Christ Redeems the Psalm?

Over at the Biblical Seminary faculty blog, Steve Taylor has a post about the place of Psalm 89 in the Christian canon.

Besides inventing the word “christotelicity,” the post offers food for thought inasmuch as Steve argues that it takes the whole canon to resolve the tension we find in Psalm 89: the faithful God is, in the end, accused of faithlessness to the Davidic covenant.

What do you think? Does the psalm/psalter need Christ in this diachronic fashion? Does Christ, in fact, help? Are the other options Taylor mentions to be eschewed?

Discuss!

Steve Taylor was an NT prof at Westminster before the Dark Days, before the Empire. He was my professor and mentor, and is almost single-handedly responsible for sowing the seeds of a majority of the off-center notions I harbor about how to read the Bible. Even where he disagrees with me, it is still his fault that I think the thoughts that currently fill my brain.

Hope, Resurrection, Posture

On Sunday, I posted some thoughts about hope–Christian hope as resurrection hope, followed yesterday by some reflections on the significance of Jesus’ full humanity.

Taking hold of the far-reaching implications of Jesus’ restoration project is something I continually harp on because it can play an important role in transforming the posture with which we hold the gospel.

My experience within evangelical Christian circles has often been one in which followers of Jesus envision themselves as the small, minority truth-holders, struggling to cling to what it right, and ever cautious and even fearful about fully engaging in other “worlds” that might be tainted by godlessness, or liberalism, or the like (since those to are “alike,” right?! *ahem*).

Image: markuso / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Last night I had the opportunity to participate on a panel that was responding to questions posed by a group of college students. We fielded questions such as, “What are Christians supposed to do about evolution, especially science majors?” “What should Christians think about environmentalism?” “What about people who never hear the message of Jesus?”

The questions are important ones in many respects. But the overall sense I got from the questions was that Christian faith is a small fortress to be guarded carefully. And I wondered if we didn’t need to start reimagining a capacious vision of the reign of God as our gospel.

I think the problem of a small, carefully guarded fortress starts early. In youth group we learn that the gospel means: (1) Jesus died for your sins; (2) you shouldn’t sleep with your boyfriend or girlfriend; and (3) drinking is bad.

There’s not much good news in that, except in the hope that if you can control your hormones you get to be with Jesus drinking grape juice one day.

But what if we begin, instead, with, “God was, in Christ Jesus, reconciling all things to himself”?

Then the world of nature and science does not stand as a looming threat to our faith, but as a witness to the breadth of the saving care of God.

Then the preservation of the environment becomes not merely a fleeting liberal hobby-horse, but a crucial pillar in the eternal plan of God. You think you care about the environment? Well, you’ve got nothing on the creator.

Maybe even questions about sex and sexuality can be received, gratefully, as gifts, rather than fearful lands to be trod, if at all, with extreme caution.

Paul talks about the reception of the Spirit as a transforming moment that moves us from slavish fear to the freedom of the glory of the children of God. It moves us into the realm where we know ourselves to be members of God’s family and instruments in the turning of the ages.

Posture, it seems to me, is as important as details. If we cannot posture ourselves with arms wide open to the cosmos that God has reconciled to himself, then we are not so positioned as to come to faithful answers to the questions that plague us. And we might not even be in the position to be plagued by the right questions.

Assumption and Salvation

“What Christ did not assume is not redeemed.”

That, or something like it, was a way that the early church fathers (Gregory? anyone help me out here?) reflected on the significance of Jesus’ incarnation and full humanity. Against the idea that he might not have had a human soul, for example, it was insisted that whatever we are must be what the Son became in order that we might become as the Son now is.

Advent is the perfect time to reorient ourselves to the fact that our savior was born truly human. Paul describes Jesus as being on earth “in the likeness of sinful flesh.”

This takes us back around to yesterday, and the question of hope and resurrection. The “assuming” part is crucial because it puts in place the pieces that are “redeemed” with the life, death, and resurrection.

With a human savior being raised from the dead, we are forever confronted by a proclamation of good news that refuses to be truncated by our favorite problems that need solving.

