Friday, January 8, 2016

Theology for God's Subversive Counter-Revolutionary People.2


1.    The Story

A God who is love is a God who has a story. For love is but the story of how the lover intends and acts for the good of the beloved over, against, around, and below the obstacles to his achieving that good. This is the story the Bible tells us. It unfolds like a drama in six acts.[1]

1.1        Creation (Gen.1-2)

God created the world out of nothing to provide a habitation where he can live with his creatures in well-being and flourishing. In the cultural setting of the Ancient Near East the creation accounts in Gen.1 and 2 portray the building of a palace-temple.  Where else would a deity dwell but a temple?

The prototype we find there is modelled on Israel’s temple. The Holy of Holies, where God dwelt, is the garden in Eden where God would walk and talk with Adam and Eve (Gen.3:8). Eden itself is the Holy Place where sacrifices and worship were offered. The larger world outside Eden, which is watered and nourished by the four rivers coming out of Eden (Gen.2:8) so that it may be habitable as well. Adam and Eve are styled as the first priests in the Holy of Holies. They are given dominion as divine image-bearers for the settling and shaping of this palace-temple (Gen.1:26-28) and its protection and nurture (same word pair used to describe priestly duties elsewhere in the Old Testament).

The human vocation is to be royal priests, children of the Great King who represent him throughout creation reflecting his character and will and priests charged with the protection expansion of this primal palace-temple to the very ends of creation itself.

That’s the vision we have here in the beginning. We see its full and final form in the last vision of the book of Revelation concerning the New Jerusalem (chs.21-22). Here we find the new creation has become not simply the temple but indeed the Holy of Holies,[2] the place God dwells and meets with his people.

Here in these first two chapters of Genesis we also find the other benchmarks of the story besides the Temple. Adam and Eve are symbols of humankind, the people of God. God’s covenant with these his children, his family, and his rule as the Great King in his Kingdom are present by implication. Neither need to be spelled out at this point.   

We have the beginning of God’s dream and the picture of its realization. They are the great bookends around the Bible’s story and must always be kept in mind as we proceed through the story. They give it its plot line and rationale.  

1.2        Catastrophe (Gen.3-11)

Between Gen.1-2 and Rev.21-22 the biblical story shows us how God deals with the unfathomable and inexplicable revolt against him. Gen.3-11 unfolds a primal litany of the dashing of God’s dream for his creation. Each of what we have come to call the Seven Deadly Sins find their first instance in these stories. More importantly, the royal priests God commissioned as agents in the extension of God’s palace-temple have become saboteurs of that very project.

Humanity has turned its back on God living now from its own resources. Its heart has become rather Grinch-like, at least two sizes too small. Men and women are no longer at home with themselves or with each other. Society is in chaos. And God’s good creation is coming apart at the seams.

-The family God wanted is in shambles rent by violence and all manner of malady (the implicit covenant is broken).

          -Humanity has been exiled from God’s presence (the Temple of Garden of Eden).

-The rule of God has been challenged and resisted (the Kingdom of God is contested).

 

The catastrophe of sin begins in the garden with Adam and Eve, engulfs their children Cain and Abel, creates cities and cultures opposed to God, and finally ends with the de-creation of the flood. God starts over again with Noah and his family but with the same sad result.

1.3        Covenant/Israel (Gen.12 – Malachi 4)

God never acquiesces in this human revolt, however. After the Babel fiasco, he begins yet again.  This time with another couple, Abraham and Sarah, whose family will be the community through whom he resolves the problem of sin. This strategy of using a particular entity to achieve universal consequences is God’s way of working henceforth. The universal horizon of Gen.1-11 narrows to the particular horizon of this one people. Gen.12:1-3 classically expresses this strategy. God promises Abraham and Sarah that through them

-he will raise up a great new family,

-he will bless and protect that family, and

     -he will bless all other peoples through that family.

