Thursday, March 15, 2018

Reading Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology by John H. Walton #1

Walton GenesisToday’s post begins my read through of Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology, by John H. Walton. In all his books Walton makes the important point that we must read the Bible through the eyes of its original audience before we can understand its message and apply it to our own culture. This is notoriously difficult to do, so there will be disagreements, but I think it is very important to have these discussions. 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.…

I have used Walton's Introduction to the Old Testament and read some of his "Lost World" books so I thought it would be good to go back to the basics with his viewpoint. I also like to use his basic biblical hermeneutic that "the Bible was written for us, not to us." The preface to this book lays out his premise quite clearly and succinctly.

I contend that Genesis 1 never was an account of material origins but that, as in the rest of the ancient world, the focus of the creation accounts was to order the cosmos by initiating functions. I further contend that the cosmology of Genesis 1 is founded on the premise that the cosmos should be understood in temple terms. ix

In Chapter 1, Cosmology and Comparative Studies: Methodology, he explains how he would use the Ancient Near Eastern backgrounds to understand the text of the Bible. This was not a case of the biblical writers just completely adopting ANET ideas and copying them into the biblical texts. The idea is more that God revealed Himself to Israel in terms they would understand and they wrote the revelation in terms that would be understood in an ancient worldview. Thus, when we read the text through our modern worldview; if for example we see a blue planet in a solar system when we read Genesis 1; we will tend to misinterpret the text and miss its main message. For example, many poetic texts in the Bible adapt the "battle of the gods" motif, but they do it to assert Yahweh's uniqueness in the supernatural world, his unquestioned ability to bring order and beauty to the chaos, and maintain it; not to explain natural phenomena. I think it is also clear that temple imagery is there in the creation stories and continues to be used to reveal God's relationship to His creation. I would have to say that the idea of functional creation is there in Genesis 1, but not sure that it completely negates the idea of material creation. 

All literature is dependent on the culture from which it emerges and on the literature of the cultures with which it is in contact...That all literature is dependent, however, does not rule out the possibility that new ideas or perspectives may emerge; it only recognizes that no literature or idea is without a precursor of some sort, even if there is something in the “new” literature that departs from the “old.” For interpretation to be legitimate, it must acknowledge the debt that the “new” owes to the “old” and explore the intertextual linkage between the two...We should not be surprised, then, that understanding the Hebrew Bible requires its interpreters to recognize the pervasive connection that ancient Israel had with the legacy of ancient Near Eastern literature and thought. 12–13

Israel’s adaptation of ideas or materials from surrounding cultures was guided by what the people of Israel believed about their interaction with Israel’s god, Yahweh, and modern interpreters can choose to agree with the Hebrew Bible’s perspective or not. Whatever the modern interpreter’s assessment of the divine role, the Israelites’ self-identity was based (eventually—we need not quibble about the time-frame here) on the belief that there was only one God, and God chose their forefathers to be in a unique relationship with them (a relationship defined by the covenant). 15

Chapters 2-3 are a survey of Ancient Near Eastern creation stories. Chapter 2 is short and contains a helpful chart that overviews references in the various creation stories and can be used to quickly compare the emphases of the various stories. Chapter 3 is much longer and surveys the major themes of these creation stories. Basically, the point made from this survey is that ancient creation stories were more about organizing material and corralling powers, rather than creation of matter, to accomplish something. Creation is about organizing, naming, separating and assigning function. Instead of viewing the universe as a machine, Walton compares the ancient view of the universe to a business. Creation was thus an organizing of the "powers" by the gods, to give order, mission, purpose and function and to assign the various parts of creation their separate roles. All of these various parts were sacred and inhabited by the gods. Part of the purpose of Israel's revelation is to "desacralize" the objects of creation, without removing the One God from His intimate Presence and control over the purpose, functions, and His mission for His creation. Thus, creation in Genesis 1 is an organization of the chaos (creation ex nihilo is found in other passages), giving it order, meaning, purpose, and beauty.

Cosmic creation in the ancient world was not viewed primarily as a process by which matter was brought into being but as a process by which functions, roles, order, jurisdiction, organization, and stability were established. This makes it clear that creation in the ancient world was defined by the determination of functions and, in turn, demonstrates that the ontology of ancient peoples was focused on a thing’s functional, rather than its material, status. 34

When we moderns think about the ancient world (including the Bible), it is most natural for us to imagine that ancient peoples simply thought of the world as a machine with Someone running it, rather than seeing that they did not in any respect conceive of the world as a machine. In the ancient functional ontology, the cosmos is more like a business. In this metaphor, it is clear that a business only functions in relationship to people, both the company’s employees and its customers. 45

The main gods (Anu, Enlil, Enki) would be the officers of the company or the board of directors, and the lesser gods would have the role of vice-presidents. Kings would be something like department supervisors and priests similar to managers and, in some senses, like union bosses. Temples and cities would be roughly equivalent to the departments of the company or, perhaps, franchises, and people would be the employees, whose rituals are akin to punching the clock and putting in their time to help the company run; their only lot in life is to work their fingers to the bone until they are fired or reach retirement, having given their blood, sweat, and tears in service to the company and its officers, with little to show for their efforts. 48–49

