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Accommodation Done Wrong and Done Right

November 14, 2012

This post is part of a series that Jawbone (specifically Eric) is doing with David of Brick by Brick. There will be posts Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the two weeks this series is running. Posts will alternate between posts by Eric and posts by David.

In the last two posts I showed why I believe that divine accommodation is perfectly reasonable, a necessary belief, even, unless you want to reduce God to the sort of thing you can understand perfectly. In fact, you already believe in divine accommodation even if you don’t use the term. So is it time to cave and accept anything coming under that name? No. Divine accommodation does get misused. That’s part of the reason the concept is disliked by many evangelicals. (Of course, many evangelicals also dislike it because it challenges the Bible-as-textbook paradigm, which, let’s be frank, needs to curl up and die horribly.) The most frequent misuse of divine accommodation is to use it to just ignore chunks of the Bible. Don’t like the Canaanite genocide? (And, hang on a second here, if you said you DID like the Canaanite genocide we need to talk.) Just say “accommodation” and it disappears! You can be just like Thomas Jefferson and make your own Bible with a pair of scissors. Evangelicals, and non-evangelical conservatives, have an issue with that1. However, you can be perfectly comfortable with accommodation and take issue with this sort of usage of the concept.

Accommodation, as I suggested at the beginning of all of this, is divine baby-talk. God talks down to us. The key here is that God talks down to us rather than just lying or making up crazy stuff. What God conveys to us may be accommodated rather than exactly as it is but it’s not bogus. Simplified truth is still true. So if you don’t like the Canaanite genocide and you say “Accommodation!” it’s entirely reasonable for me to ask, “Accommodation of what?” What was God driving at that could not be said more plainly? For instance, let’s circle back to the authorship of Ecclesiastes. If I say that Ecclesiastes is not authored by Solomon, that this is accommodation, you might ask, “Of what?” I might say that by framing this depressing look at a life apparently devoid of active faith as the words of the man who had it all (but famously departed from following God in his later years), then the whole thing has more punch. Even if you were Solomon with all his stuff life still ends, your mark still washes away in the sands of time, and that’s that.

The point of accommodation is to communicate better. Things that are beyond us are simplified for us. If, instead, you view accommodation as a way to avoid listening then you have it all wrong.

[1] Non-evangelical conservatives would include Catholics and Orthodox, in case you were wondering. Oddly, evangelicals often don’t dislike the Jefferson Bible since they are often entirely unaware of it, believing, instead, in a version of history in which Jefferson was a good Christian and not a Bible-mutilating philosophical naturalist.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. November 14, 2012 12:58 pm

    “So if you don’t like the Canaanite genocide and you say “Accommodation!” it’s entirely reasonable for me to ask, “Accommodation of what?” What was God driving at that could not be said more plainly?” Good point. I think that many critics of purely allegorical readings of biblical narrative – i.e., allegorical readings that completely discarded the historical claims of the narrative in order to arrive at a purely allegorical reading – in the early church were driving at the same point. If God’s purpose in inspiring the Conquest narrative was simply to teach the ancient Israelites the importance of Torah observance etc., then why create such a detailed narrative out of whole cloth, as it were? According to these critics, the integrity of the later chapters of Numbers, Joshua, and Judges can only be respected by treating the Conquest as a real historical event that was caused by God at least partly for historical reasons (i.e., reasons that concerned the historical situation of ancient Israel), though of course this would allow us to draw some larger spiritual lessons from the whole affair. I think that this discussion raises some very difficult questions – when confronted with passages of Scripture that at least like bits of narrative or history on their face, how do we go about deciding their real genre? And how can Accommodation help us to do this?

    At any rate, I think that the story of the Conquest has a lot to teach us, and I think that it should be pondered by Christians frequently. It is a pity that concerns about the morality of the Conquest have encouraged so many believers to neglect the story altogether.

    • November 14, 2012 1:00 pm

      Er, that should be “…passages of Scripture that look like bits of narrative or history on their face…”

      • Eric permalink
        November 14, 2012 5:49 pm

        Yeah, one of these days I want to treat the Canaanite genocide at length. Actually, one article I’m preparing is actually vaguely useful in setting that groundwork.

  2. November 14, 2012 1:20 pm

    Haha! “…needs to curl up and die horribly.” Touche, and well said! I agree completely.

    • Eric permalink
      November 14, 2012 5:50 pm

      I didn’t see the need to be subtle at this point.

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