Thursday, December 30, 2004

Bridging Some Gaps?

It is very easy to take things out of Scripture and make them into general, "timeless" principles. I think it is the number one danger of Christian faith, a kind of baptized dualism that is hard to dispel. A lot of these things are found in uses of single words that 'sum' up the Christian faith: justice, mercy, holiness, etc. Obviously, as Christians we need shorthand words; we can't go around explaining the whole story of Scripture every time we talk about 'justice' or 'peace'. It is a distinct problem, though, that we have people talking past each other because we cannot agree on the most prevalent terms in our assemblies and in our nation (or nations).

In the Torah (or the Pentateuch, if you like), all the laws are prefaced with the book of Genesis. The Decalogue (or Ten Commandments, if you like) is prefaced with: "I am the LORD your God, I brought you out of the house of Egypt, out of the house of bondage". This single phrase says a lot more than the sum total of its word count--it tells the whole story from Abraham to the (then) present. From that story, especially its culmination in the events of the Exodus, the basis for all of Israelite law, wisdom, and praxis is laid.

Christians, though, walk around as if Jesus offered something essentially ahistorical which can be carried everywhere as long as we reference something about a virgin birth, a death, and a resurrection. A case in point is the various icons of Jesus looking either Greek or Roman or Chinese or African. Jesus has been dehistoricized and made into a divine Everyman. Nice way to make all races feel welcome, but it just isn't true. Jesus (probably, of course since no pictures remain) wasn't Swedish or Indian or Chilean--he was (and continues to be) a Jew. He has a history, tied intimately and delicately to that of ancient Israel, and ultimately to the whole world (compare Genesis 1 to John 1, for example). He didn't spout out timeless moral platitudes (which would make nonsense of why he got executed). No, he spoke into a specific environment with specific demands, warnings, and exhortations. What he did, though, laid the model and foundation for the Church's work. Our mission to the world must tell a Jewish gospel about a Jewish man who fulfilled the Israelite identity in himself and reconciled the whole world to God through that.

Christian faith and life, then, are tied up in the historical (placed, in other words) death and resurrection of Jesus. When we say, "Jesus is Lord", it isn't just that he is the religious head of our order, but that all other "lords" and "gods" are deluded at best and idolatrous at worst. The 'forces' that guide the world, whether they be economic, historical, political, or 'religious' aren't in charge of the world and must be reminded of their subordinate place to the Messiah Jesus. All our actions, our fruits of the Spirit, must be placed after a phrase like this: "This is what Jesus, the Messiah, says: I delivered you on that Roman cross from the house of bondage, the house of sin and death--therefore, go into all the world and make disciples..."

As Christians, we need to have the nerve to ask about anything and everything: how does the cross of Jesus affect this? How does the cross put the 'State' in its proper place? How does the cross organize the people of God into a 'church'? How does the cross affect my understanding and practice of 'justice' and 'mercy'? For the next few blogs (which will be few and far between for awhile, I'm heading out of town for class), I want to tackle the (seemingly) easy buzzwords of the Christian faith: justice, mercy, peace, love, knowledge, etc. (Please feel free in the comments section to write words in that I have forgot--it is almost midnight, so my mind isn't as sharp as it could be--or at least as sharp as I seem to think that it can be).

The first word to hit (conveniently for me since I have to lecture on this in March): covenant.

Shalom olam (peace always)...

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Elders for Everyone!

Being an American, it is hard for me to imagine 'church' as being anything but a one-man show in which I minimally participate (oddly enough, though, my home church isn't like that--behold the power of an acultured imagination) and which the church, not to mention those outside, minimally benefit. Part of the problem (especially being a language nerd) is that I really have no idea what 'church' (qua word) really means. However, I did some snooping and here's what I found:

'Church' comes (ultimately) from 'kuriakon' which means "Lord's house"--since post-apostolic fathers time it has been used for the idea of ekklesia, which is the word translated in our Bibles as 'church'. This could also be why since about that time, churches have been modeled after, and functioned like, little temples. The Lord's house, Old Testament style, was the Temple in Jerusalem (interesting side-note, the Hebrew word for temple also means 'palace'). However, since the people of God are the building blocks of the Temple, with Jesus as the Temple itself (see my first post ever), calling the ekklesia the temple is missing something: Jesus. The ekklesia isn't the temple, it is the building blocks with Jesus as the cornerstone. That may seem like semantics, but to say that the church is the temple is wrong, since Jesus is not part of the church (never are the two equated or combined in Scripture to my knowledge). So already we are working with a massive, largely ignored (which is important, but not for my polemic) misnomer. What, though, is an ekklesia?

An ekklesia, which you will see if you read the above article (which I don't endorse whole-heartedly, but it has some good stuff) is the ruling class of the basileia/kingdom. It is the King's council, if you will. However, unlike the ancient Greek system, it isn't a democracy. There is a hierarchy of authority in the ekklesia: elders, then the people. Every man should strive to be an elder or a deacon. The question is (and many local ekklesia get bogged down in this): what is an elder and what is a deacon? I Timothy obviously gives the qualifications of such, but what are they to do? To find out, we must return to the Hebrew Bible, to Exodus 18: here we find that elders adjudicate the disputes of the assembly (a better translation of ekklesia). They are, in a sense, a series of appellate court judges that apply the word of God to all of life, while still extending considerable freedom to their charges (I Corinthians 6). In other words, an elder is not a ruler, in the Greek sense (see the quote from the last blog), but he is a servant that is working to make the community work. He is a judge, but also (in that same function) a teacher, comforter, and exhorter. He is the wise man around town, a sort of Christian rabbi, if you will allow. Almost like a Levite of old (I'll tantalizingly let that stand and not develop it). Obviously, this is only the tip of the iceberg, but what if we adopted this model? What might change in our communities? Our ekklesias?

How about the diaconate? Firstly, I think that it is important to say that the Greek word means "servant". Whether or not it is a Biblical 'office' is still in debate and probably will be for quite some time. If we look at the Hebrew Bible context, we might see that a servant is someone who is a courtier of the King: his advisors, his errand runners, etc. It might apply to the Temple also, since priests and Levites were known as servants--maybe the two combine when we realize that the Temple was a Palace. I'm not so sure on this right now.

What, though, is to be the chief end of these individuals (may the whole ekklesia be full of them)? Maturity. In Paul's words:

And he himself gave some to be royal heralds, some covenant lawyers, some 'good-news'ers, and some as shepherd-teachers; for the equipping of the holy ones for the work of service, for the building up of the body of the Messiah, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the covenant loyalty of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of the Messiah; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of teaching, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, we may grow up in all thing into him who is the head--the Messiah--from whom the wohle body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord: that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk...(Russ' expanded version)

Growing up. Maturing. Leaving behind old ways. That is what the ekklesia, in all its diverse parts is to be about. A light to the nations. If we are mature, we will not need to worry about what the State does because we will be self-governing, learning under our elders (of whom we try to emulate as they emulate the Messiah), and approaching life with the basis of Torah and the wisdom of God as the guiding principle through the Spirit.

The ekklesia, then, is to be a counter-imperial (counter-State, in other words) body that fights its wars with prayer and proclamation, wins through service of hospitality and self-sacrifice, and rules through love and humility. No empire can stand against that: against such things there is no law. Yes, the empire, threatened by this new Lord, may respond with violence or (worse) tax-increases, but we believe in the justice of God against theft (State-sponsored or not) and we believe in resurrection, that the last enemy, Death (which is the power of Caesar) may be swallowed up in life through the Messiah Jesus.

Iesous Xristos Kurious estin
Baruch hu' beshem YHWH

(Jesus Messiah is Lord...Blessed be he in the name of YHWH)

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Church and State

David Whitcomb has an interesting post on his site about how the retreat of the Church causes a vacuum readily filled by the State (capitalized, of course, is different from non-capitalized--it's all about capitalism, I suppose). I think that Eliot (whom Whitcomb quotes) was on to something more than just theoretical, it was also intensely historical.

When the Church joined hands with the State under Constantine, it was already in the process of handing over any power it had--the council just solidified what was already happening. Earlier, most notably in Origin and Justin Martyr, the narrative thought-world of Hebrew religion (itself, importantly, thoroughly mixed with some ideas from Hellenism and other ancient religions, but that is another blog--see "Fightin' Mad Monotheism" for a taste) was linguistically replaced by that of neo- and middle-Platonism. The Church became about the 'soul' and its salvation, not about the world and its true Lord. When the lordship of Caesar is no longer contested (the famous phrase "Jesus is Lord" loses its thrust when not placed against the contemporary, and more popular, confession "Caesar is Lord"), Caesar has little trouble regaining his position. This time, though, he did it without a fight. That drama and its consequences is chronicled elsewhere though.

The whole 'two-swords' theory is also based on this historical tension between these two 'powers': power of the sword for the State, power of the Word for the Church. The list, of course, of both instances historical and theoretical could go on indefinitely.

The question that comes to my mind is whether these two 'powers' can coexist at all. Kuyper, of course, would say 'yes' and they should be separate, but inform one another. Kevin Craig would say that neither can exist in a Christian society. Both are, to some extent or another, Neo-Calvinists. The question, maybe, lies in a more basic, but rarely asked (and even more rarely sufficiently answered): what is power?

For Caesar (which I use largely as a derogatory, innuendo-ladened substitute for 'State') power follows Mao's dictum--it comes from the barrel of a gun. For Jesus, it comes also rather violently, but violence taken upon one's self. For the Church? Jesus said:

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave--just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Herein, it would seem, lies the true road to 'power': servanthood. The slaves are the greatest, the first, the most blessed, the most powerful. Why is that? It is possible that once we give everything we have, we have really gained all:

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains that whole world, yet forfeits his own self? Of what can a man give in exchange for himself?

