The Biblical Theology of Saint Irenaeus by John Lawson

Lawson begins by tracing some of the popular ways that Irenaeus has been interpreted by more modern scholars, specifically as understood by Ludwig Duncker and Paul Beuzert.  Lawson’s argument that Irenaeus is not a systematic theologian is accurate, contra Duncker.  Irenaeus should be considered more a biblical theologian.  “The systematization is something that has to be brought to him” (12). 

The purpose of Lawson’s book is best understood as a response to Beuzert’s reading of Irenaeus.  He highlights seven areas of contention: 1) Beuzert limits the scope of the Two Hands of God to the creation of humanity 2) Irenaeus’ concept of Trinity is not necessarily an Economic Trinity 3) Beuzert believes that Irenaeus’ lack of “substitutionary or satisfactory” atonement theory makes him “un-Pauline” 4) Beuzert’s rendering of “saving faith in Irenaeus is far from just” 5) Paul’s influence on Irenaeus is “unduly minimized” 6) It is anachronistic to categorize Irenaeus as Western.  His interest in the authority of the Church is “dogmatic orthodoxy, not in centralized organizational discipline” 7) Irenaeus was more concerned about outlining the parameters of faith, not being intolerant.  I think Lawson is largely right to push back on Beuzert’s anachronistic reading of Irenaeus.  Denis Minns and others have expressed similar sentiments in their writings on Irenaeus.

Irenaeus, without a doubt, considers the Scriptures to be inspired and authoritative for the life of disciples.  However, as Lawson points out, this does not then mean that Irenaeus has a clearly defined understanding of “how” it is inspired.  Ironically, Lawson then says that Irenaeus would likely be a “Literal Inspiration” proponent.  Based on his initial argument, this does not make sense.  One could make an argument that Irenaeus’ understanding of inspiration is based on the gift of the Holy Spirit, rather than a “Literal Inspiration” due to Irenaeus’ theology of baptism.  After all, Irenaeus points out that the Rule of Faith is inherited in that moment of regeneration!   As per Irenaeus: Life, Scripture, Legacy, Irenaeus believes that what is needed for correct interpretation is received in the moment of baptism when the Spirit descends upon that person.  In other words, simply having the right words is not enough (the Gnostics have a number of the same Scriptures that they misuse!). 

Furthermore, the emphasis of Scripture is not yet on the canonicity of the words as it is about the apostolicity of the words.  There is still a degree of the oral tradition, which Irenaeus is just barely getting in on through Polycarp, being taught and handed down.  Irenaeus then points to those that do not have those written Scriptures yet live obediently through the traditions that have been handed down!  As such, I find Lawson’s conjecture highly speculative and unfounded.

Lawson also assumes that a literary work becomes Scripture “on account of their authorship” (33).  I think this is rather naïve.  It’s not on account of authorship as much as it is on account of the community that receives the work as authoritative and connected to the tradition of the apostles.  After all, several works have no author named.  If “authorship” was so vital, it would make sense that an author would have been named to begin with or that the author’s name would not have slipped from memory!  Granted, apostolic authority was important for the early Church community, but that does not explain the Old Testament autographs that lack a named author.  At the very least, it is imperative to realize that it is not merely the authorship that provides authority but the community that recognizes and attests to the validity of the text and its authority for the community!  That’s not to say that authorship is unimportant but it is not the only criteria.

In trying to uncover Irenaeus’ source of authority, Lawson suggests several things that I find difficult.  First, he suggests that Irenaeus believes “charismatic prophecy” to be a source of authority.  I wish this had been further defined.  If Lawson means that it is a “gift of truth-telling” then it seems much more legitimate than a “spiritualized ecstasy of future-telling.”  It seems that prophecy should be understood more as forth-telling than fore-telling. 

Secondly, Lawson says that “Reason” is not a seat of authority and then proceeds to define Reason as “postulated ideals and inherent probabilities… abstract think[ing].”  I think this is a very shallow understanding of Reason’s position in Irenaeus’ work.  It is a seat of authority, as long as it is testified to by the Church and empowered by the Holy Spirit.  Reason is not merely “abstract” thinking.  In fact, I would suggest that true Reason is practical and must be tested in the crucible of life.  Or, maybe as Irenaeus might say – incarnated.

Lawson also contests an Economic Trinitarian reading of Irenaeus.  In fact, he suggests that Irenaeus is not subordinationist or modalist in his conception of Trinity.  Rather, Irenaeus understands that where one Person of the Trinity acts, there acts all three Persons of the Trinity simultaneously.  Thus, the “Two Hands of God” are not ways of talking about God in hierarchal, positional, or functional catagories.  Instead, the Father, Spirit, and Son are all working in conjunction with one another to create, sustain, and bless.  Separate the activity of the Persons of the Trinity is to fall into tritheism.   

Lawson also has an unwarranted view of science and history.  It is a modernist conception that takes on the air of humanism.  He states that Irenaeus’ use of the Old Testament is lacking because he does not know or does not have the history available to him.  However, it seems haughty to think that after two thousand years separating us from that time we might know and understand more completely than Irenaeus.  Furthermore, it suggests that humanity and human knowledge is constantly progressing.  Information may be more available but that does not then mean that wisdom has increased.  Granted, Irenaeus does use Scripture out of context at moments.  However, that does not mean that he is unaware of history.

Lawson points out that Irenaeus talks frequently about “divinization.”  Lawson states that this is not objectionable “provided that it be borne in mind that they describe only a single aspect of salvation, i.e. the intellectual.”  However, this does not seem to be Irenaeus’ conviction.  Instead, it is to be understood as holistic.  However, I don’t think Irenaeus would conclude that we are somehow dissolved and that we cease to be human.  Rather, our humanity becomes full and complete in this union with God.   

Christus Victor holds great potential for discussing God’s atoning work.  “Going over the same ground” frames Christ’s life and ministry in promising light, especially in regards to penal substitution.  Although Lawson does not argue this directly, Irenaeus’ concept of the Trinity working together simultaneously in everything prevents us from reading a strictly penal substitution theory of atonement (for it suggests that the Father and the Son may even be at odds with one another)!  Moreover, as Lawson suggests, it may be better to think of these atonement theories as metaphors that describe the significance of what Christ has done, not detailed exegesis of how it was accomplished.

Overall, this was a good book that challenged some of the popular academic assumptions of that day.  This is helpful given that many of these assumptions are still alive today.  Lawson provides great insight into the significance of Irenaeus’ Biblical theology and his significance for the Church.  However, Lawson makes several assumptions that reflect modernism more than they reflect Irenaeus.  Irenaeus is awkwardly crammed into modernist categories that are far too anachronistic to apply.  This is the real weakness of this book.  With careful reading these can often be weeded out and measured for their overall worth.        

