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God, the Sociologist

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By Greg Scandlen

An entire issue of  “Modern Reformation” was recently devoted to the question of Holy War,  notably the book of Joshua and Israel’s conquest of the Holy Land. The companion radio show  devotes three segments to the topic: “The Gospel According to Joshua,” “Is God a Moral Monster?” and “Holy War.”

The core article is by Michael Horton, who writes, “How can we reconcile the God who commands the extermination of men, women, children, and even pets and possessions with the God we know in the face of Jesus Christ?” He notes that some Christians excuse these “texts of terror” as being merely allegorical, i.e., they didn’t really happen, but are supposed to represent the struggle we all face between the good and evil inside us. Others say that the God of the Old Testament is different than the God of the New, so we shouldn’t have to defend that mean old God.

Horton rejects both rationalizations. He offers two counter theses. I don’t want to go into detail on his explanations, but he argues, first that Israel was subject to the same judgments and penalties as the Canaanites if they violate God’s covenant, — “It has nothing to do with ethnic cleansing or genocide, but with the fact that child-sacrificing, violent warriors, and unjust oppressors are squatters on God’s land.”

His second argument is that “No modern nation – including Israel (much less the U.S.) — can engage in holy war.” He explains:

This does not mean we can invoke the old covenant holy wars as a literal basis for modern nation-states, including Israel. Not even the church can use the temporal sword to defend the gospel. There are no nations in covenant with God: whether Israel, Britain, or the United States. “Christendom” is a serious error of Biblical interpretation. No nation will ever again be identified with God’s saving purposes in history.

I have no argument with Horton here. I think he is right on both counts. But I think there is also something else he doesn’t deal with. That is that God is a pretty good sociologist (and anthropologist, too). He deals with us on our own terms, through our own social norms, in the context of what we are capable of receiving from Him, given our current state of development.

God hasn’t changed a whit. The God of the Old Testament is the exact same God as in the New. Both show us a God of love and forgiveness, but also a God of justice and righteousness. Neither book shows us a God who coddles sin. Jesus said he would separate the sheep from the goats on the last day. The Great Commandment Jesus spoke is the same as the one in Deuteronomy (with the addition of loving your neighbor). Jesus constantly quoted from Hebrew Scripture and said he was here to fulfill the prophesies. He did not reject the Old Testament and neither should we.

Mankind hasn’t changed, either. We are every bit as lustful, envious, greedy, and violent today as we were 4,000 years ago. All of the stories of deceit, rape, adultery, drunkenness, and betrayal in the Old Testament are familiar to us today.

Read more: Greg Scandlen’s American Awakening

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