But how does one do this? If one tries to gain the whole world, he becomes a slave. If one gives up on sin and follows the renewed Torah proclaimed on the Mount, he gains the whole world--the meek inherit the land. What would this mean for politics, a part of life concerned supremely with issues of servitude (taxes), land (national security and sovereignty), and power. Anything, though, would have to happen at a small level--politics reflects what is going on in the nation's hearts, minds, and hands. Politics is properly a 'power': something that was originally created good, but was twisted through man's royal abdication and that therefore enslaved him (or became his master by default). Colossians 1 makes a point to say that politics is to be, as all the 'powers' are, reconciled to the true King, the Messiah who claims both worldly governments to follow his law and the Church--the body (a metaphor closely resembling that of the Roman Empire back in the day).

But if Messiah is competing, in a way, against the 'kingdoms of this world', what is politics supposed to look like? An ecclesiocracy? Depends, I guess, on what you mean by 'ekklesia' (Church for the non-Greekers)...I think that that will be the subject of the next entry, I need to spend time with some family and friends tonight!

The King has come! Let his subjects rejoice! (Merry Christmas, in other words)

Monday, December 13, 2004

The Purpose of Blogging

Gideon Strauss has issued himself a challenge: to speak Christianly to the wider world. It is a wonderful challenge that I think needs to be heard, proclaimed, promolgated in the wider Christian ghetto.

However, after thinking about his challenge, I've decided to go the other way. Cultural engagement is a Christian necessity and I'm glad that someone like Gideon is going to be leading the way. I myself, though, feel the calling to 'stay in the ghetto' as it were and proclaim the third-way to its dwellers. 'Judgement begins at the house of God' and I feel the need to talk to the Church about God's way as I understand it (that last clause is very important as I do not pretend to speak for God).

Does this mean that I'm trying to contravert Gideon? Ma Genito (Paul's phrase in Romans for "May it not be" or KJV "God forbid")! No, this is just an example of the Body of Christ metaphor taken up and developed by Paul--we need people inside and outside the walls to be proclaiming the message, engaging the world, and 'taking dominion' in the Genesis sort of way. I think that these approaches are nothing if not complementary--the Church cannot turn away from the world, but it cannot turn totally away from itself either.

So, my posts will probably be more directed towards Christians of all stripes; they will seek to integrate Biblical faith with contemporary faithfulness; they will (Lord willing) wisely engage all of life--politics, economics, agriculture, art, theology, linguistics, etc. It will (again, Lord willing) be where Torah (Law) and Hocmah (Wisdom) meet over a cup of Fair Trade...

Iesous Christos Kurious estin...

Saturday, December 11, 2004

J. Alfred

This is a poem based off of two previous works: The Love Story of J. Alfred Prufrock by TS Eliot and Prufrock by Charles Modro (a coworker of mine and part of the band Xara. Some of the subject matter is a bit adultish (but not in the late night Cinemax sort of way), so parental discretion advised. Once again, the Blogger formatting isn't friendly to my style of aesthetic writing, so I apologize that you all will miss some of the important indents. Please enjoy...
J. Alfred

I can think of death
I can think of life
But to live! that’s the thing
Whether by boats or cars or planes
TVs with a thousand neglected channels on satellite
Computers blazing graphics of endless death
Sex often and obscure—yet I die too.

The car rusts
The TV tubes burst
The orgasm ends
Not with a bang, but a whimper.

I’ve become the Hollow Men, for we are many.

What foul principality has a hold of us now?
Whiter teeth in twenty days
Faster internet speed
Now this new, now that new
But the grass still grows the same way.

The body has severed the Head
Then the arms
Now the toes have to learn war.

Cry out, “God, deliver us!”
Deliver us from our greatest enemy!
The Hater of our souls!
His name is Hollow Men.
“Make war on our foes!” we cry
Waiting for the evening news
To flash our enemies’ demise
And the falling price of gasoline.

This is your life,
Ending one second at a time.
Two and you’re considered fortunate.

Priests on Viagra is the opiate of the masses
Turning our hearts away from finding
The hidden God.
The Hollow Men is filled up to the brim,
His cup overflows with the wrath of the lamb
A table is set in the presence of his enemies
A table for one please
I’ll be dining alone tonight.

Eat well and eat long
Glut on varied delights
I’d like fries with that
Coffee two…no three cups
The poor wouldn’t like the taste anyway
They should be happy they have jobs
God loves everyone
The vomitorium, replies the waiter, is on your left.

The Lord is coming, the Lord is acomin’
Shield Co. will stop the nighttime thief
Whose house we stole.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Please Remind Me of This

I have been a Christian for almost a decade (I find it hard to even think in those terms!) and I've had providential opportunity to reflect on my time in the Kingdom and hopefully where it is going. The sovereignty of God is a strange, strange thing...

There has been one thing that has had me hang on for this long and for the indefinite future: the gospel. Yes, I know that sounds trite, but it is true--I don't usually speak Christianese anyway. It is the promises of the gospel that keep me going, all exemplified in the weirdest place: the raising to life of an insignificant Jewish peasant political 'rebel'.

The gospel, by which I mean the summing up of the Israel story in Jesus and the progressive application through the Spirit to a hurting world, had to me--even (and especially!) as a Christian--remained largely hidden. The 'powers' and 'principalities' exerted massive control over the Israel-Church (not the nation Israel, but the Church as Israel--think Meredith Kline use of hyphens). Salvation was about me--my justification, my sanctification, my glorification. I remember asking questions about whether I would recognize loved ones in heaven and thinking heaven was whatever I wanted to do most (how post-modern!).

The proclamation of Jesus as King broke those bonds. Now I no longer had to feel pessimistic about life (worse and worse till AntiChrist) or optimistic (world is getting better, sin is getting less); instead I could have legitimate hope that wrong would be righted, even if I couldn't at first see it: Psalm 73 made true sense for once. The gospel wasn't just for me and to hell with the rest of the world; it bred compassion for a lost world that had once included me. I admit, I've not yet reached the goal of maturity in Christ--being able tolay down my own life for the restoration of the world--but I'm now striving for it, not against it.The gospel also makes some parts of Calvinism more palatable, so to speak. God is saving not just a few elect here and there and (once again) to hell with the rest of the world, but he is saving the elect here and there so that the world as a whole won't have to go to hell! Election with purpose; foreknowledge with promise! Life isn't about me anymore, but God in Christ restoring the world to Himself!

Now the Church can gain a clear sense of itself: the training up of believer-elder-priests to 'rule' the world by God's love and restorative cross. Worship takes on a new meaning because it is no longer about abstract, mystical communion or abstract, timeless ethical principles, but about concrete community (through the symbol, importantly, of communion) and worship--the, so to speak, putting of God in His place (the Throne) and listening to His Inscripturated Word for marching orders. The Church isn't this narrow, exclusivist body, but a welcoming body inviting others to stop fighting, stop running, stop rebelling against the living One and come join our cosmic renewal party. This also sharpens the Church's prophetic critique of the world and itself--it must make the terms of refusal known--destruction--but woe over it (Bruggeman makes the excellent point that the prophetic 'woe' oracles aren't anger, they are lament--"The Prophetic Imagination"). All of this orchestrated and empower by the Spirit of God itself, the Breath that hovered over the waters and created man in the first place.


Friday, December 03, 2004

More About Truth

It is amazing that emt (truth) is such an absorbing subject--epistemology really takes you in. The danger, I think, is that truth can take you so abstractly that you no longer see how it affects real life. What does it matter if we know how we think and why we think like we do if our world is crumbling? What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?

Other than that (and I think that there are many ways to connect learning to life, I bring up the questions metaphorically) epistemology is an incredible subject.

Talking with a friend today, he helped explain to me the division between Truth and truth. Basically, if we say that there is some 'metaphysical' Truth and that we cannot know anything about it, that is Kant's noumenal category. What we experience is 'truth' or 'phenomena'. Ok. I think I got that, maybe...possibly.

So, is there a Truth out there? I would feel compelled to say yes--and only God has it. Sounds a bit like Kant, though. However, we know God in truth--in relationship, in praxis--and He has revealed enough of the Truth to us so that we may make it truth. It isn't, then, until Truth becomes truth that it matters to us (or to the Kingdom). But it all still sounds Kantian to me...and I have a presuppositional bias against Kant.

What do you all think?

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Knowledge and Salvation

Well, Russ has fully entered the postmodern world and is seeking to find his way through the quagmire into some sort of Christian cultural critique. Reading books like The Truth About the Truth by Walter Truett Anderson and Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be by Walsh and Middleton isn't helping at all, either. It is just causing me to rethink my whole epistemology.

Tonight in class, we shortly (oh, too shortly) discussed the concept of 'absolute truth' and basically it came out that the students who had studied philosophy disagreed with the Prof. No surprises there (beware, lest ye fall Keith!). Regardless, it did raise some interesting points. If we discuss anything 'absolutely' we are begging the question, can we know anything absolutely, or to use ol' Francis Schaeffer language, can we know anything exhaustively? Schaeffer (and Walsh and Middleton, et al) would say no, of course not. We are not God (or even 'god') and cannot stand outside of the Creation to view it. Does this mean that there is no 'objective' knowledge? Depends on what you mean as objective, etc.

One of the most interesting parts of the discussion is whether we should connote the two different (but ultimately undefinable) 'truths' by using capital and lowercase letters: Truth v. truth. It ended up being that one student said that Truth existed, but you can't know it, but 'truth' is what we live out. Maybe someone could help me, but isn't that Kant's phenomenicological (it must have that many letters, I'm sure of it!) and noumenal categories?

