Posts Tagged With: Scripture

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

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

Medieval Man – Modern Man – Post-Modern Man

clovis_baptizmThe Medieval Man had God and Religion at the center of all things. Kings were baptized and whole kingdoms across Europe   became Christian before the individuals that make up that Kingdom ever heard the gospel of Christ. On the surface this is neither encouraging or something to boast about as a Christian. But what does the gesture imply for the future of that nation. Again, your answer may be that the implications lend toward a Christian culture in name while remain ignorant to what God has done and desires to do in the world through the church. This may be true as well. Wow! I’m really digging myself a hole here. 🙂 However disastrous we may think these types of things to be that happened throughout the middles ages they do say something of the place of God and religion in a culture. And that is to say that God and Religion were right at the forefront of things. Kings and other rulers were baptized and whole kingdoms “became” Christian. Over time this had an extraordinary effect. At some point individuals hearing the gospel caught up a little bit and the presence of Popes, local Bishops, perish priests, and enclaves of hermits and monks brought something of the essence of real Christianity to Europe. Though not thoroughly and as we might wish. And from an early time God and Religion were understood to be essential to the life and culture of the West. Though I am dealing primarily with the West there was a similar emphasis with Christians in the East and in Africa. Placing God at the center had an extraordinary effect. Great advances in technology and science culminated around the 1400-1500’s to spark the Scientific Revolution with great contributions coming from Roman Catholics and Protestants across Europe, from some Persians in the East, and a handful of Africans. It was however primary an endeavor of European Christians. In other words the scientific revolution was an outgrowth not of recovered Greek learning but of Christian doctrine. There is so much upheaval then taking place at this point in history. The protestant reformations, the secular revolutions, and the so called enlightenment. I believe the enlightenment term to be useful in explaining that what many experienced as a result of reformations, and revolutions, was that having God and religion at the center no longer seemed valid.  Philosophers such as Edward Gibbon, Voltaire, and Rousseau to name a few were a large reason for the violent dismantling of matters of faith from matters of real life and philosophy. It is by understanding the work of enlightenment figures and their influence that we can approach the Modern era clear headed about the nature of it. Of course I believe it helps to have a realistic honest look at the Middle Ages if we want to look critically at these “Enlightenment” figures and what the propose to be true about life and faith.

The Modern man is now a man who has removed God from the center. He may not have removed God completely but like many of those original figures mentioned above, God was banished to the clouds. He no longer belonged anywhere near thisPSM_V21_D154_Charles_Darwin reality and what we mean we speak about reality in the universe. It has been throughout this Modern era that man removed God from Science. Once you arrive at the current time, science has become something seemingly incompatible with God and matters of faith. This took place over a period of time. Two great leaps forward from God happened with the enlightenment figures of 1600-1700 and with one particular individual during the mid 1800’s, Charles Darwin. The first leap was to place God off in the distant, and the second leap to banish God completely from reality. Before the turn of Darwin’s century a man by the name of Friedrich Nietzsche said that “God is Dead” and in the coming century men would no longer speak of him. So confident men became in a Science that is free from God and religious talk that eventually we make our way to the horrors of the 20th century. It is only here in the first 50 years of the 20th century that man begins to have sensible doubt regarding the unchecked positivism in human endeavors. But what could one do with God out of the picture, and now man out of the picture? Where can we turn. For Americans at least there was turning back to God, and a putting your hand to the work of rebuilding your life with God and family at the center. But another war dragged on stirring up doubt and mistrust in “the man” at the center. Young people sought an escape, sought a revolution, clung to ideologies, experimented with drugs, sex, thrills, and rock n’ roll.

The Modern man is now a Post-modern man. Uncertain of anything he tries everything and hesitantly agrees with everyone unless someone believes in absolute claims about truth, meaning, morality, origins, and destination. Man is no longer certain 7051-33about placing any one thing at the center. So he places many things at the center and is unsure what he believes and why, and where it is taking him. If he is sure of anything it is that he can not be sure of anything, that he is broken, frustrated, confused. Yet he constantly seeks validation and does not wish to be corrected. He is looking for someone who will agree with him and feels obligated to agree with everyone else. Unsure of what is up and what is down the post-modern man is tempted simply to take a step back, to place himself, his endeavors, and his own gain at the center of everything. What you then have is a post-modern man being reborn as a Modern drone-man without a soul. A man who hesitantly placed something specific in the center only for the sake of getting on with life. Even though he embraced some of the ideals of the modern life he is still a post-modern man. The original Modern man still had God in view and could not completely push him out. It is these lifeless zombies of post-modernism that lack God and eventually hopelessly leap into the dark for meaning.

Conclusion: Post-Modern youth have grown up and eventually and hesitantly re-embraced the modern ideal. If you want to have a job and get on in life then you need to re-embrace those ideals. But again, that does not make you modern. There is a real transition we have undergone. The answer to understanding post-modern man actually lies in our knowledge of Modern man, and the Medieval man. If your are a christian trying to learn to communicate you need to be able to paint the picture as I have. To see the ways in which the church engaged and came under the influence of each era and to what degree did Christians resist and maintain a biblical worldview and way of looking at reality. In other words though the Middles ages were rife with problems, corruptions, and tares among the wheat, it was a time in which God was placed at the center. Men like Martin Luther saw the corruption and error of the time piling up to something intolerable and sought to preserve the centrality of God, scripture, and faith at the center. It was the middle ages that gave us men like Luther, Augustine, and Francis of Assisi. Though God may be given a high place in culture it takes the work of devoted men and women of God to make that a lasting thing with depth. Without such men, their is such a high level of hypocrisy that people will get tired of it and seek to remove religious folk and their ‘god’ along with them from the center place. I’m crazy enough to believe that good people seeking to place God at the center and not man or even the church in the center will bring about a great healing. God at the center is the answer. I’m not advocating that we need a replica of the Medieval Christian world, what I am really aiming at is the principle at play in that era which culminated in more freedom, more churches, more education, more science, more human potential, and more progress. That the idea of human progress can not sustain itself without God, without morality, without meaning, without truth, without origins and destination.