Chapter 3 continues by describing the roles of gods and humans, "cosmic geography," and temples in the ancient Near Eastern worldview. The gods in this view were inside and part of creation rather than separate from it. They were defined by their functions within the cosmos, whether it was direct (driving the sun across the sky for example) or administrative (ruling and supervising other lesser gods). Humans were created mainly to relieve the gods of menial work and to meet the gods' needs through worship, and sacrifice. Cosmic geography was concerned, less with the materials of the universe as in our modern "machine view," than with who is in charge of its functions (a bureaucratic business view of the universe). Ancient views generally agreed that the universe was three-tiered with the land in the center, a solid dome or tent sky above which held back chaotic waters, and the netherworld below which were more chaotic waters. Temples were very important because they were both a representation of the universe and the hub from which the gods operated it. They provided a link between heaven and earth, and gods and men. The deity was at rest when the temple was functioning as it should be. The biblical revelation happens in this ancient environment and speaks in its language to these ancient people to reveal the True Creator (who is separate, holy, from creation but works inside it) and correct their misunderstandings. Our job is to take this revelation, understand it in its original context, and explain its unchanging theological truths within (and to correct) the worldviews we encounter today.

The roles of the gods...all concern functions, not material origins, and the functions all operate from within the system rather than acting on it from outside. The authority and jurisdiction of any god is circumscribed by his or her relationship to the components of the cosmos or to other deities. 68

Egyptians, Mesopotamians, Canaanites, Hittites, and Israelites all thought of the cosmos as composed of tiers: the earth was in the middle, with the heavens above and the netherworld beneath. In general, people believed that there was a single, disc-shaped continent. This continent had high mountains at the edges that some believed held up the sky, which they thought was not vapors or air but solid (some envisioned it as a tent, others as a more substantial dome). The heavens where deities lived were above the sky, and the netherworld was beneath the earth. 88

Individual temples were designed as models of the cosmos, but in addition, and more importantly, the temple was viewed as the hub of the cosmos. It was built in conjunction with the creation of the cosmos. Gods took up their rest in the temple for a variety of reasons, one of which was the ruling of the cosmos as they continued to maintain the order that had been established and to exercise control of destinies. 119

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

March Madness Picks

This is my favorite time of year to watch college basketball. I already enjoyed two excellent games in the “first four” last night. I do have to say that the recent scandals in the NCAA make the whole thing a little less appetizing, but I want to enjoy the games this year before greed of the NCAA, college administrations, coaches, agents and other con men kill it off. So here are my picks for the tournament this year all the way to the championship game. And yes, I have filled out multiple different brackets on the bracket challenge on ESPN.

First Two Rounds:  East: Purdue, Florida, West Virginia, Villanova

                  Midwest: Kansas, Clemson, Michigan State, Duke

                  South: Cincinnati, Miami, Arizona, Virginia

                  West: Missouri, Gonzaga, Michigan, North Carolina

Sweet 16: East: Purdue over Florida, West Virginia (upset special) over Villanova; Purdue over West Virginia

               Midwest: Clemson over Kansas (another upset); Michigan St. over Duke; Michigan St. over Clemson

               South: Cincinnati over Miami; Arizona over Virginia; Arizona over Cincinnati

               West: Gonzaga over Missouri; Michigan over North Carolina; Michigan over Gonzaga

Final Four: Arizona over Michigan; Michigan State over Purdue

Championship:   Arizona 81  Michigan State 75

Last year my best bracket was in the 68th% in ESPN’s bracket challenge. So don’t take these picks to the bank!!

Monday, March 12, 2018

Thoughts on Cancer, Sin and Leprosy

ribs (2)Forgive me here as I think out loud a little. Yesterday I heard a sermon on Romans 8 in which the preacher talked about cancer as a manifestation of the “groaning of creation” that awaits its renewing at the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ and the final phase of the kingdom of God. I think cancer, much like leprosy did in the 1st century, provides a graphic picture of sin’s pervasiveness and insidiousness in the modern world. It affects everyone, as there is hardly a family anywhere that has not been touched by the devastation a cancer diagnosis brings. It separates us from one other, whether by intention or circumstance. I have spent more time alone in the last 16 months than ever before in my life. It, for me at least, draws attention to our own mortality – death is coming for us all, and maybe sooner than we think. But, (my experience again) it also brings about the best in God’s people. The outpouring of help, prayer and encouragement from the church all over the world has been overwhelming. We have truly experienced the “touch of Jesus” through my lymphoma experience.

In biblical times leprosy was a graphic picture of sin and its effects. (I saw a post once in which a prominent preacher tried to make the point that “sin is not a sickness.” It made me wonder if he had ever read the Bible carefully. Sickness and sin are intimately linked throughout scripture. Jesus likens himself to a “doctor” who heals the sickness of sin and its effects.) Skin diseases and rashes were prominent in the ancient world and were often dangerously infectious.  The suffering from them were often separated from society to mitigate spreading of the disease. Its effects were visible and debilitating. Old Testament law pronounced unclean anyone who had contact with lepers and excluded them from temple fellowship. Jesus overturned that as his touch, rather than rendering him unclean, healed lepers and made them clean. Jesus would, at times, also announce that with the healing sin was forgiven.

Cancer, although not quite so contagious, is pervasive and often sentences its sufferers to separation from society in hospitals and homes. At least, it separates one from “normal” human daily life. It changes one’s plans and it certainly has curtailed my own ideas about “my own ministry.” Like sin, it does bring a little bit of death into one’s daily life. I have been thinking about this as I wait for another PET scan in about 6 weeks to see if my cancer has been eradicated from my body. I know God has directed me to trust that the doctors are part of his work of healing in my life. Whether that is a “complete” healing that will give me 5, 10 or 20 more years I don’t know. I do know that I, like all you reading this, await real complete healing in resurrection. I pray that the kingdom will break out a little here and defeat this lymphoma, but I know that in the resurrection at least I will stand whole. Not only will disease be removed, but the real cancer, the disease of sin, will be removed and I will be as God intended. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, if there is no resurrection we Christians are the most pathetic deluded people on earth. But, as we will soon celebrate, Christ is risen and has defeated sin, death, cancer and leprosy. We need to live each moment in this age of “groaning” living in the light of that soon to come resurrection. My cancer is telling me that anything else is an illusion. 

