“For you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men? What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building” (1 Corinthians 3:3-9).
These verses should humble every prominent or self-proclaimed evangelical church growth “expert” and guru and wannabe. Every pastor. Every under-shepherd of the flock. It sure humbled and convicted me as a Christian college professor. Always pontificating as if I am right, as if my words were next to God’s, as if I received them straight from the Spirit Himself. Acting as if I got, the right insight, and everyone else is missing it. Don’t get me wrong. I have deep convictions about the Word and what the original authors, through the Holy Spirit, meant when they wrote down their words. I have deep convictions about the Word’s application, especially for the up-to-date-church. I certainly don’t mean to say I should be more wishie-washie, compromising, or tolerant on interpretation of sacred text, or that I should be more open-minded. I am talking about confessing my arrogance. We picture Martin Luther taking his stand before the Council as strong, prideful, maybe even defiant. And we think that’s “me.”
“Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I can and will not retract, for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”
Yet earlier, the great reformer pleaded with God, confessed a desire to just go home and live in peace, not troubled by the stand he must make against, who he called, “wise counsel and elders, more learned” than he, and stand for his conviction of the supremacy of God’s Word. So his words before the Council were more humble, contrite, even reluctant than arrogance. These words from the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians should strike at our heart, pierce through our misunderstanding of the nature of the Church. Reggie McNeal is right in his book, The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church, when he says:
“…we have the best churches men can build, but we are still waiting for the church that only God can get credit for” (p. 23).
“The technical term for the private-zoo factor is privatization. By privatization I mean the process by which modernization produces a cleavage between the public and the private spheres of life and focuses the private sphere as the special arena for the expansion of individual freedom and fulfillment.” ~Os Guinness, in The Gravedigger File, referencing Peter Berger
Since Nov 5th, I have been seeing blogs and articles and more comments on the gay-marriage issue than usual. Probably because of the Rick Warren-President-elect Obama relationship. I personally do not care to make a comment on that...but I have been commenting on the Gay-marriage issue. I am actually repeating something I wrote over a year ago on this site. I cut the words down because of the character or word limits for comments...but I thought I’d post what I have been saying…
I do not believe that same-gender marriage should be equal under the law as a marriage traditionally defined as being between a man and a woman. I certainly do not believe that the argument is one of civil rights akin to the race issues our country deals with, nor is the matter an equal-access-under-the-law issue. First and foremost, the issue is foundation: the reason a society sanctions marriage in the first place. If it is just definitions that are seeking to be changed, I actually understand that debate. Why simply go with the traditional definition of a marriage rather than a different one? For me that’s a jump in the debate. The foundation of marriage as a social institution has been the best interests of children, their nurture and protection. It has been the exception that marriage could be child-less or defined without the inclusion of children. What is being shifted in our current debate over the legalization of Gay marriages is that our society is changing the foundation from a relational one to a sexual one. Those seeking to change the laws to allow same-gender marriages are saying it is their sexual desires that should form the basis for the social structure of marriage. It is their sexual desires that need protection and nurture rather than children. They exchange the well-being of children for their selfish sexual desires. Changing our definition of marriage speaks of what is important to a society. I am surprised that my liberal friends are not the first to speak out against such a shift, for they are the ones who typically advocate for the child (well, at least they say so). There is nothing neutral about changing the definition of marriage. To exchange the family forming institution where the child’s interests is foundational to a sexually oriented institution where the adult sexual interests are foundational will have rippling effects for society both in its laws and in its habits.
Let me clarify again—the subject is the issue of poverty and how we utilize, what I consider, the private vs. public dichotomy in order to position ourselves and our responsibilities regarding the economically vulnerable and the poor. This dualism obviously has two sides, in which we find a convenient argument or policy or belief to split the two sides as somehow mutually exclusive to some degree, depending on how much we want to separate the two just to make our point and hold on to our position. It is my contention that we split the private and the public into neat, exclusive categories so we can feel safe, protected, and define the parameters of responsibility. It is this dualism of the so-called private sphere vs. the public sphere that allows for both sides (e.g. red and blue, conservative and liberal, citizen and state, church and government) to set limits on responsibility and roles.
