Wonderland Spirituality and the Canaanite Genocide

This post is much the same text as my most recent 5 Minute Bible podcast, you may prefer one or the other ;) I don’t usually cross post like this, but posting in both places has been solw in recent months!

JK Gayle posted recently on the problematic genocidal texts in Scripture. (He links to several recent blog posts for anyone wanting to follow this further.)

 He included this quote from Rachel Held Evans:

I mentioned that upon reading the story of Joshua and the Battle of Jericho for myself, I realized it was a story about genocide, with God commanding Joshua to kill every man, woman, and child in the city for the sole purpose of acquiring land. I explained that this seemed contrary to what Jesus taught about loving our enemies.

Afterwards, a youth leader informed me that when it came to Joshua and Jericho, I had nothing to worry about…and had no business getting his students worried either.

“I don’t know why you had to bring up the Jericho thing,” he said.

“Doesn’t that story bother you?” I asked. “Don’t you find the slaughter of men, women, and children horrific?”

“Not if it’s in the Bible.”

“Genocide doesn’t bother you if it’s in the Bible?”


He crossed his arms and a self-satisfied smile spread across his face. He was proud of his detachment, I realized. He seemed to think it represented some kind of spiritual strength.

Her topic is emotionless Evangelical theology. But from where I sit it seems also another example of what I think of as the six impossible things syndrome. (Perhaps because I have been thinking about Alice in Wonderland recently.) It has long seemed to me that many Evangelical theology students seem to subscribe to a view that goes something like this:

  • God is beyond human understanding

  • So truth about God does not always make sense to us (e.g. that God is three in one, or that Jesus is both fuly human and fully divine)

  • Faith is giving intellectual assent to something

  • The more difficult something is to believe the stronger one’s faith is if one “believes” it.

This set of ideas leads to a sort of Wonderland Spirituality. In Through the Looking Glass: and What Alice Found There in response to Alice’s refusal to accept her claim to be Ome Hundred and One, Five Months and a Day old, she says that Alice needs practice in believing impossible things:

“When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

According to this Wonderland spirituality, if something appears to be stated in Scripture, but is abhorent or seems impossible one should not ask sensible questions, but merely “believe” it (that is claim to give it intellectual assent) the more unlikely or disgusting the “belief” the greater the spiritual credit in claiming it.

The cure is to recognise that “belief” and “faith” in Scripture are much more to do with trusting people than with assenting to propositions. If we really trust God it becomes less significant whether we assent to the “truth” of some claim people say is made in Scripture. We are freed to think through what the apparent claim really implies. As Paul puts it: “Test everything, hold fast to what is good.” (1 Thess 5:21)