Saturday, February 24, 2018

Reading Through Theology of the OT: by Walter Brueggemann #16

BrueggemannThis post moves into the concluding section as we read through Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy, by Walter Brueggemann. The final section of the theology, Prospects for Theological Interpretation, discusses the question of where Old Testament theology is or should be going in the future. I have been posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the theology are in blue below. I am using the Logos version of the book.…

Chapter 26, Interpretation in a Pluralistic World, focuses on how OT theology should develop in a world no longer dominated by a Western Enlightenment worldview, but instead presents many different possible metanarratives (though most are not presented openly or honestly) to us that could be appropriated. The Old Testament (and I would say the whole Bible), with its approach to present God without resolving all the tensions that its presentation produces, speaks well into a pluralistic world. First, one must start with the text, and try to understand it, as much as possible, within its original contexts. We must understand that interpretive schemes or theological systems (including our own) are greatly influenced by other contexts and should be reviewed and reevaluated periodically. We need to apply new applications of the text, to new situations, with new questions. This does not mean we start over. We read the text WITH our traditions, not UNDER them. As Christians, we recognize that the Holy Spirit has worked in the past, with people from very different traditions who ask the Bible very different questions, and we need to listen to and honor that testimony. As a missionary, I got to hear interpretations, theologies and applications of scripture from people of other cultures that the Spirit used greatly in my life. I think this kind of "pluralism" can only strengthen the church.

Because different interpretations in different contexts—driven by different hopes, fears, and hurts—ask different questions from the ground up, it is clear that there will be no widely accepted “canon within the canon,” which is itself a function of hegemonic interpretation. As a consequence, we are now able to see that every interpretation is context-driven and interest-driven to some large extent. 711

I anticipate that Old Testament theology, in its attempts to honor the plurality of the text, will have to reckon with the cruciality of speech as the mode of Yahweh’s actuality, the disputatious quality of truth, and the lived, bodied form of testimonial communities. 716

I am content to have theological interpretation stay inside the text—to refrain from either historical or ontological claim extrinsic to the text—but to take the text seriously as testimony and to let it have its say alongside other testimonies. 718

In chapter 27, The Constitutive Power of Israel's Testimony, Brueggemann makes his point again that Old Testament theology must be concerned with the OT text that we have. We should not be looking at the research into the history behind the text which leads to theological skepticism or for anything beyond the text. The text itself was what made Israel the community that it was. The testimony of the text to the God Israel worshiped should be what constitutes our theology. We must not remove the tensions in the text to conform them to our own theologies, nor should we add anything. In my opinion, Christians must understand the OT in its own context before we apply Jesus' hermeneutic to it. Yes, all the OT scriptures speak of Jesus (Luke 24.44) but we must understand the OT as Israel's testimony to rightly see how the New Testament writers used it.

Israel’s testimony about a world with Yahweh at its center intends to debunk and nullify all other proposed worlds that do not have Yahweh at their center. This testimony undertaken persistently by Israel is not neutral or descriptive, but it is thoroughly and pervasively partisan advocacy. This partisan advocacy, moreover, is generative and constitutive of a new world, when “recruits” sign on to this world of utterance. In signing on, such recruits and members at the same time depart other worlds that are based in other normative utterances (Joshua 24:23). 723

It may be simply that the issue of ideology and elusiveness is the very marking of constancy that belongs to Yahweh who is endlessly responsive and available and at the same time intransigently sovereign. That unresolved, and perhaps unresolvable, issue is precisely what is so compelling and so maddening about Old Testament theology. 724

My argument is an insistence that utterance is all we have—utterance as testimony—and that utterance as testimony is enough, as it was for the community of Israel. 725

Friday, February 23, 2018

Reading Through the Gospel of John #2 (1.19-5.47)

JohnWith this post we begin reading through the Gospel of John accompanied by John, vol. 4, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, by Rodney A. Whitacre. The Gospel of John portrays Jesus’ ministry as a progressive revealing of the glory of the Divine Son of Man and Son of God in the words and acts of Jesus of Nazareth. I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

This glory of Jesus as the Divine Son of God begins to be revealed in the first few chapters of the Gospel. The first witness to Jesus' glory is John the Baptist. He testifies to the crowd and delegation from Jerusalem that he saw the Spirit descend and rest on Jesus. Jesus is the pre-existent Coming One, the Son of God, Son of Man, and Lamb of God. John directs his disciples toward Jesus, which is what a true humble disciple of Jesus should do. Andrew and Philip typify good disciples who stay in the presence of Jesus and direct others to Him. The conclusion of chapter 1 (v.51) is critical to the message of the book. Jesus fulfills what Israel (Jacob) was supposed to do. Jesus will connect heaven and earth and be the One who will provide God's covenant blessing to all the world. The key is to hear Him and stay in His presence.

