Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Herma and Herman Neutics on the History of Recent Biblical Interpretation

Actually, truth be told we found this on Lawson Stone's facebook page and was so taken with it we wanted to share it with you. It's broadbrush but we think its  good summary to keep in mind. (Used with permission.)

"First we killed God (divine inspiration) and were left with ancient literature; and
then we killed the authors and were left with just the "text" as autonomous literary art (new criticism);
then we killed the text and ended up with mere language (Structrualism);
then we killed the language and ended up with the Reader As God (Reader Response Criticism) and finally killed the reader and ended up with the text as a blunt instrument (Deconstruction, Post-modernity)."

That's not to say there's nothing to be learned from these other approaches. On the contrary, there is much of value in them. However, when biblical interpretation is reduced to one or other of them, they ill-serve us. Maybe it's time to rediscover the Divine Author of Scripture?

Resisting Trump with Revelation (32)

The Millennium: Rev.20:1-6

Revelation 20:1-3

Remember the flow of the story since the end of ch.11 in terms of enemies of God and God’s people: Dragon (ch.12)/Beasts (ch.13)/Seven Bowls of Wrath (chs.14-16)/Great Harlot (chs.17)/Destruction of Great Harlot (ch.18)/Destruction of Beasts (ch.19)/Destruction of Dragon (ch.20).  Each divine opponent is introduced and the destruction of each is narrated in reverse order. We are now up to the Dragon’s demise.

This structuring in parallel reverse order alerts us to see each of these events as a different aspect of the exhausting of God’s wrath with the seven bowls and not chronologically sequential scenes. Thus, it is likely that Rev.20:1-7 re-narrates the (almost) battle scene Rev.19:11-21 with its focus on the fate of the Dragon. He is bound by a mighty angel and locked into the abyss for 1000 years (or, following Revelation’s symbolism a complete time under God’s control).

What is this 1000-year period tucked in between these two accounts of the defeat of God’s supra-human foes? Most likely, the time in which the defeat of the unholy trio takes place. And when is that?

-Revelation 12:1ff. tells us it is Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection that constitutes the defeat of these three.

-Matthew 4:1-11: the temptation of Jesus is a decisive defeat for the devil at the outset of Jesus’ ministry.

-in Mark 3:27 Jesus speaks of the binding of the strong man (the devil) and the plundering of his house. This is a commentary on the temptation narrative. It uses the same “binding” language as in Revelation 20.

-in John 12:31-31 it is the cross that constitutes the defeat of the “ruler of this world.”

So, the binding of Satan represents his defeat by Jesus through the course of his life. That defeat is styled “so that he would deceive the nations no more.” We have seen throughout this study that deceit is the chief form of attack that makes us vulnerable to Satanic influence. Jesus broke the hold of that deceit over humanity thus binding him as the Seer relates. This accounts to for why the two Beasts are taken and destroyed without a fight because they are powered by the Dragon.

“That is, as with everything else that is mentioned beginning with 6:1, the fate of the Dragon must be seen in light of the victory already won, described in Revelation 5, by the faithful Lamb. The sense here is the Dragon’s lack of power echoes the picture in the Gospel of Mark of the “strong man” who is bound, easily, by the power of Jesus. Jesus’s power over demons points ahead to his power over the Dragon. The “thousand years” clearly is a symbolic number, though its precise meaning is unclear. Reading it in light of the rest of Revelation, probably the best interpretation is to see it as another symbol for the time we live in, historical time. It is equivalent to the 3 1/2 years, 42 months, and 1260 days that are the time of human existence on earth. This existence is marked by sin, suffering, and brokenness—as well as by faithfulness, healing, and celebration.”[1]

Even with the Dragon shackled and his illusions and lies unveiled and disarmed by Christ, kings and nations and people will apparently continue to believe them and remain in his service. Thus he will be “let out” (indicating God’s sovereignty) for a final act of judgment.

Revelation 20:4-6

Next John sees thrones and on the faithful people of God. The language of martyrdom here is symbolic, I think. I don’t believe John intends us to see two classes of Christians – those who lost their life for Christ and the rest. I believe he intends us to see the martyrs as all Christians, those who have given their lives in faithfulness to Christ whatever the cost. These sit on those thrones experiencing already the victory Christ has won over the devil, the beasts, and the harlot. These seems similar to Paul’s affirmation in Eph.2 that we have already been raised and seated with Christ in the heavenlies (the place of victory). This is the first resurrection. Those raised exercise the authority Christ has won for them and are will be priests for God .

[1] https://peacetheology.net/2013/09/13/revelation-notes-chapter-20/.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Jesus "Christ"

Herma and Herman Neutics on Jesus "Christ"

One way we domesticate the biblical message is to regard "Christ" as simply Jesus' last name. It is not. "Christ" means "anointed one," Messiah. The special agent God would send to rescue his people, restore them to world primacy, and rule over the nations. By calling Jesus "Christ" we signal we believe that Jesus of Nazareth is that special agent. Yet not in the way expected.

-he rescued his people by his nonviolent life, his death, and his resurrection, thus redefining power and the nature of his "people."

-he restores this people to world primacy equipping and commissioning them to love and serve others rather than lording it over them.

-he rules the nations as the victorious "slaughtered Lamb" (Rev.5:6), is such an oxymoron be allowed.