Well, that got me to thinking, what about the historic Creeds of the Church (however you define 'historic', 'creed', and 'church', isn't postmodernism fun?)? If, as finite human creatures, we cannot know something totally or exhaustively (or even at all), how can we be dogmatic about our intra-faith problems? Within the faith, it would seem that a more open discussion should be taking place, "to see whether these things are so" (which I've noticed is a wonderful thing to say in a sermon to lull the congregation into a state of happy acceptance of whatever is about to be said). Can we say, with the Athanasian Creed that whoever doesn't ascribe to the obtuse philosophical discourse contained within it that they are 'anathema'?

Or, to get at it another way, since all knowledge is culturally conditioned, can we even live the creeds out since they are very conditioned to an early synthesis of neo-Platonism and Christianity? Or, to press it further, can we live out the New Testament (not to mention the Old) since they are even more remotely conditioned?

I think that all my questions come down to this: if we are to have a knowledge of God for salvation and all our knowledge is culturally and individually conditioned, how can we ever be sure that we are believing the right things? In other words, how can we know that we have salvation, without collapsing into either a Gnostic mysticism or a Platonic autonomy?

Will the Bible survive this epistemological catastrophe?

A Misnomer If I Ever Saw One

The previous post to this, "Old Friends" was originally intended to talk about the experiences I had with my high school friends this last Thanksgiving...but ended up being about relatives.

Those responsible for the error have been sacked.


Monday, November 29, 2004

Old Friends

Thanksgiving Break...ah...the turkey...the lack of sleep...the relatives...

One of the hardest thing about this break was my blog. Obviously, the upkeep wasn't the problem (I intentionally took the week off), it was what I have written. One of the things about a consistent, Christian localism is that you are close to your family. This week gave me the perfect opportunity to work it out in practice...I'm not so good as on paper. Family is hard work.

It reminds me rather of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, since the family fights and fights, but is still close and cohesive and, dare I say, loving. Apart from the usual clashes between family members, this T-Day was the calmest and smoothest. But it hit me during it (thanks to the faithful proddings of my wife) that I was not living to my recreated imago dei potential. I was short, seclusive, and bitter at times. I felt stretched out and bored at others. Other times I was happy and joyful with my extended family.

Life is hard, but life is wonderful.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Torah Torah Torah

I promise you, o patient readers, that I will discuss things other than theology. But, they say, "write what you know" (not to say that I know anything about anything, but theology is as close as it gets)...

I'm currently reading Story as Torah by G.J. Wenham. It is definitely right up my alley and has helped to further define my vocation calling in the area of Old Testament studies and Hebrew (can you say nerd?). Here are some quotes that I want to interact with, especially in light of what I said about theonomy earlier (see "Is Theonomy a Four-Letter Word?"):

The law sets a minimum standard of behavior, which if transgressed attracts sanction. It regulates institutions like marriage or slavery, but it does not prescribe ideals of behaviour within marriage. (pg.80, italics not for emphasis, but to show a quotation without those pesky, modernist quotation marks)

[T]he ethical expectations of the Old Testament are higher than the legal rules. Laws define a floor of tolerable behaviour. Break them and punishment follows. But that does not mean that simply keeping the laws is sufficient...Ethical duty involves much more than keeping the law. (pg. 104)

In traditional Protestant preaching, that we cannot keep the law is a mainstay. The implications that these quotes have for that are astounding. Not only are we not keeping the law, we aren't even living up to our greater ethical duty. How can we expect to love our spouses, children, and be merciful to the 'other', if we cannot even keep the more simple laws like not carving images in our minds or by our hands? The mercy of God is great everyday.

Secondly, because this serves as such a ego deflation, it should kick the wind out of the traditional theonomist sails. It is no underexaggeration that theonomists are seen as arrogant (which many are), but the fact that many don't live up to the Biblical standard of human decency is appalling--I include myself in this indictment.

Now for the real meat of what I wanted to get to. The Torah cannot just be transposed into our 21st century context, without doing much violence to the text and to our society. Many take this as the argument against any application of the Torah today. However, if Wenham is right (and I am inclined to believe this) then it isn't the Torah that is the problem. The Torah just serves as a baseline ethics standard--not necessarily universally applicable, but a good guidepost since we still deal with some similar situations (murder, debt, etc.) and are still the people of God, just redefined around Jesus. What the problem is is the lack of wisdom in applying the larger 'ethical duty' (which, interestingly, Wenham aruges cannot be set down in propositions, but must be exemplified through narratives). The Pharisees in the first century had a certain way of doing this, which later became codified as Talmud and Mishnah. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, is reacting to this by saying that the 'ethical duty' is not what they have defined, but what he is defining. Jesus, in this way, intensifies Torah for the new situation (the rule of God through himself). How does one fulfill the Torah on murder? What is the 'ethical duty' that the law serves as a baseline for? "Love your neighbor AND your enemy." This isn't to undermine Torah, but to provide how Wisdom (thereby emulating God--Proverbs 8ff.) fulfills what Torah can only point to: life with God and neighbor (and enemy) in society. You can't legislate that sort of thing.

What about adultery? Many wised and learned rabbis would say that as long as their is no intercourse or physical touch, you are fulfilling Torah. Jesus says, "Don't even look at another woman (or man) lustfully." Not legislation, but wisdom in going further than the Torah ever could.

I think that this is fruitful, especially for the Reformational movement. Often, it seems like our ethics are flying in the wind and blown in whatever direction we deem 'justice' to be defined in. However, with an actual rhetorical criticsm of our narratives, we might see how to fulfill God's wise law by being wise ourselves, living according to the narrative and not ignoring the first principles that it builds off of.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Cast Off (Poem)

I write poetry a good deal. I'd like to share some, also. Here's one I wrote tonight during class. Please feel free to comment on it, as I'm always looking at improving my writing. Unfortunately, the blogger doesn't like my formatting, so you miss some of the visual detail the poem is supposed to evoke...sorry.
Cast Off

I am the master of my fate,
Captain of my soul
Shipwrecked on this lonely island--
Building my raft out of my ingenuity:
An objective construct that
won't hold water.
I will get home:
So that I can avoid my wife
And drop off the kids at day care...
Because I need more time in the sandbox:
Here I control the sands.

The Last Post

Yes, I relativized the term 'night' into meaning three days--it is the 'Day-Age Blog Theory'. This is the last post of that set. One disclaimer, though: I plan (eventually he laughs) on turning this post into a formal paper to add to my mythological vitae. So...don't steal my idea before I can write about it!

The question is, looking at I Corinthians 8:6, how did Paul develop his theology of 'christological monotheism'? Basically, what 'christological monotheism' is, is how Paul adds Jesus into the Shema. (This idea is NT Wright's, in his Paul's Gospel and Caesar's Empire, so all credit where credit is due):

Hear o Israel, YHWH (the Lord) is our God, YHWH (the Lord) alone! (Dt. 6:4)

For us their is one God, the Father...and one Lord, Jesus Christ...

In the Septuagint, the theos (God) lines up--as expected--with Paul's theos, but kurios (Lord, or in the LXX a designation for YHWH) lines up--quite unexpectedly and subversively--with kurios Iesous Xristos (Lord Jesus Christ). How did Jesus get to be a part of the rallying cry of Israel, now redrawn as the 'church'? How did a human get brought into the great anti-idolatry confession of God's people? How did this crucified man get drawn into God's name, YHWH or kurios?

I think the answer will come through a long process of Biblical thought on the Shema and God's name. In the Shema, the key words are YHWH and echad (one). Another text in the OT where this is used is Zechariah 14:9, translated in the NKJV as (with a few notable exceptions):

And YHWH shall be King over all the earth.
In that day it shall be--"YHWH is one and His name one".

Confused? So was I until I read it in the Hebrew:

YHWH shall be king over all the arth.
In that day there shall be only (echad) YHWH and His name alone (echad).

Here Zeke is drawing God's name into the Shema and giving it a fulfillment time--the great eschatological day. Skipping forward to the NT, we read this in Philippians 2:

Therefore God also has highly exalted him (Jesus) and given him the 'name' which is above all names, that at the 'name' of Jesus ever knee shall bow...and every tongue confess "Lord" is Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father.

The 'name' here is a Greek shorthand for a title. God bestows the highest name (which would be His own--YHWH or kurios in the LXX) on Jesus. So Jesus has the title "Lord", according to Paul, which is the name/title of God Himself.

Pressing the thought a bit further, we end up in I Corinthians. Because Jesus has the 'highest name' kurios and Zechariah said that in the day of God's victory it would only be YHWH and His name, Paul is saying that that day has come about (strangely, paradoxically on a Roman cross), where YHWH once again became King, this time of the whole world (cf. Matt. 28:20), and His 'name' rules beside Him--Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified one. The circle, then is complete. Jesus has, by virtue of his faithful life and death, been giving the 'name' and added into the very Shema of Israel.

What does this all mean for us? Right now, everything about it is so staggering that I don't exactly know what to think myself, especially having posted about the 'unity' of God so recently: how do both go together? That is a question for poetics, incarnational rethinking, and lots and lots of worshipful prayer or prayerful worship.

Monday, November 15, 2004

A Gutteral Response

This is part two of the infamous (and badly named) three post night...

The second part of the Shema goes a little something like this: "You shall love YHWH your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength..." Fairly standard. Good tripartite breakdown of the human 'person', eh? Well...maybe not.