For more on the middles ages. A personal favorite area of research and study for me check out these posts.

The Myth of the Dark Ages

Two Historical Myths – Two Historical Revisions: Part 1

Two Historical Myths – Two Historical Revisions: Part 2

“Enlightenment” Myth

Reformation Rethought

Reńe Descartes: Foundations for Modern Science

Categories: Bible, Church, Culture, Enlightenment, Faith, History, Medieval Period, Modern, Post-Modern, Science | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ancient Mythology as Valid as Modern Science

Ridiculous title huh? Maybe not. This post is for people who are seeking to study the scripture with a per-cursor of historical background. I’ve recently read an amazing couple of books and listened to a few of the online lectures done by Professor John H. Walton. He is currently professor of Old Testament at Wheaten College in Chicago.

I have taught the book of Genesis 3 times for our Chronological Bible School in YWAM Mexico. I have taught on Genesis numerous times in churches, small groups, and our Discipleship Training School in YWAM as well. But until this past September I had made a crucial mistake. As I always attempt to relay a good understanding of “Background” Ive often failed to communicate just how the entire Ancient Near Eastern World “Thinks”. You can get caught up in religious practices, politics, geography but nearly miss this important step. And that is to take the risk of grasping how the ancient people thought about life around them.

One major error has been to outright dismiss the ancient Egyptian mythology. That its utterly nonsense to think of the sky as a god, the earth as a god, and so on. Geb,_Nut,_ShuYou have strange pictures taken from archaeology that depict the Egyptians cosmology (Their understanding of everything around them). I typically would mock a few aspects of it and then going on to discribe the biblical narratives of Genesis 1-2 as so far advanced truth about the world we live in. Though I still believe it to be truth I dont have the same sharp contrast in my mind from Egyptian cosmology to the Israelite cosmology we have in scripture. Instead what exists is a wonderful comparison from which contrast can be drawn out. But it first begins with similarities. On the surface you will see far more similarities then differences.

That is not something to be afraid of. Similarities from Ancient Mythology and scripture does not need to dampen our inspirational view of scripture. It may illuminate it and help us understand better how God communicates to man.

The primary similarity that has effected my thinking is in that area of how the ancients view ‘existence’. For something to exist it needed to have a function. For something to have a function their must be a power behind it causing it always to function in the way that it functions. For the ancients there was no natural cause, no natural world, and everything was infused with deity. That’s what made it all work. Just as today it has become more common to say, “there is no God, no supernatural, no miraculous, because we understand the world around us in terms of natural cause everything happens naturally, or anonymously of a higher power or powers. But for the ancients this was not so, everything worked the way it did because their was something, someone, some powers behind it all. Their myths were not nonsense just to be dismissed but a valid way of thinking about the world they lived in.

God validated this way of thinking by communicating not in terms of the natural world but in the terms they were familiar with -terms of function. Genesis 1 then is not just a story of how the natural world came into being. This is how we modern readers interpret as we read. But how did the ancients read Genesis 1?

Ancient readers were able to see simply that not only did God create the physical world but the physical world truly has a specific order given to all things. Only in the Hebrew story there is not a dysfunctional family of gods behind all elements of the universe but One God. Genesis one does not merely capture the creation but that God was planning, structuring, and developing a function for each and all things to exist and have meaning. The Ancient audience would be thrilled to hear that purpose is clearly laid out for all creatures.

And that brings us to a sharp contrast that can be drawn. The ancient audience gets drawn in because Genesis one communicates perfectly to ancient minds and the climax of chapter one is this. That of all things created and given a purpose, the greatest purpose and responsibility is laid upon mankind. This is radically different from their view as former slaves to Egypt, and slaves to the Egyptian worldview. Humanity has been given a job to care for and have dominion over all creation. Man is to steward all God made. Previously man was trapped by his surroundings, a slave to his circumstances. Circumstances that have been brought on by the gods, they are in control and nothing escapes their control not even mans choice. Man is clearly given a choice by God in Genesis one. So man has a choice not controlled by God, and man has purpose given by God. Man can reject Gods purposes and this begins the downward fall into meaningless existence. The ancient Egyptians are on track to find meaning behind everything, they are seeking meaning for their own existence. This is good. This is why God wants to communicate to the ancient audience that what man is missing, a true existence. One that holds meaning, purpose, responsibility, and brings order to the world around them. A world that has fallen into chaos.

Modern Scientist have come back to belief in ultimate chaos. Unlike the ancients there understanding of chaos lead them to seek order. Modern despair leads to scientists who no longer seek order but observe chaos. There is no fight to find an order for human purpose and existence. They seek to better observe the human experience as chaotic and without meaning. Both since the fall have always been a reality for the human situation. But science is not the only approach to finding meaning for our lives. Science on its own is anonymous of God, which makes it anonymous of meaning. To seek what power is behind the natural world may not be scientific but it is still a valid way of understanding the world we live in.

Scripture is the wonderful avenue through which man is privileged to engage with the power behind everything.


Categories: Ancient Near East, Bible, Church, Context, Cosmology, Egyptian Mythology, Genesis, History, Origins, Philosophy, Science, Society/Culture, Worldview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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