Yes, friends, calling Jesus the Christ means all this and more and we ought to be mindful of that meaning when we call him that.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

God or YHWH

Herma and Herman Neutics: God or YHWH

God is the generic name of the Bible's deity. YHWH (Yahweh) is the covenantal, personal name of that deity. He revealed it to Moses at the burning bush prior to the Exodus from Egypt and Israel becoming a nation under God. We ought to keep that in mind these days when we promiscuously throw around the word "God." It might behoove us to do as Israel did and call our God by his "given" name, YHWH. Especially as in the New Testament Jesus is often called "lord" or kurios, the Greek word that translates YHWH in the Greek Old Testament. [Actually it translates the word that Jews. spoke in place of the unutterably holy YHWH,]

God's purpose is to draw ever nearer to his people. Granting them his personal name YHWH was an unfathomable act of grace and intimacy. Israel revered and treasured it. Since his Son bears that same name it seems both churlish and foolish to spurn that gift and keep on blathering about "God." YHWH or Yahweh will be an acquired taste for us since we are unused to using it. But it will grow on us. And we just might grow a bit in our faith too! 

5 Reasons the Ascension Matters

[W]hy do heroes ride off into the sunset? Wouldn’t it be better if they stayed? Who wants a hero who skips town as soon as the crisis is over? The hard stuff is what comes next. Sure you beat up the big bad guy, but what about all the little ones? What about all the problems you didn’t fix? What about the daily grind of living in a broken world? Look at you on your cool horse. Who do you think is going to clean up all that poop it left behind?

Forget the sunset. I want a hero who sticks around, not one who takes off.

But isn’t that exactly what Jesus did? His people waited thousands of years for him to come. And finally, the Messiah arrived. Then….bam! He’s gone. One minute he’s there with the disciples, and then “he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight” (Acts 1:9).

He ascended. He left.

I can just picture the disciples standing there, staring into the sky like a bunch of kids watching all their balloons float away.

The Messiah rode off into the sunset.

What is that all about? Why wouldn’t Jesus stick around? You’d think a few thousand years would be enough waiting already. Did he really need to take off and make us wait longer? That’s like telling the kids on Christmas morning that they’ll need to wait until New Year’s to open their presents.

That’s just mean.

So something must be wrong with how I’m telling this story. The ascension isn’t a mean trick that God played on us. And it certainly isn’t about Jesus leaving us just when we needed him most. The way the Bible tells it, the ascension is fundamental to God’s story.

Luke begins the book of Acts with the ascension for a reason. In Luke’s story, which includes both the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, the Ascension is the critical hinge between the life/death/resurrection of Jesus (Luke) and the story of his Spirit-empowered people at work in the world (Acts). And that’s because, for the biblical authors, the Ascension is critical.

Here’s why.

1. The King Rules

It’s really with the ascension that Jesus establishes the Kingdom. Although Jesus lived his entire life in fulfillment of God’s Kingdom promises, the ascension is key. That’s why the Bible pictures the Ascension as Jesus going up into heaven leading a host of captives (Eph. 4:8), the defeated enemies of the Kingdom. And, arriving in heaven, he sits down at the Father’s right hand (Ps. 110:1; Heb 1:3). His rule has begun. The Kingdom is here! With his birth the King arrives. With his life, death, and resurrection the King redeems. With his ascension the King rules. If you stop short of the ascension, the story dies.

2. The Priest Represents

And, having returned to the father, Jesus also serves forever as our true High Priest (Heb. 9), the perfect priest who cleansed the people from their sins and will always represent them before the Father. The ascension breaks the cycle of God’s people continually needing a new priest to offer a new sacrifice. With the ascension, Jesus becomes our true priest forever.

3. The Spirit Comes

In one of the most amazing statements in the Bible, Jesus says that “it is to your advantage that I go away” (Jn. 16:5). I can think of several people who could make the world a better place just by leaving it. But Jesus? How can his departure be good for us? Because the ascension is when Jesus sends the Spirit to God’s people. His departure is good news because the Spirit is good news. So, having promised to send the Spirit once he was gone, that’s exactly what he did. After Acts 1 comes Acts 2. Jesus ascended and the Spirit came. Good news.

4. The People Serve

But now for an interesting question: Why did Jesus need to leave in order to send the Spirit? Couldn’t the Spirit have come while he was here? To be honest, I have no idea if God could have done things differently. Probably. So why do it like this? In general, I try to avoid answering “Why did God…?” questions. But I do wonder if Jesus ascended and sent the Spirit to empower God’s people so that we could do what we were always supposed to: image God in creation as his people. Jesus could have continued doing that for us. He does it far better than we ever could. But God’s plan was never to carry out our role for us. He wants us to do it. So I wonder if the ascension is about God creating space for his people to be his people and carry out their calling in the world. I don’t know, but I wonder.

5. The Future Shines

Finally, I think the ascension is a powerful reminder of our destiny. Here it’s important to remember that Jesus did not stop being human when he ascended. It’s not as though his humanity was a costume that he put on at Christmas and hastily discarded at the ascension. Jesus represents us as our High Priest forever specifically because he remains one of us forever. So the ascension points to our destiny as humans – ruling over God’s creation and manifesting his glory everywhere.

The ascension is not an optional add-on to the story, a piece that we may choose to discuss if we have any time after dealing with the more important parts. The ascension is critical. The ascension is when the King rules, the Priest represents, the Spirit comes, the People serve, and the future shines with the brilliance of God’s plan.