Concentrate for a moment with me on the 'soul'. The Hebrew word is 'nephesh' (if I could get Hebrew fonts here, oh baby, you know I would), which means 'life, being, person, soul'. Unfortunately, many lexicons have omitted its base meaning: throat. It is understandable way, also, because it doesn't fit with Western metaphorical systems to say "Bless YHWH, o my throat, and all that is within me" or "My throat thirsts for the Living God". In fact, it sounds a little stilted in translation--but that is just because it is unused, think of how wooden and stilted the KJV can sound to us today, even though it was once the standard way to speak.

So what?

It is too much right now to get into the history of the 'Christian' (neoplatonic) soul. But, if we had the 'stones' (a Biblical euphemism) to translate it as throat, we might have a new anthropology arise out of the Biblical text. No longer would it be some tripartite metaphysical/psychological understanding, but a very earthy (creational) way of viewing the human person. But why nephesh in the Shema?

In Genesis 2, God takes the 'adamah' (soil), breathes the breath of life (ruah--the same word for Spirit/breath/wind), and the two combined make a living nephesh. The word of living, used in such contexts as 'living waters' and others, basically means moving--dead things don't move much of their own accord. So, in this passage, the human body is brought to life by God's Spirit and his throat starts letting breath in and out, he is living. Instead of saying that man has an immaterial 'soul', it is saying that human life is ultimately important and has great ramifications for the resurrection. The throat is where the signs of life are found, respiration and also various emotions (such as getting choked up with tears, having a lump in your throat, etc.). The word nephesh, as it progressed in the Bible, never lost this basic meaning, but also expanded to metaphorically mean 'the whole person' (see the NIV translation of the Genesis 2 passage).

So here is what we have: the heart is the seat of the intellect and will, the nephesh is the whole person, and the strength is the possessions/wealth of the person (see Anthony's sermon for this point). The nephesh, as the place where life comes from, where praise proceeds from, works as the prime spot where the sovereignty of YHWH should be totally expressed as a symbol for a whole life lived to God.

Fightin' Mad Monotheism

This is gonna be a three post night…

The pastor of my church had a very interesting lesson tonight about the Shema and Christian faith. Although I don’t think I can agree with some of his assumptions (that we need to find a way to bring OT faith into the NT—I usually affirm a strong continuity between the covenants), much of what he said was fruitful and insightful. These three blogs are in dialogue with what he said, so if you would like to know what he said, please get a CD at the link above.

The first thing is what the Shema is all about. Is it a declaration of the ‘unity’ of God? Or is it something else? That it isn’t about the ‘unity’ of God should be self-evident, but centuries of fighting about the unity/triunity have significantly colored (and anachronized) the text. Nowhere in the Bible do we find (no, not even in the NT) a numerical analysis of the inner being of God—that is a early, pious attempt to try and understand how Jesus and God and the Holy Spirit fit together (i.e. the ecumenical creeds). This analysis arose out of trying to directly transpose the Hebrew thought and categories of the NT into Greek philosophical language without first ‘translating’ it to the new context. N.T. Wright has said, in The New Testament and the People of God, that first century Jews (and presumably generations before them) weren’t interested in a numerical analysis of God’s inner being—they were interested in how a transcendent God worked in a created world (for example, see how Ezekiel describes God in his chariot-vision in chapter 1—note the levels of separating he uses: “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of YHWH” to both separate God from creation but also to keep Him working in it).

The argument I made in Rereading John 1 fits into this Hebrew scheme. God relates to His world through His Word, which was made flesh in Jesus, so God now reveals Himself to the world in/as Jesus of Nazareth. But I digress from where I wanted to go…

If the Shema isn’t about the unity of God, then what is it about? In American Christianity we don’t have a lot of concerted opposition or persecution. The way we have traditionally conceived of our God has enabled us to be at peace with all of our various empires and still have confidence that we will spend eternity playing harps in heaven at peace. Unfortunately for us, both the Bible and history are not on our side here. If we think back to what the nation of Israel went through historically, it will shed light on the interpretation of the Shema. At the time of the Shema’s composition, the Israelites are on the plains of Moab, about to enter the Promised Land. They have literally been through hell to get here. They have always been oppressed or seduced to idolatry. Now we have Moses telling them “Shema Yisrael, YHWH elohenu, YHWH echad!” What on earth could that mean? Israel could only find national significance, pride, and protection in God alone. That YHWH, the one revealed to Moses, Abraham, and Jacob, would be their God was the great covenant promise. That YHWH was supposed to be their only God was seen in the incident of Ba’al Peor. Here Moses is saying, “Hear Israel, YHWH is our God, YHWH alone!” This is the rallying cry of a beleaguered people who believe themselves to be chosen and loved by YHWH, the one who created the world.

In fact, most of Scripture is an extended anti-idolatry polemic. There are no historical vacuum texts. Genesis 1, for instance, looks like a straightforward creation story—a modernist dream! However, when compared with Egyptian and Babylonian creation myths, some striking similarities and dissimilarities come to the fore. Genesis 1 wasn’t written in a vacuum. It was written to subvert both those conquering nations stories and exalt YHWH as the only Creator God. It is interesting, if compared to those stories in the original languages, how this polemic comes out. In Babylonia, the sea god was known as Tiamat—akin to the Hebrew word t’hom. In the Enuma Elish, the god Marduk has to defeat the chaos monster Tiamat to start creation. He kills her, divides her body in half, and creates the heavens with one side and the earth with the other. In the Biblical story, at the beginning God’s Spirit is “hovering over the t’hom” while “the earth was formless and void”, but instead of the “formless and void” being chaotic Tiamat, God’s Spirit hovers over the t’hom peacefully. Tiamat is effectively demythologized. Later, God divides the t’hom in half, much like Marduk. Whereas Marduk does it as an act of violence to show dominance, God only has to speak the division of a non-god entity. Once again, Tiamat and Marduk are stripped of creation power and significance and, in a very important sense, their deity. The exegesis could go on almost indefinitely, but others have tackled it elsewhere.

By the time we get to Deuteronomy, the people of Israel have had to fight (or succumb to) many ‘gods’. The Shema was a way of affirming that YHWH only was their God and therefore they must only serve Him with the totality of their being. An alternative translation to the usual (misleading) “YHWH our God, YHWH is one” is “YHWH is our God, YHWH alone (or only)”. How the Septuagint fits in with this is another blog altogether…

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Hope for a Barren City

Beaver Falls, contrary to what many might think, has a lot of potential. What is needed here is the transforming influence of God's Spirit, through the people of God. What is one way to do that? Provide the people with better food, local employment, and a sense of accomplishment (all permeated, of course, with prayer and evangelism). Maybe even Chicago can provide a model for growth...

Subversive Cartoons

For the last couple of years, I've been following a small, webbased cartoon called Sheepcomics, which pokes fun at mainstream and many non-mainstream versions of Christianity. Basically, it is a disgruntled evangelical who has seen many of the kinks in the armor and is thoughtfully exposing them through sheep. It is, if nothing else, worth a look. They are funny and might have something to say to us in our diverse church backgrounds.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Reading Communally

I was sitting in bed, talking with my dear wife, reading either Colossians Remixed or Story as Torah, when I realized that I have a 'community' with books. They are my mentors (the authors, I mean), they are my conversation partners, they are teachers and pastors. However, this got me thinking about how individualistic this is. I have a person laying next to me that is not sharing in this profound conversation, but instead is totally oblivious to what her husband is learning and hearing. Is there a way to read communally?

Back in the day, literacy wasn't so high. Texts had to be read to people (hence the origin of 'let the reader understand' --> see my blog on Targums) aloud and then interpreted/taught by a real person. Today, in church, everyone has a separate Bible that they read without really needing a pastor to read the text along. What if we put those Bibles back in the pew and listened, our postures attuned to hear the word of the Lord of the universe, and just listened to the words? Many people would say that they don't get things from just 'listening', they need to see it. Granted, people have different learning styles (auditory, visual, kinestetic), but we all should be able to be conversant in the different styles--we can learn to learn auditorily. I know when I started this experiment (under the suggestion of Dr. Jonathan Watt of Geneva College), I wasn't very good. My mind would wander or I'd get stuck on one verse and thinking about it (although that isn't such a bad thing). Nowadays, it is still hard--but it is getting better. There is a 'community' to listening together, a respect to the Word and the pastor/elder/layperson bringing it, and a rest from having to do everything in everyway everytime.

What about the other styles of learning in church? Visual could be a Scripture passage on an overhead or Powerpoint or in the bulletin. Kinestetic (pardon the spelling) could be a responsive reading or a lined-out song or a communal chant. All the styles could easily be addressed by a conscientious church.

What about at home? Reading to family members isn't a bad idea. Why do bedtime stories cease to exist around age 8? Why not have one family member read Scripture during family worship and switch who reads each week? It doesn't have to stop with the Bible though. A revival in the art of storytelling (and story listening) is in order! If we got our heads out of our books, maybe we could see another person's reaction to our reading worlds.

There is a sensitivity to that. If we read a passage about adultery in the Bible, we can minister to someone who has been adulted against or that needs to confess or that needs to learn the basics of Christian morality. Communion can really happen with merciful hearts that do justice to God's word by humbly listening (Micah. 6:8).

Thursday, November 11, 2004

The Fall of Autumn

A little Biblical theology joke...sorry.

Autumn has finally arrived here in the Falls, and yes, it is almost the middle of November. But I raked leaves for the first time today and it was glorious.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Bringin' in the Kingdom!

