Friday, December 14, 2007
During the 1990s one of my favorite contemporary Christian artists was Rich Mullins. Mullins was radical in many ways. He did not simply produce Christian "pop" music. There was serious grist in most of his material, a dangerous undertow. Through his music Mullins challenged conservative Christians to grasp the reality that Christian faith was more than wearing a wrist band (WWJD) or even listening to popular Christian artists. Christianity had to impact the fallen world in the name of Jesus Christ and carve out beach heads for the kingdom. We do this through becoming emissaries of shalom.
Once Mullins confessed his deep concern for American Christianity ... which could just as well describe "restoration" churches too:
"I really struggle with American Christianity. I'm not really sure that people with our cultural disabilities, people who grow up in a culture that worships pleasure, leisure, and affluence, are capable of having souls, or being redeemed." (Rich Mullins in An Arrow Pointing to Heaven)
What Mullins is lamenting is that Christians live in such a way that barely distinguishes them from those who make no profession of faith at all. We are comfortable, affluent and have bowed to the idol of pleasure. Guilty as charged!
On top of this our culture is undergoing a profound change. The question is do we have to become Amish to be "distinct" in the biblical notion of the term (some dangerously misunderstand this notion in its NT context). Can we be "savvy" culturally speaking and still point to the radical call of the kingdom? These are questions that Dick Staub raises in his excellent book The Culturally Savvy Christian (Jossy-Bass 2007).
Staub writes not as a theologian but as one immersed in "pop" culture. Yet he has read, reflected and digested his subject critically and creatively. It is a mistake, Staub argues, to abandon the world and retreat to our monostaries. We need to see ourselves within God's Story (chapter 3 is very good) so that we can mediate God's transforming Presence (chapter 5 is even better). "Theology has to stop explaining the world and start transforming it" he says (p. 91). He holds C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien up as models of how we can engage our culture not only as "aliens" but also as ambassadors and artists.
This engagement is for the sake of the Christian gospel and witness. This witness is at the same time "savvy" but counter-cultural in that it points to values that are alien to those canonized in Amerian mythology.
It goes without saying that Staub believes some things that I may demure from. But that hardly detracts from my liking of this book. To many Christians still think as if we live in the 1950s. That world is gone (if it ever existed at all). I appreciate Staub being a conversation partner to help this preacher to be (hopefully) wise as a serpent but innocent as a dove.
Makes a great Christmas present along with a book or two by your lowly blogger, ;-)
Thursday, December 13, 2007
While the rest of the country has been getting pummeled with ice and snow ... old man winter has hit the desert with a vengeance, ;-) Well you would think so ... we have had rain. Very unusual here in the desert. But we did get some snow. That is way up on the mountains. I have posted a few photos which hardly do justice to the beautify of it all.
Just in case you wonder about those kinds of things, the snow line is at 6,500 feet.
This is my Father's World ...
Monday, December 10, 2007
Marcionism & Churches of Christ: What Value, REALLY, is the "Old Testament?" #2 :How Did We Get Here?
The Ghost of Marcion
Marcion had a major impact on the church of the second century and his influence yet resides in Christianity both positively and negatively. Born in Sinope in North East Asia Minor, Marcion was a successful ship owner. He confronted the church with heresy on one hand while the Gnostics did on the other. Marcion moved to
What Marcion Believed
Marcion was an anti-Semite (which was not uncommon in the
Marcion believed that the church of his day had destroyed the pure faith of Jesus and Paul (especially Paul). By recognizing the books of the Jews they were mixing the Gospel with Judaism. But the “Jewish God” had nothing to do with “us” or Jesus. Since the New Testament writings (which had not all come together in the form we recognize today in his day) are filled with quotations from the “Jewish” Bible, Marcion declared them to be unfit. Thus the traditional Gospels were rejected except Luke. All the writings of other NT authors were also rejected because they preserved impure understanding of the true nature of the Gospel. Only Paul’s writings and Luke’s Gospel were accepted. These writings were themselves systematically edited to weed out Paul’s own mistaken references to
Consistent with Marcion’s views that the Demiurge created the world he embraced a rigid asceticism that rejected marriage and sexual intimacy. The world made by the Jewish creator god was not quite “spiritual” enough for Marcion. One can see that Song of Songs would be no more acceptable to Marcion than it was to J.W. McGarvey.
The Legacy of Marcion
The Church rightly condemned Marcion. Jesus is a Jew. He came to reveal the God of the Jews. The Father of the Lord Jesus is the Creator God of Israel. The Incarnation is God’s greatest complement to the goodness creation.
The church did more than simply condemn the theology of Marcion. Up until Marcion, and the Gnostic crises, the church had not really made an effort to define the canon of Scripture. THere was plenty of tradition for sure but no official canon.
One of the legacies of Marcion was the effort of the church to define what truly was her literary treasure. First she affirmed the oneness of God revealed in
Though Marcion was officially expelled as a heretic his ghost haunts to this day. It was the rejection of all things Old Testament and Jewish was a major factor that led to the horrors of the Holocaust in
In our next blog we will look at Alexander Campbell’s “Sermon on the Law” which tapped into a vein already present in historic Christianity that would bear poisonous fruit in generations restoration Christians.
