Posts Tagged With: Abraham

Functional Election: 3 Hints for not misreading Scripture

old-man-reading-1882Reading the Old Testament as Christian Scriptures poses interesting surface challenges for Christians. I have been observing over the last eight years that students find the particular topic of a chosen people very hard to grasp correctly.

However, when we approach the scriptures with the inductive method, and with a rich historical context, and follow that up with going through Chronologically so that the many stories unfold neatly into one large story of Gods ongoing redemptive work then we can reach the New Testament with far more clarity about the world of the Jews, Greeks, and Romans. Then we already understand that there was a specific purpose for which the people of Israel where chosen for. How do we read and study the OT incorrectly.

Three things keep us (particularly western people) from reading scripture right. The three things that I will explain are actually all about how we impose our own Modern thinking on to the text. We think as Individuals, we think as Materialists, we have Greek thinking categories. We then impose our western way of thinking onto the text and miss the point that the authors were trying to make. When we miss out on what the author truly meant then we miss out on what exactly God was communicating to the Original Audience. When we miss that we miss out on what God is saying through the text to us today. How does reading the text as individuals impact our reading of scriptures.

Most are completely aware when reading the bible that it is a very old piece of literature. But most are completely unaware of the implications of that truth for how we aught to read and understand scripture. If we really grasp that the bible is very old and that its original recipients thought and lived very differently from us we would not take so much ‘out of context’. For instance most people do not know that people in the Ancient world were not individualistic. At least nothing like are today in the west. In fact in many cultures around the world people do not think so much in terms of individual success and identity. Instead the ancient thought and valued group identity, the success of the group, and importantly the purpose of the group. For Israel they very much learned to value group identity, and group success. It was not however understood correctly in terms of their group function or purpose. They felt strongly that they were God’s people, and that as God’s people they would be blessed and prosperous. The purpose was for many Jews was that through the power and might of the ethnic group of Israel nations would turn to their God and be humbled by him and by his people. Unfortunately they did not always conceptualize what God himself promised to Abraham that God’s peoples function was to achieve all this for the sake of God’s redemptive purposes in all people. That when the nations turned to the God of Israel then the nations would be joined to that family.

Thus to understand Romans more correctly, as many have sought to do one must understand what was important to Paul, to other Jews of his time in Rome, and to the rest of that ancient culture. Paul was remembering the Jewish stories of how God had intervened in the world and spoke to righteous men of Israel, how he gave his law, how he delivered them from slavery, and then back into slavery until they themselves would turn back to him. For the chosen people had failed. They were the ‘chosen’ people for a specific purpose, and then they failed God sent them into exile until again he would act on their behalf. God chose to do these through a special person, Jesus, God incarnate, a high priest, a great teacher, an example of righteousness, a judge, a high priest, the atoning sacrifice, the embodiment of resurrection hope for all people. Jesus was the Jewish messiah and the God over all. Romans when read correctly with more than just individuals in mind keeps us from reading the book just as a way for an individual to get saved and instead as a book that speaks of the ongoing work of Gods Saving intervention for humanity. Romans is about how God actual did act on behalf of his people to bring them redemption and how that redemption and salvation is available to all people irrespective of their age, sex, ethnicity, or social status.

The gospel is that Salvation has come into the world for all who believe, confess, or cry out for it. When we see scripture in a more communal way we experience the message of the books a little closer to how the Original audience would have. Reading a book otherwise leads to an over emphasis on personal salvation, so that a theology that allows me as an individual to prove my salvation and eternal destiny is all that really matters to a ‘believer’. Paul thought very differently. I believe that he felt that the story of God’s Salvation is one in which when you confess faith in the messiah then your life begins to reflect that kind of belief. We were not meant to use Paul to define our salvation so we can justify our complacency. Paul had a more fluid concept of God’s Salvation. It was not to be something we could place neatly into boxes. This part is Justification, that part is Sanctification. Somehow God’s Salvation works out when the people of God are identified by their Faith in God’s Faithfulness, and then when the actually begin to live faithfully as God’s people in a world full of Adam’s thorns, and thistles. It is the creation itself that is waiting for the ‘revealing of the sons of God’. In others words, Salvation just begins when people receive by faith their atonement in Christ. Then they must begin the task of cross bearing themselves. Paul says, that the sons of God will continue to groan with creation as we await our own resurrected bodies. Because we think with sharp categories, and because we think as individuals, almost selfishness or egotistically, and because we have adopted post-enlightenment categories of physical spiritual worlds. False categories of gods and spirits (and other obviously made up stuff for the ignorant and wishful thinkers) vs the category of reality and hard science (and other things that can be trusted with certainty).

