This category contains 17 posts

Encouragement for Activists

“The one who plants and he who waters are equal, and each shall receive his wages according to his labor. For we are fellow workers with God…” 1 Corinthians 3:8-9a

Kenneth Bailey comments:

Each worker receives wages “according to his labor,” not according to his or her production! A capitalist world judges the value of everything on the basis of production. This attitude is deeply ingrained in Western society. Throughout history many faithful servants have labored and seen little fruit as judged by the world. God has a different measuring stick, and wages are on the basis of labor, not production. In this text Paul affirms that God is pleased with and will reward that labor, irrespective of the visible results (Paul through Mediterranean Eyes, 127).

Kenneth Bailey on 1 Corinthians

I just finished reading Kenneth Bailey’s Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes. I have loved reading Bailey’s other works on the parables of Jesus and, especially, the Prodigal Son. In the book Bailey takes up Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians. The strength of Bailey’s reflections on Paul is his analysis of Paul’s rhetoric. His identification of Paul’s use of chiasms and Paul’s appeal to Isaiah and Amos enlightens and clarifies anyone’s reading of 1 Corinthians. Although Bailey’s commentary isn’t as quite as informative (he primarily follows Thiselton and Fee), his autobiographical asides from experiences in the Middle East are jewels hidden throughout the text for the reader to discover and to sense the power of Paul’s letter for contemporary disciples in the Mediterranean and beyond.

Jesus the Temple: the best book I’ve read this year


Perrin’s book Jesus the Temple is excellent. He follows the thought of N.T. Wright, for whom Perrin was a research assistant. Wright places Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of God in its first-century Judaic context, arguing that the coming of the kingdom of God means the return from exile. God inaugurates the return from exile through the incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. The signs of the realization of the return from exile are the defeat of Israel’s enemies, the restoration of the temple, the flowing of the Gentiles to Jerusalem, and the renewal of creation. Wright points out that we see these signs in Jesus’ defeat of the enemies of sin (through forgiveness) and death (through resurrection), in the temple being redefined as Jesus’ body, in Jesus’ ministry to the Gentiles (and their incorporation into the people of God post-Pentecost), and in Jesus’ resurrected body as the first-fruit of the new creation.

Perrin takes up this theme, focusing on the restoration of the temple. The Jewish temple was not only the heart of worship but also the place of economic assistance for the poor, of social recognition, and of political confession. It was the place where Israel placed its hopes and from which it derived its national identity. But the temple was profaned by, inter alia, being constructed by human hands, by the corrupt administration of its priests, and by the defilement of the Gentiles. So, it functioned as a penultimate sign and anticipation of the true temple, which would bring together heaven and earth, God and humanity. Perrin argues that Jesus saw himself and his movement as the decisive embodiment of Yahweh’s eschatological temple.

Perrin describes how Jesus was not alone in developing counter-temple movements. The sects behind the Qumran and the Psalms of Solomon, as well as John the Baptist shared characteristics that set them against the temple and in anticipation of a new temple.

In Jesus’ cleansing of the temple, Perrin says that we see the most public expression of Jesus’ critique of the temple elite and their offenses toward the poor and the temple. It also is an announcement of Jesus’ establishment of a new temple in which he is its messianic high priest.

Perrin also links Jesus’ exorcisms and meals with the restoration of the temple. By defeating demonic powers, Jesus affirms that there is an alternative power to the temple. By dining with sinners, Jesus is not defiled but rather brings forgiveness, a power claimed through temple acts. Through these actions, Jesus and his followers constitute a new locus of the divine presence.

Another Jewish expectation that preceded the restoration of the temple was tribulation. Perrin argues that Jesus understand the period of tribulation as being well underway during his lifetime through the apostasy of Israel’s leadership, Herod and its temple aristocrats. Jesus bore this tribulation through persecution, torture and execution. And Jesus followers, the new temple built around the Cornerstone, continue to experience the tribulation as the temple is constructed.