Abraham’s people will henceforth bear the destiny of the whole world. What happens to them matters for everyone else!

This is the people God has chosen to be his Subversive Counter-Revolutionary Movement (SCRM). God

-unilaterally commits to them in covenant with Abraham (Gen.15,17).

- gathers them from Abraham’s family in Genesis (12-50).

-rescues them from slavery in Egypt in Exodus (1-15).

-creates a nation, his people, and makes another covenant with Moses through which Israel demonstrates to the world the life God intends for all humanity (Ex.19-24; Deut.4:5-8).

-guides and disciplines this disobedient and often idolatrous people even making a further covenant with David promising a Davidic ruler on Israel’s throne forever (2 Sam.7).

-as king after king fails from the two kingdoms into which the people have split, the prophet Jeremiah promises a new covenant, a better one, which will succeed where the former covenants have failed.

-paralleling this covenantal history, the kingdom of God ebbs and flows with the people’s obedience (or lack thereof). The high point in exhibiting this kingdom is with David. The low point is exile, a condition that exists beyond the Old Testament, through the intertestamental period and into the time of Jesus.

-the Temple likewise develops from ad hoc altars with the patriarchs, a Tabernacle for the people on the move from Exodus to Solomon’s building and dedicating the Temple in Jerusalem. This Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in the 6th century B. C. and rebuilt by those who returned from exile. Though rebuilt, the glory of God never returned to this Temple, foreshadowing its rejection by Jesus and final destruction by the Romans in 70 A. D.

Covenant
Kingdom
Temple
Abraham
-
ad hoc altar
Moses
Israel becomes a nation
Tabernacle
David
United Kingdom under King David, Davidic successor promised, low point in exile
Temple built by Solomon, destroyed by Babylonians
New Covenant
New kind of kingdom promised
Temple rebuilt but not claimed by the glory of God

 

Our three benchmarks all follow a similar trajectory in this period. A build up to the time of David with a subsequent tragic fall somewhat buffered (for some but not for all) by God’s promise to David of a perpetual heir on Israel’s throne and Jeremiah’s promise of a new covenant.

Israel has failed its mandate to be God’s “pilot project,” his prototype of what God intends for humanity, his SCRM.

-Instead of a people who lived gratefully under his kingship, this people lusted for a human king so they could be like all the other nations.

 

-Instead of practicing Jubilee (Lev.25), the most profound and radical social legislation anywhere, which would have provided for an unprecedented social and economic levelling every generation, Israel chose to play by the “one who dies with the most toys wins” ethic all the peoples around them played by.

 

-Instead of trusting God to be their warrior, Israel trusted in a professional army, military might, and political alliances for its security

In other words, Israel egregiously broke the covenant God graciously made with them. They rejected his Kingdom for one just like every other nation. And they forfeited his glorious presence for a domesticated and manipulable deity like the ones they accused the “pagans” of worshiping. Israel failed miserably as God’s chosen SCRM, kicked dirt on his name in the world, and stalled his project of reclaiming and restoring his wayward creation. They became part of the problem God called them into existence to solve.

Now God has to deal with their failure as well as that of Adam and Eve. The people God intends to be his agent or vehicle of blessing the rest of the world have to be remade. And through them salvation will come to all others. Whatever God does will have to resolve both issues.

Yet our God is infinitely resourceful. He is not stymied nor his plans brought to naught by our faithlessness.[3] He will play the hand we deal him with grace and finesse and will finally prevail.

And that leads us to next act in the drama, the decisive and climactic one, to which we now turn.

1.4        Christ

We have arrived at the center of the biblical story with Jesus Messiah.[4] Messiah is not only the figure expected to resolve the issues having to do with Israel but also, as Israel’s Messiah, the ruler of the world. As such Jesus is uniquely situated to deal with both the problems we just noted.