We then, unconsciously, impose this onto scripture. For instance, the church in America gets obsessed with debates over the material reality of Genesis 1-2. It is important to Christians that the events of Genesis 1-2 are historical. That is fine, nothing wrong with that. Unless you then are going to wrongly impose modern materialistic science onto Genesis 1-2. As if Genesis 1-2 was God’s revelation of the material existence and how it was all made. In doing this, Evangelical Christians in America often miss probably the most fundamental lesson from Genesis one and two. Of course, it seems even a little pretentious to me to imply that I myself know what is the most fundamental truth in such a vital piece of scripture. However, I believe that for the original audience of Genesis, Israel needed some clarity about their purpose, vocation, or function as a nation. It should not be a surprise then that when God finally brings Israel out of Egypt, and when they arrive at Sinai, that God says you are going to be a priestly nation. In that simple phrase God is, in short, informing them of their function. Priests served both God and the people. Priests, acted as intermediaries between God and people. This was Israel’s task before all other nations, to be the “city on a hill”, a “light to the nations”, and the “salt of the earth”. In other words Israel, God’s chosen people, is not to be understood even materialistically as the one people who are God’s, period. But instead, Israel is God’s people who have a specific vocation in and for the world.

Again, Israel’s status = Special People with a special Task. This definition of Election then emphasizes Israel’s Function. This is why for me I have begun using the word Election with the word Functional in front of it. I believe this because I think himself thought of Israel’s Election in this way. In fact he said that not all who are descended from Israel are Israelite. That is because for Paul in order to really be an Israelite or a Child of Abraham you needed to have Faith in Gods Righteousness. That Faith made you a part of the Family of God and his Covenants and then as a member of the Covenant Elect you had a job to do, a part to play. Paul’s election when it is uninfected by individualist, materialist, categorized thinking is more fluid and free from simply being about those who are “Saved” from Hell, or for Heaven later on. The Elect instead those who God Called, Justified, and Glorified for the sake of the ongoing work of bringing kingdom, creating life, and co-reigning with God. Many Christians today believe that because the profess Faith in Christ they are saved. We believe that this is good theology. This is shorthand theology. What Paul would have said to that statement is that we are saved when in professing faith in Christ, we live in unity with brothers and enemies, when we care for the needs of others, when we suffer with those who suffer, and when we maintain hope even in the face of awful evil because God has overcome and will restore all things in heaven and on earth and nothing can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus. This describes the ongoing work of Gods Salvation, thus Gods elect are to be a functional elect, who show the sings of those who God is saving and using for the saving work in all of his creation. This kind of “Functional Election” does not need to be thought of as just another kind of legalistic or works based salvation theology.

Just look at how screwed up the hero’s of faith, both in the old and new testament. Abraham, Jacob, and David all had serious blunders and foolish behaviors. But that did not matter, God had so much grace and mercy for them. They realized this and it strengthened their faith. So then it is not by works that we are “right’ before a holy and righteous God. It is by his faithfulness, his grace, and mercy. But what does it mean to be a person of God, an Elect, a chosen one of God, it means that God has a strong purpose for your life. It means you have a calling, a task, and a job to do. That built on the foundation of God’s faithfulness we place our own faith, and on that foundation we live, we act, and we offer our own bodies as a living sacrifice to the service of God and people. We seek to be the Elect not simply to enjoy the benefits of the elect. Like Abraham’s children in the flesh, for about a century they sought to be the “people of God” for the benefits. Many Christians are so because they want to benefits. They want heaven and not hell. But being the people of God, professing faith is only the beginning of what it means to be the people of God. That is making a sacrifice yourself to love in the same self sacrificial way that Jesus himself did. This teaching is very hard. But it is this kind of thinking that can at last begin to transform and renew our thinking. So that we are not conformed by the world, by materialist thinking, by individualist thinking, and by placing things neatly in their categories so we can feel better about ourselves. The Good News is that there are in fact great benefits in being human because God has made salvation available to the human race. So don’t feel bad for coming to faith in this way. But now that you have allow yourself to be transformed in your thinking so that the name of God will not be cursed by those who look the Christian ‘elect’ as nothing but hypocritical or ignorant. Instead we need them to see Functional Christians. Those who’s actions reflect Christ’s self sacrificial love to the world around. We like the Jews of Paul’s day have brought disgrace to the name and character of God.

