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)...


Jason said...

Your blog is mindblowing, Russ. I'm glad folks like you and Keith are doing this. My link, by the way, is linked on my frontpage.

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