Reading Through the Gospel of John #5 (13-17)

JohnIn this post we continue reading through the Gospel of John accompanied by John, vol. 4, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, by Rodney A. Whitacre. Chapters 13-17 contain Jesus' last instructions to His disciples. The main theme of the passage is the love and unity of Jesus' people that comes from being centered and grounded in Christ through the enablement of the Spirit. 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.

Jesus begins his teaching of the disciples with a graphic demonstration of what he means by love. Love means the humble giving up of one's own life to serve others and give them life. Jesus gives up his dignity and privilege as a leader to serve the disciples as he will give up his life on the cross to provide life to all the world. He commands the disciples to follow this example. This makes Judas' betrayal the ultimate act of evil. Even though Jesus has loved him, and given him the place of honor at dinner, Judas turns against Jesus for his own selfish reasons and ends up doing the work of Satan. God will work through this to the ultimate revelation of God's glory, the cross, as Jesus loves the disciples and the world to the max by giving up his life to save them and provide a way that all can have a relationship with the Father life Jesus does.

John’s introduction to the event ensures that we understand God’s glory is revealed in Jesus in this sign. This is what God himself is like—he washes feet, even the feet of the one who will betray him! Thus, the footwashing is a true sign in the Johannine sense, for it is a revelation of God. John 13.1-20, 328–329

We are all quite capable of the worst sin. If we think otherwise, we are deluded and have no real idea how much we owe to the grace of God. John 13.21-30, 334

The disciple, therefore, is one who is characterized by love, which is the laying down of life. The disciple, like the Master, reveals the Father...John is quite clear that this divine love, in which the disciples are to share, is for the whole world. Indeed, their love for one another is part of God’s missionary strategy, for such love is an essential part of the unity they are to share with one another and with God. John 13.31-35, 343–344

In chapter 14 Jesus begins his teaching by telling the disciples that he must go away to the Father. This is not a bad thing because he will enable the disciples, and the world, to go to the Father as well. Jesus is the revealer of the Father and, through his death and resurrection makes the way to the Father, and eternal life available. In addition, he will not really leave because the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, will minister connection to the Presence of Jesus and the Father within the community of believers and join them to the fellowship contained within the Trinity. The church will be a witness to this community. This manifestation of God within human relationships is far beyond the theophanies of the previous age.

This verse brings out how Jesus’ fulfillment of the roles of revealer and life-giver is unique. Jesus’ unity with the Father means he is not just a law-giver, prophet or sage who conveys God’s truth, but, like God, he is the truth. Similarly, he is not simply one through whom God rescues his people. Rather, he was the agent of the creation of all life, and the Father has given to him to have life in himself, like God himself. Here Jesus, like God himself, is truth and life, and yet he remains distinct from God and is the way to God. John 14.1-7, 351–352

Praying “in Jesus’ name” does not refer to some magic formula added to the end of a prayer. It means to pray in keeping with his character and concerns and, indeed, in union with him. The disciples, through their union with Christ, are taken up into his agenda. This agenda, as throughout his ministry, is to bring glory to the Father (v. 13) John 14.8-21, 355

The peace Jesus is talking about is not the cessation of hostilities from enemies, but rather the gift of calmness and confidence that comes from union with God and faith in him and his purposes. The world’s idea of peace is something that comes through destroying of enemies and consists of physical and emotional comfort. The peace that Jesus gives is grounded in God and not in circumstances. John 14.22-31, 365

Chapter 15 moves into the center of what Jesus is teaching the disciples as he describes the nature of eternal life. Eternal life begins now as the Spirit connects the believer intimately with the Father and Son, as a branch is connected to a vine and draws sustenance from it. As believers remains connected to God, they experience union with the love and mission of Jesus and are connected to each other. They being to "bear the fruit" of intimacy with God and grow to resemble and image God to the world. This will draw some to God, but it will also cause opposition because believers will be at odds with the values of the world.

Remaining is not simply believing in him, though that is crucial, but includes being in union with him, sharing his thoughts, emotions, intentions and power. In a relationship both parties must be engaged. The divine must take the initiative and provide the means and the ability for the union to take place, but it cannot happen without the response of the disciple. John 15.1-6, 376

The obedience Jesus is talking about is an obedience not to societal rules, but to the Father who is all love. To obey him is to conform one’s life to the very pattern of God’s own life. Such obedience shares in his life, which is characterized by harmony, grace, goodness and beauty. We are in intimate union with him and swept up into his dance for which we were created and which brings the deepest fulfillment and deepest joy to our lives. John 15.7-17, 378

Many Christians are indeed undergoing the most horrid persecution and suffering for the Name. Jesus’ words of encouragement here speak directly to his disciples in such situations. He gives them the larger perspective, helping them understand that what they are going through is part of the world’s rejection of the Father and the Son. John 15.18-27, 383–384

Chapter 16 describes the persecution that this opposition will bring. The Paraclete will give the disciples deep insight into who Jesus is and what his teaching is all about and will create a community that represents Jesus. This means that often the church will be rejected the same way Jesus was. The 1st century church, including the disciples and like Jesus, pointed out the exclusiveness of Jesus' revelation of God and thus were rejected and killed like Jesus. A church that refuses to live like the world will always be persecuted to some degree. However, the believers' grief in persecution will be temporary. The disciples grief at Jesus’ death changed to joy after the resurrection. Our grief, likewise, is changed to joy through the intimacy we experience with the Father now, despite persecution, and will be complete when we are resurrected with Christ in the coming age. 

