narrative.
- The Framework of the OT Story (this is how those cultures talked and thought)
- The Framework of God’s Sovereign Justice (The Canaanites serve as an example of evil. Israel will fall under the same justice. )
- The Framework of God’s Plan of Salvation (It’s all part of the larger plan).
Again I think Wright’s treatment may help calm the fears of believers who are trying to make sense of this but I doubt they would convince someone guided by their moral feelings or intuition.
Peter Enns’ “I’m really understanding you” approach
Peter Enns’ The Bible Tells Me So is much more of a pop-culture approach. He, like Wright will try to reframe the questions basically by trying to reframe and correct the flat way that evangelicals tend to approach scripture as a flat, literal answer manual. Emergents who like Rachel Held Evans approach to things will feel right at home. Enns is comfortable, witty and fun to read.
Enns will make some points that will anger evangelicals
- God didn’t command the genocide but this was Isreal’s self-understanding by virtue of their cultural context
- The genocide didn’t happen anyway
God never told the Israelites to kill the Canaanites. The Israelites believed that God told them to kill the Canaanites.
I am respecting the Bible’s ancient voice, trying to understand what that ancient voice is saying, and then (and only then) make a decision, as best as I can, about what to do with it. Where the “get God off the hook” solutions all falter is that they are not asking ancient questions, but modern ones.
Enns, Peter (2014-09-09). The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It (Kindle Locations 790-792). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
I haven’t finished going through Enns’ book having read enough of him I think I understand his approach.
While I always enjoy reading Enns, and I learn a ton from him, and I very much appreciate what and why he is doing what he’s doing, as with the other authors I doubt he’s make much of an impression on my skeptical friends.
My Request for You
If you’ve got other books that you’ve found helpful, drop them in the comments. Thanks. pvk
PS: Later Addition
If you’re a pastor and looking for a very evangelical, perspectival book check out Skeletons in God’s Closet. It’s a lovely, winsome book that intends to “flip the script” and give a gospel presentation through these difficult questions.