Jesus didn’t just ride off into the sunset, leaving us to clean up the mess he left behind. Jesus ascended to the right hand of the father so that God’s plans could be accomplished. Once we really understand that, we’ll agree that it truly was better for us that he go.

Resisting Trump with Revelation (31)

the great battle – revelation 19

Revelation 19:1-10: From the Destruction of Babylon to the Marriage of the Lamb

Celebration is the name of the game with the destruction of Babylon. The dragon’s proxy through the beast, the great city, has fallen. Swift and complete has been its destruction. That blood it shed of Jesus’ witnesses and followers has worked its strange alchemy destroying Babylon and, at the same time, opening the door for its redemption. Grimsrud is right: “God’s method of gaining justice in relation to Babylon through persevering love even in the face of violent bloodletting by the structures of domination. And this justice will result in the destruction of the powers of evil and the healing of the kings of the earth and the nations.”[1]

A “great multitude ( Rev.7),” the twenty-four elders, and the four living creatures join forces for a massive unrestrained display of praise and worship.

The judgment and destruction of the great city also heralds the time of the end, the marriage of the Lamb and his bride. Interestingly, ”his bride has made herself ready” (19:7). This dressing of the bride is detailed more in v.8: “to her it has been granted to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” In other words, the faithful practice of the way of Jesus’ nonviolent, self-sacrificial, servanthood has adorned the bride for her nuptials. That index of faithfulness we derived from chs.2-3 has been enacted by these believers (the faithful through the ages)!

The great city has been destroyed to make way for an even greater city, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from heaven as a bride adorned for her husband (Rev.21:2)!

Revelation 19:11-21: The (Never Fought) Great War and the Destruction of the Two Beasts

After the announcement of the nuptials between the Lamb and the Bride, the next scene opens with a rider on a white horse. “Faithful and True” is the name of its rider and he sallies forth in all righteousness for battle. With eyes like a flame of fire (1:14), adorned with tokens of royal authority, and a name no one else knows. Clad in a blood-dripped robe, his name is the Word of God. This rider is attended by his army wearing fine white linen (just like the bride, v.8) and riding white horses, symbols of victory. His only weapon is a sword coming from his mouth (1:16; 2:2). This is not a literal weapon, of course, but the word of God. “he treads (present tense, not the future as the NRSV has it) the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” Not too many more ways we can be told that this figure is Jesus.

The blood-dripped robe is of obvious interest. Even before any battle occurs Jesus’ robe is stained with blood. Whose blood? His own. In 14:20 we learned the winepress referred to the cross. And in 19:15 Jesus is presently treading this wine press. And this gives us the clue to why there is no battle depicted. It’s already happened! It happened definitively and decisively at the cross of Jesus (the past tense “treading” of 14:20 and derivatively in the present through the witness of those who live out Jesus’ way of nonviolent, suffering love. This love absorbs the worst the dragon and his minions can do to them and yet their shed blood turns out to be the undoing of the powers of evil and the salvation of the world.

So, no battle occurs. The Beasts are captured without further ado and cast into the Lake of fire. The humans the Beasts gathered as their army are “killed” by the rider’s sword (the Word of God). This is not a literal killing then, but a metaphorical way of speaking of their judgment. That the destinies of the Beasts and the humans who followed them are separated suggests that destruction is not the end of judgment for the humans, though they certainly are punished here for their infidelity to God. We will await further data before pronouncing on their end. The gory imagery heightens the seriousness of this judgment.

The Beasts disposed of, the Seer turns to the Dragon itself in one the most controversial passages in Revelation, ch.20.

Resistical learnings: love, the nonviolent, sacrificial witness to Jesus victory on the cross, has significant political clout. Not in God’s people running the world. And not in violent overthrow of existing power structures. Rather, in what I have called subversive counter-revolutionary activity. From the bottom up, the people of God subvert the attitudes, actions that underlie the patterns and systems that the fall has inscribed into creation. We seek to unveil the lies and illusions on which the political and religious Beasts have built their kingdoms. That’s why the Beasts are captured without incident. The rider with the sword has revealed the essential falsity of all they are up to and they are powerless to react.

[1] https://peacetheology.net/2015/07/21/revelation-notes-chapter-19/.

Cross and Resurrection in Christian Living

A couple of days ago Michael Bird wrote what I take to be the most important post I’ve seen in a long time. It’s titled “Living the Victorious Christian Life?” (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/euangelion/2017/05/living-victorious-christian-life/). It’s a no-holds-barred, no-quarter given expression of that “not much loved” tradition (Moltmann) of the theology of the cross. Scrubbed free of sentimentality and false expectations (“Does it mean having sin conquered, success in your ministries, a fruitful spiritual life, healthy relationships, onward and upward all the time?”), Bird takes the cross as the “means and model” of victory in the Christian life and then claims that “victory looks like defeat, it feels like despair, and it smells like death.” He follows with a litany a la 2 Corinthians 4:7-12 closing with a echo of Leonard Cohen that “Victory is a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.”

In the midst of all this living for God that “doesn’t look like victory . . . doesn’t feel like victory . . . doesn’t smell like victory,” God wins the victory through us. Calling to mind Jesus’ example, Bird concludes, “If you think victory looks like a ticker-tape parade, steady success, your best life now, then I do not hold high hopes for the longevity of your spiritual journey. But if you believe that victory looks like the cross, that it feels like defeat, that resembles being downtrodden, then you know that when you are wounded, despairing, and powerlessness, that God is still bringing his victory . . . You want a life or a ministry of victory, I suggest you pray that your back is strong enough to bear it.”