More generally speaking, it is primarily the community’s life together that witnesses to Jesus and, by the same token, exposes and condemns the world, in particular by their love (13:35) and unity (17:21). Such love and unity reveal that they are sharing in God’s own life, and, consequently, their rejection and persecution show that the opponents are acting against God. The very judgment that Jesus brought into the world continues through his disciples and elicits the same hatred (7:7). John 16.1-15, 391

Until death itself becomes a revelation of God the disciples can be troubled in the world, the place of death. Their joy cannot be stable and secure until they see him again (v. 16, 19) and he sees them (v. 22). Then will they reap the benefits of his conquest by becoming one with him as he pours out the Spirit. They will not ask him, but rather they will be one with him, asking the Father in his name. So their joy will be full—the joy of union with God in Christ by the Spirit. They will know God’s glory and will manifest his glory as they, in union with the living Christ by the Spirit, bear fruit as Jesus did, asking for what Jesus did. Their focus and source will be God, and thus they will have peace no matter what the world may throw at them. John 16.16-33, 401–402

Chapter 17 concludes Jesus' teaching of the disciples with a prayer for the continued glorification of the Father through the love, unity and ministry of the church, founded on relationship with Jesus, beginning from the disciples and extending throughout the world. Jesus begins by thanking the Father, in anticipation of his death and resurrection, that his mission is complete. He has fully revealed the Father. He then prays for the disciples. He thanks the Father that they have responded with faith and they are now united with him. He prays for their continued growth in that relationship (sanctification), protection from the opposition of the evil one and their continuing mission to glorify the Father by revealing Jesus. He then prays for the world, the people who will come to believe in the message the disciples will bring. He prays for a unity, based on relationship with the Father through Christ, that will draw the whole world into relationship with the Father. He, thus, closes the loop on the teaching session by going back to the self-sacrificing love he shows by giving himself on the cross, that produces a unity of being and mission and glorifies the Father as God intended for the creation of the world. 

The Son will glorify the Father through giving eternal life to those the Father gives him. And the Father’s glorification of the Son is in keeping with his having given him authority over all flesh. Thus, the flow is from creation to new creation. In both cases the Father is the ultimate source, and the Son is God’s agent. The Son has given life to all creation, and now it is time for him to give eternal life to those within creation given him by God. John 17.1-5, 405

Here is the fundamental truth of this Gospel—the oneness of the Father and the Son—expressed in terms of possession. The disciples’ very relations with the Father and Son bear witness to this foundational truth. They have been given to the Son and yet remain the Father’s because of the divine oneness. Here, as throughout this Gospel, Jesus’ deeds and words make no sense unless one realizes he is God. John 17.6-19, 410–411

The love of God evident in the church is a revelation that there is a welcome awaiting those who will quit the rebellion and return home. Here is the missionary strategy of this Gospel—the community of disciples, indwelt with God’s life and light and love, witnessing to the Father in the Son by the Spirit by word and deed, continuing to bear witness as the Son has done. John 17.20-26, 420

Friday, March 09, 2018

PET Scan Update

28238879_10156230183234312_4537359472903167754_oThis is the latest prayer letter from us…

Dear Prayer Partners

Today was the big day: We got the results of my PET scan from our doctor at Stanford. The result was mostly good, but mixed. The areas that were treated with chemo were all clear. There were two small areas in my pelvis that were lit up in the scan. The doctor thinks recurrence of lymphoma is unlikely. It could be a false positive or minor infection but he wants to be sure. So we will have another scan the last week of April. So we'll wait and pray a little more.

We also saw a lymphedema specialist last week. His diagnosis was that my edema is chronic but manageable. He prescribed some pressure garments and physical therapy. There are a few other treatments they will try and we will see what works. We would appreciate your prayers for this too.

So it looks like our lives and plans are still somewhat up in the air. We are getting used to that. On the positive side I seem to be improving health-wise every day. I am working on being more active and hope to get out and about more. We continue to pray for direction as we move forward. We don't like to wait, but we trust the Father who is taking us down this road. We do appreciate you coming down the road with us as you partner with us in prayer, care and being there.

Thank you and God Bless

Dave and Joyce

Reading Through the Gospel of John #4 (9-12)

JohnIn this post we continue reading through the Gospel of John accompanied by John, vol. 4, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, by Rodney A. Whitacre. In Chapters 5-8 John has shown Jesus to be the fulfillment of the Torah (5) and the Jewish temple and feasts (6-8). He is the Light of the World who brings the ultimate revelation of God to his creation and chapters 9-11 present two more spectacular miracles that illustrate this. Jesus brings division between His followers and the official Judaism of his day and he begins to gather his followers into a new "flock" that is characterized by allegiance to Jesus. 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.