Suggested Reading (on topic):

Ancient Near Eastern Thought Relating to the Old Testament – John H Walton

Paul and the Faithfulness of God – N.T. Wright

Escape from Reason – Francis Schaeffer

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Categories: Bible, Church, Context, Culture, Doctrine, Faith, New Testament, Old Testament, Romans, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Law, Jesus, and Paul: Part 2

I felt like a summarized clarification of the first post on the Law from the angle Matthew’s Gospel and Paul’s Letters. Since part two is actually long over due. We will recap and get back to the topic for a third part.

There are three main ways I would propose you begin looking at the differences in Jesus statements about the Law from Paul’s statements.

Matthew 5:19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

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Galatians 3:10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”

Point 1 of 3: Jesus was not speaking about how to gain Salvation. He was primarily speaking on how when we understand the law and teach it well, it brings the kingdom of God. Jesus felt free to discuss the ongoing purpose of the law for the ‘his people’. Whereas, Paul felt obligated with his letter to the Galatians, to warn that relying on works of the law for salvation brings a curse. For if that was the way to salvation there would be no way for any person to abide by all the things written in the law.

Point 2 of 3: Both Jesus and Paul dealt not only with some misconceptions about the law as a means of attaining salvation. They dealt with the ‘other’ law. The Oral Laws that in the first century had taken on as much or more authority as the written law. The nature of the oral teachings was that they were new laws laid down by rabbis that kept people from breaking the laws of Moses. These Oral teachers felt they were doing Israel a service by making sure no one would break the Mosaic law. But the problem with that is they did not teach how to do the Mosaic law. Moses was clear that the whole heart of following the law is about loving God and people. Jesus said this because people had not realized how far off they had got from the heart of the true law given by God. Paul and Jesus had these things in mind when they ministered to the new church.

Point 3 of 3: The law is made of the books of the entire Torah. In the Hebrew bible in the time of Jesus and Paul the Law was the torah. That means Genesis too. It is clear that there exists an ongoing purpose of the law for the church. We the church and the Hebrew people were never intended to attempt to follow the law in order to achieve our own salvation. The reason the Law remains a part of our revelation of God, Man, and all of life is for the ongoing development of individuals and communities who are learning to love God and love people. Or in Jesus’ words, the Kingdom.

Much more could be said, for part three will will look more in depth at the idea of Gods Faithfulness to Covenants. The Law being only one of the 5 possible covenants located in the OT. So really the ongoing discussion will be to extend the third point here in this post. It could be said like this, “The goal of the covenants (Law) was that people would get saved. The means of Salvation is something that gets worked out in the language of the covenants. Particularly in the Abrahamic Covenant it is understood that the moment of Salvation for Abraham came when he believed in Gods promise. In other words Faith in the God who makes covenants and is faithful to them makes men righteous. Salvation becomes available to more when both God and man show faithfulness to the covenant. Cool thing is, God proved his faithfulness to the covenants and brought completion to them by introducing a brand new covenant that embodies the old ones. In other words, we still have a covenant in which we are called to be faithful to. A covenant built firmly on the faithfulness of God, and not man. The new covenant is both a free gift and a big responsibility for those who receive it. There is still much to learn from previous covenants that helps us gain clarity about the current one.

We will go more in depth in the third part.