But there is more to it than that. Far more. Here we meet that second mystery on which the Christian faith is founded. Theologically we call it incarnation. More popularly we call it Christmas. Astonishingly, it means that God himself has come among us, as one of us. Again, there no way to explain how this can be. We can only acknowledge it for it is as the Bible bears witness to it.

-God in Christ will do for us what we will not and, hence, cannot do for ourselves.     -And God in Christ will do as us what we ought to do as truly human creatures.

In, with, through, and as Jesus of Nazareth God has come among us showing us what God looks like in human flesh, but also what humanity looks like filled with God’s life.

A Declaration of Faith nicely summarizes the first part of that statement in these words:

“Jesus' involvement in the human condition is God's involvement.
His compassion for all kinds of people is God's compassion.
His demand for justice, truth, and faithfulness is God's demand.
His willingness to suffer rejection is God's willingness.
Jesus' love for the very people who reject him is God's love.”[5]
 

It also captures the last part in these good words from ch.4, ll.36-44. Though he bore our own sinful flesh[6] (Rom.8:3)

“Jesus was what we should be.
He served his Father with complete trust
and unwavering obedience.
He loved all kinds of people
and accepted their love.
In constant dependence upon the Holy Spirit,                                                         Jesus allowed no temptation or threat to keep him
from loving God with his whole being
and his neighbor as himself.”

What God looks like as a human being and what human beings are supposed to look like as his good creation reads like what I am calling God’s subversive counter-revolutionary movement. Continuing with A Declaration of Faith, we learn that Jesus “overthrew evil powers,” “healed,” “commanded loyalty to him(self) above loyalty to family and country,” “taught” with “authority,” and “forgave sinners.”[7] He does this by making “no use of power” himself, by not avoiding “pain and suffering,” by living as a “servant,” by “submitting to humiliation and death without a word” of protest, by allowing himself to be “counted among sinners.”[8]

This is how God is among us as a human being and how as a human being he is filled with God’s life. And how God models and enables his SCRM in the world.

In Jesus the three benchmarks of covenant, kingdom, and temple find their fulfilment – in his person.

-In the upper room the night before his death Jesus hosts a covenant renewal meal for his disciples where his own body and blood are the meal (Matt.26:28), the covenant renewed.

-“But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you” (Lk.11:20).

- Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body” (Jn.2:20-21).

Jesus claims that he is God’s covenant with Israel for the world. That he is the Kingdom of God in person. And he is the temple, the presence of God, in bodily form. The story thus brings its main theme, the presence of God with his people, his family, and his subjects, to a climax in Jesus. In and through his life as described briefly above God triumphs over the powers which have hijacked his creation and raised up a people who will live in the freedom Christ has won for them for the sake of the world.

Jesus’ earthly ministry focused on reconstituting the people of Abraham as the people through whom God would bless the world. He was that one faithful Israelite through whom God fulfilled his promises to Abraham and Sarah in Gen.12.

          -He gathered followers who were to be the nucleus of that new people of Abraham.

          -He blessed them with his presence and the time he spent training them.

-He tells them to take the blessing of God to the world (the so-called Great Commission in Matt.28:16-20; the call to meet in Galilee to continue ministry in Mk. 16; the preaching of repentance and forgiveness of sins in Lk.24:47-48; and /in receiving the Spirit and the commission to preach forgiveness to everyone in Jn.20:22-23).

So we can say that in his earthly ministry Jesus called together and equipped the new people of Abraham. He then sent them out to bless the world after his resurrection.

These people went out in a wider Jewish and Gentile world as commissioned and they shared the good news of Jesus, in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, as the central event of all creation and history. In their message that Jesus lives for us in victory today is our source and hope. That we live in him in his victory today is the assurance and power of our ongoing service in God’s SCRM.

To that life in Christ living out his victory we turn in the next act of scripture’s drama.

1.5        Covenant/Church

Jesus came to renew and reestablish the people of Abraham in his earthly ministry. In his risen Lordship he indwells, equips, leads, and makes his SCRM victorious in the power of his Spirit poured out at Pentecost.