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“Irenaeus: Life, Scripture, Legacy” by Sara Parvis and Paul Foster

            One of Irenaeus’ themes that piqued my interest is the idea of human freedom.  According to Irenaeus, evil came from decisions made or not made.   This play in human freedom is an interesting one given Irenaeus’ theology of ontic participation.  What I find most compelling by this human freedom to will is the notion of a relational ontology.  Salvation is not merely getting rid of the human nature.  Rather, it is restoring it to proper relationship in which we are able to participate in the divine life through Christ (having been clothed in the Holy Spirit).  It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  To be sinful is to be enslaved.  

Sophie Cartwright tries to argue that Irenaeus actually gives up human independence or autonomy because of his comprehension of ontological participation as relationship.  I disagree.  Dependence does not mean loss of freedom, as Cartwright states it.  Irenaeus’ conception of the Spirit in the life of humanity does not then make us automatons.  In fact, there is great freedom, true freedom, within the boundaries of God’s life-giving creation!  As in a marriage relationship, dependence does not then mean that we cannot make genuine choices, both for good or ill.  There is freedom within the relationship.  To step outside of those bounds, however, does impact the relationship.  I do not think a Calvinistic understanding of determinism works well with Irenaeus’ depiction of the Spirit indwelling humanity.  

            Karl Shuve made a solid argument that Irenaeus’ nuptial theology shaped the groundwork for a more allegorical understanding of the Song of Songs.  This nuptial theology, supposedly, opens up a framework to understand the Song of Solomon as an allegory for the union of Christ and the Church.  Although it is quite possible to assume that Irenaeus may have contributed to this kind of reading, it is difficult to say that it originated or was even made popular by Irenaeus.  Remember, after all, Irenaeus was not keen on being novel but merely representing truth consistent with the apostles’ teaching.  That being said, it is quite possible, maybe even probable, that a nuptial theology pre-dates Irenaeus significantly.  After all, the New Testament has already made that move and opened the door for such interpretations to be made.  And, it may be that nuptial theology was already in existence as a Jewish interpretation of things like Song of Solomon.  Jesus own use of nuptial theology might suggest this is the lingua franca prior to Irenaeus.

            Charles Hill’s response to Moll was the strongest argument for the identity of the “Elder” in Against the Heresies.  Hill makes a very strong and cogent argument based on the use of “pais” to indicate Irenaeus’ age when he was learning from the presbyter that learned from the disciples.  I believe there was adequate evidence to show that “pais” may extend into one’s teenage years or beyond.  Irenaeus may have known Polycarp at an age that he could have retained, especially with repeated hearings, Polycarp’s teachings.  Also, in regards to age, it does seem strange that Irenaeus, if he was too young to remember these encounter(s), would be aware or concerned about Florinus’ motivations for being in the “royal court.”  This does seem to be a concern more for those that are preparing or are already a part of the public life in this manner.

There was also significant connection made between Polycarp being mentioned early in Against the Heresies while only being referred to as the Presbyter or Elder later in the same work.  This, to me, signifies a mark of humility.  If Irenaeus has already mentioned Polycarp, he does not need to continue to name drop, so to speak.  Irenaeus’ audience would have known the connection.  I also concur with Hill that Moll’s reading of Irenaeus is one of suspicion from the start.  Why is it that Irenaeus is faithful or truthful in other parts, except when it comes to his knowing Polycarp, by his own admission?  This seems strange, as Hill points out.  Overall, I found Moll’s thesis unsatisfying.   

            Slusser makes a case for magnitudo and dilectio as the “heart of Irenaeus’ theology” versus recapitulation.  I would venture to say that these are definitely a part of Irenaeus’ theology, as per Slusser.  They even play important roles in Irenaeus’ apologetic.  However, I think that there is an artificial/superficial line that Slusser uses to separate these two from recapitulation.  Undoubtedly, God’s love is what ultimately allows humanity to truly “know” God, despite God’s magnitudo.  Recapitulation is the way that love is expressed!  Slusser makes the effort to dissect Irenaeus’ conception of God’s love without fully realizing that Irenaeus is constructing a theology that is holistic, not merely emphasizing one part of the economy of God’s salvation.  Another way to say it is that Recapitulation is the bridge between magnitudo and dilectio.  Irenaeus’ view of ontic participation, which has everything to do with God’s character as Holy-Love, is at the very heart and center of his theology.  What I appreciate about Slusser’s approach, although it sounds much more like Luther’s mysterium tremendum, is that it highlights the significant need for recapitulation.  The chasm between God and humanity can only be re-connected by a fundamental movement of God toward humanity.  That is recapitulation; that is love!

            It is often suggested that the attraction toward Gnosticism for women is in direct correlation with a revolt or repulsion to the paternalism of Christianity and Judaism.  Sara Parvis makes a brilliant counter-argument that shows Irenaeus’ theology is actually quite open and appreciative of women… even more than Gnosticism!  Irenaeus’ Marion theology as recapitulation of Eve is probably the strongest argument for Parvis’ case.  Parvis adequately demonstrates Marcus’ form of Gnosticism is manipulative and exploitative of females.  Within the Gnostic framework, women are still blamed for evil or are lesser than the male gods.  Yet, Irenaeus’ is able to highlight God’s female attributes (i.e., breasts of comfort).  Furthermore, he seems to be quite comfortable with women playing a significant role in worship (i.e., prophesying). 

I think Irenaeus’ Marion theology actually challenges Gnostic scholars’ assumption concerning women in Christianity.  Although sin comes through Eve, salvation comes through Mary because it is by her that Christ receives the fullness of humanity.  I wish Parvis had articulated Irenaeus’ nuptial theology as a fuller supplement to her argument.  She touches on it briefly, but it would have been tremendous to connect the Church as bride of Christ in a fuller way.  The whole of redeemed humanity, the Church, is described through female imagery.  It is positive imagery!

Overall, this is a good book.  There were articles in it that I found less than helpful or interesting.  But, other articles were great insights into Irenaeus’ contribution to the Church.

Assessment of Sermons by David Busic, Dan Boone, and Fred Craddock

Sermon 1: Dr. David Busic on the Lord’s Prayer

Dr. Busic integrated a couple of different styles throughout his moves.  He employed narrative preaching, implementing stories from his personal experience.  The sermon was primarily inductive.  Initially, Dr. Busic began with the general conclusion: God is Father.  Then, looking through the window of human experience, Dr. Busic weaved the sermon back to our conception of father experienced through our earthly fathers.  After addessing the congregational blocks, the sermon then went back to the original assertion of God as Father setting the standard for fatherhood.  Roughly, the pattern of sermon plotted: trouble in the text, grace in the text, response called for in the text.  Thus, the message moved the audience to experience each move, followed by a call for response to that movement.

The big idea of the sermon is God is Father.  God is relational and desires to have relationship with us as God’s children.  God’s character is that of a loving Father that goes beyond the love of even the best earthly father.  In fact, God defines fatherhood, not humanity.  God is not distant, but continuously draws near.  As we trust God, we are drawn closer to the Father.  The Kingdom breaking into the world means God is near and among us.  As such, we can speak to the Father as children, not as “professional religious leaders.”  God doesn’t need His ego stroked but genuinely wants us to be in intimate relationship with Him.