In chapter 9, Jesus illustrates and demonstrates that he is the Light of the World by healing a man with lifelong blindness. The OT prophesied this miracle as a sign of the New Covenant and the coming of the Messiah who remove both physical and spiritual blindness. Jesus uses clay, as God did in the creation of Adam, in the miracle to signify new creation and sends out the blind man to witness to what happened. The Pharisees reject the plain working of God in front of them and put the man out of the synagogue, showing their spiritual blindness. The separation between Jesus' followers and those of the Pharisees increases. 

Our sufferings are opportunities for God’s grace. If our suffering is indeed a punishment for sin, then it becomes an occasion for repentance and thus the manifestation of God’s grace as we are restored to fellowship with God. If our suffering is not a direct punishment for sin, then it is something God allows to happen in our lives, usually for reasons beyond our knowing, which nevertheless can help us die to self and find our true life in God. God does not allow anything to enter our lives that is not able to glorify him by drawing us into deeper intimacy with him and revealing his glory. John 9.1-23, 236–237

The Scriptures, in and of themselves, are not an infallible guide either, as the example of the Jewish opponents reveal. It depends on one’s interpretation. The Christian claim is that the Scriptures are an organic whole that make sense when interpreted in the light of Jesus the Christ under the guidance the Spirit has provided the church. The bottom line is that we need God to guide our understanding of both the Scripture and our experience. Once again we see the importance of humility and openness to God as a core attribute of true discipleship. John 9.24-34, 248

We need to realize our own utter poverty, blindness and need apart from Christ. We need to see with his eyes the desperate condition of all who have not been illumined by him, the light of the world. We need to consider before God whether there are ways we reject the evidence of our own experience because we have a faulty understanding of him and his ways. We need to consider before God whether we have God too figured out...we need Jesus to be our center of reference. John 9.35-41, 253–254

In chapter 10 Jesus reveals himself as God come to shepherd His people in a new community. He is qualified to do that because he has come from the Father as the full revelation of God's salvation and he will give his life and "take it up again" as the good shepherd to provide that salvation. The requirement to be part of that community is to "hear his voice" and respond by following him. The chapter ends Jesus’ public ministry with a very clear claim by Jesus to his shared Deity with the Father. John returns to his introductory idea that Jesus is one with the Creator who fulfills the Torah and brings the promised full salvation and revelation of God himself in human form. 

The Jewish leaders have rejected Jesus on the basis of their knowledge of God and his ways. They have expelled the man healed in chapter 9 from the people of God on the basis of his confession of Jesus. They believe they have consigned the former blind man to death, that is, to separation from God and his people. But Jesus has found him and incorporated him into his own company. John 10.1-10, 258

This new community is based in his death (10:15). The very pattern of life in this new community is that of life laid down for one another, a cruciform life. The possibility of such a life and the power for such a life come through the life of the Son of God poured out on the cross, thereby uniting God and mankind by taking away the sin of the world and revealing the glory of God. John 10.11-18, 263

Jesus does not claim to be Messiah in their understanding of that term, but all of his words and deeds have been those of the Messiah in truth. But the Jews were not expecting a messiah who shared in God’s divinity, and thus these opponents could not see his messiahship and were scandalized by his claims to equality with God. John 10.22-42, 271

In John 11 we see the climax of Jesus' miracle signs which point to Jesus as being the One who brings life and light. Jesus links the raising of Lazarus to the healing of the man born blind when he says that both happened to reveal God's glory. This ultimate sign done by Jesus shows that he is the one who will bring in the "age to come" with its great eschatological resurrection, judgment and an eternal life that begins in the present. Faith in Jesus is the key to being part of the people of God who experience eternal life now and in the incorruptible bodies of the future. Jesus is one who defeats death and sin and thus provides life.

In all that Jesus does we see the glory of God (1:14), for we see God’s love and life-giving power. Now, in the raising of Lazarus, we will have the most spectacular manifestation of this glory. God is the one who brings life to the dead out of his love for those in such need. This is the heart of the Gospel. John 11.1-16, 279

Jesus’ claim is mind-boggling. He says it is faith in him that brings one back to life at the resurrection at the last day. He is the ground of eschatological hope. But then he goes even further. “I am the life”: and whoever lives and believes in me will never die (v. 26). The life that comes through believing in Jesus is not interrupted by physical death...By taking humanity into Himself He has revealed the permanence of man’s individuality and being. But this permanence can be found only in union with Him. John 11.17-44, 286

Each aspect of the Gospel needs to be in place, or some deformed shape will emerge. The period of the New Testament saw the articulation of a variety of ways to express the Gospel, with the Holy Spirit guiding and protecting. The unity and diversity we now have in the canon provides a composite shape to the faith that is a guide to the truth of the Gospel—that is what “canon” means. John 11.45-54, 297

John 12 ends John's account of Jesus' public ministry. In this section we get a picture of what real and false disciples look like and a final summary of Jesus' teaching and a call to respond. Mary's extravagant anointing of Jesus for burial typifies the kind of worshiping disciple desired by God, while Judas' selfish money-loving attitude is condemned. The climax has come and God is about to be glorified through Jesus. The response to Jesus will determine one's judgment. Even when God speaks in the thunder only the true disciples understand. Though the crowd follows Jesus, they do not fully understand him. There are also others who believe him but will not follow him openly because they fear the opinions of others. These are also inadequate responses. The true disciple will believe Jesus and follow him in self-sacrificing love. This is the full revelation of God and also will reveal who his followers are. These are the ones who live out and will inherit eternal life.