In the life of these earliest Christian communities we are afforded an invaluable glimpse into how they incarnated their new life as God’s SCRM in their 1st century world. The New Testament leaves us with roughly these seventy years of church life as stories, teaching, and insight that orients us to being God’s people and fires our imaginations to improvise our way to faithfulness in the very different world we live in. Our task is to perform the basic insights, dynamics, and practices of their story into insights, dynamics, and practices that exhibit that same story under new conditions.

The apostle Paul is our chief (though certainly not the only) instructor from whom we take our cues for improvising faithfulness in our communities. We will focus on him, though, because we do not have space to do more than that here.

I’m going to focus on one remarkable letter. A letter than in recent years has come to challenge Romans as the chief of Paul’s letters. A letter that I title “The Making of God’s Subversive Counter-Revolutionary Movement.” A letter[9] named “Ephesians” in our Bibles. Ephesians deals with no particular problem in that church and is a survey of Paul’s understanding of God’s “eternal purpose” (3:11). In this letter Paul[10] lays out in an ordered way the “big picture” of what God is up to from eternity past (1:3) to eternity future (2:7) and where he taking this world he created. Further he structures it in such a way as to show us how we can live into this vision and play our roles in its unfolding. Here’s a diagrammatic breakdown of the letter.

Ephesians: The Making of God’s Subversive Counter-Revolutionary Movement

 

 
 
 
 
6:21-24 Closing
 
 
“Stand”
6:10-20 Mode
6:10: Stand in Strength of the Lord
 
 
 
“Walk”
4:1-6:9 Membership toward Maturity
4:10: Gifts
5:10: Aim of Life
 
 
 
“Sit”
Mystery 1:3-23
1:10 – God’s Plan
Memory 2:1-22
2:10: What We are Saved For
Mentor 3:1-21
3:10: The Church’s Task
Divine Warfare Pattern
Kingship/conflict-victory/celebration/temple-building (1:19-2:22)
Rhetorical direction
 
 
1:1-2 Greeting
 
 
 
 

 

 Paul structures Ephesians with three posture images: Sit, Walk, and Stand. They are filled out with what I call the five “M’s” of Ephesians: the mystery of God’s gracious plan, the memory of God’s victories, the mentor who guides us into living into God’s gracious plan, membership in the community of faith growing toward maturity, and the mode of our life in the community of faith.

Paul designs this letter rhetorically to move toward its climax at the end – the armor of God and spiritual warfare![11] The arrow in the diagram indicates this.

Under the “Sit” image Paul provides the community everything it needs to receive from God’s grace to be faithful and effective participants in God’s SCRM. Sitting points to receptivity as the mode appropriate to this moment in Christian growth. It all starts with God and what God has done for us and that exactly where Paul begins. He expounds the mystery that envelops us and the world: that Jesus Christ is the one under whom God will gather and order all things (1:10). Paul next recalls for us God’s “skins on the wall” – his victories over the power that divide us from God and one another and keep us from living as God desires (2:10). Finally, Paul presents himself as our mentor in living into God’s SCRM. He even identifies the task of the SCRM: proclaiming in word and deed God’s liberating wisdom to the powers that have held humanity captive that their days of misrule are over (3:10).

Once we have sat under and allowed God’s grace to overwhelm us, we can “Walk.” In this section of the letter Paul addresses a wide variety of issues for members of the community who live together and seek to grow to maturity. He deals with the gifts (4:10) of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers and how they equip the church for its maturity and ministry in the world. Then he deals with how we seek to please the Lord (5:10), community builders and busters, and relations within the community (husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and slaves).

Finally, Paul reaches the point of his exposition – to “Stand” against the spiritual powers that oppose God. This is the mode of existence for God’s SCRM. In this struggle God gives us his very own armor to wear. With his word and prayer as weapons we sally forth into the battle to do the “violence of love”[12] as God’s SCRM. Non-violent peacemaking and reconciliation are the hallmarks of this “violence of love” and the character of our warfare. And that, as I have said, is exactly what Paul wanted the Ephesians to embrace.