The theological strength of the sermon was in the image of father.  In our context, we often view God as cosmic, transcendent, and omnipotent.  In other words, God is distant and cold.  However, the sermon brought God into our world and made God accessible and loving.  It broke the barrier of believing that God keeps us at arm’s length.

This sermon can be powerful because sometimes earthly father are distant and relatively unengaged in the relationship.  It creates dissonance in understanding God as Father.  The sermon reminded me that God really does care and sets the standard for earthly fatherhood.  It helps me to see that God values me as a dearly loved child.  It’s really not a matter of making myself good enough or acceptable enough to God.  Instead, I am loved for who I am.  The same is true for others that I come into contact with.  The prayer reminds us of this fact because it is not simply “My Father” but “Our Father.”

I think I benefitted from this style of preaching because it felt like I was being led, not pulled, to a different understanding of God that opened up a new possibilities in my relationship with God.  Also, the form was not rigid but was utilized like a painter’s brushes.  Different brushes created different effects.  Seeing how the congregational blocks were given weight while being addressed with the Biblical text reminded me that these are always important elements to address in the sermon.  The preacher must be able to listen to the audience before speaking to the audience.

Sermon 2: Dr. Dan Boone on Exile in a Postmodern World

Dr. Boone utilized narrative preaching primarily.  Essentially, he set up two windows or parallel worlds.  The first world was our world and the resulting sense of Exile that had occurred between generations of moderns and postmoderns.  The second world was the world of Isaiah in the Babylonian Exile.  Drawing parallels between the two allowed Dr. Boone to walk back and forth between the windows with the audience.

The big idea was surrounding the idea of exile.  There is a sense where people that lived in “Yesteryear” or Jerusalem before the Exile want to go back to those days of security and back to where “home” is.  The culture assaults us at every front and threatens our identity.  Those that have grown up in the Exile don’t remember the “good ‘ole days.”  They are more likely to be syncretistic and follow after the false gods.  Despite these real threats, God is moving Israel forward into a new future… not back to “Yesteryear.”  God is doing a new thing and it may be in ways that make us uncomfortable (Cyrus).  Rather than reacting in fear, we need to trust in God’s ability to bring us into His future.

The image of God was Creator and alive!  God is able to create new realities for the people and God is quite capable of defending Himself and taking care of God’s people.  We don’t need to defend God, like the gods of Babylon need defending.  God is described as a Potter.  God is shaping Israel and us as we move into this new future and uncharted territory.

The theological strength of this sermon was showing God to be strong, capable, and intentional.  God is able to do what God sets out to do.  God doesn’t need us to carry Him or defend Him.  God carries us!  God was also shown to be caring.  A potter’s work is a work of love and careful attention.  God works in a similar manner in bringing God’s people into this new future.

This sermon really impacted me because I am dealing with some of these same tensions in the church I serve.  There is a great deal of fear from older members and there is very little serious reflection from the younger members.  This creates a divide rather than a unity that is characteristic of God.  The sermon instilled hope in me because it gave voice to my frustration with both sides and allowed me to see how God might be working to move us toward a new future… uncertainties and all.  In the midst of that, I don’t need to carry God, God is carrying us.

The narrative style that was utilized really helped to diffuse the potential conflict or tension that might otherwise have characterized this topic.  Dr. Boone was able to open up the congregation for self-reflection while doing so with a “gentle hand.”  The creative imagination that permeated the sermon helped me to see how narrative is more than simply telling the story.  It allows us to enter the story in our own world.

Sermon 3: Dr. Fred Craddock on Lazarus and the Rich Man

Dr. Fred Craddock uses the inductive style of preaching.  It utilizes narrative by creating pictures and images that invite the congregation to explore and engage the text.  It is like wondering thought that leads somewhere, which is not to say that it is aimless.  It is intentional, but it is done in a stream-of-thought mode.  In this way, Craddock leads the congregation from what is known in their world back into the text to understand better what is happening.

The big idea of the sermon was that shock tactics will not convince people of their need for salvation.  If people will not believe the Scriptures, then even someone raised to life from the dead will not convince them.  It also affirmed the idea that having Scripture alone does not save us.  Obedience is a necessary response to the God we encounter in Scripture.  As such, knowledge alone does not save.

The image of God in this sermon is a God that does not force us to believe and come into proper relationship with Him.  In fact, God seems to allow us the freedom to choose or reject Him.  God is a God that continues to try to communicate without violating our freedom.  God desires relationship and communicates it through the Scriptures as we are saturated in its pages.

The theological strengths of the sermon revolve around a God that is just, yet is trying to extend mercy to us by calling to us.  God empowers us to understand and hear God’s desires for us as communicated through the Spirit in the Word.  However, God does not force feed it to us, but invites us.  The text also reminds us of God’s justice, which will eventually make all things right.  The poor will be comforted and the unjust will receive the consequences of a life of greed and injustice.  In other words, God is on the side of those that are weak and disadvantaged.  In Scripture we are confronted by our own lack of holiness, while being drawn toward a God that desires to make us holy.

Craddock’s style is very conversational and humorous.  His use of humor was appropriate, poignant and timely.  It did not distract from the message, but helped people to stay engaged overall.  Because his style was conversational, it was accessible.  His use of language painted a vivid mental image.  Also, his overall sermon strengthened my view of the importance of Scripture in life and in preaching.

I will benefit from his preaching style by seeing how humor can be utilized in helpful ways.  This is a better alternative to sarcasm.  Also, you could tell he had done his homework on the passage and there was a deep care and commitment to the text.  However, he was not using lofty theological language but was communicating in a way in which anybody could have understood and related.  We are not merely communicating information but are looking for transformation.  As such, it is important that we are not explaining the text as much as we are evoking a response to the text.

Reading the Good Book Well: A Guide to Biblical Interpretation by Jerry Camery-Hogatt

This is a very good introductory text for biblical interpretation and exegesis.  Camery-Hoggatt outlines the way we naturally interpret things in our daily lives.  Language is naturally ambiguous and it takes a number of clues for us to sift through to properly understand what we are reading.  Scripture is no different, except that we don’t always have all of the cultural clues handy for us to make a correct interpretation.  The author describes the process for making better interpretations of the texts we are reading.  This is a very easy read, engaging, and even humorous at moments.  Overall, this is a fair text for establishing foundations and boundaries for our interpretation of the Bible.  I would definitely recommend it for an introductory class on Biblical interpretation.

Canon and Creed by Robert Jensen

The canon and creed do not become formalized until after several generations of disciples following Jesus and the apostolic witness.  The Church was constituted by the “rule of faith” governing over the life and faith of the early Christians.  Only after some distance between the original apostles and the inheritors of the faith did it become a necessary process to engage.  It became a matter of preserving that which was fundamentally and foundationally appropriate to Christian faith.  Both the canon and creeds arise from this need to develop such resources for the faith community.