One perspective I greatly appreciated was Perrin’s demonstration of Jesus’ solidarity with the poor as a function of his larger calling to be the eschatological temple. The temple aristocracy embezzled monies and then offered high interest loans to the poor. Thus, the financiers increased the temple landholdings and held the poor in an increasing cycle of destitution. The condition of being poor was not simply an economic, social or political status but also a theological reality. By thrusting those on the economic margins into disinheritance, the priestly rulers were in effect gerrymandering the boundaries of true Israel and forestalling full return from exile.

As high priest Jesus inaugurates Jubilee, which means not only an exile-ending release for the poor but also a prerequisite for proper temple worship. Jesus’ ministry among the poor, therefore, is ultimately grounded in his calling and introducing of a new temple. In the new temple, possessions are shared, almsgiving is redemptive and forgiveness entails economic debts, satisfying not only the immediate needs of the destitute but also giving them the ability to break the cycle of debt and poverty.

Jesus’ modeling and inviting to voluntary poverty and renunciation are not only for radical redistribution of possessions and diminishing one’s social status; they were also signs of the priestly calling (signifying the landless Levites).

Perrin also deals with the understanding of the temple in the early church and their connections and continuity with Jesus’ earthly ministry.

I highly recommend the book.

A Feminist Theologian Supports the Candidacy of Michele Bachmann, while an Evangelical Does Not

Michele BachmannI find it interesting and often amusing when the inner contradictions of our thought and worldview create a social space in which those once thought to be opponents become allies.

The BBC reported yesterday on the difficulty that Michele Bachmann is having with so-called “evangelical” Christians. You can listen to it between minutes 30:40 and 37:50 at: Although Bachmann defines herself as an “evangelical,” many of her fellow evangelicals do not support her candidacy for president of the United States simply because she is a woman. The Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, a Christian feminist, however, does support Bachmann’s candidacy – although she probably does not support Bachmann’s political agenda.

The Rev. William Einwechter of a Free Reformed Baptist Church gave voice to many “evangelicals” who do not believe that women should be in positions of authority in their family, in their church, or in civil society. The basis for Einwechter’s belief is his particular interpretation of the Bible, which subordinates women to men because man was created first, because they interpret women as being portrayed as submissive and in a domestic context in Proverbs 31 and Titus 2, and because female leadership is depicted negatively in Isaiah 3:12. This is a particular interpretation as it does not identify the wife’s leadership in Proverbs 31, does not note positive examples of women in authority over men as in Judges 5, and struggles to reconcile to their proposal Paul’s statement “for just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from God” (1 Corinthians 11:12). Moreover, Einwechter’s appeal to the Bible for models of civil leadership is weak because he does not consider the historical context as a limitation and contribution to God’s particular act or word for that time, person and setting. Also, God’s commandments concerning government are given within the context of the covenanted people ofIsrael; other forms of government, of which women sometimes led, are accepted as God-ordained (Romans 13).

Evangelicals, like Einwechter, support their position by appealing to the authority of Scripture as God’s definitive and infallible word. Einwechter believes that God’s word is not always understood, as in the case at hand, but should be obeyed even if it contradicts reason or experience. What Einwechter fails to see is that “God’s word” is always interpreted. And, on the basis of God’s word, I would interpret Einwechter’s interpretation as wrong. I do not find God doing anything in Scripture that is not explicable, and it seems that the appeal to a supra-rationality or a non-rationality ultimately leads to an anti-intellectual God and “stupid” and easily-manipulated Christians. I think that on the basis of their interpretive strategies they are unable to simultaneously subject women to men while viewing the killing one’s enemy (Joshua 8 ) or slavery (Titus 2) as being wrong. While I appreciate that Einwechter doesn’t think that political expediency should drive Christian faith, I actually think that he would be hard-pressed to support democracy and other American values with his biblical theology. What Michele Bachmann does for politics, Einwechter does for theology, causing me to distance myself from their brands of “evangelical.”

