Face to face with the Old Testament

Old Testament scholar

The Old Testament presents a number of problems for many christians. We are taught it is the inspired Word of God, yet it contains many things we find difficult – Genesis 1-3 is contradicted by evolution, God commands his people to invade and kill, and there are some strange events that are hard to swallow (e.g. the Nephilim, Noah’s Ark, God trying to kill Moses but not succeeding, and a talking donkey).

The Old Testament is probably a major reason why many people brought up as christians reject their belief, and it probably causes far more difficulties to christians than the New Testament does.

For many years, I put the problems aside. Jesus was the basis of my faith, and the New Testament told me all I needed to know about him, and how to follow him. I read the Old Testament mainly for understanding Jesus as a Jew, and I left the problems on the backburner.

But a couple of years ago, I started to pray that God would show me how to understand the difficult and nasty parts of the Old Testament, and then I read a few good books on the topic. Whether God has answered that prayer or not is not for me to judge, but I have certainly come to some conclusions…..

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Old Testament God angry, New Testament God loving. Right? Or wrong?

Painting of God

In the Old Testament, God, who is variously known by names like Elohim, Yahweh, Adonai and El Shaddai, is active, angry and violent – talking to Moses, defeating armies, guiding by pillars of smoke and of fire, and threatening those who disobey.

But in the New Testament, God seems to be more relaxed – a voice at Jesus baptism and not much else – while Jesus, and later the Spirit, take centre stage.

Is this a fair picture, a caricature, or totally wrong? What should christians think about the Old Testament picture of God, especially the violence he seems to sometimes initiate?

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Deuteronomy

CS Lewis on the Bible, history and myth

CS Lewis was one of the most influential christian writers of the past century. His view of the Bible comes from his expert knowledge of ancient literature, history, language and culture.

I think he points us to a better and more faithful understanding of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, that can help us all understand difficult aspects and explain them to others.

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The government shall be upon his shoulders?

The first Christmas

“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.”

I quoted this passage from Isaiah 9 last Christmas, and I still think it is profound. But what does it say to us today?

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The mission of God

Mission San Juan in San Antonio

Evangelical christianity in the 20th century tended to see its main task as making converts for Jesus. Sure, we ran mission hospitals and schools, but doing much of that at home smacked of the “social gospel”, which only ‘liberals’ did. There was little need to care for the environment because this world is only temporary, and Jesus will surely be back soon to take us all somewhere better.

But did God create this vast universe just so earthlings could be “saved”? Do animals not matter? Does God not care about caring for those suffering and justice for the downtrodden?

There is a revolution happening in evangelical christianity, as, belatedly, evangelicals discover God’s bigger picture.

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Don’t plant a church, plant a mission?

Notice about new church

When I was a young christian, most churches were part of a denomination and most people knew what denomination they belonged to, even if they never actually attended. People didn’t switch denominations very often. When they moved house, they would generally find the closest church of their denomination and attend it.

Most new churches began when a new suburb was developed and the denomination would set up a new congregation. There were few independent churches and they were generally quite small.

But it’s all different now. People change denominations easily. There are many independent churches, many of which began as a “church plant” from a larger independent congregation. And increasingly, the denominations are “planting churches” too. But is this a good thing?

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