The early Christian Church already had a body of literature for Scripture.  What we now call the “Old Testament” was not simply taken over by the community.  Rather, its functional use as Scripture within the community from the beginning is noted within New Testament texts, such as Jesus saying that he has come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets.  The use of the Old Testament is derived from the conviction that Jesus indeed fulfills the covenantal promises and the Law found within the Old Testament.  In addition, the early Church perceived itself to be the faithful recipient of God’s continued call, given first to Israel, through Christ Jesus.  And, in fact, it is that very narrative that undergirds the Church’s theology and self-understanding found within the New Testament writings.

However, the task of interpretation remaining faithful to the regula fidei is still an issue.  The creeds serve as a tool for underlining and reminding the Church of the essentials of the faith.  In some ways, they provide boundaries of interpretation.  Yet, the creeds do not stand over and above the Scriptures.  Scripture too plays a role for the creed by filling out the fuller story of faith that is outlined in the creed.  Canon needs creed and creed needs canon.  They provide a mutually authoritative role for the community of faith.

Jensen also notes the importance of Church episcopacy.  Namely, that is to say that the faith is apostolic, handed down from generation to generation of believer in a faithful manner.  Although we cannot claim original apostolic authority for ourselves, we can find comfort that we have been taught in the faithful tradition handed down from the teachings of the apostles themselves.  Jensen shows concern about the lack of episcopacy within the Protestant tradition, which certainly is a valid concern.  However, based upon his premise that it is not the words of the text that provide the authority of canon and creed, but it is the Word, which is Christ risen, enlivened by the Spirit in those whom believe.  If that is the case, then it would make sense that the Spirit is not limited by Church structure, one way or the other, to make the Word known.

Essentially, the creed and canon are authoritative resources for the community because they arise out of the community of faith.  They are the dialogue of tradition that has formed out of the rule of faith.  It is a communal reflection on the essentials of the faith used to navigate the uncharted waters of theology and life, wherever that might take us.  They arose from a need to preserve and extend the faith for others.  Moreover, creed and canon formed in a similar manner and in approximately the same amount of time.  Thus, they played a dialogical role in discussing and discerning, via the rule of faith, what life should look like together as the community of believers.

Mandate to Difference by Walter Brueggemann

Chapter 1: What are the three urgent issues “where we may take into account this regime change”?

The first area that we can take into account this change begins with our desire for more.  We live in a very consumer driven society that constantly desires more stuff.  It is a hoarding mentality.  It asserts that my needs and wants are greater than the needs of others.  Furthermore, it is a method of gaining power and status within our society.  However, Jesus reminds us that “where our treasure is there our hearts are also.”

This regime change in our lives empowers us to love as we have been loved.  This is especially relevant in those relationships with people that we don’t necessarily desire to love.  It is always easy to love those who love you, but God does not allow us to simply stop there.  If we do not love someone, then the love of God does not reside within us.  If we are not willing to extend forgiveness, we ourselves will be unable to receive forgiveness.  It is a call to love in a sacrificial way.

Finally, we find that this new regime empowers us to live without fear because ultimately God is watching over us.  He is intimately involved in the lives of the weak and the marginalized.  The powers of this world cannot overcome God and His redemptive plan for His people.  We know, furthermore, that God’s good creation was designed to provide for us abundantly.  It is His love that moves us beyond fear of what tomorrow may hold, instead, relying upon God to sustain us.  We no longer have to rely on our own strength and power to safeguard our lives.  Rather, we become solely dependent upon this God of love for our very life and its daily needs.

Just a note, some of the language and posturing in this article resembled Brueggemann’s article, “Myth of Scarcity, Liturgy of Abundance.”  The idea behind that article is that God has made Creation bountiful and plentiful.  Therefore, there is no need to hoard all of the resources.  In fact, hoarding is what creates poverty and “scarcity.”  It is the “myth” of supply and demand that our culture deems is the way the world works.  However, Brueggemann suggests that God has not made the world work by such principles.

Chapter 2: What does the “city” represent for Brueggemann and what are the relationships of Joshua, Solomon, Josiah, and Jeremiah?

            Essentially, the city is representative of three things, according to Brueggemann: the monopoly of technology, the oligarchy of monetary resources, and a center of multivalent voices and alternatives.  In a sense, the city is representative, quite often, of everything that is against the keeping of Torah.  It is the culture of covetousness that denies neighborliness.  There is great opportunity and advancement that happens within these urban centers.  However, the city most often desires autonomy from the restrictions and guidelines given in the Law.  As such, these centers of urban life quite easily become areas of oppression, poverty, and slavery.  In other words, it comes to embrace practices that are in direct violation of God’s ordained purpose in the world.

Joshua, Solomon, Josiah, and Jeremiah all represent ways in which the Israelite community has envisioned the city.  Some of these leaders initiated changes in the city in accordance with the Torah.  Others, such as Solomon, embraced a Canaanite city-state model that propagated the usury of people.

Joshua and the conquest describe an outright revolt against the Canaanite city-state.  Rahab is the best demonstration of the types of oppression being used in that culture.  Israel systematically destroys the urban centers that have embodied a politic of slavery.  The Joshua narrative is one that deals with the city with a separation ideology.  Israel is to come out and remain apart from those systems and cultures.

Solomon, on the other hand, is an example of the repercussions of embracing the Canaanite city-state.  The land is no longer the land of promise and gift that God has given them.  Instead, it has become the City of David.  The royal dynasty uses building projects and the Temple as imperial legitimacy.  Solomon “takes” and “takes” from the citizens of the land, so that they become enslaved to the monarchy.  Of course, this is the very thing God warned them about when they desired to place a king on the throne of Israel, to be like other nations.  And, Solomon has come to embody the very nature of Egypt that had enslaved Israel for four hundred years.  Solomon’s concern became about living lavishly, showing off the opulence of his kingdom.  In the end, his heart is turned away from God to the gods of his foreign wives.

Josiah later comes along and reverses much of what the city had become initially under King David and Solomon.  Josiah structures Jerusalem under the guidance of the Law.  It is believed that Josiah discovered Deuteronomy 12-26, which caused a great revival in the land.  The high places were torn down, worship was centralized, and neighborliness was re-constituted as the priority for this covenantal community.  Israel was to live in the land on God’s terms.  The result is a city that is opposed to multiplying the problems of the Canaanite and Egyptian models of the city.

Unfortunately, this revival was not sustained.  Jeremiah, the prophet, was called by God to speak out against the city due to its neglect of the Torah.  Consistently, Jeremiah rants against the way that the city has taken advantage of the weak and the poor.  The city will not stand.  It will be conquered and destroyed due to its wickedness.  However, that is not the final word spoken over the city.  God will restore the city and empower it to be different.  It will be holy unto the Lord.  God’s plan will be fulfilled in its midst.  We have not been called to live for ourselves and to acquire wealth at the expense of others.  God as Creator can restore this community to a life-giving, life-blessing center.  However, to arrive at that destination, we must ultimately conduct ourselves in ways that are conducive to Torah, loving God with all that we are and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Chapter 3: What is the significance of “Sabbath” for the one who proclaims good news?

             Sabbath for the one who proclaims good news is about speaking Truth.  We are all victims to the pharaohs of the world.  They place heavy burdens upon us.  We find ourselves living under anxiety due to false expectations.  We despair because we see no future or hope beyond our current situation.

