Moses’ Blame Shifting

Moses is either striking the rock to bring forth water, or trying to get up and down out of a greenside bunker.

Last week I was reading devotionally in Deuteronomy and a piece of Moses’ epic speech struck me in a peculiar way.  Three times in the first four chapters Moses blames the people for the fact that the Lord will not allow him to enter into the Promised Land.

“Because of you the Lord became angry with me also and said, ‘You shall not enter it, either'” (Dt 1:37).

“But because of you the Lord was angry with me and would not listen to me.  ‘That is enough,’ the Lord said.  ‘Do not speak to me anymore about this matter'” (Dt 3:26).

“The Lord was angry with me because of you, and he solemnly swore that I would not cross the Jordan and enter the good land the Lord your God is giving you as your inheritance” (Dt 4:21).

In each case, Moses is recalling a pair of incidents, the first in Exodus 17 and the second in Numbers 20.  In Exodus 17, shortly after the Israelites had left Egypt, the people complain because of a water shortage.  The Lord instructs Moses to approach a rock in the presence of the elders.  God says He will stand before the rock.  When Moses strikes the rock, water will pour out (vv. 5-6).

Much later, the Israelites find themselves in the same place.  They again cry out for want of water.  This time, however, God tells Moses to simply speak to the rock in order to elicit water (Num 20:8).  The point here is to remind the Israelites that God has already been judged once to provide for His people.  Now the people only need reminding of His faithfulness.  But Moses in his anger, struck the rock a second time (v. 11), setting the dangerous precedent before the people that certain actions will get certain results from the Lord (and that, friends, is called magic).  The consequence for Moses, then, is his barring from the land of Canaan (v. 12).

Yet once Moses and the people stand at the very gates of the Promised Land, Moses’ memory glosses over his own responsibility in the matter.  Suddenly, it’s not Moses’ behavior that prohibits his entrance into Canaan, but the actions of the people.  Moses shifts blame.

This all reminded me of a recent post of Peter Enns, Old Testament professor at Eastern University.  In the post, Dr. Enns likens the Old Testament to a child telling others of the heroic deeds of his father.  Children certainly tell stories of their parents that are generally accurate, but they also have a slightly skewed vision of reality.  Children interpret events from a different perspective than adults.  The point is, God lets His children tell the biblical story without constantly interrupting to say, “Well, that’s not exactly how it happened…”

Review: Confessions of a Bible Thumper

Michael Camp, Confessions of a Bible Thumper: My Homebrewed Quest for a Reasoned Faith (Seattle: Engage Faith), 2012.

Confessions of a Bible Thumper is the lifelong journey of one man into and then out of evangelicalism.  Michael Camp came to faith in the height of the Jesus People movement of the 1970’s, integrated himself deeply into various evangelical communities in Massachusetts, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Seattle, where he currently resides.  He even dived deeply into international missions work, serving in different parts of Africa.  Although Camp highlights several bright spots in the 25-year journey through evangelicalism, his memoir is primarily of critique of the movement.

The book is rather playfully divided into twelve “confessions,” in which Camp address twelve major cultural deficiencies within the evangelical world.  These include an insidiously camouflaged  legalism, the logical problems of inerrancy and limited atonement, a reluctance to dialogue about sexual ethics, and the anti-intellectual climate.

Within each confession, Camp frequently switches between two scenes.  He brings the reader into his own story, his own experiences of evangelicalism at various stages in his life.  There is his introduction to the faith as a teenager at a massive revivalist rally in Dallas, his involvement in small scale development and missions work as a 20-year-old in Somalia, his time in a Pentecostal evangelical congregation sitting under the teaching of a young Che Ahn.  Camp uses these recollections to introduce a certain topic that had always seemed a bit skewed, even if he didn’t have the initial understanding to identify his discomfort.

Camp will then flash forward to the present day, which takes the form of an imagined conversation among his wife, some close friends, and him.  This extended conversation, he tells the reader up front, is a composite of numerous dialogues he has entered with various friends and acquaintances over the years.

The convention, while initially creative, quickly grows somewhat thin, contrived, and (pardon) campy.  If the reader didn’t have the sense that Mr. Camp is actually a genuinely modest fellow, this composite conversation would be self-aggrandizing.  He always seems to be the voice of reason as he dialogues with friends who disagree with his views.

Nevertheless, Michael Camp is nothing if not passionate and driven in his pursuit of a reasonable faith and answers to nagging biblical, theological and cultural questions.  Neither a scholar nor a pastor (though Camp has spent time studying at William Carey International University, Fuller Seminary, and has earned an MS in global economic development from Eastern University), he should be credited for ample amounts of lay-study on the variety of subjects broached.  Confessions is littered with helpful footnotes for the reader to follow up with her own study.

His overall critique of the evangelical movement, if it may be stated succinctly, comes in a brief statement he makes while reflecting on the church’s teachings on tithing.  After acknowledging that his wife’s desire in a faith community is to engage with the people in a shared journey, his focus “is on living a faith true to my own sense of reason” (111).  One can understand the sentiment.  I believe I might share his yearning to know and understand truth, especially when it comes to the faith.  Indeed, we all hope to find a community in which we are valued and in which we are free to disagree, reason with one another, and settle tensions with our own conscience.  But the reader is compelled to wonder: would the author ever find a Christian community with whom he could worship?  Or would he simply stumble upon another attribute with which he found fault and move on?

Indeed, if the reader did not have the sense that the author was genuinely concerned about faithfully living out the Scriptures, she might grow weary with the incessant fault finding.  Camp has written a domestic Poisonwood Bible, but without the creative satire to veil the criticisms.

I recommend Camp’s memoirs as a useful skim.  For those outside the realm of evangelicalism, he will no doubt prove refreshingly affirming.  Progressive Christians will no doubt nod their heads and utter their Amens as they read.

Firm evangelicals, on the other hand, will likely find themselves frustrated, regardless of Camp’s own hopes to dialogue openly with the evangelical community.  They will want to argue, as I did at a few stages, with Camps approach and conclusions.  Still, I believe Camp’s voice might be a valuable one for evangelicals to hear.  Consider him an eye opening exit interview as he departs your church.  If his critique can spur us to genuine reflection and reform, our churches will be the better for it.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.