Derek Rishmawy has been one of the Calvinists leading the charge against Jesus’s authority to reinterpret the Old Testament and its portrayal of God as violent. Of course, he wouldn’t say that’s what he’s doing, but the end results are the same. This week he argued that “Losing the Exodus means losing the God of the Exodus.”
By this, he means that if we reject the exodus as history we must of necessity lose the liberating God of the exodus who opposes oppression and rescues his people.
This is actually a clever rhetorical argument to make, because those of us who advocate for a nonviolent God tend to see God’s opposition to oppression as vital to His character.
But Rishmawy’s argument is completely bogus, for several reasons.
The first reason is pretty simple. There’s no historical or archaeological evidence there ever was an exodus in the first place, or a conquest of Canaan for that matter. Conservative Christians have tried to find alternative explanations or suggestions that it could have happened, but in the end all those arguments fail and we’re left with the fact that, historically speaking, it didn’t happen that way. So right off the bat, if Derek is right, then everybody loses the God of the exodus, including him. We just have to deal with this fact and move on.
Which leads us to the second problem. Which is that what happened historically doesn’t matter, frankly, because what actually matters is what the text says about God. The exodus doesn’t have to be historically accurate in order for us to get the point that God is all about liberation and his faithful determination to rescue his people. We don’t need to know whether the parable of the unforgiving servant was historical in order to understand that showing mercy on the undeserving is central to God’s character. That point is clear regardless of what might have been the case historically.
In the end, Rishmawy makes the mistake all conservatives do when he assumes the goal of a nonviolent hermeneutic is to “screen out” or “set aside” violent passages or parts of the Old Testament. This is completely untrue. No one is getting rid of bits of the Old Testament. The OT is part of our sacred scriptures. To say that it didn’t happen the way it is recorded is not the same as saying they are worthless or ought to be tossed out. Most of us are completely comfortable saying they represent what oppressors like Egypt deserve to have happen to them, regardless of whether it did.
If the concern is over whether the texts are still relevant for Christians to wrestle with, there is no disagreement. Of course they are.
But ultimately, the real question is this: “Is Jesus the fullest and final revelation of who God really is, or isn’t he?”
If he is, then the Old Testament is not the fullest and final revelation of who God really is, and we must work to reinterpret it in the light of Jesus.
If Jesus is not the fullest and final revelation of who God really is, then we have problems that are a whole lot bigger than a few violent passages in the OT.