Yet, it is the Sabbath that allows for re-creation.  It is a wonderful sense of renewal in our lives.  Moreover, it is the freedom to speak truth about those situation and circumstances that we find ourselves in, hurting and hungering for something better.  We have experienced the pain of being marginalized.  We know the seduction and shame of not meeting our culture’s standards.  We feel the press of Pharaoh’s demands on our backs.  It is from that tension that we most keenly become aware of God’s presence in the midst of death and destruction.

Sabbath is the breaking in of God on the mundane, over-bearing rigor of life.  It is the “Friday” people of God living toward Sunday’s conquering of death.  It is the redeemed people of God singing with one voice about the triumph and victory we receive through Jesus.  It is the understanding that we have received a burden we must bear, but one that is infinitely lighter than the oppressive burdens of Pharaoh.  It is the call for those who find themselves wearied by the “rat-race” finding solace in the open arms of a loving Savior and Friend.  It is a simplistic trust in the Creator who sustains all things, speaking life through His Spirit into the world.  It is the acknowledgement of a God who brings life, light, and structure from ex nihilo and chaos.

Chapter 4: How does the concept of “exile” function for the church?

Brueggemann writes, “The reason that Sabbath is a radical discipline is that it is a regular, disciplined, highly visible withdrawal from the acquisitive society of production and consumption that is shaped only by commodity.  Work stoppage and rest are public statements that one’s existence and the existence of one’s society are not defined by the pursuit of commodity, and that human well-being is not evoked by commodity but precisely by the intentional refusal of commodity” (59).

One possible note of application, especially where the minister is concerned, is the attitude of productivity.  The minister often feels a responsibility for getting everything done and prepared each week.  Many times, pastors are “work-aholics.”  So, in many ways, Sabbath is the understanding that our value is not wrapped up in how much we accomplish.  Rather, our value ultimately comes from the One who gives us life.  With that said, we then preach the Gospel through what we live out in our relationship with God.  We are living for “Sunday,” in some sense.  We understand that Sabbath is the shadow reality of the Kingdom of God that we will one day experience.  It is from this hope that we proclaim the Good News of God’s redemptive work in the world.

Secondly, Sabbath empowers us to take the relationship God has extended to us and extend it to others.  We are dispossessed people, living in the land of exile.  We are foreigners in a strange land.  We can identify with those who also find themselves on the outskirts and on the fringe of society.  We understand the plight of the outcast.  And, we become the “feet that bring good news.”  We are ambassadors of Christ sent into the world to gather the people into the covenant community of God.  We live with openness to others who are not like us.  Furthermore, we are free to live, not according to commodity, according to the Law of Love toward our neighbor.

Finally, Sabbath frees us from the mold of the world.  We understand that we were created in Imago Dei.  As such, God has created us to relate freely with Him.  Sabbath recognizes our dependence upon God, not the world and its systems of power and control.  As such, we are empowered to live a life of prayer, not only for ourselves, but for others.  In this way, we are empowered to live in the world on God’s terms, no longer controlled by the dominant culture.

With all of that said, understanding that we are living in exile drastically changes the mission of the Church in the world.  As Brueggemann suggests, we are in the world to gather those that have been displaced due to exile.  We are all exiles in one way or another.  Whether it is those on the fringes of society or those in the dominant culture simply hoping to maintain the status quo, fearing change, everyone experiences exile.  The only hope for salvation is God.  God alone is able to free us from the bondage of our enslavement to our culture.

The Church, therefore, has a ministry to those who are outcasts and those who find themselves fearing about tomorrow.  God has given us a future and a hope which must be shared with others.  This is not an “us versus them” mentality, which the Church often characterizes.  It is not shunning those who endanger the “holy seed.”  Rather, it is about bringing those people into the fold, loving them, and embracing them in the community.

It is especially important to remember that we too were exiles before God saved us.  Similarly, we are still exiles waiting for the final consummation of God’s redemptive plan.  We are strangers in a foreign land waiting for the gift of the Promise Land, the coming of the Kingdom of God.  And, God’s gifts are not ours to own… God’s gifts are always given to be given away and shared.  It is especially true in light of God’s advocacy for the “least of these” in society.

Chapter 5: What is Brueggemann’s thesis regarding the church and dialogue?

            First, and most importantly, God is a God of dialogue, not monologue.  By His very nature, God is in constant communication, for that is what it means to be Love.  Love is always flowing to and from someone, never static.  As a result, humans designed in the image of God are wired to live in dialogue, both with their Creator and humanity.

However, due to the nature of sin, our lives often become monologues.  We believe we are self-sustaining.  We become absorbed by our own “self.”  We assert implicitly, if not explicitly, that we are self-contained entities.  As such, we feel that we are the end of the line on all matters.  Along with this thought process come the affirmation that individualism is the modus operandi of life.  Our culture’s propaganda of individualism produces isolation and loneliness.  There is little concern for others.  And, we are only concerned about others if it directly affects us.

This mentality has produced the effect of authoritarianism that quickly shuts down any debate from opposing voices.  The dominant voice will not be silenced but will seek to maintain and conforms others to its image.  However, God does not take that approach with humans.  In fact, it is often human cries and complaints that encourage God to move and act in the world.  The dialogue, however, is not simply one-way (as indicated by the word dialogue).  Rather, it is the very nature of call and response.  God calls and we respond.  We cry out and God responds.  In all matters, God is glorified by the mouth of the redeemed.  Furthermore, the people of God are vindicated.  They are answered as they cry out in despair, which then turns to praise.

The monologue of prominent culture seeks to confine the voice that challenges its authority.  Such challenge is repressed by the use of coercion and violence.  It is little wonder then, take such an approach, the Church has quite frequently resembled the world more than it has resembled Christ.  It is this fact that calls the Church to account.  The Church is to be a revolt against the monologue of self.  Rather, it is an open dialogue with God and with humanity as we seek to live in community together.

That does not mean that we turn a blind eye to the sin that is so prevalent in our society.  Rather, a dialogue pushes the Church to live counter-culturally.  It is not simply about being “right.”  Most importantly, it is about living truly human lives and affirming the worth of other humans that God has created.  It is the understanding that to give voice is to create possibility.  The Church is a creating agent used by God to speak to the world about Himself.  We are bearers of the message, the mouthpiece God uses to speak Truth back into the world.  It is the people of God speaking to God on behalf of a broken world, praying for divine action.  In addition, it is the gathered community telling the story of God’s deliverance, rejoicing and praising Him for intervening.

Chapter 6: What is the role of hope and imagination for the people of God?

            Hope and imagination are the possibility of looking beyond the current circumstance.  It is the ability to see a future.  It is decidedly counter-cultural in that it is not bound by what society says is possible.  More importantly, it is viewing all of life through eyes of faith.