John the Baptist is true to his task, for he is testifying to the light (cf. 1:7). Even when he is asked to testify concerning himself he points to Jesus. Thus he is a model of humility, a key characteristic of discipleship in this Gospel. So the Baptist himself is a lamp (5:35), both shining on Christ and exposing the ignorance of the opponents. We find in him a powerful example of humility, single-mindedness and witness. John 1.19-34, 66

These disciples, who will shortly be so full of words, opinions and activity, are characterized at the outset by a desire for the presence of Jesus more than for answers to questions. Their immaturity will become evident immediately, but the crucial issue in discipleship is not whether we are mature but whether we desire to come and see and then abide in the divine presence, the only source of eternal life and growth in grace and truth. John 1.35-51, 72

Chapter 2 begins John's account of how Jesus revealed His Divine glory in action. At Cana, Jesus shows that He is the one who brings in the "new wine" of the coming kingdom, which is pictured in the OT as a wedding banquet. Jesus reveals God's gracious generosity in the over-abundance of wine provided. In the confrontation with the Jewish leadership in the temple, Jesus reveals His body as the "new temple," the place where God and people can come together in relationship. The confrontation also prefigures the opposition that will result in his sacrificial death which makes this relationship possible. Jesus is working on His Father's timetable and plan to show God's glory to the world, which the disciples will only understand after the resurrection and ascension.

The glory is also evident in the graciousness of this event, as the prologue has prepared us to notice (1:14). In response to a humble request Jesus provides wine in abundance, over 100 gallons. Here is a free, full, extravagant outpouring, and it is precisely the Son of God’s gratuitous, gracious generosity that is the glory revealed in this sign. John 2.1-11, 80

The death of the Son of God in Jerusalem at the instigation of these Jewish opponents during a later Passover is already referred to here in the opponent’s first provocation at this earlier Passover in Jerusalem. By including this event at the outset of the story and bringing out the themes we have noted, John shows the glory of the cross shining through Jesus’ life from the start. The divine gracious love is crucial to Jesus’ life, and it is at the heart of this story, both in the reference to his death and in his gracious teaching of those who will become his opponents. John 2.12-22, 85

The events in Cana made it clear that Jesus only takes his cues from his Father. In this sense Jesus does not entrust himself to anyone. He is present to all with God’s love, but he is also detached from all in his attachment to God. John 2.23-25, 86

In John 3 Jesus reveals His glory to two people who have been insiders, Nicodemus, a Pharisee, and the disciples of John, but neither really understand. Nicodemus confuses physical and spiritual truths. Jesus is saying that, just as one has a physical birth, one must also have a spiritual birth (from above) to have eternal life. Jesus is the One who comes from above, reveals God's love through the cross and is the only one who can provide this eternal life to the one who trusts in Him. John's disciples also fail to understand this and are jealous of Jesus' popularity. John sets them straight that Jesus is superior because He came from above, while John is just an earthly man. The big point is that Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God who ministers the Spirit of God to the world. Thus, response to Jesus determines eternal life and judgment. The necessary response is that of John. We must humbly trust and follow Jesus and find our joy in relationship to Him.

The lifting up of the Son of Man points us to the center of his revelation, the cross. The cross itself is a heavenly thing for it reveals the life of heaven that Jesus has come to offer us (3:15). Since God is love (1 Jn 4:8) and love is the laying down of one’s life (1 Jn 3:16), it is precisely in the cross that we see God most clearly. Jesus humbles himself to the point of crucifixion because he is God, not despite it. That God is love is the good news—this revelation is the gospel.  John 3.1-21, 91

John’s joy is in fulfilling God’s will for his life—a model of Christian discipleship. He raises the question for all who would be disciples of Jesus, Where do we find our joy? It is easy to get distracted by the pleasurable blessings of this life. We should be thankful and receive gratefully God’s blessings, but our joy’s deepest foundation is God in himself. John 3.22-36, 97–98

In John 4, Jesus reveals His glory to two people who would have been considered outsiders, a Samaritan woman and a Herodian official. These two have the exemplary faith response that neither Nicodemus nor John's disciples display. The faith of the Samaritan woman and the servant of Herod is contrasted with the faith of the Galileans who would only believe in the signs Jesus did. The Samaritan woman, though confused at first, believed that Jesus was who He said He was and brought her village to Him. The servant believed a somewhat ambiguous word of Jesus and received healing for His Son. The sign did not come until after He believed. The big point is that salvation does not come to someone because of their ethnic origin or superficial knowledge, but because they believe that Jesus reveals the loving God of heaven and His word reveals truth and provides spiritual life. This is worship "in spirit and truth."

