In this episode John and Gregg begin by discussing Gregg’s upcoming trip to Switzerland. Gregg explains that he will be working remotely while he and his family spend the summer at Swiss L’Abri. L’Abri is a Christian organization where John and Gregg met in 1999. At the time Gregg was agnostic and John was taking a hard look at what he believed.
John and Gregg go on to discuss the aqedah, the “sacrifice of Isaac” as written in Genesis 22. John notes that the story is part of his Christian consciousness and is the “gold standard” of trusting God. John further notes his reservations about Gregg’s perspective on the story.
Specifically, Gregg explains his view along two lines. First, he notes the importance of understanding God as both sovereign and parent, and how the tension between these perspectives is essential when reading the Bible. So within the Abraham / Isaac story we need to see how abhorrent a thing it is from a father’s perspective to sacrifice one’s son, and how there are several instances in the Old Testament where God rebukes Israel for (and seems contradictory of) God’s own command to Abraham!
By contrast, John has always understood this account to focus on God’s sovereignty with the idea that God can do whatever God wishes because “God is God” and “God’s ways are not our ways”–the idea that even though God is commanding Abraham to kill his own son, it’s somehow part of God’s bigger plan and must be okay because “God is God and as humans we cannot understand nor question God’s ways because they are beyond us.”
Gregg sees a parallel example with the need to view and relate to God both as sovereign and as parent by considering John Piper’s article How can a sovereign God love? Here Piper, a staunch Calvinist, claims that his faith would not be altered if God condemned his sons, who are ostensibly Christians, to hell. Gregg demurs: to view God solely as sovereign (and so as “capable” or as “having the right” to condemn whom God chooses, whether by way of sacrifice or hell) is to completely ignore that God is love, and that we are children of God. It also ignores the larger picture of God’s nature as fleshed out in the biblical texts (for the sake, is it were, of prioritizing the single aspect of “sovereignty” over all others). But the Bible does not support this.
So Gregg notes that the “call” or “test” of child sacrifice is not a motif–it does not recur anywhere in the Old Testament. Rather, Gregg speculates that this scenario holds some thematic value related to the founder of a faith that would act both to legitimate Abraham as founder (and so legitimate the Hebrew faith as a faith) and yet to present this faith–and YHWH as its divinity–as distinct from the ancient Near Eastern divinities in important ways.