Why Abraham Was Right: A Reply to Rachel Held Evans

Rick Phillips

It is grievous to see how brazen the progressive evangelical movement has become in assailing not merely the inerrantist view of Scripture but now even Scripture itself.  The most recent installment comes from Rachel Held Evans in a post titled, "I Would Fail Abraham's Test."  She refers to one of the last episodes in the biblical account of the patriarch's life, in which God commands him, "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering" (Gen. 22:2).  One might think that Evans writes to lament the weakness of her faith compared to Abraham's.  Instead, she celebrates the superiority of her refusal to do what Abraham did, since from her moral perch God is wrong and disobedience to him is right. 

 She summarizes: 

"This is a hard God to root for.  It's a hard God to defend against all my doubts and all the challenges posed by science, reason, experience, and intuition.  I once heard someone say he became an atheist for theological reasons, and that makes sense to me.  Once you are convinced that the deity you were taught to worship does evil things, it's easier to question the deity's very existence than it is to set aside your moral objections and worship anyway."

There are some obvious questions to ask Mrs. Evans.  The first is where she derives her moral objections to the actions of God.  She later states that her stance comes from "being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ," as if Jesus had some objection to the God of the Bible.  What Jesus is she referring to?  Is he a Jesus of her own projection or the Jesus of Scripture?  Since Evans, in the same article, denounces the idea of Old Testament holy war and the New Testament doctrine of hell, does she accept or reject the Jesus of Revelation 19:11, who sits on a white horse "and in righteousness he judges and makes war"?  Is this her Jesus, or does she decide who Jesus is, just as she decides what God is allowed to do?

Speaking of Scripture, we ask a second question.  What does it mean to be a Christian who responds to the Bible with antipathy and condescension?  Jesus declared, "Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life" (Jn. 5:24).  According to Jesus, faith in him is faith in his Word.  Is not his Word revealed in Scripture?  Jesus said his followers must believe "him who sent me," i.e. the God of the Old Testament, who Evans purports to revile and reject.  Is Evans' Christianity something different than what Jesus described?  I say this not to attack Mrs. Evans, who I do not know, but to express concern for what seem to be the inevitable implications of her declarations.  Is she not abandoning what the biblical Jesus describes as Christianity for a different religion based on "science, reason, experience, and intuition"?  As I read Evans, and her apparent hermeneutical mentor, my old professor Peter Enns, they are not at all charting new territory of spiritual authenticity but serving up old-fashioned unbelieving liberalism, which according to J. Gresham Machen is simply a different religion from biblical Christianity.

Having asked some questions regarding Rachel Held Evans' view of God, let me take my own stab at this subject.  For I pray that I would pass Abraham's test and I applaud Abraham for doing so.  Evans states that while she is not yet a mother, she knows "deep in my gut" she would sooner turn her back on God and be struck dead than obey such a command.  Writing as the father of five dearly beloved children, I counter that Abraham was right to obey and I would hope to do likewise in his place.  Why was Abraham right?  Let me briefly offer four perspectives and reasons: 

1. Because as the one true and living God, the Lord has the right to command whatever he wills.

Evans complains that this argument amounts to saying "that God is power" and thus that his might makes right.  That is not exactly it.  Rather, God the Creator has the sovereign right to dispose with all that he has made.  I, the creature, have no right to deny him and I stand justly condemned if I do.

2. Because as a wretched sinner I have no basis for judging God or pitting my wisdom against his. 

It is easy for Evans to sit at her computer screen and speak of defying God.  But when actually faced with the divine majesty, the biblical writers had an entirely different experience.  Faced with the vision of the thrice-holy deity, the prophet Isaiah was gripped not by God's moral deficiency but with his own: "Woe is me!  For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips; and I dwell in the presence of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!" (Isa. 6:5).  Isaiah's believing response caused all thought of denying God to flee from his mind.  Instead, he pleaded, "Here I am! Send me" (Isa. 6:8).  This is the authentic spirituality of a believer who actually meets and knows God.

3. Because my children belong to God more than they belong to me

To view my children otherwise is to make idols of them.  My own parental authority derives from God's ultimate authority, and my love for them gives me no cause to refuse a higher allegiance to the God who made both parent and child.  Christian parents do give up their children to God in faith and with tear-filled praise.  We do it when we send our sons to fight in a just war to defend the weak, or our daughters to travel to dangerous distant lands to spread Christ's gospel, or when the ultrasound reveals that our child is not to be born after all but must be committed into the hands of a trusted Savior God.  In all these, and other heart-rending situations, our motto must be that of Job 1:21: "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord."

4. Because in Jesus Christ I learn what Abraham knew before he obeyed, that I can trust the God of the Bible to save by a marvelous grace

As a Christian, I read Genesis 22:2's command to take "your son, your only son, whom you love" and offer him up to death, thinking not of what God demanded from Abraham but of what God was planning to give to Abraham and his children in faith.  There is ample reason in the text to see that Abraham understood this well (see Gen. 22:5, 8).  When Abraham offered up Isaac, the angel said, "Now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me" (Gen. 22:12).  The Christian reads this with tear-filled eyes directed to the cross, where God not only offered but actually sacrificed his son, his only beloved Son, for me.  I respond not in revulsion but adoration: "Now I know that you love me, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me."  Augustus Toplady taught us the answer that was Abraham's motive for obeying God's command and the reason why Abraham's obedient faith was right: 

"Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all."