We have long needed a harsh dose of reality about what living for God entails in a world like the one we live in. Kudos to Bird for having the courage to do it for us. Yet, I fear he leaves us with only an imitatio Christi or an imitation of Paul as the rationale for what he asserts. He does claim it is God’s work in us that he seeks to clarify and set forth. Yet there is a startling omission – the resurrection!

All that Bird says about living for God is true, and we need to hear it. Yet what makes such a life possible, not to mention bearable, is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. That’s what makes the cross potent and fruitful as a way of life reflecting God’s love to the world. Bird doe mention the atonement as Christ’s victory for us but makes little of that afterward.

Paul, on the other hand, as Bird certainly knows, bases everything on the resurrection. The baptismal exposition he gives in Romans 6:1-4 is characteristic – we die and are buried with Christ in and under the water. Then we rise to new life with Christ emerging from the water. That new life, which is what Bird so clearly expounds, the life of the cross, is possible only because of Jesus’ resurrection. The theology of the cross is only livable because it is the form of the victory of the risen Jesus for those who follow him in a “cold and broken hallelujah” kind of world. In other words, the cross is only possible as a mode of living because of the resurrection just as the death of Jesus needed the resurrection to make it a “good” Friday.

I wish Bird had been clearer about this in his post. It would make it all the more powerful and convincing.  

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Living the victorious Christian life?

May 24, 2017 by Michael F. Bird 0 Comments

A central tenet in New Testament proclamation is that Jesus Christ has won a victory for his people, the famous Christus Victor theme of the atonement, where sin, death, and the devil have been defeated. You find this view beautifully enunciated by Paul in Col 2:13-14:

13 When you were dead because of the things you had done wrong and because your body wasn’t circumcised, God made you alive with Christ and forgave all the things you had done wrong. 14 He destroyed the record of the debt we owed, with its requirements that worked against us. He canceled it by nailing it to the cross.
However, I’ve been wondering of late, how does this express itself in practice? What does it mean to live a victorious Christian life? Does it mean having sin conquered, success in your ministries, a fruitful spiritual life, healthy relationships, onward and upward all the time?

What is it? What does victory look like when worked out in the daily exercise of ministry or even in the ordinary plane of human existence? In my mind, it is none of those.

If we think the cross is the means and model of victory, then, victory looks like defeat, it feels like despair, and it smells like death. I think this is precisely what Paul meant when he recounted the various trials he had faced in his apostolic career:

 Read more at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/euangelion/2017/05/living-victorious-christian-life/?utm_campaign=shareaholic&utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=socialnetwork

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Is Christ the Center of Scripture?

Herma and Herman Neutics: Is Christ the Center of Scripture?

Most Christians I suspect would answer “yes” in some sense to my title question. But that “in some sense” contains a diversity of meanings. Some of the key questions that move us toward an answer to what sense is Christ the center of scripture include:

-Does every passage somehow speak of Christ?
-Is he the “hermeneutical key” that unlocks the mystery and meaning of scripture?
-What about passages that seem to contradict what we know of God through Christ?

According to Luke, Jesus explains to the disciples after Easter, the two on the Emmaus road and those gathered in Jerusalem, everything in scripture that relates to him and what has happened to him (24:25-27, 44-49). In John Jesus asserts that the scriptures point to him (5:39-40). This does not mean, however, that every passage somehow speaks of Christ or to the circumstances of his life even if they point to him in more general ways.

If he is the “hermeneutical key” to the Bible it must be in some other sense than every Old Testament passage speaking about him. When we call him “Christ” we get the clue we need, I think. Christ, of course, is the Greek term for Messiah. Messiah is the figure many Jews expected God to send to redeem all his promises to Israel and rule the world. Messiah is, in short, the lynchpin to God’s plan for creation.

The Old Testament tells the story of the unfolding of this divine plan from creation to Jesus Christ (Messiah). The New Testament, from Jesus to Consummation. If Christ/Messiah is the center of scripture he is so as the center of the story of God achieving his eternal purpose. As the climax and culmination of this story/plan the OT does indeed speak of Jesus and the NT reflect on what Jesus accomplished.

To refine this analysis moves us to theological reflection on God’s plan and on the chief dynamic(s) that drive that plan and God’s action in the Bible. I can’t undertake that here, however. The main point of this piece is to make a brief case for Christ as the center of scripture as the center of the story of God’s achieving his eternal purpose through and in him. I offered a response to the first two questions but not the third about passages which seem to contradict what we know of God through Christ. That awaits a fuller development in a future post.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Resisting Trump with Revelation (30)

the fall of babylon (Revelation (18)

Rev.17 details the “mystery” of the harlot, the beast, Rome. Only to eyes of faith does the true reality of this figure disclose itself. If you take the blue pill the glitz and glamor, power and prosperity will be what you see. If you take the red pill, however, you will see what John shows you, for Revelation is the red pill par excellence. This illustration from the movie “The Matrix” is a perfect example of how this book works. It unveils, or x-rays, the surface of things so the community of faith can carry on with a sure sense of the deep truth of God and the world it has been called to bear witness in.

Rev.18 details in horrible detail the demise of this figure. A great angel announces Rom’s fall, declaring it a wilderness, a haunt of every foul thing, who has polluted and deceived the earth with it oppression, injustice, and cruelty (18:2-3.