To worship in spirit and truth means to worship as one who is spiritually alive, living in the new reality Jesus offers, referred to here as the gift of God, which is living water. For behind the earthly things are the heavenly things, that is, God himself (cf. 3:12). Worshiping in spirit is connected to the fact that God is spirit (4:24). And worshiping in truth is connected with Jesus, the Messiah who explains everything (4:25–26)...So worshiping in spirit and truth is related to the very character of God and the identity of Christ. It is to worship in union with the Father, who is spirit, and according to the revelation of the Son, who is the truth. Indeed, it is to be taken into union with God through the Spirit. John 4.1-42, 106–107

Faith is belief that God is who and what Jesus reveals him to be, the loving Father, and it is trust in this God. This official seems to have something of this faith. John 4.43-54, 115

This section climaxes in John 5 with Jesus' healing of a man on the Sabbath in Jerusalem. Jesus' defense of His authority to do so, that he is "One with the Father," sets the theme of what John is trying to show in the rest of the Gospel. Jesus tells the invalid to carry his mat, which was forbidden on the Sabbath. Jesus claims the right to do so because God is allowed to do the work of "carrying the universe" and judging and making alive, thus making himself equal with God. He does this in himself (5.26), making himself more than just an agent of God. He is the Creator God who gives life and manages all creation. To receive Jesus is now the only way to receive the Father. Jesus closes his defense by calling the Father as a witness to his deity. The Father witnessed to Jesus' identity through John the Baptist, Jesus' works (miracle) and words and through the Old Testament. The ball is now in the court of Jesus' audience. Would they respond to the witness and receive life from God or reject it and bring judgment on themselves. 

Thus Jesus is healing one who is totally unworthy, and in doing so he reveals God’s graciousness. Here we have revealed God’s love, which embraces even one who betrays him. The light of God’s glory is shining at its brightest in this manifestation of his love for his enemies. John 5.1-15, 123–124

The Father has put everything into the Son’s hands (3:35), including the most fundamental realities of human existence, the giving of life and judgment. These two activities are at the heart of everything Jesus does in this Gospel, and these verses spell out his right to such responsibility and power. John 5.16-30, 129

In Jesus’ reference to this fourth witness we have the clearest expression of the Christian view of the Old Testament (5:39). This Christ-centered understanding of the Scriptures is affirmed throughout the New Testament and throughout the history of the church. Jesus is the Word, the point of reference for all the words of Scripture. The importance of the Scripture is here affirmed, but Scripture is presented as a means to an end, as a witness to Jesus the Christ. John 5.31-47, 138

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Reading Through Theology of the OT: by Walter Brueggemann #15

BrueggemannThis post continues my reading through Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy, by Walter Brueggemann. Chapters 23-24 continue the section of the theology on Israel's Embodied Testimony, showing how the religious rites/temple system and wisdom tradition mediated God’s presence to Israel. Chapter 25 summarizes the section. I have been posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the theology are in blue below. I am using the Logos version of the book.…

Chapter 23, The Cult as Mediator, discusses how the temple, the tabernacle and Mosaic feasts, regulations and sacrifices that went with it, the religious liturgies in the Psalms and other religious practices contained in the OT ministered the real Presence of God to the nation. These practices provided revelation beyond abstract words and involved concrete sights, smells, and actions to bring both God's and the people's active participation in the relationship. This also brought tension into the theology of the practices which Brueggemann sees as Deuteronomic, "low church" practices which characterize God as omnipresent and beyond human understanding and Priestly, "high church" practices which made Him available in a temple. This tension is left unresolved in the Old Testament. People need a way to make God accessible, but these can be taken for granted by selfish people and religious practices are often selfishly perverted (the temple needed to be reformed by several kings) or become empty ritual (as vehemently criticized by the prophets). Nevertheless, God provided a very concrete way for the people of Israel to connect with His real Presence in the Old Testament system.