Brueggemann suggests that there are five elements to the despair that our culture bombards us with: security, ideology, technology, certitude, and commodity.  These are all intimately linked.  In essence, our society claims that security is the ultimate goal.  This does not allow for multivalent voices, only monologue.  In order for this monologue to continue, there is a supreme ideology that is prescribed to.  It is the religion of the masses that is not capable of self-reflection, only non-discerning practice of the ideology.  Technology is then developed, usually in the interest of military, to help maintain that sense of security.  It becomes a further method of control, which does not consider the cost to humanity or economically.  This “control” gives us a false sense of certitude that ultimately cannot be satisfied.  Therefore, the cycle continues to push for more security and control.  We thus turn to commodities, which give us temporary satisfaction.  However, this too is a dead-end road to satisfaction.  The more that we acquire, the more we desire.  It is the law of diminishing return at work.

Hope and imagination allow us to think “outside the box.”  God gives us the capability to see a world and a future unlike that of our current state.  It allows us to see the possibilities rather than the monotonies.  We are able to push past the fear of the future into a hope that moves us toward the future.

Christianity and Judaism, according to Brueggemann, are both faiths of hope and imagination.  When the great men and women of faith found themselves in difficult spots, their faith allowed them to look beyond the veneer of the present to a future reality.  It allowed Israel to see freedom from the bonds of slavery in Egypt.  It empowered the Israelites to move beyond the Babylonian exile to the day they would return to the Land of Promise.  This faith moved a people to see dawn despite the darkest hours of life.  It put a song in the mouths of Paul and Silas as they sat in prison.  We are a people of hope and imagination.

As God works in our lives, we are able to envision a future and a hope beyond the promise of death and destruction.  We clearly see the promise after death given by the Creator of life.  It is not a hope that can be divided.  Instead, we find ourselves being gathered together as the redeemed community of God living to One hope.  The Church understands that God guides and sustains us and that it is He who brings forth new possibilities by speaking a Word of creation to us.  From darkness springs light.  From death, new life is given.

We are a community that is living between the “now and not yet” reality of the kingdom of God.  God has given us the promise of hope.  We now live from that hope into a future that has been prepared for us.  It is not a hope that can be divided.  Rather, it is through the Spirit that all are given this hope and the imagination to see with eyes of faith a new future beyond our current state.

Chapter 7: What does it mean to say that worship is an act of “poetic imagination”?

            The poetic imagination is the ability to look beyond what is possible to a God that opens up new possibilities.  It is not being consumed by the present pharaohs in our lives, seeing a life that is abundant is the goal.  Life is not simply about the “brick quotas.”  It is not simply about the accomplishment of tasks.  Rather, it is finding life a possibility despite being surrounded by chaos and destruction.

The poetic imagination gives voice to the saving acts of God.  It is the gathered community rejoicing with one voice, remembering the past events in light of God’s redemptive work.  An alternative world is constructed and offered to those who find themselves in bondage to the pharaohs of the world.  However, it is not an obsession about these pharaohs; rather it is a preoccupation with the Creator.

The world often constructs reality, offering it as the ultimate vision for life.  However, the poetic imagination is not drawn into the deception and falsehood of popular culture.  Rather, it is a “sub-version” reality that is given voice.  It breaks through the façade of falsehood.  Imagination de-masks the pharaohs for what they are – puppets.  God is glorified as the king over creation.  The unfulfilling nature of commercialism is brought to its knees.  The need for genuine relationship is brought to the fore.

In all of this, we see the imagination bring forth a new reality that we can dwell in.  The imagination is not something that is simply wistful and fanciful.  Rather, it is the Spirit of God dwelling in the lives of His people, breathing new life into the community.  The word of God speaks into the void, creating new realms of possibility in our daily lives.  We find that the old has passed and the new has come.  We are created as new creatures.  We are given a new heart.  What had once been closed off, we find being opened up through Jesus by the Spirit.

Too often, the Church finds itself merely shadowing and mirroring the current culture.  The Church has become violent, greedy, manipulative, and comfortable.  But, when the Church finds itself truly fulfilling its calling, it is very subversive.  It is a hub for creativity and imagination.  Transformation happens when people are able to move beyond what the world tells them is possible to what God reveals is possible.  Within these two viewpoints is a world of difference!

Chapter 8: What does it mean to be re-nepheshed?

            For six days God labored, but on the seventh day He rested.  Creating requires something of the Creator, something of His life to be infused into the creation.  It is a draining business to be so intimately involved and connected, breathing life into all being.  It says something that God chose to rest.  He is not simply a God of tasks and quotas.  He is not simply about the accomplishment of tasks.  God takes rest… enjoying the fruits of His labor.

We were created in the image of our Maker.  We were designed to labor in creation, adding value back into the world.  However, like the Master Potter, we are in need of refreshing.  God created us, not simply for the accomplishment of tasks, to enjoy creation and the Creator.  To simply labor would leave us broken, depleted, unoriginal, and exhausted.

However, the pharaohs of the world step in and place taskmasters over us, driving us to produce more and more.  There is no Sabbath rest where the world is concerned.  No, it’s about the bottom line and the fulfilling of quotas.  The labor that should be used to add value becomes the method by which life is devalued.  The result is devastation and oppression.  Our nephesh is crushed.  Our very being is denied because we deny the image in which we were made.

Sabbath is a ceasing of labor.  It is a total dependency upon the God of creation.  After all, Jesus reminds us that we “do not live on bread alone, but on every word from the mouth of God.”  Our productivity is not that which sustains us.  God breathes life into us… and continues to do so.  That is Sabbath.  It is rest from our labors, finding our being in Him, and having life breathed back into us.  It is the Sabbath that reminds us that we were created to relate, not simply to create.

Pastoral ministry can quite easily sink into a constant barrage of tasks to be completed.  The pastor is to be available at all times and for all purposes.  We are stretched to the limits and called to go beyond.  At least, that’s the message that is often implicitly understood.  Burn out is the inevitable result.  However, ministry is not simply about the accomplishment of tasks.  Sabbath reminds us of that.

We can only give away what we have received.  The minister’s primary task is to be in proper relationship with God.  Yes, we are called to be poured out, but you can only do so if you are in turn being filled.  Sabbath provides that filling.  The Spirit breathes new life back into us so that we are able to once again labor in creation.  Our being is re-constituted to a proper balance.

Pastors that live under the impression that ministry is about the accomplishment of tasks become pharaohs themselves.  They set taskmasters over their volunteers, badgering them to produce.  Life is squelched out of the workers.  The Church becomes an oppressive system in the midst of a world of oppressive systems.  When Church and culture operate in visibly similar ways, such as these, people quit.  Their nephesh give out because they have no resources upon which to draw.  And, worst of all, they believe that is the Christian telos because that is what is being modeled in the public, in the pews, and in the pulpit.

Sabbath reminds us of our priorities.  We are saved from Pharaoh.  We do not have to participate in those systems of destruction, manipulation, and enslavement.  Rather, we are called to live in radically counter-cultural ways.  We praise God for His deliverance, we gain strength from His strength, and we discover our purpose.

Chapter 9: What cycle is broken in the threefold circle of emancipation – Sabbath – year of release – Jubilee year?