Yes, the gospel proclaims forgiveness from the guilt of sin. But if that’s your whole gospel you need to go back and ask yourself why this human was raised from the dead. Or, perhaps, what Mark 1-14 mean and why they qualify as the church’s good news.

Yes, the gospel proclaims freedom from oppressive powers. But if that’s your whole gospel, there’s a world of hunger and hurt that Jesus invites you to meet with healing and filling. The gospel is bigger than freedom.

Yes, the gospel tells us about the incomparable worth of humanity in the sight of God. But if that’s the sum total of your gospel, you need to keep asking questions: where are we, why does it matter, and what hope does creation have as it groans and waits?

Jesus did not only assume a human body, but the human situation as under God, under sin, under law; and as among other people, among sinners, and among saints; and as experiencing pain, experiencing hunger, and experiencing isolation; and as standing over the creatures, over the physical world, and over his disciples.

To be truly human is not only to exist as a soulish body, but to live on this world in this created order. This is the “assumption of human flesh” that Jesus entered into. And this is the extent of his redemption. And this is the extent of the hope that he extends.

He comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found

Hope

“Hope is when you wish for something.”

“No, hope is when you really think something is going to happen.”

This conversation, overheard from the back seat of my car, embodies the dissonance many of us live in between hope as a powerful life-giving reality, and hope as a wishy-washy sense of desire.

I choose my words carefully: “live-giving” reality. “Life-giving” expectation.

Even when we’ve moved beyond the wishy-washy to something that might help us press forward, we are in danger of watering down hope. Hope is not simply a disposition. Nor is it simply the expectation that all things will work out in the end, if we just hang on long enough.

Hope, Christian hope, the hope by which the story of the world finds a hope that will not be disappointed, comes from the confession and belief that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead.

The story of resurrection tells us that humanity is heading somewhere–somewhere beyond the power of the grave, beyond the power of sin, beyond the power of law.

The story of resurrection tells us that the cosmos is heading somewhere–somewhere beyond the power of supernovas, beyond the power of entropy, beyond the power of corruption.

The story of resurrection tells us, for sure, that our world has been imbued by its creator with a certain, inalienable hope. Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead. Humanity will be raised from the dead to its new-creation dwelling.

Hope for the future comes from the Event in the past that gives all history its meaning and its end.

Jesus Christ is raised from the dead. Therefore, we have hope.

Advent Reflections

Tomorrow, Advent begins.

We all love Advent. The kids, especially.

I can get into the candles and their themes, their light shining in our darkness. And, most of all, I can appreciate the way that a period of focused preparation makes the Christmas celebration itself much more rich. It is only on rare occasion that I can jump into something cold and fully appreciate everything that’s going on.

But I often worry that Advent carries with it an under-realized eschatology.

To put it differently: I worry that we too often slip into the language of “preparing for the arrival of the Christ child” rather than either preparing ourselves to celebrate the arrival that already happened or preparing for the future advent for which we actually await.

Frankly, my kids find Advent confusing. They know we’re celebrating Jesus, but the idea that we’re waiting for his birth too often takes center stage and so they go around shouting “Jesus is born!” as if it had actually just happened, as though the Messiah we’d been waiting for had finally come.

This underscores my ambivalence. Yes, it’s good to prepare ourselves for important celebrations. But in all the talk of “waiting” we too often slip into language that indicates a posture of waiting for the birth of the Messiah–something for which we are not waiting at all, and to say that we are is a denial of the good news itself.

And here, I know, we are dancing up along a line that marks off one boundary that will ever keep me from being Roman Catholic: I don’t find the cycle of a recurring church year to be as fruitful a way of making sense of the Christian story as recognizing where we are in the linear unfolding that awaits its final consummation.

I frankly wish we spent less time thinking about preparing ourselves for the first coming and more time crying out for the realization of the second. “Come quickly, Lord Jesus,” is the prayer of the church that knows itself living between the first and second Advents, it is the prayer of the church that confesses the world to stand under the reign of Jesus but still need to see that reign consummated far as the curse is found.

Maybe this is why I find that “Joy the world” is one of two carols worth singing at Christmas: because it was written to be a hymn of Christ’s return, not of his birth.

So what am I saying?

Yes, please, celebrate Advent. Yes, please, prepare your heart and mind for Christmas. But also, watch your phraseology.