So...can we bring in the kingdom of God by our own efforts? Or, can we 'direct' the 'structures' to faithfully be participating in the kingdom? Where does human effort fall in the progressive outworking of the kingdom? What questions! Obviously, many answers have been proffered, but few have ever come to any consensus. It almost seems to be a Christian phobia to insinuate anything close to human effort bringing in the kingdom, where would Christ be in that--wouldn't we basically be bowing to Pelagius and the Divine Sparks (a great name for a rockband)? Maybe we need to rethink our way of viewing the world...

Uhoh...he used 'view' and 'world' in the same sentence! Is this another 'worldview' post? I'm getting so tired of those. In fact, if he continues on this track, I'm going to take his blog out of my favorites and spit on the ashes.

Be assured reader, that this is no ordinary 'worldview' post. Oh no, it is more about a posttheoretical aspect of human cognition (if only I understood what those words mean!). It is well known, thanks to Francis Schaeffer, that the Enlightenment finished building the humanist firmament--the division between Heaven and Earth; Faith and Science; Religion and Philosophy. It was a long time in coming, that pesky Judeo-Christian tradition stymied its effects for a long time. But eventually, we were able to kick God (or, as was more fashionable to say, the 'divine') out of our cosmos and relegate him to some Platonic nowhere. Then, we just got rid of God--even far away is too close. What about those "good ol' days" where God was intimately involved in His Creation, those wacky premodern days where YHWH controlled the winds, seas, and everything under the sun? If we don't go back to that sort of thought, the divine and the 'earthy' being woven in tightly (but still distinct), we won't know how to deal with human action in our messed-up world.

Thinking about it recently, I wonder what the impact of 'the Spirit' has on the Church's life. It certainly seems that we act out of a different Spirit, depending on which denomination or even which church in the same denomination (which is a scary thought). There is no unity, no brotherhood, no community--just Baptists and Catholics, Orthodox and Presbyterian. I think that a good view of the Spirit might help us understand the 'kingdom question' and bring renewed community.

What is the Spirit? I don't mean in the metaphysical, trinitarian sense, but in the practical sense. Cal Seerveld, in almost an offhand comment here at Geneva, equated the Spirit with Wisdom in the Old Testament. I think that this is a helpful way to look at things: the Spirit is Wisdom, God's Wisdom, which He gives to man freely upon asking. Every time Paul prays for the Spirit to come on an individual church, he is essentially praying that they would have Wisdom to resolve their problems, become unified, and press the kingdom onward in their communities. Which brings me back to above...

Since the realm of the divine and human are so closely knit (especially since the human Jesus, the incarnation of the divine Spirit-Wisdom-Word, see below about Rereading John 1), our work in the kingdom must be Spirit-driven. All our efforts to discern (Spiritually discern) culture, work, faith, or anything must be guided by Wisdom. So, all our efforts in the kingdom aren't 'bringin in the kingdom' but instead are the work of the Spirit to bring about the kingdom through chosen vessels. However, you might ask, why all the division in the Church? Unfortunately, I think that I have to say that is because the Church has sold itself under different 'spirits' or 'principalities and powers' and not to the true Spirit. We need to pray and think and work and pray some more for God to unify us under the One Spirit of Jesus so that our kingdom work won't be our own (or someone against God) efforts, but the very outworking of the Spirit to bring about God's wise plans.

Of Pastors and Professors

This blog is a dialogue with Matt Stewart, about a comment he made on Keith's blog. Whoah, that's a lotta links.

Matt basically wrote that he has, under the possible influence of the neocalvinist tradition, been mentored and discipled more by professors at college than at church by pastors (although, see his later correction). That is a topic of some interest to me, so I thought I'd throw in my two cents without crowding Keith's comment spot.

As Reformed, evangelical Christians, we have a strange concept of the Church. We don't want a Roman Catholic hierarchy (because, frankly, its too Catholic); we don't want an Anabaptist setup (because, frankly, its too Anabaptist)--so we have a strange configuration that tries to find the middle ground between the two. The pastor takes on the lead of the church. Now, this isn't what our systematics tell us to do, but it is what more often than not happens. People become very dependent on pastors to meet their ministry needs, which, granted, is part of the pastor's job description. However, as my pastor made clear in his last sermon, people sort of demand that the pastor takes care of every problem (especially social problems) within the Church. Unfortunately, this is a response by the congregation of immature living--a community is supposed to be mature enough to handle its own problems...although it wasn't any different in Paul's day (see I Corinthians 6). My point here is that pastors shouldn't be the only ones, or even the primary ones, we go to for discipleship. Yes, they are supposed to have more wisdom than the common layperson; yes, they do have special training in discipleship and counseling; yes, that is why they are getting paid. But let's not forget Paul's words "It was [Christ] who gave be prepare God's people for works of service [or ministry, the Greek is the same], so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaing to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ..." (Eph. 4:11-13). Pastors' jobs, Biblically, is for preparing others to bear the burden of discipleship and discipling--basically what an 'elder' is supposed to do in a community.

Professors, on the other hand, have such a greater contact with students. Pastors see their congregation once a week, maybe twice if they hold a Bible study mid week. That isn't enough time to meet the discipleship needs of their congregations. Professors meet bidaily, sometimes daily, to meet the discipleship needs--even if it isn't a formal relationship! Professors act as advisors, not just academically, but emotionally and socially. Professors eat in the same place with students day after day and share many common times and experiences that pastors cannot. The community produced by this, while temporary and 'artificial' in a way (see my post below), is much tighter and easy to minister in than in a separated American church. In this way, professors should be celebrated for their role in student development. Plus, professors, working in the freedom of the academy, are more free to disagree with their traditions and speak freely about that--which is crucial to both the Reformation spirit and also to a student's critical thinking skills.

For what its worth...

Monday, November 08, 2004

The Future of the Future

A bunch of years ago, Francis Fukuyama wrote an article titled The End of History? which had some interesting things about how with the 'victory' of capitalism over Marxism/communism meant the goal of Western history had been reached. Now, like any good eschatology, we live trying to figure out what to do.

One of the more neglected worldview questions (on par with "where are we?", etc.) is "what time is it?" Every worldview has an eschatology, a time when the "what's wrong?" problem will fully meet the "what's the remedy?" solution. Some are more realized than others. What is the eschatology that we live in?

Many would say that Christian eschatology has nothing to do with history, except that it happens at the end of such and translates us to a new, ahistorical existence. However, this has been shown by many (Borg and Wright as examples) to be a complete sham and misreading of every single eschatological/apocalyptic text of the Bible. But I digress for the moment...

Wendell Berry, in a recent article has this to say:

INDUSTRIALISM BEGINS WITH technological invention. But agrarianism begins with givens: land, plants, animals, weather, hunger, and the birthright knowledge of agriculture. Industrialists are always ready to ignore, sell, or destroy the past in order to gain the entirely unprecedented wealth, comfort, and happiness supposedly to be found in the future. Agrarian farmers know that their very identity depends on their willingness to receive gratefully, use responsibly, and hand down intact an inheritance, both natural and cultural, from the past.

I have to say, I have lived under that industrial dream most my life: the world is getting 'better' through plastics, or medicine, or even the latest corn hybrid (I lived in Nebraska most my life too). Invention is highly prized, even if it is unnecessary. The old dictum "Necessity is the mother of invention" could rightly be switched to "Invention is the mother of necessity". The question is: what is the future to be like?

The answer is to return to the discussion of Christian eschatology. I said earlier (taking also Derek's criticisms into account--see the comments section under my "Localism, Elections, and the New Jerusalem") that the Biblical pattern is "start in a garden, end up in a garden-city". Or, if you will, start in Madison Square Gardens and end up in the Garden State. Wait...nevermind. The Biblical picture of shalom is one of agricultural and communal abundance. Our relationship to our neighbor and to our place is signficantly restored by our reconciliation to our God. So much so that even the city (the logical outgrowth of the need to market the God-blessed abundance) is described in agricultural terms--a harmony between the direct creation and indirect creation of God (i.e. nature and culture). This view is extremely close to that of Berry's agraianism.

How can we view this in light of a semi-realized Christian eschatology? What I mean is that God has accomplished all the awaited-for events of eschatology in Jesus (resurrection, ascension, rulership, etc.). What does that mean for the way we live today? The oft used way of putting it is that we should live like we are in the completed kingdom. Indeed. What would happen if we lived in a way that proclaimed the church as living in the New Jerusalem? Possibly the blessing of the whole world, agriculturally, communally, culturally? I think I heard someone make a promise to an Aramean about that and then say, "All the blessings are 'yes' and 'amen' in the Messiah"...hmmm.

Is Theonomy a Four-Letter Word?

Yes I am a theonomist. No I am not a theonomist. Both equally true. Strange, yes? Yes.

Above is my postmodern answer. Below is a coherent, understandable answer. (I'm in a bit of a goofy mood today).

When most people think of theonomists they think of R.J. Rushdoony or Gary North, who, understandably have been the figureheads of the movement. However, Greg Bahnsen once said, in Theonomy in Christian Ethics, that not all theonomists agree on how to apply God's law to society or even to 'individual' morality. This, I think, is what needs to be the first thing people hear about theonomy: it isn't a monolithic movement.

What is a theonomist? A theonomist is someone who says that God's law (as revealed especially in the Torah, but expanded and conditioned by revelation and history--particularly Jesus' history) is still applicable to all of life's relationships, unless specifically changed by the teachings of Jesus or his apostles/disciples in the Biblical canon. This usually boils down to a question of how God's law applies to the 'State' (or at least people take it in that direction very fast).

After that, though, theonomists are a mixed bunch. Some say that the mixed fabric laws are still in force, others that all the 'separation' laws are fulfilled and abrogated in Christ. Some say that stoning is the only acceptable method of the death penalty, others that the death penalty is fulfilled in Christ. Some say that the State should have limited powers, others that there should be no State. Quite a broad range, eh?

