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Approaching the violence passages of the Old Testament today

John Stevens, National Director of FIEC, explained in a FOCL webinar how to deal with Old Testament texts related to violence, in order to answer the apologetic questions that they raise.

SOURCES FOCL AUTHOR Belén Díaz, Evangelical Focus 23 FEBRUARY 2016 11:01 h GMT+1
Tintoretto Cain and Abel, by the painter 16th century painter Tintoretto.

One of the greatest challenges the contemporary church faces today, is the large number of Bible texts, especially in the Old Testament, which advocate the use of violence by the people of God.



In a FOCL webinar with John Stevens, National Director of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC), he considered how we are to understand, interpret and apply these texts today, so that we can preach them faithfully and answer the apologetic questions that they raise.



 



THE PROBLEM OF VIOLENCE



 



John Stevens, National Director of FIEC

Stevens started his talk giving examples of some paradigmatic difficult texts of the Bible regarding the issue of violence, like Psalm 137, Deuteronomy 7:1-6, or Joshua 6: 15-18.



According to Stevens, these and other Bible texts where violence is present “have important implications for us today.”



Those implications are:




  • Apologetic: Very often people ask, how can you believe in a God like that?

  • Theological: Is God really like the one presented in the Old Testament?

  • Interfaith implications: We have to deal with the fact that the Bible in the Old Testament is more violent than the Quran/Islam.

  • Political: Does God want us to behave like that today?

  • Preaching/teaching: How do I handle this texts?



VIOLENCE IN OUR CULTURE



“We find these texts difficult and problematic because of the way that our culture today deals with the issue of violence”, the speaker stated.



Stevens pointed out some ways our culture tackles the problem of violence in a contradictory way: “We abhor violence and see it as a great moral evil and crime”, but we also “rejoice in violence and enjoy it, at least virtually, and want justice to be done even when this requires violence, for instance, with Daesh terrorists.”



At the same time, “Christians have sentimentalised the character of God and Jesus, and see them more like `Father Christmas´ than the God of the Bible”, he said.



 



VIOLENCE, THE BIBLE, AND THE CHARACTER OF GOD



After analysing the way culture deals with violence today, Stevens commented about the Biblical perspective of violence, and what is God´s character like regarding violence.



Talking about the Bible, he affirmed that “there is this dichotomy: sometimes violence is the result of sinful wickedness, and sometimes violence is the appropriate and just response to sin.”



Regarding the character of God, “in order to understand these texts in the Bible properly, we must recognise that God is not only a God of love, but he is also a God of justice”, the speaker said.



Additionally, he argued that “from the perspective of the New Testament, the violent passages we see in the Old Testament are used to speak about the great day of justice that is coming.”



 



Violent passages in the Bible lead to controversial debates.



 



“WE LIVE IN THE TIME OF SALVATION”



Stevens emphasised that “it is not our task to bring judgement to the world, our task today is to preach the gospel, and to pray that God´s justice will be done, because we are living in the day of salvation, not in the day of judgement.”



“It is important to understand that our situation is very different from the people in Israel, we are not a nation looking for a land; this means that we will understand that Old Testament passages do not apply to us directly, they are not commands for us to put into practice now”, he added.



 



"REJOICE IN THE CROSS"



According to the speaker, to better approach the violent passages of the Old Testament today, we should:




  • Make clear that they reveal the just judgement of God – we need to expound the wickedness of sin.

  • Proclaim the truth of eternal judgement to come.

  • Emphasise how God makes provision for mercy for those who repent and submit to him.

  • Rejoice in the cross where the twin demands of judgement and mercy were reconciled in the heart of God by the propitiatory death of Christ.

  • Remember that evangelism is about saving people from the just violence of God to come.

  • Be honest about the grievous failures of the church and Christians in the past.

  • Preach strongly against all sinful violence that is not an exercise of just judgement.



“WE ARE CALLED TO PREACH THE GOOD NEWS”



John Stevens finished the webinar stressing that “we should not see those Old Testament passages as embarrassing or wicked, but as examples of God acting in his justice.”



“We are not called to exercise judgement now, we are called to preach the good news and the offer of salvation that God makes to all people”, he added.



In the end, “the pictures we see in those Old Testament passages will be fully fulfilled as Jesus returns and brings justice”, he concluded.


 

 


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