There was in the Jerusalem temple, presumably in some regularized way, great joy in the awareness that Yahweh is a sovereign who has established governing control, who has enunciated policies of justice and well-being (shalĂ´m), and who will be “in residence” and available for those who come there. Worship in the Jerusalem temple is something like a royal drama, and entry into “the place of Yahweh” is something like a royal audience with a monarch who in generosity and mercy can enact well-being for his adherents. 655–656

Yahweh’s own self is being mediated, made graciously accessible and available to Israel in these cultic arrangements..In these texts, Israel is dealing with the God who is sovereignly glorious, holy, and jealous, but who intends relatedness that puts Yahweh’s own life at risk in the midst of Israel. The cult is concerned with nothing less than and nothing other than such presence, and therefore we may well understand the extreme care taken with these arrangements. 663

So Israel’s sacerdotal traditions must continue to trouble over and adjudicate the delicacy of the matter of cultic presence. Yahweh must be in the temple, if Israel is to find wholeness and assurance there. Yahweh must not be bound to the temple, if Yahweh’s true holiness is to be fully recognized...The canonical testimony of Israel provides ample evidence for both a “catholic” sacramentalism and a “protestant” protest against a controlled, controlling sacramentalism. 675

Chapter 24, The Sage as Mediator, discusses the role of wisdom teaching in the revelation of YHWH in the OT. That is, the presence of God is revealed through creation in a "natural theology" gained through observation and experience of the way creation works. As this developed in the later stages of Israel's history it was more closely tied to the Torah and its interpretation. Because it is based on observation it continues to develop as new information becomes available. It is important to get this right because living within the boundaries God has set in creation is the key to success. Apocalyptic literature in the OT is clear that God has a plan that will be accomplished and wise people will live in accordance with that plan. The tension in this is to maintain the Mosaic traditions in the Torah while being creative in applying them to the new situation. This is the environment and tension within Judaism when Christ came. This is always a tension within Christian exegesis and interpretation as well.

Thus “natural theology” as revelation does indeed mediate Yahweh, who is seen to be the generous, demanding guarantor of a viable life-order that can be trusted and counted on, but which cannot be lightly violated. The wisdom teachers, for the most part, do not speak directly about God, but make inferences and invite inferences about God from experience discerned theologically. 681

Wisdom teaching is an ongoing, developing process. Therefore, to halt the process by refusing to consider new experience is not “right,” for it misrepresents Yahweh and Yahweh’s reality in the world. It is one thing to acknowledge that the initial deposit of wisdom has arisen from experience. It is quite another thing, with the deposit of experience firmly in hand, to acknowledge new truth—new revelation carried in new experience. Job’s friends could not. Job 42.8, 687

Wisdom understands that Yahweh has a resolute will and a hidden purpose that cannot be defeated in the workings of historical vagaries. That is, Yahweh’s hidden purpose, intrinsic to the processes of creation (logos; sophia) cannot and will not be defeated. Apocalyptic is the categoric assertion of Yahweh’s wise and resolute sovereignty and wisdom. In its appeal to the sovereign creator, wisdom teaching provides material for the fashioning of an apocalyptic articulation of faith. 693

Chapter 25, Modes of Meditation and Life with Yahweh, closes and summarizes the section on how the presence of YHWH is mediated in and to Israel. Brueggemann emphasizes that all these ways of mediation originate with God and are a gift of God, but they operate within the "real-life circumstances" of the people. They make God presence available to the people, but God takes a risk in doing so because people can pervert the revelation they have received and we see this happen in the OT over and over. Torah, kingship, prophecy, worship, and wisdom were intended to be God's presence lived out in Israel in its communal practices, its worship, its history, and its just communities. Israel's speech and action were to be mediation of God's very real presence within Israel to its neighbors.

Idolatry, however, is not a vacuous religious idea. In practice idolatry (hatred of the true God) comes down to oppression (hatred of the neighbor). Thus the Torah binds Israel singularly to Yahweh in the two practices of love of God and love of neighbor. Without Torah, Israel would disappear, and life would be handed over, without protest, to the brutalizing, oppressive ways of life known elsewhere, rooted in the worship of wrongly discerned gods. 697

If it were not for these forms of mediation, Yahweh, as known in Israel’s testimony, would not be available to Israel. When the mediations are distorted, the Yahweh given in the mediation is to that extent distorted. Yahweh is not some universal idea floating around above Israel. Yahweh is a concrete practice in the embodied life of Israel. For that reason everything depends on faithful, sustained, intentional mediation. 701

Israel as a community has access to Yahweh, because it is a community that regularly, in disciplined ways (and also in ad hoc ways), comes to be addressed, to listen, to respond, to enact a world out loud, construed with Yahweh at its center. 702

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Reading Through the Gospel of John #1 (Intro, 1.1-18)