Another heavenly voice calls God’s people out of Rome. This is not a physical retreat or withdrawal. That would not have been possible for the many slaves who were Christians. And it was really possible to escape Rome even if one physically withdrew because Rome is a spirit, a power, embodied in but not exhausted in the institutions and culture of the city set on seven hills. Rome is a spirit and must be combatted spiritually. Rome is the spirit of America. And it must be combatted spiritually. It is that spiritual struggle to which the heavenly voice calls us.

If you take the red pill Jesus offers you in this sermon  it becomes possible to develop a profile of the spirit of Rome/America as the spirit to be resisted.[1]

“Since the ideology and religion of empire almost invariably includes nationalism, militarism, and consumerism (that is, aggrandizing the merchants and reinforcing the dominating power of the nations), the call to “come out” is a call to resist, to create alternative, to practice refusal in the midst of Babylon.”[2]

1.       Most obviously, the spirit of Rome/America tries to live without God.[3]

This leaves a hole, a vacancy, at the heart of the culture that tries to live without God. Hence the vision’s description of Rome as a haunted wilderness (v.2).

2.       Sensuality (18:3,9).

Sexuality is inextricably tied to commerce. It is thus engaged in a reciprocal perversion of each other.

3.       Injustice (18:13).

The most horrible example is that Rome engaged in promoting slavery, human chattel. And what chills the heart even more is that this human “merchandise” is placed at the very end of the list – the least of what Rome is buying and selling!

4.       Commodification (18:13-19)

Everything is a thing that can be quantified and assigned a cost. After all, that hole in the culture’s soul must be filled by something and nothing can be off limits to buy or sell in that effort.

5.       Violence (18:21)

Violence was endemic to the spirit of Rome/America. It is endemic to the human project of trying to live without God (Gen.6:11). So endemic that her judgment entails the violence that has marked her life.

6.      Deception and Counterfeit (18:7)

This “Queen” feigns to rule over and determine the lives of all under her sway.  The Pax Romana (“Peace of Rome”) was anything but if you resisted its rule. The Vietnam maxim of “destroying a village to pacify it” comes out of Rome’s playbook.

7.       Idolatry (18:7)

Self-glorification, or I-dolatry (the rule of the imperial “I”), is the primal human sin. The animating center of peoples and cultures trying to live without God.

That’s what God’s people are to steer clear of, even while living in the heart of the beast. This is the spirit of Rome/America that creates much of the injustice, oppression, and hardship that most of the world lives with. Wherever this spirit takes root, Rev.17-18 come into play.

The true and living God never allows self-proclaimed surrogates to prevail for long. Even if they claim to rule in his name. Rome’s judgment falls in a single day (18:8), indeed, a single hour (18:8, 17)! Obviously, this means a short time not a literal day or hour.

The lone note of hope in this bleak scene comes in the last sentence: “in you was found the blood of prophets and of saints” (v.24). At first glance this seems an indictment of the hardness of heart that refused to hear and heed the message and life of God’s people. And it is that. But as we have seen in this book, the “blood” of the Lamb and his people has redemptive power. It just may be that Jesus offers a hint here that if his people live his way, sacrificial, loving, servanthood, the kings and inhabitants of the earth’s enmity might be graciously overcome in divine goodness and mercy. It is intriguing that when we see all these enemies of God defeated and destroyed in the next chapter, we find them coming in and out of the holy city, the New Jerusalem, in Rev.21!

[1] Johnson, Discipleship on the Edge, 302-303.
[2] Grimsrud, https://peacetheology.net/2013/03/09/revelation-notes-chapter-18/.
[3] This is the powerful argument of Adam B. Seligman’s Modernity’s Wager.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Huxley or Orwell in 21st c. America?

"What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to ...read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us."
― Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

Everythng You Need to KNow About the Bible is in Revelation 21-22!

Herma and Herman Neutics on Reading from the End

Perhaps you've been told not to jump ahead and read the end of a story, particularly a whodunit because it spoils the reading experience. And that mostly true, I suppose. But I heard Herma say one day, "You know, everything I need to know about the Bible is in Revelation 21-22."

"Surely you jest," I replied.

"No," she said, "not really. Maybe a little exaggeration but I think its true."

"Okay, I'll bite," replied Herman. "What do you mean?"

'It's pretty simple, really. We don't read the Bible primarily for aesthetic enjoyment (though we should probably do more of that than we do). We read it to gain some kind of direction or insight into faithfully for God, right? Well, then, our reading will be rather aimless until we know what God is doing and where God is taking us and history. Only if we know what God's up to can we live with direction, intention, and attention. Three things many of us lack or find difficult to sustain because we lack this knowledge."

"So, you're saying that we should start be reading Revelation 21-22?" asked Herman.

"That's right, Herman. Exactly!"

"Wish I didn't have to run off right now to work. Will you tell me more about this when I return?

"Of course, of course. Till then."

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Reading the Old Testament as a Christian Book

The Old Testament is the Hebrew Bible. At least taken by itself it is. But when the church added the New Testament to it, it became a Christian book. But what does that mean?  How does it effect the way we read it?

Herman likes to make a point of how much of it there is - way more than the New Testament. It must have some vital role to play in shaping Christian understanding if the church chose to put it together with the NT. That means we cannot ignore or neglect it as Christians started doing in the second century and in too many circles continue to do to this day. One has only to remember that this is what the Nazis did in Germany as part of their program of rebuilding the German nation of pure Aryan blood. We forget or neglect the Old Testament to our hurt!

