Friday, 24 May 2013

The Once and Future Scriptures - Searching for Jesus' God (pt 4)

This post continues my look at The Once and Future Scriptures edited by Gregory C Jenks. Here are my thoughts on the into and first chaptersthe second chapter and the third chapter. This post will be dealing with the next chapter.

Nigel Leaves - Chapter 4 Scripture, God-Talk and Jesus
Human Words about Who We Think God Is
Leaves starts off in the class room of an Introduction to Theology course where the:
"lecturer is likely to announce that the Bible is not the literal Word of God and then go on to explain that it is a collection of literary documents reflecting diverse historical/social contexts and containing the writings of human authors engaged in search for God" (p 63)
This all sounds good, assuming that you think God hasn't come down to us, but instead think we somehow need to reach up to God. If God did not reveal Himself to us, then yes the Bible would be our human attempts at scratching around, trying to figure out who He is and what He is like. But, instead of us trying to search for God, God came and found us and revealed Himself to us. Here is an example: you may not know what I look like, my middle name, or my age and you can try and guess my ethnicity and age from hints throughout this blog, but if I showed you my drivers licence you would then know for certain as I have disclosed that information to you. Once it is disclosed, it would be silly to try and search for what my ethnicity, age and middle name is. Same with God.

In my experience in an Intro to Theology subject (at St Marks) it wasn't quite like how Leaves explained. However, my first assignment was to engage with four articles across the theological spectrum (Goldingay, J; Jensen, P; Migliore, D & Schneider S) to which I did read some statements that there were some mistakes in the Bible. Their examples were pretty weak as when I was looking up these mistakes there was a reasonable comment in the footnotes of the source explaining them, I didn't even need to read outside the main source to resolve these "mistakes".

Leaves laments the way Dawkins and fundamentalist read the Bible, to which I agree. Historically and grammatical context is important with any writing, not less the Bible. Although Leaves does think some of the traits of God "rightly deserved to be shelved" but then in the next paragraph has a go at people who 'cherry-pick' biblical texts (p 64). Again stressing the Bible as an attempt for man to reach out to God Leaves put in italics: 
"the Bible contains the breadth and complexity of human response to a Be-ing that must forever remains beyond the creative comprehension of the human mind" (p 64)
Yes, God is completely other, there is no one or thing like Him. But just because we can't know Him fully doesn't mean we can't know Him at all. The reason why we can know God is because He has revealed Himself to us in the Bible. Again, the Bible is not a human response to God, it is God's response to humans.

Leaves quotes a bunch of guys on saying how God in God's self is unknowable and a mystery (p 64). These guys are talking about the immanent Trinity, of which I agree. It is a mystery how God's interior life between the Persons function, but lets not confuse that with the economic Trinity. In the economic Trinity we see how God relates to us, and we can know this as it has been revealed to us by Himself (and it is not just an attempt a humans trying to understand and respond to God).

Again, the Bible is described as being a holy book "because it abounds in thoughtful people's ideas about the nature of Holiness." (p 66). If that is the case then J.C. Ryles classic, Holiness, must also be considered a holy book. I wonder if given some time Kevin DeYoungs, Hole in our Holiness, will come to be considered a holy book? After all, he is a thoughtful guy who was writing about Holiness... 

Leaves does end this section asking the right questions about understanding the text. We do need to work out the original context and the life settings (p 66). However, when he reaches the conclusions that there are errors in the Bible because of this investigation and that the reader is left to decide over the text which parts of the Bible is obsolete, seems to me the reader hasn't understood the text and shouldn't then stand over it. When we are deciding what parts of the Bible are "obsolete", I would suggest that we let the Bible itself decided for us...

Human Words about Jesus Become Words about a Divine Jesus
Leaves makes the statement that "it must be admitted that the New Testament consists of human words about Jesus" (p 66) and that this point of often forgotten. The fact that it is in a human language might give it away, but sure, it is good to nail this point down, as long as we don't forget the inspiration of Holy Spirit in these human authors.

Again, like previous chapters in this book, the questioning of Jesus' divinity as believed by the eye witness is doubted as this was a later development in Christology (p 67). Looking at Phil 2:6-11 Leaves says this was written about 10 years after Jesus' death and shows that "very soon after Jesus' death Christians had begun to transfer the language usually associated with God to the person of Jesus" (p 67). I would agree, in fact Thomas "very soon" after Jesus' death called Jesus "My Lord and My God" (John 20:28). In light of Thomas' statement the quote from Karen Armstrong in Leaves includes stating "that there was a distinction between kyrios and God" (p 68) seems unimportant as Thomas called Jesus both.

