In my last post I presented the idea of God as a gradualist. He works on social reforms incrementally — at the speed of humanity rather than the speed of divinity. The incarnation is the ultimate example of God “walking at our pace.”
This post is about God’s work on the problem of slavery.
Main Point: The Bible shows forward progress on slavery and thus points ahead to an ideal of freedom and equality, but without realizing that ideal in its own time period.
- The Bible takes as a starting point the cultures of the ancient world, where slaves were treated brutally.
- The Bible then significantly upgrades the conditions for slaves in ancient Israel and the church, providing them with sabbath rest, seventh-year release (for some), restraints on harsh treatment, refuge for runaways, and judgment against traders. This puts the Bible out ahead of the cultures of its day.*
- But slavery is still not eradicated. That is left to us. God is still working on the problem of slavery, and he’s called the church to be his primary instrument of reform.
Redemptive-movement: This gradual way of working on social problems is sometimes called a redemptive-movement because it takes the “redemptive” spirit of the biblical texts and projects it forward (the “movement”) into the work of the church.
So we are back to gradualism. God works on the problem of slavery incrementally, at the speed of the church, rather than simply snapping his fingers and eradicating a social ill by divine fiat.
* * *
Note: No doubt God does in fact work directly on the issue of slavery in ways we cannot know — at least in restraining (if not eliminating) evil. This may be happening in the sex-slave industry, for example.
Even so, his main instrument is still the church. The flawed, often slow-moving church.
The critical question is: Are we in the church cooperating with his work?
- Is God a Moral Monster? by Paul Copan
- Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals by William Webb. *See pp 74-76.