The Rev. Joan Brown Campbell affirms Bachmann’s candidacy as a woman because she finds gender mutuality in Scripture. Brown Campbell filters Scripture through God’s love and directs all action toward the Last Judgment in which each will give an account for how they treated the least of “God’s children.” While I would agree with Brown Campbell’s egalitarian view of women in church and society, I would also question her Biblical interpretation, which seems to presuppose much of liberal humanism. But, if I had to choose between Brown Campbell and Einwechter, I would find myself much closer to Brown Campbell, and, to my surprise, allies, in this instance, with Bachmann – and other female leaders in society.


Denouncing the Rapture Heresy

I’ve had it in mind to address some of the wrong-headed, yet widely-held doctrines that have a negative effect on Christians, there’s no better day to start this than a few days after a predicted “end-of-the-world” rapture has passed unfulfilled. Although I’m disturbed by how the prediction of such a small Christian group has received so much media attention, I do give them kudos for putting their money where their mouth is. The organization invested millions of dollars in propagating their message. Some quit their jobs. Some sold their belongings. Some hired atheist companies that guaranteed the care of their pets after their owners were raptured. But, at the end of the day, this event shows us how important theology is – even bad theology – and how it affects our lives and society.

There are some nuances on the idea of the rapture, but basically it is the belief that Jesus will come back and true believers will be taken from the earth to meet Jesus in heaven.

Here I just want to outline some of the major reasons by which the church should name the doctrine of the “rapture” as heresy and denounce it.

Although this heresy has become part of the mainstream evangelical understanding about the return of Christ, the doctrine is relatively new. You can find it in some 18th century Puritan writings, but it was developed and popularized by Mathew Henry and John Darby in the 19th century and by Hal Lindsey in the 20th century. That means that although the church has had different understandings about the Second Coming since the beginning of the church, the idea of the rapture was not held by any of them. For the church, the concept of the rapture is new.

The book in the Bible that speaks about the future of the world more than any other is Revelation. Revelation has no mention of the rapture.

The idea of the rapture is read into Jesus’ statements about the end in Matthew 24. Jesus says that as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the coming of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking and marrying until the flood came and swept them away. Likewise, when the Son of Man comes, two will be in a field; one will be taken and one will be left behind. Those that promote the rapture heresy believe that the true believers will be taken and the condemned will be left behind. However, the text says that those taken away, as in the flood, are destroyed; those left behind, like Noah, are “saved” and enjoy life. The rapture heresy is completely backwards.

The main text that causes interpreters to believe that Christians will be raptured is 1 Thessalonians 4:15–7, which says that the dead in Christ and then the living will be caught up in the air at the coming of Jesus. Read outside of its cultural context, one can understand why so many would think that they will be raptured from the world. However, in its cultural context, the text speaks of the consummation of the kingdom of God. When a king, in the ancient world, would come to a city, he was announcing the reign of his kingdom over the city. If the leaders of the city, accepted the king’s authority, they would come out of the city to meet the king and bring him to the city to establish or affirm his kingship. This is the image from 1 Thessalonians. The direction of Jesus’ coming is not from earth to heaven but rather from heaven to earth. The believers go out to meet their King so they can be part of the triumphant procession in the full coming of the kingdom.

This heresy of Christ coming to rapture his church also implies that there will be a “third coming” when Jesus comes to judge and establish the new heaven and new earth. But a third coming has never been held by the church.

The problems with the rapture heresy are not only the ridicule coming from unbelievers or the despair of those who put their trust in false prophecies. Here are a few real world implications that are justified by this heresy:

If God will save an elect (which is us) from the creation, then we are enabled to exploit the earth and enjoy its plunder without consideration for others (which are not us). Practically, that means we can burn so much fossil fuel that we heat up the globe and make hurricanes, typhoons and flooding more likely and more deadly. Rapture proponents believe that when the real tribulation comes, God will take us out of it.

If God will save an elect (which is us) from tribulation, then we are less likely to be involved when others (the non-elect) suffer tribulations. If God is not involved in the tribulation, and His people are not involved in the tribulation in the future, then we (the elect) have no place in tribulation in the present because it is for the damned.

If God will secure an elect (which is us) from tribulation, then we too should secure an elect (which is us) from tribulation. The amount that America spends on “defense” could wipe out global hunger (from which 24,000 people die every day).