The Good Shepherd is indeed gathering his flock from the whole world (10:16) in fulfillment of the prophecies of the universal messianic kingdom such as those found in Zechariah and Zephaniah. Jesus continues to form his community apart from the official structures of Judaism. John 12.1-19, 308

It is precisely the victory of the cross that enables the believer to hate his life in this world and keep it for eternal life (v. 25). Believers can claim the defeat of Satan at the cross, and they can effectually break his spell through union with Christ and, by God’s grace, through focusing attention on God and detaching attention from that which is not of God. As one is united to Christ one comes to share in his own life of sacrifice. John 12.20-36, 316

God’s sovereign action is never a violation of our moral responsibility, for such determinism would turn us into robots and preclude love and relationship. “The divine predestination works through human moral choices, for which men are morally responsible," as is made clear in the next section (12:47–48). But the human responsibility never violates the necessity of divine grace.  John 12.37-50, 323

Monday, March 05, 2018

Sunday Worship at Gateway Church

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Joyce and I had an enjoyable Sunday yesterday as we worshiped at Gateway Church. We had the privilege of fellowship at the Lord’s table with our friends there yesterday. This is the church I grew up in and it was good to see so many old friends.

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It was good to see Eugene (center) again and get to meet his son. Eugene played shortstop on the Baymonte team I coached in 1982. After church we went to lunch with Dave and Sally Beck (left). We also went out to Boulder Creek to have dinner with Jo and Chuck Romaniello. We forgot to take a picture there. It was great to see everyone at Gateway again.

Reading Through Theology of the OT: by Walter Brueggemann #17

BrueggemannThis post concludes my read through of Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy, by Walter Brueggemann. Though I have posted some of my disagreements with Brueggemann I have enjoyed reading through his OT Theology and have received several insights from his treatment of the text. His recognition of the tensions in the OT text which should not be flattened out is especially helpful . 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.…

As he moves his theology toward conclusion Brueggemann, in chapter 28, Some Pervasive Issues, deals with four key issues that keep coming up in Old Testament theology. The first is the relationship to historical criticism. He wants scholarship to move beyond criticism, which assumes a rationalistic worldview that eliminates the supernatural and removes YHWH from the discussion, but also resists "fideism" which assumes a flat reading of the text according to dogma. One can bring in the results of critical scholarship to better understand the text without compromising its message. A second issue is the relationship of the New Testament to the Old. He sees the use of the OT in the NT as an "imaginative," but legitimate, enterprise. While there is some "imaginative" exegesis there, I would see the NT as the intended conclusion of the OT. This also speaks to the third issue of the relation of Jewish tradition to the OT in Christian thought. I would agree that we need to avoid supersessionism, respect the Jewish origins and character of the Bible without mischaracterizing the Jewish environment it came out of, and that we need to be in friendly dialog and cooperation with modern forms of Judaism. But, I would disagree that we need to let go of the exclusive claims of Christ on Jews or any other nation or culture. Finally, I agree with Brueggemann that the Bible's call for justice requires us to apply the OT emphasis on taking care of the poor and marginalized without losing its call to order. How we do that is certainly up for discussion, but the church should be in the forefront of making that kingdom vision of everyone having what they need happen. 

We may now be at a moment when totalizing fideism is exposed as inadequate and when skeptical positivism is seen to be equally inadequate, when a genuinely thoughtful criticism can engage the density and depth of the text, which is available neither to fideism nor to skepticism. 729

The task of Old Testament theology, as a Christian enterprise, is to articulate, explicate, mobilize, and make accessible and available the testimony of the Old Testament in all of its polyphonic, elusive, imaginative power and to offer it to the church for its continuing work of construal toward Jesus. 732

A study of Old Testament theology must recognize, with social realism, that both advocates of distributive justice and of order are present and vocal in the community, and both claim the support of Yahweh in their theological testimony. At the minimum, it is important to recognize and explicate this tension. In my judgment, however, one may go further to insist that while both sorts of advocates bear testimony to Yahweh, there can be little doubt that the adherents of distributive justice occupy the central space in the theological testimony of Israel, so that in canonical Yahwism, distributive justice is indeed a primary urging. 738

Chapter 29, Moving Toward True Speech, concludes Brueggeman's theology by summarizing his main points and calling the church as a community to do Old Testament theology in a way that reflects commitment to the truth of the text and to being a relevant witness to the world in its words and practices. One cannot do good OT theology without being willing to order their lives around what God is saying in the text. All the voices of the OT, with the tensions and interpretive difficulties they bring, must be heard and applied in the church. We cannot, for example, hear only the voices of order and purity without also hearing the "disruptive" voices of the prophets calling the powerful to accountability and calling everyone to reach out to the needy and marginalized. We have a responsibility to make the witness of the OT text known in a world with many other competing worldviews.

It is my impression that the church in the West has been sorely tempted to speak in everyone’s idiom except its own. Liberals, embarrassed by the otherness of the biblical idiom, have kept control of matters through rationalistic speech that in the end affirms that “God has no hands but ours,” issuing in burdensome self-congratulations. Conservatives, fearful of speech that is undomesticated, have insisted on flattening biblical testimony into the settled categories of scholasticism that freezes truth. In both sorts of speech, the incommensurate, mutual One disappears. 746–747

The testimony of Israel concerning Yahweh is always of two kinds, one to reorder the internal life of the community in ways faithful to Yahweh, the other to invite the world out beyond this community to reorder its life with reference to Yahweh. Both enterprises are preoccupied with the recognition that the acknowledgment of Yahweh at the center of life (the life of Israel or the life of the world) requires a reordering of everything else. 747

Stanford Trip and Doctor Appointments

20180302_160403Last week was a week of doctor appointments for us. We started with an appointment with the local oncologist on Wednesday, with a blood test preceding it on Tuesday. That went well. The blood test was clear and all my numbers were good. The doctor was very encouraged by how much my health had improved since I last saw him. We also enjoyed seeing the nurses at the infusion center in Cameron Park. They celebrated my recovery with Joyce and me. We have been quite blessed by their care for us over the last year.