            The threefold circle of emancipation is an act in juxtaposition to the use of coercion that is often exhibited within our world.  Sabbath, the year of release, and Jubilee are all about forgiveness.  Debts are forgiven.  Debtors are released from the bondage of their burden.  Life is re-constituted through the extension of forgiveness.

Deuteronomy is constantly calling Israel to remember their bondage in Egypt.  The system of exploitation embodied in Egypt was the basis for Israel’s enslavement.  Taskmasters were set over the Israelites to ensure productivity and cooperation.  The human spirit is broken under such circumstances, rendering them weak and compliant.  Coercion is the pharaoh at work among the community of such commerce.

Remembering such turmoil in the life of the Hebrews was not simply a fanciful trip down memory lane.  No, it was a call to embody a different politic in the life of the community.  Israel was to live on Sabbath time.  Even aliens that found themselves in servitude to Israel were to be permitted rest and even sanctuary from enslavement!  How does such a novel idea even get conceptualized in the midst of nations that practiced coercion and exploitation?

The idea of freedom and life find itself most eloquently vocalized in Sabbath.  God rested and set apart a day of rest for humanity.  Sabbath is a day for remembering who the Creator is and who provides sustenance, blessing, freedom, and life.  God alone is worthy of such affirmation.  As such, Sabbath calls us to live radically different lives than that of popular culture’s employment of coercion.  Rather, we participate in the divine life-giving, life-blessing pronouncement over creation.

Sabbath then frees us from the violence of self-certitude and self-justification.  We are freed from the need to ensure our security because we rely upon God as our provider.  We remember and re-live our exodus story, praising God for His mighty arm of deliverance.  And, the community is empowered to live counter-culturally to the modus operandi of culture, namely acquisitiveness.

It is in these acts of forgiveness directed toward our neighbor that we find forgiveness being granted to us.  Participating in the redemption of others, finds us experiencing redemption ourselves.  We are forgiven as we forgive.  Does that mean that the debtor, stranger, or foreigner remain outsiders?  No, rather, they are treated as one of the community: equal.

Finally, Sabbath breaks us of the need or desire to live up to the expectations of others… even ourselves.  These expectations are often false and act as living pharaohs over our lives.  They push us to attain or achieve more.  Or, perhaps, they move us to be people pleasers.  Sadly, we are more concerned about living up to everyone else’s expectations, or our own, that we neglect God’s expectations.  And, unlike false expectations, God is not a taskmaster seeking to bury us, but to give us rest.  We find that there is a burden, but it is light.  And, despite that burden, God provides rest.

Chapter 10: What is the significance of the bread at the center of the table?

            Bread at the center of the table signifies the central issue of our faith.  Although Brueggemann does not state this, I believe that the bread is equally in reach of those who gather at the table.  Bread deals with many issues.  It is the earthy stuff that sustains us physically.  It is the ability economically to provide.  And, it is the mystery of salvation whereby God became incarnate.  It is the celebration of communion where bread is blessed, broken, and given to others.

Bread in the Scriptures speaks of God’s provision and abundance.  It is also this same bread that allow the disciples to become distributors of the grace that is given to them.  It is the power of life-giving creation.  It is the God who draws near.  And, it is the gathered communities shared reception of table fellowship.  Bread is the most basic need of every human, from the greatest to the least.  Jesus is the bread of life by which those needs are met in every way.

As Brueggemann asserts, “It is the Friday mystery that the bakeries owned by the empire cannot nourish us.  It is the Sunday mystery that loaves do indeed abound, and we, in our research and in our faith, bear witness to the truth that the world and its bread are under alternative management.  It is the beggars and the lepers who surround our work and who stand at the edge of our study, monitoring us, calling our most erudite research and our most esoteric investigations to stay connected to the holy gift and to the deep crisis” (187-88).

Bread is at the very center and core of our research, study, and preaching.  We must never allow it to become an ethereal reality that neglects the hungry.  The goal is not simply academic rhetoric and acumen.  Instead, our study should inevitably move us to act and engage our world in concrete ways.  It should draw us closer to the holy without sweeping us away from the dregs of society who must be fed.  Sometimes our study and writing is so heavenly minded that it’s no earthly good.  Focusing on bread guides our studies to not simply stop at intellectual assent, but to live it out daily… even as we receive our daily bread.

Chapter 11: What do you see as the two or three most significant “theses” from Brueggemann on the use of the Bible in the church?

First, we all live as part of some narrative.  It is what shapes who we have become.  There is a dominant narrative that pervades our culture.  Brueggemann believes it is “therapeutic technological consumer militarism.”  In other words, it is about comfort and control.  This script is found wanting.  It does not provide what it promises, leaving us feeling more insecure.

Scripture is important because it unveils the masked lies that dominant culture seeks to promote.  It names the falsehood, revealing its deathly nature.  The fallen powers, as some would call them, are shown for their deceit and destruction.  We are made aware that we have fallen for the trap.  We have become implicated in the machine of such “consumer militarism” that deconstructs neighborliness.

Secondly, Scripture, the alternative script, holds forth a counter meta-narrative.  It shows us that there is a different reality than the one to which we have become enslaved.  Having de-masked the popular script of culture, we are now able to move toward a different telos.  God empowers us to live a different politic – not party-line.  We become part of a new script, discarding the falsehood of our previous script.

Finally, Scripture is most important because it reveals the “Main Character.”  God’s character and nature are revealed in Scripture so that we might be able to relate to Him.  In the text, we find a God who breathes new life, redeems His people, and empowers ministry.  He is not powerless, like the idols we find in the false scripts.  No, He is mighty to save.  And, we find that an encounter with this God does not allow us to remain the same.

So, in conclusion, Scripture is vitally necessary to the Church because it reveals the falsehood of the world’s narratives, it provides an alternative reality in which to live, and it reveals the character and nature of the Main Character who breaks down barriers, breathes new life, and redeems us!

Inspiration and Authority by Paul J. Achtemeier

The Christian community has always affirmed the inspiration and authority of Scripture for the community of believers.  However, the Christian community has not come to a consensus regarding the nature of that inspiration and authority.  In this paper we will explore several common perceptions on divine inspiration and authority of Scripture.  In the final analysis, I will provide my own viewpoints about inspiration and authority.

There are essentially three ways, with various nuances, in which to view the composition of the Bible.  First, some believe that Scripture is entirely God’s work.  In other words, Scripture is literally God’s Word that He both inspired and had transcribed.  This is usually labeled the conservative position.  Counter to that position, liberals tend to ascribe the texts of Scripture to the work of human ingenuity.  There may be some manner of inspiration on God’s part, but the work of Scripture is largely attributable to humans.  Both the liberal and conservative positions find it difficult to converse on a similar plane with one another.  Each position perceives a threat from the other position.  However, there is a third viewpoint that merges both the conservative and liberal agenda.  “Dynamic authorship” portrays Scripture as both divinely inspired and humanly crafted.  This viewpoint maintains that God’s inspiration occurs through and is not hindered by human creativity and authorship.