Having read Institutes of Biblical Law: Vol. 1 this summer, I got a new view of theonomy. Rushdoony spent many pages talking about lawful land use that could very well have come from the same pen as Wendell Berry uses. That was a shock to me, since many theonomists think that Berry is a 'liberal'.

What use should the Torah have today? I think it should have a lot--since God doesn't author things that are of little to no use. Yes, they must be brought into new historical circumstances (but so does the rest of Scripture). It must also be thought through very carefully. The governmental regulations in, say, Exodus 18 and even Deuteronomy 17, would only really work in a faithful, mostly agraian society (maybe that's why I like theonomy so much!). It advocates smaller communities based on the love engendered by the Exodus (mercy to widows, orphans, and strangers), but still has the needed discipline to keep 'justice' (a tricky word to define without the Torah as a backdrop).

Since the Torah is essentially storied, I think that it needs to be rethought with the developments of the story. What was God saying to the beleaguered Exodus community with the separation laws? Is it something similar to what non-theonomists Walsh and Keesmaat say in their chapter "An Ethic of Secession" from Colossians Remixed? I would be inclined to say yes. Are there things in Torah that should only be symbolically fulfilled since the Messiah? Yes again--the priestly regulations would fall under here. Can the Torah be used in anti-creational, anti-merciful ways? Yes, like in all eras from its Sinai giving to today. Redemption itself (which many use to say 'freedom from God's law') is an Exodus metaphor, which implies (at least) that God gives his law in covenant renewal--such as Jesus' reclamation of the law in Matthew 5.

A complete picture? No. Things to think about? Yes.

PS--Are there anarchistic, non-ecclesiastical theonomists? You bet your booty. Read especially "The Christmas Conspiracy" where I was first introduced to what I recognize as incredibly similar to many neocalvinist writings.

A Few Random Thoughts

First off, check out Matt Stewart's interview with Cal Seerveld. Fun stuff about Geneva, RP's, and other topics.

Second, I almost called this post "The Joys of Terry Thomas" a neocalvinist Steelers fan. Reformational football?

Third, check out Keith's blog today about clogs and kilts. Possibly the unification of the great Reformed traditions is taking place in this one man.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

The Politics of Jesus

The more I read and pray, the more I realize that the gospel is intensely political. That probably will come as no surprise, but it is starting to have certain ramifications in my life--some of which *could* be viewed as undesirable.

I teach high school Sunday school at my church. We are currently going through a study on Reformed theology (which, of course, is always simplified down to only 'saved by grace'). I have been loosely basing my lectures/discussions on the book, but mainly trying to bring out things that the author left out/downplayed/completely ignored. This week the chapter was superb: So What? Exactly. What does sovereignty mean in our work-a-day lives? Too often Reformed theology is taken down unfruitful rabbit trails of: double predestination, miscarriages/stillborns, people in ungospeled countries, etc. (not that these questions are unimportant, but they are usually used to get the topic off of what everyday sovereignty means). So this week, I tried to bring it more alive.

I talked, as I am wont to do, about worldview formation, especially dominant worldviews (such as modernity and consumerism). Then I asked to hit the rubber to the road: sovereignty deals with empires, empires form worldviews (crowd control), so who is our sovereign? Is it 'Caesar Kurios' or 'Christos Kurios'? Can we serve two masters?

Since worldviews are community-grounded, I took the discussion (or should I say, will be taking) to talking about what imperial claims are being made by our surrounding communities. From there I am talking about the alternative community of the church (a different body politic) and how living under another sovereign will color how we act. The big question behind all this, though, is: why do people with radically different worldviews from the Christian one act the same as Christians (or more importantly, why do Christians act like everyone else?).

I have a feeling that I am being too political, too subversive, since I want these students to question their allegiances to the 'principalites and powers' of American/Western culture. But, at the same time, I wonder if that is my place (I don't have an official sanction to do such things in my teaching). I must, I believe, follow my sovereign who has called me to tell a different story and explain it to others.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Artificial Community

College is an amazingly strange experience. There seems to me to be mounting evidence that college really IS disconnected from the 'real world' (and not just the TV show). Take the idea of community: an RA friend of mine and I were talking about how to build community in a residence hall floor (at Geneva you cannot call them 'dorms'). We both realized that there really were no clear direction or goal for the idea. Most community building, therefore, ends up being either a complete failure or a superficial gesture which lasts until the end of the year or semester. Possibly something might last the whole 4 years, but as people move to different places and such, the community breaks apart, only to be relived at sporadic spurts over a beer--if even that.

Right now, for the class I am TAing, we are reading Les and Leslie Parrott's Relationships. One of the things they say is that college students are the most relationally starved people. From what I wrote above, I don't doubt it. The question is, how do we start to change that? I think, for starters, that the college itself needs to become a true community. Relationships between faculty and staff, professors and student affairs workers; relationships between the college and surrounding community and environment; relationships between teachers and students, students and townspeople, students and students all need to be built up and nurtured. The Parrotts talk about babies left on their own, without human contact, die. I think no matter how old you are, the same thing happens with relationships. If we get people together in community, if they have no dialogue or interest in the relationship, it will die. Or, to put it in a slightly subversive way, if we only meet on Sundays for an hour or two (where we aren't allowed to talk anyway) and then expect to be a vibrant, faithful family, it won't work.

Localism, Elections, and the New Jerusalem

Since I have a pretty obvious phobia of short posts, I've combined three seemingly disparate topics (although they will segue into each other beautifully, I promise).

One of my favorite authors is Wendell Berry. He is a man that can truly be called 'wise'. I don't think he is right about everything, but that is why community is so beautiful--you can disagree and come together to hash things out to a greater consistency. He is, to put it mildly, a localist. He believes in the agrarian lifestyle and the need for cities to be sustainable from their immediate surrounding countryside. Obviously, for cities like New York, DC, etc. this would greatly reduce their 'citiness' (and their pride). One of the nice things about localism is that it is locally-focused. It is more decentralized and tends (in my view) to lead to a more responsible citizenry--especially ecologically. Local elections take on a new importance (first segue)...

I didn't vote in this election. Partially because I'm not registered (see Keith's blog for a possible reason why I am not), but also because, as a Christian, I cannot buy into the quasi-messianic claims of politicians--"ridding the world of evil", "providing health care" (another word for health, from the Bible, is shalom), etc. Government, I think, has overstepped its bounds and I have tried to separate myself from it. I'm content at this point to pay taxes (Rom. 13) and try to be a small, hopefully prophetic, voice of inner critique and dissent. However, after talking it over with my wife last night, I do wish I would have been more informed and had voted locally. Not that I care who the coroner is, but I would like it to be someone who will treat humans (dead or not) with dignity, respect, and love. I want the DA to do justice, to love mercy, and (above all) walk humble with the God. I want the mayor to understand the limits of his/her office and try to work for community development by energizing the churches and people of the area. I want people concerned for the Beaver River, the land recovering from steel mill (or still mill--local dialects are also wonderful) scars, and a polluted air. Next year, I'm on top of the glory of God. Part of this all comes from a desire to see the garden flourish in the city (segue two)...

Part of the neocalvinist tradition is that we say, "Life started in a garden and is progressing towards a city..." speaking of Eden versus the New Jerusalem. I think that this is oversimplictic. If you look at Genesis 2 and Revelation 21-22, the City is a Garden. It is adorned with jewels (like Eden--see Ezekiel), has trees, uses leaves for healing balm, etc. It isn't that the historical development of urban, concrete jungles is what God intended, but instead a city that lives in harmony with its environment and countryside, under the blessing of God. Which brings me back to localism...

A (Hopefully) Humble Confession

To all who read any of this:

I realized last night at class that I am not as smart as I think I am. All my life I've been touted as a "fast learner". I know now, sadly, that this is a lie. Let me explain...

During Worldviews class last night, I stumbled across a great insight that has slowly been brewing in my mind for weeks. Worldviews are just individual things, we can't hold a worldview solitarily--we need community. At the same time, a worldview is itself a social event which goes on to affect individuals. I had finally bridged individualism and was thinking, "Man, I need to share this profound insight with the teacher!" Then, much to my chagrin, Dr. Opitz held up the book Fabric of Faithfulness by Steve Garber. I had read the book about 6 months ago. Then he said, "One of the fundamental things is that we need communities to live out the worldviews we have, we can't do it alone." So, not only has my great insight been published before, I was just unknowingly plagarizing ideas.

When I got home, things weren't much different. Bethany told me that she didn't have to work the next day, but was feeling a little sick. I said that she should go to bed (especially since she had to get up early, said my brain, for work); but she wanted to stay up and play video games (I have the greatest wife). I insisted that she go to bed, for her health, especially (vocally this time) since she don't, I mean, you're not, ah (rest of comment deleted due to humiliating character). Yes, she had told me that, but the great insight didn't dawn till later.

So much for being a 'fast' learner. Yet another paradigm shift to make.

Monday, November 01, 2004

For Michael

This is in grateful dialogue with Keith and his desire for contributions to the memory of Michael Barbato.

I wrote this the day I learned that Michael had started his path towards resurrection:

A Prayer in the Face of Death

I fear resurrection will never come
that it has passed us by without a glance;
never to shine on our downcast faces.
And here we are:
Some lame, same blind, some fast asleep,
but all suffering under the cruel bondage of despair.
Waiting, praying, pleading for the bonds to break
And our restoration to come.
Our lips say, “Where is the promise of its coming?”
But our hearts say, “A little longer it will not tarry.”
Are we alone, speaking into air growing thinner?
Or are we ignored, a worse fate still?