20180302_133215 (1024x560)Friday we headed down to Stanford for another PET scan and an appointment with an edema specialist.  The PET scan went well and we will be back at Stanford on Thursday to hear the results from our transplant doctor. Joyce was able to listen to some music (left) while I being scanned. We would appreciate your prayers for that appointment. 20180302_161209 (768x1024)We spent about an hour with the edema specialist. He thinks that the edema is going to be chronic, but he thought that there could be ways to manage it. It seems likely that the lymphoma damaged enough of my lymph nodes so that water will never drain properly through my body. He referred us to a physical therapist who may help. He also gave us prescriptions for various types of medical garments that will help my body process the water through me, like compression socks and shorts, special shoes etc. We are also waiting to see if our insurance will allow us to purchase some medical devices which the doctor prescribed. Joyce and I went out on Saturday and bought some of the clothes he recommended.. These are the most expensive clothes I have ever owned, but, if they help me become more mobile and able to function, they will be worth it. It feels a little weird to own an $80 pair of socks. We are thankful to those who donated to our medical fund so that we were able to go right out and buy this stuff.

Thank you for praying for us last week and for praying for us as we see the doctor on Thursday the 8th. It looks like our life will be a little different than it was before, but we are thankful for life and for healing and are looking forward to where God takes us in the next years.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Reading Through the Gospel of John #3 (6-8)

JohnIn this post we continue 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 chapters 6-7 begin a new section in which Jesus shows His divine glory (he makes alive and judges) in his relationship to two Jewish festivals: Passover and Tabernacles. In both, he is not just a participant. Instead he is the God that is worshiped in these festivals. 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.

Chapter 6 shows Jesus as superior to Moses because He is the God of the Passover and Exodus event. The  feeding of the 5000 identifies him as the Passover lamb and the one who provided bread in the wilderness to sustain the life of his people. Walking on the water presents Jesus in terms of the way Old testament theophany presented YHWH, as ruler over the chaos. It also shows that Jesus is the One who gets his people across the water, as when God miraculously parted the sea to allow Israel to escape from Egypt. When the crowd asks Jesus to explain the miracles, he says "I am the bread" that comes from the Father. Jesus Himself is the one that sustains life now and provides eternal life (physical and spiritual) in the age to come. The only way to get this life is a daily regular, pictured by eating and drinking, trust in Jesus that humbly listens to his word and relies on his provision. He then provides the Spirit who enables this supernatural quality of life. Most of the crowd responds to this revelation the same way they responded to Moses in the wilderness: they grumbled and complained and many quit following Jesus. The question to us becomes, are we willing to acknowledge who Jesus is and make the daily commitment to base our entire lives upon him and what he provides. 

We do not expect a small amount of food to feed many people nor the surface of the water to support a human being, and neither do we expect body and blood to bring us eternal life. But, just as Jesus is far superior to Moses, so too the salvation he brings is far more than the provision of physical food and the protection from physical danger. John 6.1-21, 149–150

Our primary work is being receptive to God. All our actions and plans are dependent on the most important action—union with God in Christ by the Spirit. Ultimately it is not a matter of our working for God, but a matter of God’s living his life and doing his work through us as we trust him and align ourselves with him by his grace. John 6.22-30, 154

Along with the revelation of God’s sovereignty is the revelation of his desire that all be saved (1 Tim 2:4)...It is a mystery how salvation can be open to all yet dependent on the will of God...In practical terms, this dual teaching of Scripture leads us to two responses. The first is a life of praise and joy in the revelation of a gracious heavenly Father who is utterly good and completely for us. The second is a life of real effort, taking seriously our Lord’s call to enter the narrow gate (Mt 7:13) and to persevere to the end. John 6.30-71, 160

The next section (7-8) intensifies the conflict about Jesus, as he reveals himself even more clearly at the Feast of Tabernacles. The issue here is the origin of Jesus. Those who reject him are looking at Jesus as just a teacher from Nazareth, while Jesus' claim is that he came from the Presence of the Father. He has come from God and supplies the "bread" and "water" (37-39) of the age to come because He is the presence of God in the flesh and will provide God's continued presence to people through his giving of the Spirit. His credential is not from a rabbinic school, but from the Father as attested by his miracles and teaching. Jesus says that he handles the law correctly and truly understands its purpose, to reveal God and teach people how to image God in their relationships. This is why Jesus is justified when he heals on the Sabbath. The response is mixed with many of the audience, the temple guard and even one Pharisee, Nicodemus, listening to Jesus, but the almost all the Jewish leadership opposes him. Jesus forces us to take him on his terms alone and to interpret scriptures with him as the guiding principle.