So, how do we (Christians) read the Old Testament?

1. as part of the one story of God with his creation and creatures. It is chapter 1 of a 2 chapter story. The latter chapter is unintelligible without the first.

2. as Jesus put it, "salvation is from the Jews" (John 4:22). To experience salvation, then, means understanding it in light of what God did with the Jews and how all that is reconfigured (but not rejected!) in the light of Jesus.

3. the Old Testament is not Law to be contrasted and dismissed by the New Testament which is grace. The biblical pattern is not Law (OT) - Grace (NT) but rather Grace - Law - Grace with Law being a gift of grace to direct and illumine the people.

4. we read the OT forward to get its historical development as a Jewish text. We then read it backwards through the lens of the life/death/resurrection of Jesus to catch meanings and dimensions of the OT that could not be seen by its authors or heard apart from faith in Jesus.

5. to paraphrase St. Augustine, the NT is in the OT prefigured; the OT is in the NT transfigured.
Again, it is the eyes of faith that see the NT prefigure in the OT and the OT transfigured in the New in the light of Christ.

In sum, we value the OT as much as the New, find God's grace in it as well as in the NT, discover the foundation of the NT in the Old, and the ultimate meaning of the Old in the New.

Resisting Trump with Revelation (29)

The Great Harlot (Revelation 17)

As the bowls of wrath cycle brings home to us the finality, universality, and horror of divine judgment it concludes: “God remembered great Babylon and gave her the wine-cup of the fury of his wrath.” Here the vision brings this symbol in greater focus.

The historical Babylon is long gone at this point but its symbolic value as “the” Empire continued on and is here applied to Rome. For us today the Roman Empire is long gone but “Empire: has not vanished. We live in one today in America (which is our focus of concern). Babylon = Rome = America = future empires. That’s how we have to read this symbolism today.

We met the Beast in Rev.13 (actually the two Beast; one from the sea, another from the earth). They are the Dragon’s minions. “In the Spirit” the Seer is taken to the “wilderness”  and enabled to perceive the true nature of this Beast. “Harlot,” “prostitute,” and “whore” are what John sees. Ugly words; ugly reality. These terms are not directed to women or sex. They are intrinsic to the symbol of harlotry elsewhere in the Bible. That term can mean idolatry, and social, political, economic, military oppression. Probably all are involved here, though the emphasis is on the latter four realities.

This harlot sits on a scarlet beast creating an imposing though repugnant image. Blasphemous names pervade her. The worship of Rome and the occasional claims of some emperors to be divine ae chief among such monikers. Its seven heads and ten horns mean what we have seen them mean elsewhere in Revelation. The seven heads = the fullness of authority. The ten horns = fullness of strength and power. Adorned with all sorts of precious jewels, this harlot carries a cup, “a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her fornication.”

But more than that, there is a double drunkenness at work here. The kings and inhabitants of the earth are drunk with Babylon’s wine (V.2) and Babylon herself is drunk with “the blood of the saints and the blood of the witnesses to Jesus” (v.6). And drunk, each is liable to deception. Babylon deceives the kings and people to follow her. But the harlot herself is drunk and deceived by her own lies and illusions about who she is and what she can do. And both make themselves liable to judgment by these deceptions. And the outcomes of these drunken delusions are a big part of the judgment they receive.

The Demise of the Beast (17:7-14)

Another “mystery” is revealed here: this impressive and overwhelming entity, this beast, will be destroyed! I agree with Grimsrud that we probably cannot sort out the imagery here. Nor do we have to. The mystery is that this seemingly invincible reality will bite the dust! Certainty about God’s power and victory will always be in question. In our hearts and in the world at large. That’s why the so-called problem of evil has such bite. It directly contests this basic Christian truth. So the vision reinforces that here but in a way that reinforces God’s own peculiar way of dealing with evil.

Wisdom is needed here. To ally with the Beast will seem the most normal, natural, and desirable thing in the world. The “seven mountains” identify this beast as Rome, “the city set on seven hills.” While the imagery here is difficult and there is no consensus on it, the punch line is in v.13: “These are united in yielding their power and authority to the beast.” All earthly power and authority is rooted in the beast and his dragon patron.

Further, this beastly power will contest the reality, presence, and power of God and the Lamb. Earthly Empires and the divine Empire do not mix, oil and water-like. Yet astonishingly, the Lamb will conquer them! Here John harks back to one of favorite themes – conquering. And we are reminded that in Revelation, as well as the rest of the New Testament, conquering means living in the self-sacrificial loving way of Jesus. And that’s the way his people conquer too. “And they conquered him by the blood of the Lamb (Rev.12:11). God’s promised and certain triumph comes not through a mighty display of “shock and awe.” Rather it comes in the most unlikely and implausible way – through a people living by the power of One who gave his life for others and thus set God’s redeeming and reconciling love free in the world. And that’s a force none can finally withstand!

Revelation 17:15-18

But there is more here. The Beast rules over “many peoples and multitudes and nations and languages” (v.15). Now hears the stinger in the tail. These “authorities” who have given themselves to the Beast (Rome) will ultimately turn on it and do it in. Evil cannibalizes itself – that seems a law of history. “For God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by agreeing to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God will be fulfilled.” There is a moral order to God’s world that will not allow evil to triumph forever. Evil will turn on itself and destroy itself. Rome’s come-uppance will come several centuries hence – but it will come through powers that take advantage of the unraveling of Rome’s internal life. I encourage you to pray and seek wisdom concerning where our own country may be in this ineluctable process.