For my purposes, I am not concerned as to who is responsible for developing social services or charity or even community action on behalf of the poor. My chief concern here is how this dualism, that is private vs. public, is faulty and used in ways that promote the well-being of the non-poor more than the benefit of the poor. Although I certainly believe this dualism is used by the state and by my more socially liberal friends (perhaps unknowingly for many), here, I am primarily concern in how Christians and the Christian community utilize this dualism to their benefit, making it an idolatry of power. In my book, Destroying Our Private Cities, Building Our Spiritual Life, I start my exposition on Paul’s letter to the Philippians within the context of our love affair with “our privacy.” I write:
My girl friend from college was staying with her sister and brother in law for the weekend. She was on an assignment for her course in child psychology. Her project: Observe how little children interpret the world around them.
One of the observations was unplanned. Her four year old nephew, Ben, unashamedly opened the bathroom door and entered, to the surprise of his aunt. Although a bit startled, his aunt was able to use the occasion to help Ben understand the concept of privacy.
“Ben, when people close the door, that means they would like to have their privacy.” Ben acknowledged his aunt’s instruction and went his way. The issue seemed to be settled.
Later that afternoon, Ben’s mother noticed his bedroom door closed. That was a bit unusual, she thought. She proceeded to open it to check on her son.
“Ben, are you all right?” she asked in a tone of concern.
Ben looked up and in a matter of fact voice said, “Mom, I closed my door because I want my own private city.”
That serendipity is as instructive as it is winsome. It is both appropriate and polite to respect another’s privacy. But there comes a time in a culture when the concept of privacy can hinder the equally appropriate sense of community. It can stifle cooperative participation in the responsibilities of the community. Attitudes such as my world, my choice eventually produce the pursuit of personal fulfillment. Like young Ben, people today seem to crave their own private city.
This plague of privacy has had a devastating impact on the Church and its mission. North American Christians have embraced our culture’s fascination for privacy, at the same time ignoring its consequences. Because we treasure our “private cities,” we are governed not by the will of God or the Scriptures but by personal fulfillment. And we view life from a very narrow perspective. Our Christianity becomes trivial and private because we relegate it to the private sphere of our lives.
Guinness, in his book The Gravedigger File, laments that Christianity to the believer . . . was once life’s central mystery, its worship life’s most awesome experience, its faith life’s broadest canopy of meaning as well as its deepest guarantee of belonging. Yet today, where religion still survives in the modern world, no matter how passionate or “committed” the individual believer may be, it amounts to little more than a private preference, a spare time hobby, a leisure pursuit. This worship of privacy has had devastating consequences for the Church’s participation in the missionary task.
The American habit of privatization and our love affair with the so-called constitutionally protected right of privacy hinders the Christian and Christian community from truly engaging the issue of poverty. We are conditioned to split responsibilities and roles into the private and public catagories. In the end, because of this idolatry we are not free to evaluate openly the issues of poverty and the biblical texts regarding poverty.
The Private vs. Public Dualism 1 of 4
, 2 of 4
“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world” (Hebrews 1:1-2).
I hadn’t caught it before as I should have. One would think I would, especially after reading it at least a hundred times over and over again, studying it, and preaching through it in earlier days. The writer of Hebrews (who I believe to be Luke, Paul’s companion) is concerned about our hearing and the outcomes of hearing in our lives. I don’t think the preacher (who was preaching on the text) was making the connection—and I don’t even remember why he was quoting or referring to the verse in Hebrews, but that’s when I heard the connection.
“See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven” (Hebrews 12:25).