I wish that I could take on the pain of the grievers around me,
The ones lifting their voices to heaven,
Weeping, crying, weeping yet more,
Inarticulate words only interpreted by Spirit;
But I am no sufferer in servitude;
I can not bear my own grief as it is.

Hope needs a sign.
Do we believe that this is not the way it is to be?
Or do we die contentedly,
even welcoming the cold grip of Death’s hands?
Is there any hope that someday the warm love of God
will itself pry those dead fingers apart and free us?
Hope needs a sign.

I long to see the days when his tombstone is cast aside,
When a womb can bring forth life
When our friends bodies are not eaten away in premature rot;
When our children die not before they breathe.
God, send us the sign of Jonah! Send us your Son from heaven!
Make these bodies animated by Adam’s fault,
Be instead energized by Jesus’ life.
Give us not over to the unbearable corruption of watching friends,
family, saints, and loved ones wither before our eyes!
May we all rest in shalom on your coming Sabbath Day.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

New Ways to Look at the Bible

In Judaism, there are a few extra books that have some sort of authority alongside (some would argue over) the Hebrew Bible: Talmud and Targumim. The Talmud is a book of various Rabbi's opinions about 'halakic' questions (halakh, from the Hebrew for 'to walk', means basically how one lives--or better yet, how one responds to God). In a lot of ways, especially when connected with the Mishnah, the Talmud serves as a commentary on the Hebrew Bible. Although I cannot develop it right now, I have argued in the past that the New Testament is the Christian Talmud--which solidifies its place as connected organically and eternally to the Hebrew Bible.

What I'd like to concentrate on here is the targumims, which is the plural of 'targum'. A targum happened like this: in the synagogue, someone would read the Hebrew text; since most Jews in the first century AD knew Aramaic and NOT Hebrew, the priest/rabbi would paraphrase the Hebrew text into Aramaic and 'update' it to apply to their contemporary situation. It was a very important process, especially since many Pharisees held the 'targumic' positions and could influence the masses (seen in how they prodded on many revolutionaries in the War of 66-70 AD).

Walsh and Keesmaat, in Colossians Remixed, give an example of Colossians in a modern targumic form. It is fascinating and enthralling--a more effective and affective sermon than I think I've ever heard. As they explain in the book, there is a lot of freedom in targumic interpretations, but if one has 'Old Testament ears to hear' the overtones are brought out quite nicely. The question I wonder is, should we bring back this old time style of sermon?

Having studied Hebrew and Greek for my major, they are very dear languages to me. I would love nothing better than that all God's saints would know the languages (except that it would further limit my job potentials). I would love it if all the saints grew a respect for the canonical word (Brevard Child's style). However, they don't. I don't even know them well enough. Most Christians don't even seem to realize that the translations that they use are interpretations, subject to human error. The original text (if we leave out text-critical problems aside for a moment) doesn't suffer from these things. Would it be so bad to read (or preferably chant) the original language texts in Church? Obviously, nobody would understand what was being read...unless there was a targum...

Sermons would have to follow the form of the text closely to be faithful to God's word, and use a lot of wisdom in developing targums week by week. But it is a magnificent way to draw the congregation into the text without worrying about 'literal-functional' translation issues or, for that matter, gender-inclusivity debates. In a very important sense, the prophets targumed the Torah in poetic form for their sermons. The overtones and echoes of Scripture are rich in prophetic deep that they can only be truly appreciated at the level of worldview.

This 'targuming' would lead to a prophetible three-office structure of the Church: prophet, priest, and king. The 'priest', the pastor (almost all Protestant pastors say that they are the representative of God bringing His word--which was the job of the local Levites), would interpret God's word targum-style, much like in the days of Ezra. The prophet would do what prophets do: bring cases against the people in terms of that very word--and also against the 'priests' if they are misrepresenting the word or misapplying the word. The king is, of course, the one we all are answerable to...our Lord Jesus Messiah. This scheme would require a greater knowledge of the word, especially the Hebrew Bible, to work. Who, though, is saying that that is a bad thing? The checks-and-balances would be nice; giving the Session and the 'priesthood-of-all-believers' adequate authority to keep the pastor in check (by which I mean both critique and encouragement) and also to do ministry of their own (something Paul talks about in Ephesians). It might also do justice to the offices of 'bishop' and 'deacon' as they are found in the New Testament, not to mention 'elder'.


One possibility that this model might entail is the repositioning of the Word in the context of the worshipping community. The Bible was not meant to be read ex situ, but rather has its full meaning and significance in the context of the liturgy.

Shalom olam v-olam (Peace forever and forever; or, targum-style, God's restorative, gracious wholeness be with all His people unto the end of the ages).

Critical Thinking

Check out David Whitcomb's blog about Napolean Dynamite and Michael Moore. Regardless of what side of the political spectrum you fall on (of if you're like me, you aren't even on the spectrum...but off chasing butterflies in left field), his comments about the way people have uncritically accepted what Moore has said are very provocative. Especially that college students are swallowing his rhetoric wholesale...

I thought college was where you developed critical thinking skills...

Thinking back to my collegiate experience (which is still continuing), I don't think that I got them either, so I'm not trying to be 'high-and-mighty'. What might the development of critical thinking (henceforth CT, possibly lowercase) look like? At Geneva, we have a class that is about worldview development and culture called Foundations of Christian Thought (which, like any good foundations class, is held in the junior/senior year). You learn about the Reformational worldview and how to 'live' (discussions of relationships, culture, work, etc.). We did use Bill Romanowski's Eyes Wide Open, which models a way to critique movies from a Reformational worldview, but that was about it. Since we only applied it once and that half-'butted', it hasn't sunk in much with most students that have taken the class. A start towards ct, but it needs some volts behind it.

In one other class, taught by the best prof at Geneva, Byron Curtis, I did learn some theological ct. We were talking about the Documentary Hypothesis (basically 'poop' spelled 'JEDP') and I realized that with the book of Jeremiah, at least, a 'D' editor wasn't needed. Deuteronomy (what 'D' stands for) was rediscovered by King Josiah's men and promolgated throughout the land--at the beginning of Jeremiah's ministry. Jeremianic authorship could be rightfully reinstated. (For anyone remotely interested in this topic, I did my term paper on a closely related theme--email me if you would like a copy). That was an exciting day (my wife thinks I'm a nerd, but I'm ok with that) and I remember it as the day when I finally grew some theological chest-hair.

However, if we are to be the 'judges of the world' as Paul talks about in I Corinthians 6 (I think), we need to get some ct skills. In other words, we need some wisdom. Maybe a more dialogical approach to teaching (which scares me, it is easier to give--or listen to--a lecture than be in a discussion), where students are pressed to what might seem like embarrassment, but really shown that they are developing wisdom (otherwise known as PoliSci 352 at Geneva)? Maybe more essays and projects than 'objective' tests (another thing that scares me for obvious reasons)? Maybe, as Dr. Terry Thomas has suggested, we need the student affairs and academic affairs to put forth joint learning efforts?

So, here's what I pose to all y'all out there: how do we develop wisdom so that we won't be sucked in and suckered by the 'rhetoric of empire', as Walsh and Keesmaat call it in their new (wonderful) book Colossians Remixed?

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Emmaus Road (part two)

Here's the second part in a three part series...

Within me my throat is bowed down, therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and Hermon's ones--the mountain of Mizar.
Depth to depth calls from the voice of your Tsinore--all your breakers and your heaps of water over me pass.

Their days, YHWH commands his hesed-love and in the night his song is with me--a prayer to God of my life:
I am saying to God, 'My Rock, why do you forget me? Why in mourning clothes do I walk in the oppression of an enemy?
With a shattering in my bones, my harassers revile me!
With them saying to me, 'where is your Creator?'

Why are you bowed down, o my throat? Why do you groan within me? Wait for the Creator! For again I shall praise him, the salvation of my face and my God.


Inside of me, my whole being is forced down, so I will (instead) remember you from the land of Jordan and Hermon's heights, even the hill of Mizar.
Deep cries out to deep at the sound of your hurricane gale; your breakers and waves pass on top of me.

In those days, though, YHWH commands his unfailing covenant love
In the night, his song is with me--a prayer to the God of my life.
So I say to God, "My Rock, why have you forgotten me? Why do I walk around, dressed for a funeral, during this enemies' oppression?
My harassers mock me, shattering my bones, when they say to me, 'where is your God'."

Why are you so choked up, my Throat? Why do you groan inside of me? Wait for the Creator! For again shall I praise him--the one who brightens my face and my God.

Reformational Theology

Before I get back to the Psalm 42-43 translation, I thought I'd write a few words about theological process from a burgeoning neo-calvinist view. Listening to Cal Seerveld the other night, it really hit me that I don't know the Bible as well as I make myself look--in fact, my area of expertise (Hebrew and Hebrew Bible) is woefully inadequate. Lately, I've really needed to go back to the beginning to get a fresh start.

One of the most important things Cal said was that we need to read our Bibles in another language that we aren't as fluent in. Since I love Hebrew and it is technically impossible to be fluent in a dead language that nobody really knows the absolute correct pronunciations for, I've chosen to concentrate there. He was right, while Psalms 42-43 may take a total of two minutes to read in English, I've spent over two hours so far getting where I am translationally. There is a lot more in this Psalm set than I first imagined. That, I hope, will come out in the translation and paraphrase.

Another thing that I've come to embrace is a critical-realist epistemology (although, as my friend Sean Purcell warns, I shouldn't make it my ontology), or as Tom Wright puts it, an epistemology of love. However, modernism dies hard. The Giant that Jack (postmodernism) killed is falling faster than Jack can get down the beanstalk. It is hard to break free of positivist restrictions and have the scales fall off the eyes.