If God will save an elect (which is us) from tribulation, then we do not need to consider the affects of our decisions on future generations (which are not us). Economists continue to promote consumption in order to grow economies. The message transmitted is consume the benefits now without worrying about the costs in the future.

If God will save an elect (which is us) from tribulation, then we are enabled to project our view of the end times onto a political agenda. Already in the 19th century, when pre-millennial dispensationalism was being formulated, George Eliot said, “Advertising the pre-millennial Advent is simply the transportation of political passions on to a so-called religious platform; it is the anticipation of the triumph of ‘our party,’ accomplished by our principal men being ‘sent for’ into the clouds.” We see this today when apocalyptic imagery is written into our party politics. But we must ask ourselves, “How are we to be a people of the cross as a prophetic, suffering witness that seeks redemption in the midst of tribulation?”

UPS’s Violent Reading of Scripture pt. 2

I have mixed feelings about technology. Sometimes I am irritated by how much it consumes rather than provides. At other times I’m thankful for bringing me what I otherwise would have missed. This past month I’ve been happy to have access to March Madness. It’s only been the past few years that they’ve broadcast each college basketball game of the tournament on the internet. The only down side, especially when watching the games live, is having to endure the commercials. Even when watching is free, you still pay for it.

One commercial in particular caught my attention. Although it was quite boring, it provides a great example of a reading of Scripture outside the context of the church. I am speaking of a UPS commercial (view below) in which they identify the many small companies as being “Davids.” With the help of UPS’s logistics, they can beat the “Goliaths.” In fact, UPS will not only help them beat the Goliaths, but they will also help Davids become Goliaths.

Take note of how the non-believing corporation and its sycophants interpret sacred Scripture. First of all, they acknowledge the pervasiveness of the biblical narrative in the U.S. culture. This story is so widespread that those who hear this commercial will already know the tale of David and Goliath without having to be told it. Next they touch Scripture. UPS recognizes that David was small – at least in comparison to Goliath. Then they apply Scripture, equating David with small businesses. So far, not so bad.

UPS’s next step is troublesome. They claim that they can turn Davids into Goliaths. This unmasks their own understanding of power. In their deconstruction of the biblical story, UPS do not recognize that this victory is not a testimony to David’s strength, but to his weakness. UPS does not value smallness, weakness or faithfulness. In their reconstruction of the story, they depict Goliath not as the enemy but as the goal. He is not contemptible opponent that bases his actions on his own power and that taunts God and God’s people. UPS sees him rather as the powerful one, the likes of which David is to become.

That seems to me not only a wrong reading of Scripture but a bad reading of Scripture. What is worse is that UPS situates itself in the place of God. That is blasphemy. That is idolatry. In their commercial, it is UPS, not God, that gives power to the small through its logistics. And, as with any idolatry, it is demonic. Its explicit, albeit unwitting, goal is to turn the saints (i.e. the Davids) into devils (i.e. the Goliaths). While this “evil” may merely lie at the level of advertisement and rhetoric, it is to our own detriment when we underestimate the power of stories to shape our culture and society.

But I wonder how many Christians watched this commercial without recognizing UPS’s violent and violating reading of the church’s sacred text. In a time in which those who claim to be part of the church are burning the sacred texts of other religions, I wonder if it’s not more appropriate to sanctify our own. Scripture may not be the church’s private possession, but the church does claim to be of the Book and of the Word. While I don’t think that all of the readings of Scripture from within the context of the church are necessarily correct, I do think that it is only from within the context of the church that readings can be judged correct or incorrect. In the case of the UPS advertisement, it is the church’s place to humbly stand up and denounce their misuse of our sacred book.

While we may not have the resources of UPS or UPS’s capacity for mass communication, we, in our smallness, weakness and faithfulness, can say with David:

You come with sword and spear and million dollar ad campaigns; but I come in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. You and your manipulative readings will fall, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s (1 Samuel 17:45-47).


UPS’s Violent Reading of Scripture

Did you catch this?

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