I wrote on Saturday evening of my trip that day to San Francisco Theological Seminary with two friends. I didn't keep my promise. We attended the workshop offered by the Presbyterian Women for the 2009-2010 Bible Study, “Joshua: A Journey of Faith.” It was presented by Dr. Mary Mikhael the author.
The drive was early and beautiful. Clouds and then lightening enlivened our trip. Even a few rain drops encouraged us since California is in a drought. Later, on campus, it poured for a few minutes. We were all grateful.
But the workshop was not much different than the one presented by Mikhael at the PW Gathering during the summer in Kentucky. But still, I was once again full of thoughts about such a presentation. My thoughts center around three issues. And they all fit together to form a troubling portent of the future.
They have to do with Mikhael’s view of Scripture, God and contemporary Middle East issues.
She once again stated that God’s word is contained in Scripture. That is, the Bible is not the word of God but it contains the word of God. She also talked of God having the attributes of compassion, love and justice. And because of this she believes that the center section of Joshua is simply oral stories gathered into one story, not fully true or even useful.
And in fact she informed us that many in Lebanon, where she is the Dean of the Near East School of Theology, would like to rid the Bible of the book of Joshua. Mikhael went on to say many would like to rid the Bible of the Hebrew text.
While Mikhael would certainly not go that far and found much worthy of use in Joshua, still she insists that Joshua is full of rocks that must be broken up to find any diamonds.
I am reminded that an earlier generation, particularly in Europe, tended to disregard the Hebrew Bible, cutting away its hard corners so as to make it fit neatly into nineteenth & twentieth century cultural views of God. Some cut the Hebrew Bible away altogether thus turning the Lord Jesus Christ into a cultural monstrosity made important only because of changing human ideals.
At that time it was easy to invent humanly contrived ideals about Jesus Christ and pull the New Testament around the ideal. For instance Jesus was noble or a hero and God was loving but never wrathful. However, one must ask, does God fit into a New Testament milieu but not in all Old Testament views of God?
Mikhael went on to say that the importance of the Bible is because we know God in Scripture. God reveals himself in his word. And while she insists that he is more clearly revealed in the New Testament she went on to speak of him as Creator, personal and a God of covenants in the Hebrew Bible. And she reminded us that God may be angry for the sake of the oppressed. This was all good.
But two points need to be explored. Yes, we more clearly understand God in the New Testament through the eternal Son of the Father, Jesus Christ. Christ is God’s final revelation and in him we may see how God works out the promises of the Hebrew Bible. And yet, the Hebrew Bible is full of the eternal Son, both in Theophanies and promises to come.
Certainly all that Jesus said of himself came from the Hebrew text. Nonetheless this should never demean the history of the Hebrew Bible. And contrary to post-modern sensibilities all the attributes of God found in the Hebrew Bible find a twin in the New Testament.
God is love. But he is also a God of justice and wrath. Certainly, in God’s perfection, his wrath as well as his love, leads to justice. Think of Jesus in the temple, with a whip in his hand, overturning the moneychangers’ tables, driving out the unholy from the Holy. Think of references to the Lord’s compassion and care in the Hebrew Bible:
“How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I surrender you, O Israel? …My heart is turned within Me, all My compassions are kindled. I will not execute My fierce anger; I will not destroy Ephraim again. For I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath. (Hosea 11:8-9)”
His judgment and wrath is in the Hebrew text; it also belongs to the New Testament. (Acts 5:110; 12:22-23; 13:6-12) His compassion is in both.
Mikhael, attempting to reconcile her pacifism, a legitimate Christian view, with Scripture admits that God may be angry and he seeks justice. He is for the oppressed. Yet, his wrath and judgment against sin is not mentioned. And she, a pacifist and a Christian, in both workshops has lifted up the terrorist group Hezbollah whose goal is to destroy Israel. According to Mikhael they are simply a resistance group.
She also had good words to say about the booklet, Steadfast Hope, published by Israel/Palestine Mission Network. IPMN was at the workshop selling the booklet.
I have been writing on the booklet now for several weeks. It contains several anti-Semitic ideas in it such as the insistence that the Jewish immigrants to Israel were not really genetically Jews but the descendents of converts to Judaism.
During the comment time I had to protest such one-sided political views in a Bible study workshop. Mikhael insisted that the American people never hear the true story, and she never backed off from her views about Hezbollah. I felt fairly alone as most of the women clapped for her after our exchange. However, I was not alone. (I know the Lord was there)
Several women came up to me thanking me for speaking up. One had two sons-in-law who were messianic Jews. One had a friend who had also been in Lebanon during the war between Hezbollah and Israel. She told me part of the story, but I never got to hear the end. I hope I do sometime soon.
Not just a few clouds or streaks of lightening, but a whole storm may be coming at the next General Assembly. Perhaps it is time for more Presbyterians to speak up for the sake of God’s chosen people the Jews.