Paul J. Achtemeier points out that there are two traditional viewpoints for the locus and mode of inspiration.  One side attributes inspiration to the authors while the other camp places inspiration in the actual words found in Scripture.  There is a predicament with both of these positions.  We do not have access to either!  All authors of Scripture are deceased and none of the original ancient manuscripts have been found.  The manuscripts we do have are incomplete, damaged, and copies of copies of copies that have layers of editing or “corrections”.  Furthermore, those texts are translated into other languages that often use different words to convey similar meanings.  For instance, the English language uses the word love to replace several Greek words that have slightly different meanings.  Most of us only have access to translations (which are numerous) of those copies.  At the very least, both of these positions are problematic for asserting and maintaining the inspiration of our contemporary Scriptures.

Achtemeier suggests a third viewpoint that allows inspiration to continue beyond these other two loci.  “That position would want to affirm that what is inspired is to be understood not exclusively of the person, though he or she of course shared in the inspiration, nor solely of the words written down, though they too were not unaffected by the power of God’s Spirit.  Rather, the content of Scripture, the thoughts that the authors sought to convey in the words they chose, is the locus of inspiration” (10).  So, not having access to the authors or the original words does not threaten the inspiration of Scripture.

The classic liberal position emphasizes the human hand in the construction of the Scriptures.  The proponents of the liberal position point to the discrepancies and conflicting narratives that occur throughout Scripture.  For instance, Genesis 1 and 2 have conflicting timelines for creation.  They are mutually exclusive.  If Scripture is dictated by God, wouldn’t He know the correct timeline?  These anomalies are not secluded to the Old Testament alone.  For instance, the rough timeline of Jesus’ life and ministry in the Gospels is also in conflict.  From a chronological standpoint, these stories do not mesh.

Another problem that the liberal position wants to point out is the pre-scientific ideas that are propagated which contemporary science dismisses with ease.  The idea that the sun revolved around the earth was considered true for many centuries.  The Bible was even used to promote this idea.  Galileo’s discovery of heliocentricity did not meet open arms in the religious community because it “contradicted” the Bible, although we now know Galileo was correct.  If God had written down the Scriptures or spoke them verbatim to a scribe, would He have made such a mistake?  Such evidence bolsters the liberal camp’s position.  “What all of this means is that the Scriptures have been conditioned by the culture within which they originated in the same way that all other writings are so affected” (30).

Thus, the liberal position effectively demonstrates the human hand involved within Scripture.  However, with such evidence of discrepancies we must inevitably ask how we can be certain that Scripture holds authority and inspiration about trans-sensory realities when they are incorrect about sensory realities.  The conservatives point to this as a tremendous shortcoming from their opponents’ standpoint.

The conservative position tries “to show that Scripture contains no factual errors, i.e., statements that fail to conform to the external reality we know.  On the admission of conservatives themselves, any single statement of such nature would invalidate the idea of the inerrant inspiration of Scripture” (47).  The conservative position is often embarrassed by such inconsistencies within Scripture.  However, errors in a testimony do not negate the entire validity of a testimony.  In life, we are often quite comfortable with an individual’s story, despite knowing that not all the facts are accounted for or are entirely accurate.  Despite embellishment or neglect or ignorance, we are comfortable with understanding the “general truth” of a person’s story.   So, we need not have an errorless document for it to contain Truth.

Undaunted, the conservatives try to harmonize those passages that “seem” to be in conflict.  “Most attempts at harmonizing, and they are as numerous as the discrepancies within Scripture, are attempts therefore to show how discrepancies could be accounted for it the event to which they point could be constructed in a certain way” (54).  This creates another problem.  You have to go outside of the Scriptures to perform this task.  This conservative method of interpretation effectively demonstrates these passages are not “inerrant, since none of them know what really happened” (55).  Unfortunately, many people that discover this position to be inadequate leave their faith.  Since conservatives assert that the Bible is God’s Truth without error, many assume there must be no truth when error is found within its pages.

My understanding of the nature of biblical inspiration has changed as a result of ideas we have discussed.  Previously, before starting my theological studies, I would have classified myself as a conservative in some fashion.  The historical veracity of Scripture was essential to my faith.  When my historical understandings were challenged, my faith was assaulted.  Although I had journeyed quite a ways from literalist thinking in the past two years, this class has helped me to better affirm the human role in the composition of Scripture without compromising a high view of Scripture.

Achtemeier suggests that God is a Being of continuous revelation, not simply in past history.  He writes:

It becomes clear that to understand the varied witness in Scripture as the result of continuing attempts to fathom God’s will for new times is to understand the Bible as the product of a living attempt, never ended, to determine the kind of future into which the God of Israel and of the church is leading his people.  To understand Scripture in that way, rather than as a timeless deposit of the will of God that never changes, is to recognize that the task of interpreting God’s will for a new time is never finished (76).

We see Jesus operate in this way throughout the Gospels.  He re-interprets the Law and prophets and even re-interprets the role of the Messiah.

The development of the canon is a great example of this.  There were many texts from which to pick and choose.  It was the community of believers over time that not only developed these texts but officially recognized their inspiration and authority for the community.  “Church and Scripture grew up alongside each other – the traditions shaping the life of the church, and the church interpreting and reshaping the traditions in the light of its own proclamation of those traditions” (78).

Achetmeier believes that it is “tradition, situation, and respondent” that is the locus of inspiration.  I believe that this formula for inspiration and authority is adequate.  Achtemeier summarizes, “The final form is the culmination of a process of growth of Scripture that began with the primal event that shaped the community of faith and that has continued through the process of forming and reforming the tradition on the part of faithful respondents to new situations confronting that community” (119).

Critical methodologies can be quite useful in helping us to understand tradition and situations found within the text.  They help the contemporary community of believers to be as well informed as possible about the context of the Scriptures.  And, seeking to know Scripture well is especially beneficial if God is continually revealing Himself rather than simply having left behind an historical record of His revelation.  Critical methodologies help us to reflect on the myriad facets of Scripture, whether historical, literary, or grammatically.  They help us to appreciate the depth and beauty of Scripture.  And, when employed properly, they help us to encounter the text so that we may grow closer to God.

Brevard Childs’ Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture was exceptionally beneficial in shaping my understanding of Scripture.  Child’s canonical criticism gives a handle for interpreting Scripture holistically rather than independently from its canonical setting.  The interpretation of Scripture must be found to be cohesive (not necessarily harmonized) with its other parts.  It is the final form of our Scripture that is most important, not the individual parts that have been edited or redacted (although this can give us insight into an author’s emphasis).

Both Childs and Achtemeier provided a foundational block for understanding the locus and mode of inspiration.  We only have access to the final canonical form of Scripture.  If God can use it to reveal Himself today, then inspiration does not ultimately lie in original texts or authors, but in the traditions, situations, and respondents found throughout the tenor of Scripture and throughout the history of God’s people.  We shape our Scripture and the Scripture shape us.  And, most importantly, God’s Spirit breathes life through the whole process.

 

Works Cited

Achtemeier, Paul J. Inspiration and Authority: Nature and Function of Christian Scripture.

Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999.