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.