JohnWith this post we begin reading through the Gospel of John accompanied by John, vol. 4, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, by Rodney A. Whitacre. John clearly announces the purpose of His Gospel to be “that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name.”  I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

The Gospel of John is quite differently than the other three. It is organized more in a theological than chronological arrangement (except in the Passion section), it emphasizes Jesus' Divine transcendence more than the coming kingdom, and seems to show later theological reflection, with the direction of the Spirit, on what Jesus said and did. John shows that Jesus is the Light, the ultimate revelation of God; the Life, the One who provides the eternal life from God to people; and Love, revealed by a God who is the Creator (Logos), and yet is willing to wash disciples' feet and give His life, so created beings can gain life.  John calls disciples to strengthen their faith, despite persecution, and live a life of humble service that witnesses to the light, life and love that Jesus displayed.

John is thoroughly committed to the importance of history, but he wants to tell the story of Jesus as interpreted by the abiding Spirit. One of the themes throughout the Gospel is how cryptic Jesus’ words and deeds are within the story. What was cryptic then is now clear in the light of the glorification. John wants us to understand Jesus’ identity and significance in a way no one at the time possibly could, in order that we may respond in faith, continue to respond in faith and thereby share in the very life of God. 24

John proclaims Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament in its legal, prophetic and wisdom traditions and also of all religious and philosophical insight. In part this is accomplished by using such archetypical symbols as light, darkness, wine, water and bread, and also by revealing Jesus as the focal point for such universal religious concerns as truth and love. 34

The Prologue of the Gospel summarizes its message. Jesus, in eternity past, is God and was with God. He is the eternal God who has become a human being. Jesus is the full expression of God the Creator in a fully embodied human being, and ultimate communication of God to the world, so that people would put their trust in him and have eternal life; and that believers live in intimate connection and dependence on Jesus, through the Spirit, to the glory of the Father and Son. That is, Jesus Christ is the ultimate revelation of the One God who is the Creator of everything. As God in human flesh He calls people into a relationship of total commitment with him.

Here at the outset we have the two most fundamental affirmations about Jesus in this Gospel, namely that he himself is the presence of God’s own life and light and that he makes this life and light available to human beings. In one profound sentence we have the central assertion of this Gospel concerning the revelation of the Son and the salvation he offers. John 1.1-5, 53

John is claiming that in Jesus we have received the real thing, the truth from which all truth flows and the criterion for recognizing truth wherever it may be found. John 1.6-13, 54–55

To say the Son is full of truth is to claim he is the perfect revelation of the divine reality (cf. 15:15; 17:10), and saying he is full of grace expresses the character of that reality, the truth about God. “The glory of God is shown by his acting in faithfulness to his own character, and by his character’s revealing itself in mercy.” John 1.14-18, 60

Monday, February 19, 2018

Joyce is Back Home

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20180217_140004 (576x1024)27983232_10213919254563235_6940450497373603902_oJoyce is back home. I picked her up at the Sacramento airport Sunday morning at about 9 after she spent about 18 hours in transit. She got home just in time for temperatures to dip down below freezing but I think she is glad to be here. She spent her last day on Guam with our friends Tony and May Vigil. They went out for lunch on Saturday at the Hyatt (above). She even ran into one of our PIU alumni while she was there. (right) I appreciate them taking good care of Joyce while she was there. She will have some more work to do when she goes back to Guam in a couple months. We would appreciate prayers for guidance and timing as we prepare to sell our house there.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Joyce Sent Me Some More Pictures

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20180216_134013 (1280x720)Joyce sent me a bunch of pictures yesterday. She is getting toward the end of her time on Guam. Yesterday PIU hosted a lunch for her. (above) She has been able to get a lot of work done and has been able to see a lot of people. On the right she is with some PIU staff in the office. I really do miss getting to see these people every day. Thank you to our long-time friends Tony and May Vigil for letting Joyce stay with them while she was there and providing transportation for her. The plan is to have her return in April to finish up the packing and begin getting our house ready to sell of rent out.

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Here are a few more!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Joyce Hard At Work on Guam


27983265_10213871191921699_1875452651849479964_oJoyce has only three more days on Guam and still a lot to do. The time has gone by so quickly. Above is a picture of one her many post office trips to mail multiple boxes to California. The plan is for her to return to Guam in April  to finish up packing and begin the process to our house. She has also enjoyed seeing many old friends. She had the opportunity to participate a couple nights ago in the PIU women’s Bible study and enjoyed the fellowship there. (pictured right). Below are some more pictures of Joyce and friends.

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