Categories: Bible, Context, Doctrine, New Testament, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Art & Bible: Part 1

This is the first of a series of posts on Theology, World View (both ancient and modern, east and western), and my own Art. I would not consider myself an artist really but I enjoy it. I’ve no training or art classes. But sometimes I will be spending hours studying and the urge to draw something comes over me and once I actually sit down and draw or maybe paint something my brain feels better and I am able to continue working. So I have two projects. One of them is an Old Testament project to teach the book of Genesis in Salem Oregon in the spring of 2015, and then to teach the book of Romans for the first time in Tijuana, and in Honolulu with the CSBS in the spring of 2015 as well. I have piles of resources I will be going through and projected hours of time in study. I want to make a plan now to produce no less then 20 posts here on bibleontap over the coming months that include my art and theological and cultural ramblings from this or that area of my study in both Genesis and Romans. These two books I believe are two of thee most essential texts of scripture one could set out to study. Please join me and give your feedback along the way.

ST.Paul

This particular drawing is one I did in just a couple of minutes and it is what gave me the idea for this blog roll. I had already spent about 4-5 hours grinding away and then I just thought I want to draw a picture of the Apostle Paul. I have done this sort of thing before in prep for teachings as it helps me focus and connect more with the particular author or character I am studying.

When the church first reached Rome it was mostly a Jewish thing. The first churches of Rome were likely held in Synagogues and I doubt we would be able to tell the difference between a strictly Jewish synagogue in ancient Rome and a Christian one. Crazy thought. But then in 49 AD Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome. The church in Rome, in a blink of an eye, now becomes a mostly Gentile church. Then during the reign of Nero in 54 AD they were allowed back into Rome. It is a post 54 AD church in Rome that Paul writes his famous epistle to. The disunity of the church is apparent in his writing. His central focus is the work of God throughout history climaxing in his work of Christ. Though Romans is one of the most generally theological books it is not a book in which he specifically set out to be theological, or to write a letter about how to be saved. Many going along the whole “Romans Road” concept with Romans believe it to be a book that one would study to be sure how to be saved. The typical answer for many is now a compact definition based off of the passage in Romans, “Saved by grace through faith…”. Though this can often mislead folks. You might say to some one, this is how you get saved. Have faith. Someone might respond, “well, I’m not sure if I can right now. I don’t think I am ready to have faith.” In other words, just that line stripped out of context gives no hope to mans situation. Paul did not set out to give the church a simple formula for salvation. He set out to tell the story well. He begins in Adam, and explains Abraham, Moses, Egypt, David, Prophets, Exile, and more climaxing of course in the part of the story where God shows up and finishes the great work of salvation for all. This is less likely to mislead folks today. People need to know the story of how God did the work of salvation. Faith then is not a human effort to believe in something. It is simply what happens when people are confronted with the wonderful story of Gods work of salvation through out history and in Christ. Faith happens when people gladly receive and believe in the wonderful story.

Often the approach to a book like Romans (or the bible for that matter) goes like this; “What must I do to be saved?” And we force the conversation with scripture and the interpretation of it around that question. But that is really the wrong question to begin with. Many well meaning theologians all across Christian history have attempted to give answers to that question rather then present a better question as a starting point. The right question might then be; “How has God brought Salvation?” Coming at it in this way opens the door to really see the power of what Paul is doing throughout the book. More then ‘theology’ as we think of it Paul is being sort of Hebrew. He is telling a story of the one Gods redemptive work in the world.

Categories: Art, Bible, CSBS, Doctrine, Faith, Genesis, Romans | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Genesis Book Overview

So for the Teaching School (Tutus Project) I am doing a decided to do some Book Overview’s. Starting with Genesis I will be working with some friends producing 20-30 minute book overviews for each book of the bible.

Categories: Ancient Near East, Bible, Context, Doctrine, Egyptian Mythology, Genesis, Old Testament | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How the OT helps develop the Meta-Narrative for the Coherent Mission of the Church

Metanarrative

So just in case we need another reminder of the purpose and need for the churches ongoing mission here it is. Also by way of introduction we consider the current world views of our western culture. Much of what people believe today is built what might be called a meta-narrative. This is a basically a story. A story that people have been telling for some time. A story that holds significance because it says something about reality and who we are and where we are going. A meta-narrative is a single story that encompasses all the diverse stories and makes them into one story. The Romans and Greeks were great at telling stories and reworking the stories of other peoples into their own larger and more excellent story about reality and destiny. For us the stories we find ourself wrapped up in might be the story of Human Progress. This is an enlightenment meta-narrative that sought to do away with God, and religion, and superstition, and free man so that progress could have its way and we have been on this track for some time now. Often you will here people speak of this anonymous progress or they will speak of religious people as hold it back.