We do not await the coming Christ child, we await the Christ’s return.

We do not await the Messiah’s birth, though we might participate in the labor pains that will see Christ fully formed in us.

OT Position King’s College

Here’s a Job Posting from King’s College London

Samuel Davidson Professor OR Reader in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible King’s College London

The department of Theology and Religious Studies, King’s College London, seeks a world leader in the field of Old Testament/Hebrew Bible with effect from 1 September 2012 or as soon as possible thereafter. A research specialisation in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible within its historical and cultural contexts would be particularly welcome, as would expertise in relevant archaeological debates. Applicants should have a strong background in using languages and critical tools, familiarity with the range of interpretative approaches current in Biblical studies, and a concern to address subjects relevant to contemporary issues. An interest in art history, literature, film and/or other contemporary arts would be an advantage.

The successful candidate will join a dynamic, growing, and creatively forward-looking team in Biblical Studies at King’s. There are also numerous opportunities for close collaboration with colleagues in Biblical Studies elsewhere in London and beyond. This post offers a chance to make a substantial contribution to the development of Biblical Studies in the UK and internationally.

The appointment will be made at Professorial or Reader level with salary to be negotiated, plus London Allowance. Benefits include an annual season ticket loan scheme and a superannuation scheme.

Informal enquiries should be made to Prof. Paul Janz, 0207 848 2398
email paul.janz@kcl.ac.uk

or

Dr Joan Taylor, 0207 848 2335,
email joan.taylor@kcl.ac.uk

Further details and application packs are available on the College’s website at www.kcl.ac.uk/jobs or alternatively by emailing Human Resources at jcmbjobs@kcl.ac.uk All correspondence should clearly state the relevant job title and reference number A9/AAT/802/11-TC

Closing date for the receipt of applications will be Monday, 12 December, 2011. Interviews scheduled for late January 2012

Equality of opportunity is College policy

Orphans in Houses

Growing up, our Thanksgiving table was always peopled by strays. My dad was in the Navy, and there were always single, usually enlisted, people who didn’t have anyplace else to go. Sometimes they had to work weird times, so we would accommodate multiple eating times.

This was our normal: an open home, strangers, and even the presence of people who embodied such practice as smoking cigarettes or decorating themselves with tattoos!

Yesterday I was talking to a friend about our Thanksgiving lingo. People who don’t have family to celebrate with, folks who have no other place to go, have taken the label of “orphans.”

The orphan metaphor underscores the importance of hospitality. Opening our home to the Thanksgiving orphans was a way of putting the orphans in a family–if only for a day.

Today, as I steel myself for the 34 person gathering of those without extended families here in San Francisco, the significance of hospitality as an embodiment of the gospel and imitation of God presses itself on me afresh. Not having local family, the gathering of the sundry orphans is the family away from family for which I am thankful.

And the fact that someone else is hosting such an epic festivity is an added cause for celebration!

Behold the… Lobster?

Last night Laura and I engaged in a moment of post-SBL de-tox by watching Brooklyn Lobster. A film about a lobster company that is on the verge of going under is a film about family, raw reality, and forgiveness.

The father figure in the film, Frank Giorgio, is depicted as rather lobster-like himself in a couple of scenes. In one, he is sitting in his car at a stoplight, and the red light makes him as red as any lobster in the film.

Frank is attempting, through various shenanigans, to save his business. And he is refusing the help of everyone around him–many of whom actually offer viable ideas for keeping the business afloat.

The turning point in the movie comes when Frank confronts a wayward lobster on the floor of his shop. As the scene begins, we get the God’s eye view of the escapee, which has its claws out a curiously right angles from his body. Cruciform lobster, anyone?

When Frank goes to apprehend the culprit, it pinches him. Frank shrinks back, but then as he grabs the lobster to put it back in the tank he says, “It’s o.k. I forgive you. It wasn’t your fault.”

Frank needed to forgive; most of all, I think, he needed to forgive himself.

Not everything becomes perfect at this moment, but the needful transformation has begun.

Frank is the lobster. And the lobster is forgiven.

Violent Men Laying Hold

One of the most difficult passages in the New Testament is Matthew 11:12. And by difficult, I mean, “Nobody has any idea what this could possibly mean.”