If Jesus is Lord, then he cannot be wedded to any other religion or philosophy. Rather, he is the standard of truth by which we assess all other claims. There are elements of truth in all religions, but we are able to recognize those elements precisely because they cohere with Jesus, the truth incarnate. If Jesus is not the truth, then he cannot offer us life. John 7.1-13, 181–182

This call to right judgment is a challenge to each of us, for we are all guilty at times of judging by appearances. The only way to avoid such shallowness is to be united with God and to share in his truth about Jesus and about our own lives. This requires that we will God’s will (7:17), which means God’s will as God knows it, not as our prejudices and sins tailor it. To will God’s will is to have a purity of heart and a clarity of vision that come through death to self. Until we have found our own heart (which lies deeper than our emotions and imagination) and made contact with God there, we will be in danger of judging by appearances instead of with right judgment. John 7.14-36, 187

When Jesus cries out at the end of the Feast of Tabernacles on this particular day, the worshipers meet God in his sanctuary—in the person of his Son. The longing for God is met with God’s invitation to come and be satisfied. In Jesus, God’s own desire for man is expressed and the desire of man for God is met. All that the temple represented is now found in Jesus. John 7.37-39, 194

Like these Pharisees it is all too easy to mistake our interpretations of God’s revelation for reality. We should hold firmly to what has been revealed in Scripture under the guidance the Spirit has given the church, but we must do so in an abiding relationship with the living God in whose presence we live. We must hold firmly to him in his objectively real presence and allow him to correct our personal, faulty understandings of him and his ways. The truth is in Jesus in perfection, but our apprehension of him is not yet perfect. John 7.40-52, 203

The next section was certainly not originally part of John's Gospel. Whitacre sees it as a "patch" from one of the Synoptic writers which, though it does not do it with the language and style of John, fits the theme of this section. Jesus acts with the authority, and mercy and grace, of God to forgive a sinner and restore relationship with God.

Jesus' noncondemnation is quite different from theirs. They wanted to condemn but lacked the opportunity; he could have done so, but he did not. Here is mercy and righteousness. He condemned the sin and not the sinner. But more than that, he called her to a new life. The gospel is not only the forgiveness of sins, but a new quality of life that overcomes the power of sin. John 7.53-8.11, 209

The rest of chapter 8 deals with Jesus' teaching, during the "lamp-lighting ceremony" of the feast, to be the "Light of the world." Again Jesus is identifying himself with YHWH of the exodus experience who led Israel as a pillar of fire to light the night and lead the way. Jesus is the greater light who overcomes the spiritual forces of darkness, sin and death. Because the people do not understand the metaphor, Jesus makes his claim more concrete by claiming to be the One from above, who comes from the Father, reveals the Father, and distributes the blessings of the Father. When his opponents reject him again with accusations of being demon possessed, Jesus directly addresses their problem: they act like the devil who tries to live in independence from God and thus takes a stand against truth and life. Jesus then makes the explicit claim to be the "I AM" which they also reject. This is the decisive turning point of the Gospel. Though many Jews have believed in Jesus and received his message, the official leadership has rejected him and the nation will be judged. Jesus will now form his kingdom community apart from the temple. 

The world lies in darkness and death because it has rebelled against God and thus broken contact with the one source of light and life. Jesus claims to be the light that brings light and life back to the world and sets it free from its bondage to sin. All the salvation that went before, such as the deliverance celebrated at this feast, was a type of this deepest and truest salvation that Jesus now offers. John 8.12-20, 212

In this section we have Jesus’ very clear statement of his divine identity, of the necessity to have faith in him and of how the cross will reveal most clearly his identity as I AM. John 8.21-30, 218

Jesus has claimed to be I AM, the divine presence. So when he leaves the temple it is nothing less than “the departure of the Divine Presence from the old ‘Holy Space’.” He will not return again to the temple; he will come only to its outer precincts (10:23). His formation of a community apart from the temple will now become more apparent. John 8.31-59, 233–234

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

PIU Shirts

Here is Joyce and I modeling our new PIU shirts. Joyce brought them back from Guam. I really miss the people and the work we did there. Please pray for the school as they head into the annual PIU Days celebration and a very important board meeting in March.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Brief Medical Update

27983232_10213919254563235_6940450497373603902_oThis update had to be brief because not much has changed since the last one. But, this is a very important week for us so I thought it warranted an update. I have been recovering slowly from my November stem cell transplant and chemotherapy that went with it. I am gaining strength to walk a little more each day, do some strength and edema exercises, and get out a little more. I have not noticed any cancer symptoms returning and am thanking God for that. The edema does not seem to be getting much better at all and is still a concern. It limits what I can do and how long I can stay up or sit up. That is why this week is a turning point. First, I will see my local oncologist on Wednesday to get an update from him. This will be my fist visit there since the transplant. Then on Friday I will go to Stanford for a PET scan to make sure there is no recurrence of lymphoma. We are fairly confident and hopeful for a good outcome there, but I’d be lying if I said that I am not a little nervous. Then later Friday afternoon we see the edema specialist to hopefully begin a treatment program that will deal with that issue. So my big prayer requests here are for a clear PET scan and some relief (healing) from the edema.

After the appointments at Stanford our plans are to head down to Scotts Valley on Saturday and spend a few days there. We plan to attend Gateway Bible Church on Sunday  and see our ministry partners there. We will then go back to Stanford on Thursday March 8th to get the results of the scan from our transplant doctor. This should help us get some more clarity for our future plans, but, even in the best case scenario, I will still be on disability status and in treatment protocol. We really cannot make any long term plans until my case is reviewed in January 2019. Nevertheless our prayer is for continued improvement so that we begin to be more involved in ministry and connection as 2018 progresses. Even though we will not receive a salary from the mission in 2018, we will still be active as missionaries  there with our account support funds used for ministry expenses and costs of moving from Guam. We appreciate your prayers and support for us and our ministry, and your encouragement for us as we continue to trust God for what He has for us in the future.

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