More on this beast/Rome/Empire in the next chapter!

How did political progressives think they were Anabaptists?

May 15, 2017 by 
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Let me tell you the story about how many politically progressive Christians came to think they were Anabaptists. (I’m mainly talking about post-evangelical progressives rather than traditional mainline progressives.)
To recap, I’ve made the argument that many progressive Christians believe they are Anabaptists when, in fact, they are Niebuhrians. This truth was exposed with the election of Donald Trump. The rise of Trump has politically energized progressive Christians in ways that are hard to reconcile with Anabaptist theology and practice. Again, this is no judgment of Anabaptist theology or of all the political activism of progressive Christians. Not at all. This is just a description of the disjoint between political theology and political praxis.
Most progressive Christians want to be politically engaged. Very much so. Especially with Donald Trump in office. But Anabaptist theology doesn’t provide great theological scaffolding for much of that political activism. Thus my advice: Seek out and embrace a political theology that provides better theological support. To my eye, I think that theology is Reinhold Niebuhr’s Christian realism.
But that raises a different question. Why did so many progressive Christians come to embrace Anabaptist theology in the first place?
That’s the story I want to tell you.
Read more at http://mennoworld.org/2017/05/15/the-world-together/how-did-political-progressives-think-they-were-anabaptists/

Art, Passion, and Breaking the Rules

Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist. – Pablo Picasso

Vincent Van Gogh is widely known today as a typically eccentric artist. He might not have invented Impressionism, but he was the first to paint stars swirling uncontrollably in the night sky, or to depict sunflowers as golden explosions, or the sky on fire above a wheatfield. His pictures were vivid, wild, daring, chaotic, full of bright yellows and deep blues.

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to visit the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and be surrounded by a room full of his work – SunflowersIrisesAlmond BlossomThe Bedroom and Potato Eaters – you’ll know the powerful visceral effect it can have.
And yet, if you go to the 2nd floor to the “Van Gogh Close Up” exhibit you’ll find scores of meticulous drawings of hands and feet made by Vincent when he was beginning to learn art. And then it dawns on you – Vincent didn’t simply pick up a brush and start painting A Starry Night. He took boring art classes. He submitted himself to the slow discipline of learning his craft.

I remember my father moaning about modern art and saying anyone could paint like Picasso (“It’s just cubes”) or Pollock (“You just splash paint on a canvas”). But you try. Your colorful splashes on canvas won’t be anywhere bear as sublime as Jackson Pollock’s.

It’s because the grand masters all submitted themselves to their craft. They learned the rules before they dared break them. Artist, Alexander McQueen once said, “You’ve got to break the rules, but keep the tradition.”

Read more at http://mikefrost.net/break-rules-like-artist/

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Herma and Herman Neutics on the Gospels

Why do we have four gospels rather than one? Apparently one gospel was not enough! You see, the gospels are more like portraits than photographs. When we treated them like photographs it made sense to try and blend them all together into in one mega-photo. Tatian, a second-century church leader, tried to do just that with his Diatessaron. We call it a harmony of the gospels. Problem is, you can't make everything in the gospels fit into one! Not without twisting some of the details and data out of shape.

After many efforts at making this one mega-photo, we finally realized there are four gospels for a reason. And we started to read them more like portraits. Portraits attempt the capture the artist's view of the subject. His or her choices of background, use of color, attention to some details rather than others all matter to a portrait. Different artists will do all this differently and will produce an interpretation of the subject that will differ from any other portrait. Attention to the details and themes that each gospel writer give us what we have in the Bible - four different portraits of Jesus. And apparently that what God wants us to have and what we need to follow Jesus faithfully.

So, resist the urge to harmonize the gospels. The differences between them are important. They are not each telling the same story. Same subject, of course. But four different ways of assessing the meaning and significance of Jesus. Value them for the portraits they give us. Don't worry about the differences. Chronological accuracy was not as important to ancient writers as it is to us. Telling the story of  an important person's life was to teach the readers lessons from that life were their chief purpose.

Monday, May 15, 2017

A New Writing Project Begins!

(Here's the first paragraph)

It All Began With a Typo!

A few days ago I was trying to type "Bonhoeffer" but ended up with "Bonoheffer." I laughed, corrected it, and went on. The misspelling stayed with me, however. A few hours later I was musing about what a conversation between Bonhoeffer and U2 might yield. Now, a few days later, I am beginning to undertake that project. I am a retired Presbyterian (USA) pastor, formed theologically and pastorally by Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and John Howard Yoder, musically by U2. I'm a generalist, not an expert in these matters; a pastor who has always felt called to stand with one foot in the academy and one in the church and one in the culture (yes, I know that's three feet, but bear with me!).[1] I’m not trying to create a work of scholarship nor break any new ground. Just host a conversation these two formative influences not only in my life but in the lives of many in our culture and world.

[1] If this sounds similar to Lesslie Newbigin’s “Gospel – Church – Culture” triangle that’s because it is. Newbigin has been a formative on me.

It's the Neutics (Herma and Herman) Again!

We promised some further thoughts on the Bible as a love letter to us. Here they are.