From 1:20 -2:22 Paul employs a pattern found in the Old Testament and elsewhere in ancient Near Eastern cultures, a divine warfare pattern. This was a way of asserting Kingship through acclamation, rehearsal of the King’s victorious conflicts, celebration, and climatically, temple-building. Tim Gombis shows how this works out in Ephesians.

“The author’s concern is to assert the lordship of Christ over the powers and authorities that rule the present evil age (1:20-23). This lordship is vindicated by a rehearsal of the triumphs of God in Christ throughout Ephesians 2, where God in Christ has freed people from bondage under the control of the powers, raising people from death and seating them with Christ in the heavenlies (2:1-10). Further, he has overcome the deep division within humanity created by the law. The evil powers hijacked God’s good gift of the Mosaic Law and perverted it into a source of alienation, bitterness and division. In his death, Christ conquered this enmity by uniting both Jew and Gentile in Christ in one New Humanity (2:11-16). Because of these triumphs, Christ has the right to build his temple, which he has done in creating the church, the place where God in Christ dwells by the Spirit (2:19-22).”[13]

 

1.6        Consummation

The final act of the biblical drama is found in the last vision of the book of Revelation, chs.21-22. Here we find what we saw in embryo in Gen.1-2 fully realized. Sin has been dealt with and has no influence here. The long narrative of Gen.3-Rev.20 has finally reached its goal.

     -creation is purified and renewed – it is new creation (Rev.21:1)!

-the covenant is fulfilled and God is at home with his family (Rev.21:3 – the covenant formula).

-the Kingdom is also fulfilled, God is in charge (see “throne” 21:3,5; 22:1,3).

-there is no temple but the entire new creation has become a Holy of Holies where God and his people live in fellowship forever (21:22).

-humanity “reigns” forever (22:5) as we were always intended to do.

We are no longer an SCRM, the days of battle and struggle are over. Peace reigns. All is as it should be.

 



[1] Adapted from N. T. Wright, “How Can the Bible Be Authoritative,” Vox Evangelica, 1991, 21, 7–32.
[2] The New Jerusalem is cubic-shaped. The only other structure so shaped in the Bible is the Holy of Holies (1 Kings 6:20).
[3] “God comes to us on God’s own terms and is able to do far more than we think or ask.” A Declaration of Faith, ch.1, ll.12-13.
[4] Christ is the Greek word for Messiah. I use the latter to remind us that Christ is not Jesus’ last name but his title, his role.
[5] A Declaration of Faith, ch.1, ll.15-19.
[6] We will look at this matter more fully later.
[7] A Declaration of Faith, ch.4, ll.50-63.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Because early, reliable manuscripts of this letter have no addressee where our Bibles have “in Ephesus,” and the letter lacks the personal greetings Paul usually appends to his letters (esp. to a church where he spent a great deal of time like Ephesus), and there is no particular theological or practical problem dealt with, it seems likely this was intended to be a circular letter to a group of churches in Asia Minor. It would serve admirably as a survey of the apostle’s understanding of what he calls God’s “eternal purpose” (Eph.3:11).
[10] Many New Testament scholars do not believe Paul wrote Ephesians for various reasons. The letter does say some things Paul did not say in the letters everyone agrees he wrote. But it does not say anything he could not have said. Even if it was written by an associate, perhaps shortly after his death, to preserve and pass on his legacy, it can still fairly be called “Pauline” because it reflects his vision and practice of the gospel.
[11]Andrew Lincoln……..
[12] Oscar Romero, The Violence of Love (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2004).
[13] Timothy G. Gombis, “The Triumph of God in Christ: Divine Warfare in the Argument of Ephesians,” Tyndale Bulletin 56.1 (2005), 159.

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