In previous essays under the working title "Marcionism & Churches of Christ" we have asked basically why are we here. Now I want to explore what happens when we actually "loose" the Hebrew Bible as a shaping/grounding source for "sound doctrine" (a phrase btw that cannot be reduced to the "marks of the church" as is so frequently done).
A word on the word "loss." By "loss" I do not mean to say a preacher never does a character study of a person which is one of the more frequent uses of the Hebrew Bible or quotes from it from time to time. By "loss" I mean the doctrine/theology of the Hebrew Bible that formed and shaped Israel, Jesus and the early church are no longer the primary "glasses" that we view all doctrine and life through. Are we shaped by the worldview that the "bible of Jesus" creates with its distinctive story of God?
First, a failure to take the Hebrew Bible seriously causes us to fundamentally misread the New Testament itself. This is exhibited in a number of ways. The authors of Pagan Christianity, which is often a fine book, speak disparaging of how some "Christian" practices or ideas "reflect the thinking of other religions--primarily Judaism and paganism" (p. 10). I will be the first to admit that Christianity has often been a Chameleon. Yet the issue that bothers me most is the authors fail to realize that Christianity is in fact "Jewish." The "New Testament" is literally written on the soil and in the atmosphere of the "Old Testament." This anti-Jewish vein of thought that has a long pedigree in Christian anti-semiticism. This goes so far in some folks that they have actually denied the Jewishness of Jesus himself. Jesus cannot be understood apart from the Hebrew Bible, a point to which we will return.
Second, if it is true that the "NT" was birthed with the blood of the Hebrew Bible flowing through its veins then that should move us to step back and see what this means. One scholar who has helped me think some of these issues through is G. Ernest Wright. In the middle of the 20th century Wright published a book entitled God Who Acts: Biblical Theology as Recital (1952). The first chapter of that book (The Church's Need of the Old Testament) should be required reading for every potential theologian in the church ... and every preacher is a theologian (the only question is whether one is a good one or not). One of the most astonishing claims made by Wright is that the Hebrew Bible is a "bulwark against paganism" for the church (p. 19). And it was an "enlightened" paganism that made such a profound resurgence in Modernism and has been embraced in the trappings of Christianity today.
How does the "OT" function in this regard? First through its doctrine of Creator and creation (the Bible has no theology of nature but only of creation). God is not part of creation though he is intimately involved with it, and creation has a purpose and goal. This may sound esoteric but it is not ... indeed it is of fundamental importance. The modern Christian cut loose from the Hebraic roots of faith reads the NT through a vaguely defined "spiritual" worldview. The knowledge of God is reduced to a feeling or an "experience." This spiritual experience is defined in radically individual terms (almost) completely separated from communal life and the program of God revealed in the narrative of Scripture. This "spirituality" instead emphasizes prayer (which is not bad btw) and the immortality of the soul. Wright states plainly, and correctly, "this represents the paganizing of the Gospel ... This Gospel is no scandal nor stumbling block" (p. 23). It is a reversion to "pagan normalcy."
The more carefully we study the Hebrew Bible the more clearly a distinctive view of God as Creator and Redeemer emerges and his relationship to his creation and humanity. This worldview is absolutely essential to biblical faith and is totally absorbed into the New Testament. The results of this loss are, in my view, the hyper individualism we see today and a neo-platonic spirituality that is alien to the entire Bible. The loss of the "bible" of Jesus births a Reader's Digest religion.
More to come.