P.S. Here is my sermon from last Sunday called "The Coming of a Strange King" from Zechariah 9. I got a little excited and forgot to check the clock ... but we got out on time anyway. I do not hold my sermons as models of how to preach from the Hebrew Bible ... but just showing that we need to get busy doing it.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
We in Churches of Christ claim to hold firmly to the Bible as not only inspired but also authoritative. We demand (on most issues anyway) ‘book, chapter and verse.’ A problem frequently arises, however, when either the book, chapter or verse comes from the so-called “Old Testament.” When we speak of the authority of the Bible what is often meant is simply the authority of the Epistles … I speak hyperbolically but it is not far from the mark in reality. Churches of Christ have denied the charge of “not believing in the Old Testament” yet on a practical level one wonders if the charge is completely amiss.
In my next series of blogs, I want to explore two things: First I want to try to understand our hermeneutic and why and how it guts three-fifths of the Bible in shaping our self-understanding as the people of God; Second I do not want to simply be a critic rather I want to point to why the “OT” (Hebrew Bible) is essential to our faith and life in the kingdom of God. Thus I will be looking at some theological matters, deconstructing some exegetical arguments sometimes used to limit the “force” of the “OT” and I will be pointing to applications matters that hopefully some shepherds, deacons, Sunday School teachers … and some preachers will have to deal with and then robustly teach.
This matter has been a passion with me for a long time. Even in college some of my friends labeled me an “Old Testament Christian.” But the impetus for this series is none other than renowned restoration biblical scholar John William McGarvey. For most informed people in Churches of Christ McGarvey needs no introduction.
McGarvey published a small Guide to Bible Study near the end of the 19th century. The book is, in my opinion, largely useless (I know I am being harsh). The notes are lacking and unhelpful. However the book was used by McGarvey in training preachers and church leaders. It was important to JWM to pay careful attention which “dispensation” a book or text is in. McGarvey at times simply does not know what to do with the “Old Testament.” He is bewildered by some of the books. I call attention to his comments on the Song of Songs … which was the straw that broke the camel’s back for these blogs:
“The Song of Songs. The title which this short poem assigns itself is, ‘The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s’ (i.1). If there is any book in the Bible which found a place in it by a mistake or misjudgment of those who put the inspired book together, it must be this; for it is so totally unlike all the rest that it is difficult to see what connection it can have with the general design of the whole. Many interpreters have affected to find in it a parabolic meaning, and even a foreshadowing of the love of the Church of Christ; while others have regarded it as nothing more than a love-song with a very obscure connection of thought. According to either view it has afforded little edification to the great majority of Bible readers; and unless some significance can be found in it hereafter which has not yet been pointed out, it will continue to be but little read, and of but little practical value.” (my italics).
This is McGarvey’s entire interpretation of the Song and it is wholly negative. But this is in line with his evaluation of the OT as a whole.
A number of thoughts come to mind as I reflect on McGarvey’s Marcionism. First is that he has utterly failed to grasp the Song precisely because of the inherited Greek glasses that he reads the Bible through. The Song is an ascetic and neo-gnostic nightmare! The Song, far from being out of sync with the “general design” of the Bible, squares perfectly with a Hebraic worldview. The Song celebrates the created world as a gift of grace. It relishes creation and specifically that part that many in the Christian tradition have found offensive (including McGarvey). The Song echoes Edenic goodness and says that desire, even “erotic” desire is itself good and holy.
Second one wonders if McGarvey had heard of either Rabbi Aqiba or Bernard of Clairvaux? The Rabbi believed that the Song was the “holy of holies” of Scripture and Bernard spent eighteen years reading, “munching,” praying, and preaching the Song … and only making it to the beginning of chapter 3. The Song is part of the Passover liturgy and it most certainly edifies those who open themselves up to the passion with with God calls us to embrace life.
There are many things more to say about the Song and I may return to them. But the Song for now has provided a brief restoration window to how “we” have reacted so negatively to a book of the Bible … even to the point of saying the “inspired” folks made a mistake in including it.
The things we can embrace when our filters refuse to allow our beliefs to be challenged. Did it ever occur to McGarvey that perhaps, just perhaps, rather than the Song being out of place it was his perceived (and prejudiced) pattern for the “design” of the Bible that was the mistake and misjudgment. I am grateful for McGarvey but I think the editors were right and he was wrong.
Let’s embrace the book, the whole book, and nothing but the book … let it rattle our cage and shatter our cherished beliefs.
My friend Frank Bellezzi has posted, this morning (Dec 7) a thoughtful piece called Rehabilitating the Old Testament that is worthy of thought.
P.S. For those seeking a thoughtful interpretation of the Song then I recommend Carey Ellen Walsh's Exquisite Desire: Religion, The Erotic, and the Song of Songs (Fortress Press 2000).
Walsh's book, like the Song, is not for the faint hearted but if you want some serious insight into the Song then there are few better contemporary writers. This does not mean I endorse all of Walsh's views ... but she takes the Song seriously and it spirituality. I find it refreshing.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
New Wineskins magazine has graciously called attention to A Gathered People: Revisioning the Assembly as Transforming Encounter (Leafwood 2007) by John Mark Hicks, Johnny Melton and Bobby Valentine. Greg Taylor, New Wineskins editor, has excerpted large sections of chapter one and published them in the current issue. For those who would like to have a "taste" of the flavor of the book then follow this link
A Gathered People in New Wineskins
I am grateful and humbled by Greg and the editors of New Wineskins for calling attention to our work on the assembly and worship.