Another common meta-narrative you might here of is the overarching idea that we are all headed towards a better modernization. That is that capitalism, globalization, and better economy will heal all the worlds ills. Countries are buying into this, it is a western idea. Certainly better economy is a good fruit of something going right in a nation. This meta-narrative clashed very hard with Marxism not many decades ago, and today it clashes hard with Islam. These in short are the two projects of world domination of our day. The western ideal and story of global economic progress. And Islam’s story culminating with the rise of radical militants who got everyone’s attention on September 11 2001. The opposing meta-narratives have never more clearly been at such odds then on this day on 2001. So what is the true Christian meta-narrative? We need to be asking that and re-familiarizing ourselves with it because of the onslaught of new ideas and old ideas pressing in on us and especially on the young or new generations. What story are they going to live by? What should be extremely obvious is that Christ is the central part of our story. The gospel assumes the finished work of Christ but also acts as a metonym for ‘the whole story’. So its clear that the churches mission is to get the story out so that people will meet Christ and receive their salvation. I want to focus in on the meta-narrative. In other words how do we tell many stories and still be telling one story.

I wish to submit very briefly an overview of an overview. In case the attention spans are lacking for you readers. I want you to get the meat of this in order to garnish your comments or questions.

There are three biblical thematic trajectories I want to point to.
1. Abraham and the trajectory of Blessing
2. Israel and the trajectory of Revelation
3. David/Zion and the trajectory of Rule

Each of these were singled out by God for a larger purpose. They are individual stories but they do not stay that way. Because the blessing on Abraham, was not just for him but to enable him and his offspring to be a blessing to all the nations of the earth.

Likewise, Gods revelation of himself was not merely for one nation Israel but by choosing one nation God would make a name for himself and reveal himself to the rest of the nations of the earth.
When God chose a people he also chose a place, and eventually he chose a representative from the tribe of Judah who would act as his deputy on earth. David became Israel’s second King and God made a covenant with him. David’s offspring would continue to serve as Gods representatives. Because they ended up failing at this role ‘messianic hope’ grew and the prophets began to speak of one like David, a son of God who would continue to establish Gods rule not only in Israel, on mount Zion but over the rest of the kings and nations of the earth.

So then we see that each time God singled out an individual, a nation, a place, it was for the purpose of extending that blessing, that revelation, that rule of God to the ends of the earth. Its like Gods little seed projects. Because God was seeking not to interfere with his own design of man, making him like himself, with his own will, God developed relationships with real, particular individuals with the universal scope in mind.

Therefore the “mission of the church” is more clearly understood when we identify what Gods mission has been since the beginning. That allows for the “mission of the church” to not just become what we want it to be, or to bend the goals based on what culture says and does. The OT is extremely useful for the church today because it is what makes the ‘mission of the church’ coherent and places it within the much large meta-narrative of Gods mission to redeem all to himself.

None of these roles Abe, Israel, David are strictly speaking missional. They are not sent out into the world to evangelize. But these three strands of the biblical story make the churches mission coherent with the rest of the biblical meta-narrative. They establish the movement from the particular to the universal. The churches mission echoes the ancient biblical vision to serve Gods mission of Redemption. When the world comes under the blessing, revelation, and rule of God.

Some lessons learned is that God singles people out for the sake of others. When God singles us out we end up on a mission and its purpose is the same as that of Abraham, Israel, David, and Zion. By that same toke we should image God singling out places where he rules for the sake of reaching new places and all places.

Comments and questions please. 🙂 Blessings

*** An Area of great credit goes to Richard Bauckham and his book “Bible and Mission”. I read it a few times on a recent trip and thoroughly enjoyed it. You will find many of the themes I have used in his book. I also recommend his other more impressive work “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”.

Categories: Bible, Church, Culture, Enlightenment, Modern, Old Testament, Society/Culture, sociology, Theology, Uncategorized, Worldview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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