Reflections on Thom Stark’s The Human Faces of God – Part 1

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I want to spend some time on this book, namely because there are some books which simply demand more than a 500 word review; some books demand engagement. I believe that this is one of them. The book’s tag line, What Scripture reveals when it gets God wrong (and Why Inerrancy Tries to Hide it), is sure to ward off conservatives and those who profess, such as myself, to be bible-believing Christians. Reading his endorsements, I am left with wondering where I might fit in at. From Gregory Body to Dale C. Allison and the likes of John Loftus, we find a broad range of people who insist that this book be read and properly engaged. I intend to do just that.

Inerrancy is a big issue among those who are leaving the evangelical fold, and in leaving it, they find that they are only a generation or three from those who forcibly created this new doctrine, or perhaps, codified it in such things as the Chicago Statement in the year that I was born. People feel as if the Scripture is under attack by those who are less than literal, or those who see Genesis One and Creation in a theological light rather than a scientific light, or by anyone challenging their views of Scripture. Regrettably, it has become a dividing line between Christians and polarized the camps, creating problems where there should not be.

In Stark’s preface, he notes that in his own tradition he has seen a move to the right in regards to inerrancy, which has left him feeling that a critique is necessary. Perhaps he is writing in the prophetic light, addressing his own people about the abuses and errors that he sees and if so, as Collins notes in the forward, Stark is assuming the role of Amos and Ezekiel in lobbing an attack against inerrancy as a misuse of Scripture. He is correct regarding the notion of inerrancy in that often times, it is the only version of Christianity presented. Ironically, inerrancy becomes the saving feature of the Faith. I say ironically because Christ and Paul both questioned their own versions of inerrancy in their day and was generally met with the same resistance we see today. But once you move past this, the beauty of God’s Creation opens up, and for me, so does His Word. The author writes,

I myself was once subject to the parochialism of Evangelical fundamentalism, but have since discovered, by the grace of God, a world that is much broader, more diverse, charitable, and vibrant than the “orthodoxy” that marked my youth (xvi)

Thus is his self-stated goal, paraphrased: to unshelter the sheltered. It is a lofty goal, and I would guarantee, one unwelcomed. I often say that the worse thing you can give an extreme fundamentalist is a book. Maybe Thom’s book will be the book that opens up a hole in the mud roof for many of them. His goals and intentions are well put, desiring only a holistically faithful account of Scripture in the Church. We should do no less if we desire to remain faithful and honest to the teachings of Christ.

Stark begins his work by describing the Argument, as he calls it. To be honest, for me this idea, which he gives word to or me, has been budding in the back of my mind for a while. Examine Ruth and Ezra, Leviticus and Deuteronomy, the book of the Kingdoms and the Chronicler’s works. They are debating with each other. Ezra wants to expel all foreigners from Judea, and yet Ruth whom the Law banned from entering into the Promised Land is David’s Grandmother! David is a bad king in the Kingdoms, but in the Chronicles, his errors are hardly mentioned? Further, there are those things which Stark points out in Job and other books of the (canonical) Wisdom Genre which would make us recoil if we heard Christians actually professing! And what of God’s own admonition of Israel through the Prophets and their later insistence of a divine right? The author correctly labels this the ‘Argument’ and after showing it to be an accurate painting of the text, briefly (much to my chagrin) describes the political need for a canon which arose during exile and subsequent troublesome times.

Of course, as some will today maintain, God’s hand of inspiration can still be seen in the collections of these books. What if God’s method of revealing Himself to His creation was really about disjointed arguments given in diverse and odd ways (Hebrews 1.1) to those who had ears to hear? Can we see God as simplistic or have we come to realize that God is not merely the paradox of transcendent and imminent but so too very difficult at times to fully understand? I do wish that a separation between inerrancy and inspiration was drawn early on, although admittedly, it would have destroyed the flow of the chapter.

I would recommend to those of you who are struggling with reading Scripture and to those who aren’t.

Post By Joel Watts (10,049 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

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2 thoughts on Reflections on Thom Stark’s The Human Faces of God – Part 1

  1. I was not raised in a tradition that taught inerrancy. When I discovered it, I found it . . . odd. Flat. Unimaginative. I still do. I realize it has a certain logic to it, and it feeds certain people, but just because some people feel comfort from it does not make it any less erroneous in my eyes.

    • I was raised where inerrancy was pushed even to the translation which was to be used. It is a binding doctrine, or maybe enslaving?

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