Leaves says that with the earliest Christians "Jesus-talk became God-talk" (p 69), which I don't disagree with, because Jesus is God, and for some, it was only after His resurrection that it became plain to them.

God-Talk in the Bible
In this short section Leaves says "the Bible cannot be understood without some appreciation of its theological biases" (p 69). Knowing this implied or underlying theology in the Bible helps us to understand Jesus of Nazareth (p 70). I agree. We need to understand the original intent of the writings and their agenda. We shouldn't superimpose our own on to the text.

From Jesus to God, Not Vice-Versa!
Leaves struggles with the idea that Jesus though Himself to be God and trying to work out what Jesus was thinking is futile as we can not get into the inner workings of His mind and we can not get into the of the an author (p 71). This is only true if the author doesn't disclose what they were thinking, or what the people in their writings were thinking. What we should do is read an authors work and see what they say. After all what they do say comes from their mind, and so this revelation at least can tell us an idea that they had in their head. John 8:58 has Jesus saying that before Abraham exited "I AM" and a bit before that He said that He was not of this world (John 8:23). In Mark, which is the earliest gospel (as opposed to John's which is the last one) has Jesus forgiving sins even though in the same story it is pointed out that only God can forgive sins (Mark 2:1-12). From this, I think it is say to assume that the authors (Mark and John) thought Jesus thought He was God. Since they were close to Jesus (well Mark was close to Peter) and they are recounting historical events I think it would be safe to assume that from these texts (and others) Jesus though He was God.

Ending this section Leaves makes a good point "if we proclaim God was in Jesus then unless we know who Jesus was, we might have God wrong!" (p 72). I think this is because Jesus was and is God.

Jesus' Theology
Leaves then turned to focus on what Jesus mean by the Kingdom of God. Was it a future kingdom or a present one? He sides with those who say Jesus' Kingdom "was to be made real now by those who accepted his teachings" (p 72), to which I do not disagree to a point.

The whole letter to the Roman colony in Philippi is how the Church is to live as a new colony under Jesus Christ who is Lord. They are to live a life worthy of the gospel and should be self-sacrificial and gently to everyone, not just from within the church (Phil 4:5). But, we should not go too far. Despite this emphasis on the here and now living, which is very important, Paul also says that the Church's citizenship is in heaven and they are to wait for Jesus who will transform them latter (Phil 3:20-21). So I think it is both. I think the Church is to live out the new kingdom now, but it will not be complete until Jesus comes and renews all things latter.

Leaning on Patterson, the chapter goes on to say that because of Jesus, God is not remote and is for the ordinary person (p 74) which is great. Then we see in Jesus that all are welcome into this family. "There are no outsiders, no expendables, and no one is unclean" (p 74). Now in a sense this is right. Jesus was for everyone, regardless of who you were or are. Jesus approached the "unclean" people and touched them (Mat 8:1-4) - or they touch Him (Mark 5:25-34). Instead of Jesus then becoming "unclean" himself, He made them "clean". The external things Jesus was not interested in, instead what makes people unclean is their hearts (Mat 15:17-20). Jesus does call people "into relationships of radical love and mutual care" (p 74) but those who He calls needs to put off their old self and put on the new self. The one with a new heart, which God gives.

Christianity Today: Why What We Say about Jesus' God Matters
Leaves gives a great picture of what the Church should look like. It should be a loving community that proclaims the love of God. We should stand up to the new atheists and say their representation of violent and irrational god is not our God because that is not the God Jesus preached (p 75). We are to beak down the barriers of gender, class, patriarchy and race and create communities that embody this love (p 76). "The role and mission of the Christian community is to live up that vision of a transformed world in the name of the God that Jesus came to proclaim" (p 76). This is all good stuff. But what seems to be lacking in all this is the means by which we can live up to this.

Jesus said that our hearts are unclean, and to some who have children are evil (Mat 7:11). God showed His love for us, that while we were still sinners Chris died for us (Rom 5:8).  This is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent His Son to die for our sin (1 John 4:10). It is by the proclamation and the belief in this message of God's love for us, that we can be this new community. This chapter failed to make note of this, which is a bit of an oversight. From this chapter one may think that this new community in the new kingdom could be brought about by our own efforts, and not but the King.

Leaves then sums up his chapter, to which I am in mostly agreement with. There are nuances of him still talking about "The God of Jesus" and not that Jesus Himself is God, that I have issue with, but this rant is getting too long again.

Thank you for reading.


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