James McGrath, biblical scholar and popular blogger, says not. Recently he posted this on his blog.
Few assumptions prevent people from understanding the Bible as much as the idea that it is a love letter from God to them. Every part of that – that God wrote it, that it is a love letter, and that it is written with you in mind – is badly mistaken, and so the combination thereof creates a lens that radically distorts and obscures the Bible.” (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2015/10/the-bible-is-not-a-love-letter-from-god-to-you.html)
          On the other hand, no less a theologian than Dietrich Bonhoeffer apparently did so describe the Bible. One of his students remembers this from him:
"There, before the church struggle, he said to us at the new Alexanderplatz, with a simplicity like old Tholuck might have once used, that we should not forget that every word of Holy Scripture was a love letter from God directed very personally to us, and he asked us whether we loved Jesus.” (http://ftc.co/blog/posts/bonhoeffer-and-the-costly-enjoyable-kingdom)
So what do we say? Yea or Nay?
          McGrath dislikes all three parts of it: divine authorship, it being a love letter, and that it was written with the contemporary reader in mind. I suspect he has in mind a kind of “Jesus is my boyfriend” sentiment that some praise songs and worship practices invoke. I too would reject that sentiment.
          Bonhoeffer is a rather different matter, I think. He certainly thinks God is speaking to us through the Bible. In a letter to his brother-in-law in 1936 DB writes:
That is because in the Bible God speaks to us. And one cannot simply think about God in one’s own strength, one has to enquire of him. Only if we seek him, will he answer us. Of course it is also possible to read the Bible like any other book, that is to say from the point of view of textual criticism, etc.; there is nothing to be said against that. Only that that is not the method which will reveal to us the heart of the Bible, but only the surface, just as we do not grasp the words of someone we love by taking them to bits, but by simply receiving them, so that for days they go on lingering in our minds, simply because they are the words of a person we love; and just as these words reveal more and more of the person who said them as we go on, like Mary, “pondering them in our heart,” so it will be with the words of the Bible. Only if we will venture to enter into the words of the Bible, as though in them this God were speaking to us who loves us and does not will to leave us alone with our questions, only so shall we learn to rejoice in the Bible . . . . (http://www.desiringgodchurch.org/web/2010/07/30/bonhoeffer-approaching-scripture/)
          But for DB this divine speaking takes place in context of a living relationship between God and his human creatures. Just prior to the quote above he stresses that we must listen to God speaking in the Bible with an insistent humility actively seeking and even questioning what we hear. (Testament of Devotion, ed. By Geoffrey B. Kelly and E. Burton Nelson, 425) This is very different from kind of sentiment I suspected above lay behind McGrath’s quote.
          This kind of approach to hearing God speak in the Bible is the only way we will receive an answer to our questions. DB acknowledges this approach is different from academic reading (which has nothing wrong with it per se). It just does not get to the kind of relational listening Bonhoeffer thinks vital and necessary. Here we come to the love language. DB believes that God loves human beings. And that in that love God takes the first step toward us. And he engages us in the reality of our lives whatever that might be at any given time. This is the kind concreteness Bonhoeffer is famous for pursuing. Again, very different from a sentimental approach.
          So, at least for DB, we can say that God does speak to us in the Bible and that it is appropriate, even necessary, to call this relationship to the speaking God a relationship of love. But he adds following the quote above that God speaks where God chooses, a place, he writes, “that will probably be a place which does not at all correspond to my nature, which is not at all pleasing to me.” Bonhoeffer identifies this place where God speaks as “the cross of Christ.” And here is the death of that sentimental approach. What we hear from God will not always be warm, fuzzy, and comforting. It may be a word of devastating judgment. And yet still a word of love. “This is no place which is pleasing or a priori sensible to us. But this is the very place God has chosen to encounter us.” (Testament of Freedom, 426)
            DB even claims we should practice a “sacrifice of our intellect” in matters that remain opaque, perplexing, questionable. “And who would not in fact bring his or her own sacrifice of intellect into such a situation, that is, with the acknowledgment one does not yet understand this or that place of the Scripture, in the awareness that even this will one day be revealed as God’s own Word? I would rather do this than only to say, following some suitable opinion: ‘This is divine, that is human.’” (Testament, 426) Many would disagree with Bonhoeffer, not willing to sacrifice their intellect for anyone, even God. And many seem willing today to divide up what “following some suitable opinion” they deem the human (dispensable) element in the Bible from the divine.
          I believe here we have a watershed moment in our time. Can we allow God, as a loving parent, to have secrets beyond what we can fathom or accept and still embrace his Word as a whole as a word of love to us? Can we allow ourselves to say “I do not understand how God could do this and am sorely tempted to disregard it for my moral and intellectual well-being, but I will not. I will hold open my questions and trust that someday, someway, God will answer them.”
          Only such a relationship to God through Scripture as DB describes, or something very like it, can sustain the stresses of such a practice. But in that it is of a piece with our whole journey with God (as Bonhoeffer was already learning and would keep on learning in excruciating ways). Only the parental love of God can sustain us. Even if that love outstrips our knowledge or stretches our morality, or is the tough love of judgment and wrath. This is the genius of DB’s approach. And it is this we need to recover in our time. An insistent, humble confidence that God speaks to us and bids us follow him into the darkness of a cruciform existence that paradoxically turns out to be the light of the world (however dark it may be for us at this or that time).
          I don’t know whether McGrath would agree to any of this or not. But with Bonhoeffer I continue to believe that in love God speaks to our darkness and distrust in the Bible calling us to deeper communion and commitment as befits a genuine family.