4 Huge Theological Challenges (and How the Exodus Story Helps)

Reflecting on the exodus story, and particularly its echoes throughout the Bible, can help us face the challenges of our generation

Some of these echoes are clear as a bell (“for Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed”), and some are much fainter (chariots and water in the Elijah story). But they all increase our insight into, and enjoyment of, the redemptive shape of the biblical story.

 

Every generation faces specific theological challenges. If asked for ours, I would highlight at least four:

  1. Scripture and the character of God: how we hold together the pictures of God presented in the Old and New Testaments on matters like inclusion, law, and divinely sanctioned violence.
  2. Church: our apparently rootless, historically unmoored sense of identity, with all its implications for doctrine, liturgy, ecclesiology, and even politics, and what we can do about it.
  3. Atonement: how we should understand the different images, or models, of what happened at the cross, and how they all fit together.
  4. Engagement with contemporary culture: how to be orthodox on biblical ethics on the one hand (for instance on issues of life, and sexuality), while increasing in our advocacy and support for the oppressed and marginalized on the other (those who face injustice on grounds of sex, poverty, race, abuses of power, disability, discrimination, or something else).

These challenges, in a sense, are the bad news.

The good news is that reflecting on the exodus story, and particularly its echoes throughout the Bible, can help. Some of these echoes are clear as a bell (“for Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed”), and some are much fainter (chariots and water in the Elijah story). But they all increase our insight into, and enjoyment of, the redemptive shape of the biblical story.

And this deeper appreciation helps with all four of the theological challenges I just mentioned. Here’s how.

1. Scripture and the Character of God

The more we see the connections between the testaments, the less likely we are to succumb to the idea that the God of the Old Testament is morally inferior to the God revealed in Jesus [read Greg Boyd’s Misunderstandings of the ‘Warrior God’]. Few people will explicitly state it this way, but many are eager to put as much distance as possible between, say, the conquest of Canaan and the person of Jesus, as if the latter could never have approved of, let alone commanded, the former.

Others have gone further and argued that God simply never kills anybody for any reason, so every instance of violence in the Bible that implicates God should be seen as (a) incompatible with Jesus, and therefore (b) invented by ancient Israel. Seeing the extent to which the exodus story, plagues and Passover included, is echoed throughout Scripture—not least in the ministry and teaching of Jesus!—exposes the fragile foundations of all kinds of neo-Marcionism.

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