11 “I assure you that no one who has ever been born is greater than John the Baptist. Yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven is violently attacked as violent people seize it. 13 All the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John came. 14 If you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15 Let the person who has ears, hear. (Matt 11:12, CEB)

Is violence something happening to the kingdom? Or is it the way it’s proceeding? Is violently laying hold of it a good thing? or a bad thing?

The CEB guides us toward the idea that the violence is a bad thing. In the past, all I’ve had to offer students is an invitation to read Flannery O’Connor’s, The Violent Bear It Away.

But I heard a paper this morning that I think points in a helpful direction for making sense of it. The paper, by Matthew Bates of Quincy University, is entitled, “Veiled Resistance to a Violent King.”

Bates backed us up to the larger context, where Jesus responds to John’s disciples, and elaborates on John the baptist:

What did you go out to see? A reed shaken by the wind?

Bates draws attention to coinage that has been found–on which Herod Antipas has a reed a symbol of his leadership.

What did you go out to see? A person dressed in fine clothes? No–those in fine clothes live in king’s palaces.

In Matthew, as in Mark, Herod Antipas is referred to as “King,” specifically in the passage where Herod kills John the Baptist (Matthew 14).

Bates frames his argument with James Scott’s discussion of “hidden transcripts”: for those who are dominated, especially by a violent oppressor, critique and even words of judgment toward the overlords must be veiled. The cryptic code throughout the passage encodes veiled references to Herod Antipas.

People did not flock to see Herod, but the prophet. They did not flock to see the softly clothed, luxurious king. They went out to see a prophet.

They did not to out to see a Herodian kingdom, but the turning of the ages–the predecessor to the coming Kingdom of God. Herod has acted violently toward the kingdom; he has taken hold of it with violence.

Herod is belittled, Bates claims.

Also, I would add, the Kingdom of God is exalted. But exalted like the exalted little speck of yeast that gets hidden in the dough only thence to grow and leaven the whole.

History, Theology, and Jesus

Today there was a wonderfully stimulating session in the Theological Interpretation of Christian Scripture group, as a panel of reviewers critically assessed and compared Darrell Bock and Robert Webb (eds.), Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus with Richard B. Hays and Beverly R. Gaventa (eds.), Seeking the Identity of Jesus: A Pilgrimage.

The conversation on the panel swirled around the questions of what it means to read the Bible as Christians; or, how to do greatest justice to the historical narratives contained in the gospels.

In this, I was much more sympathetic to the Hays and Gaventa volume. Their volume strives to cultivate reading strategies for the canonical gospels that witnesses to Jesus. The Bock and Webb volume strives to establish, and explain the coherence of, a dozen key moments in the life of the historical Jesus.

Bock and Webb, along with Michael Bird, spoke of historical Jesus research as a necessary prolegomenon to New Testament Christology and other such study.

No, I don’t think so.

The church has not canonized the historical Jesus, it has canonized four Gospels. We can cultivate a rich theology for the church based on these interpretations, without digging behind them to the “real Jesus” back there in history. In such a practice, inevitably we tell a new story, construct a fifth quite theologically conditioned Jesus of our own. Our fifth Gospel is not the “starting point” for studying the four.

But for all my wariness about the historical project as such, I am not ready to rush into the arms of some versions of an already theologized Jesus, either.

And here I come back (again!) to the challenges posed by those who think that we should be reading the Jesus stories toward Chalcedon. In a line that was quoted a couple of times, Rob Wall spoke of scripture as something along the lines of spirit sanctioned witnesses to Jesus as incarnate Christ. I’m butchering the first and beautiful part of the sentence, in which Wall draws us to give the four canonical gospels their rightful place as starting-point for our Jesus deliberations.

But in articulating that to which they witness in the terms of the divine christology of the later church, the bible has lost the place he seems to be claiming for it, and now Chalcedon has come to take its place.

And so I once again walk away appreciative of both history and theology, but wanting to reiterate what I see as a better theological method: not beginning with the history behind the text, nor beginning with the theology placed in front of the text to refract our vision, but beginning with the stories of Jesus themselves.

Telling the story of the story-bound God