What does this all have to do with 'reformational theology'? I think that as I study more and more and try to see things in their original context, the freshness is becoming more and more apparent, while (unfortunately) the un-freshness of historic confessions and such is growing. Rather than giving them up, though, maybe viewing them in the same way that I view the original Biblical texts would be helpful? It is possible that their freshness would blossom once again.

What to do with metaphors is a larger question. Historical development, a favored concept of most neocalvinists that I've met, would seem to say that the metaphors in the ancient world are largely not applicable in the same way today. The Hebrews thought of the heart as the 'seat of the will and intellect', where our culture has the heart being the wellspring of emotions and everything Romantic and Idealistic. However, I'm not so convinced that these rich, God-given metaphors should so easily pass away. If we are to take a Biblical anthropology (for instance) seriously and authoritatively, then these metaphors become vitally important for our own understanding. (Thank goodness that the neocalvinist tradition is rooted in Scripture and not free-floating!) Genesis 2.7 is a case in point. Instead of the reading (paraphrased): God made man out of the dust of the earth, breathed in the breath of life, and Adam become a living soul; we would have: God made Adam out of the soil of the earth, breathed in the Breath of life, and Adam became a living (or moving) throat. Is this important? At least Plato would think so (although he doesn't get out of the cave much anymore).

A Reformational reading of the text would take the metaphors seriously and seriously translate them so that a cultural transformation could take place (which will happen). Our theology, looking back on a chequered past, could push forward--not in the name of 'progress'--but in the name of YHWH, taking every modern and postmodern thought captive.

Well, it seems that I set out to talk about theology and have ended up talking about exegesis (as if they could be separated!). The coherent system (theology) will have to wait till later, I suppose. But watch out for a new idea of systematic theology, which grows out of Biblical theology, take root soon. An organic system, I think, is on the brink of sprouting--to the glory of God.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Emmaus Road

Cal Seerveld, this week at Geneva, called for a fresh, "gritty" translation of the Psalms for today. I'm trying to do that in Psalm 42 and 43. I have used "Creator" for Elohim, "God" for El and Eloah, and YHWH for...YHWH (it is only used once in the whole Psalm, which seems to me important). It is self-consciously literal, especially with the physical metaphors because so much later philosophy/theology has read in foreign connotations into them (ex. the use of the literal 'throat' for 'soul'). Here's what I have so far (to verse 7).

For use in Temple worship: a skillful song in the tradition of the Sons of Korah

As a deer longs for the deep flowing streams,
So my throat longs for you, Creator.
My throats thirsts! Thirsts for the Creator, God the Living One!
When can I come and see the face of the Creator?
My tears have been food to me day and night, while saying to myself all day, 'Where is your God?'
These I mention and I pour out my throat for 'I will go over with the party, walking to the house of the Creator amidst sounds of inarticulate joy and songs of uproarious thanksgiving celebrating the festivals.'

Why are you bowed down, o my throat, and why do you groan within me? Wait for the Creator, for again shall I praise him--the salvation of my face and my God...

Now for a more paraphrastic rendition, called "Emmaus Road":

Just like a deer longs for deep, cool water;
So all I am yearns for you, Creator.
My whole self thirsts for the Creator, the Living God!
When will I be able to come back and see the face of the Creator?
Day and night, all I've eaten are my tears, while questioning myself the whole time, 'where is your God?'
Those times I remember, as I pour out myself like a libation, when I would go with the party , walking to the house of God amidst a clammer of joyful noise and booming thanksgiving songs during the festival days!
Why are you so choked up, throat? Why do you rumble inside me? Wait for the Creator! You will praise him again! He is the one who brightens your face and he is your God!

Embracing Eschatology

It is a dreary and ever-darkening day here in the Falls. The tree leaves are beautiful, but look dullish in the early afternoon (lack of) light. Here is where I need a hefty dose of apocalyptic to keep me going...

For some reason today, I'm feeling pretty down. I can't seem to wrap my mind around my work and previously 'done' things are coming undone. Things that once had incredible significance seem to be wearing painfully thing and other things that have always called to be given significance aren't shutting up--but I still don't want to recognize them...yet. Things just seem so mundane.

What is it in my life, work, and being that is of cosmic significance? Revelation took the suffering of early saints and plotted it in terms of a great cosmic battle, with the ending revealed as a source of hope in painful situations. Dragons and birthing women and whores and bowls and trumpets and locusts all fit together to bring across this (amongst other) points. It is hard to see this currently in my life, in the life of my neighborhood, and in the life of the Falls. All it seems to be is a slowly unraveling sweater that could be beautiful, but soon we'll be naked laying on the floor (laying on the floor), we've come undone.

Herein comes the gospel. It is hope. It is also, painfully right now, historical. I can't just wrench it from its context and place it in my own--if I do so, it won't be the gospel. But the play that the drama sets up, I want a place in that. I want to be apart of that great dramatic unfolding towards the final 'de-fuzzy-ing' of God's redemption. But all the parts currently on offer don't fit (so I want to think) in the part that I thought I would (or should) be playing. I'm living in that tension of what I maybe should do versus what I want to do.

Psalm 42 and 43, as always, are the meditation of the day: In the daytime, YHWH commands his hesed-love, and in the nighttime, his song is with me; a prayer to 'God-of-my-living'. Wait [o my throat] for God--the salvation of my face and my God.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Worldview and History

I won't usually be this prolific on my blogging...but I've got stuff to write!

I think about the usual shorthand (storied shorthand, see a previous post) for the Reformational worldview: creation, fall, redemption. Unfortunately, that can easily be abused into a worldview that has recourse only to very, very ancient (somewhat unimaginable) history and contemporary history (the period of redemption). I propose, following NT Wright, that we add a little to our worldview: concrete history. I propose a new scheme: creation, rebellion, covenant (with redemption and consummation being subcategories of the last). The reason that I have for this is that it is important that Israel was the intended bringer of God's healing shalom and that Jesus himself was (and remains) Jewish. Our 'redemption' is Abrahamic, as Paul so eloquently tells us in Galatians. The Jewishness of the gospel is so very important to understand it hermeneutically, which is part of the reason for the earlier post on John 1.

Even though the 'covenant' theme is not apparent in the original Reformational shorthand, it is and has always been there in the storied form. However, redemption itself is a subcategory of covenant. The covenant was God's way of dealing with rebellion and Adamic sin, while also eschatologically setting up God's shalom again in the world. Why don't we just follow the 'Old' Covenant then? The ones entrusted with the Adamic task, Israel, failed and rebelled themselves. That is why God, through Jesus, needed to renew the covenant (and since covenants are historical documents) in a new way for a new time. Also, God's shalom was finally doing more than being symbolically acted out--the rulership of God was coming to bear (finally) in the work of Jesus. The Spirit, which the Israelites had hoped for, was being poured out. The exile was ending and Caesar's power (death, as it were) was being destroyed through resurrection life. In other words, 'covenant' had finally given birth to 'redemption'.

Shalom olam v-olam.

Culture (yes...that general)

I spoke for ten minutes in Dr. John H. White's Bible 300 program today. The topic was 'culture'. Broad, yes, but if you are reading Keith (I'll mention him in almost every post, I'm sure) or Gideon Strauss 'culture' becomes a very important term. Being trained in the linguistic field, I have a particular penchant to argue semantics, which is (to me) very important to worldview (see the book Metaphors We Live By for an idea). Here's the thoughts that I had (which were much more 'full' and funny in person, I am a big, goofy-looking Nebraskan):

What is culture? Is it the way you use your forks? Is it a snobby attitude towards the arts? Most words having a tie to 'culture' have to do with an aspect of farming or animal husbandry:

agriculture, horticulture, viniculture, aquaculture, arboriculture, aviculture, monoculture, permaculture, pisciculture, sericulture, vermiculture, and cultivar

All of these words have to do with 'cultivation' -- the act and art of doing culture. In Greek, the verb 'to do' is:


from which we get the word 'poem'. Culture doesn't come out of a vacuum, it is something particularly human, something we 'do', something we 'poiema', we artfully and imaginatively engage in all of life. But think back to the words that end with '-culture': how can humans do those? Have you ever met an unmarried farmer? Only in community, only as a 'cultus', a 'worshipping community' is culture possible. Culture, then, at is bedrock level, is what humans do in response to God.

Shalom olam.

Every Idle Word...

Cal Seerveld spoke today in Geneva's chapel program. The main theme was using our words wisely and basically to learn to 'shut up' before God. If all our words are before the face of God, then we are responsible for them. That makes me think of blogging...

Why should we blog? I take it as a given that 'bloggin' by itself is not inherently evil. But if I just use it to publish my ideas (usually so I don't forget them) for selfish reasons, then they are empty, vain, and ultimately useless. But what if I go about it from the starting point of "how can I love my neighbor as myself?" instead of "how does this glorify me?" Blogging taking on a missiological focus?

Not that blogging has to be outrightly evangelistic, far from it. The last thing I need to do is publish 'Blog Tracts', although if I copyright that idea now... Instead, God is glorified and my neighbor helped if I use my words thoughtfully, artfully, and usefully. If every breath, every intake and extake of God's Spirit-Breath (Hebrew ruach), ends in hallelujah or soli deo gloria. Not that every word needs to be what modern Christians think of as 'praise'. Check out Psalm 89, a psalm that is absolutely depressing, but ends in "praise to YHWH forever! amen and amen." Even depression, or any other less 'acceptable' emotion, can end in a hallel.