As the preacher referred to Hebrews 12:25, I noticed the speaking connection between the author’s introduction (1:1ff) and what amounts to his “theological” concluding remarks in Hebrews 12. (Hebrews 13 is really a postscript and a rather lengthy benediction or farewell.) All throughout Hebrews the writer encourages us to hear the “many ways” and various “portions” of God’s voice from the Old Testament (cf. Hebrews 1:1ff). These Old Testament voices (i.e., the quotes, allusions, and themes) spoke about God’s future final voice, His final Word, namely His Son. I have preached it this way, too—in earlier days—but we tend to minimize, shrink the “sin” that so “easily entangles us” (in Hebrews 12:1) to just the privatized or the personnel sins we, individually, commit. And, as we do so, we miss the larger, more important aspect the writer intends: Hearing how God spoke through His Son and what that implies. The sin is abandoning God’s final voice, his ultimate spoken Word; replacing, changing, exchanging that voice for the multiple voices that clutter our hearing and make it difficult to obey. Listening to the final Word puts us at odds with the world. Shoot, it puts us at odds with much of our own faith community.
What was spoken was passed down, passed on:
“For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard” (Hebrews 2:1-3).
We are to heed the final voice.
“Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7).
And now the way we and others hear the final voice is through the faith and conduct of those who lead and “speak the word of God to you.” We are to consider what the outcomes of their hearing has produced and imitate their faith. What onus on church leadership this is. Are their outcomes just a result of civic faith, popular Christianity, an American life? What cloud of witnesses makes up church leadership today? The message of Hebrews might very well be a warning, not just to lay-Christians to “give up” privatized sins of the flesh, but more so a warning to church leaders that the church community follows their lead. And, what they hear decides what we imitate. Let me repeat, for here’s the rub, the warning, the danger: What the church leadership hears decides what we imitate. So, what do they listen to? What do our church leaders hear? And then, consider the result of their conduct and imitate their faith. That’s what we should be listening to (based on the message of the writer-preacher of Hebrews). Hebrews, as we move away from just responding in our privatized, personal way, has implications about the nature of the church and its mission. I think it is time we start listening better. A fresh and perhaps a more appropriate hearing of this sermon (i.e., Hebrews) needs unpacking. I have, myself, to listen better.
“The major advances in civilization are processes that all but wreck the societies in which they occur.” ~Alfred North Whitehead
The issues of poverty are typically arranged in private vs. public dichotomies, arguments, and responsibilities, setting up a dualism and a very convienent idolatry. The usual alternatives, issued by opposing sides (e.g., right vs. left), are often limited to “liberal idolatries” or “conservative idolatries.” The Christian community often finds itself leaning toward one, while making the accusation of idolatry toward the other. There is, however, an overlooked juxtaposition of biblical warnings against idolatry and stipulations concerning the poor and vulnerable (e.g. Ex 22-23). Over the next year I intend to explore the relationship between idolatry and the issue of poverty and seeks to offer another model or paradigm for the debate and potential outcomes. (Eventually this will be a paper, which I will hopefully present at the November 2009 Evangelical Theological Society annual meeting in New Orleans, and hopefully a chapter in a book I am proposing.)
The biblical concept of idolatry warns against a defective social construction of reality that diminishes the potential for positive outcomes for the vulnerable and the poor and promotes alienation and the idols of power. The biblical juxtaposition of idolatry and “the poor” suggests that there is a relationship between “the landed” and “the land-less” (those who have excess to power and those who do not), thus making the private vs. public dichotomy a convenient idolatry for those who benefit from both liberal and conservative idolatries and diminishing positive outcomes for those who are in poverty.
Right away, it seems apparent to me that everything we do as humans is, well, public. Is there truly any private act or activity that has no public form or outcome of consequence, result, or affect. I dare say, not even our so-called private thoughts are not protected by our American concept of “private” when thoughts become actions or habits and have public effect. We seem to confuse the constitution’s right to private property and what the Supreme Court keeps finding “in” the Constitution and “in” the Bill of Rights, a nuanced or penumbra called “right to privacy.” There is no right to privacy “in” the Constitution or Bill of Rights; it is inferred by lawyers and judges, but it is not really there. Even Jesus lifted our thought life up into the realm of the public when he said, You have heard that it was said, YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:27-28). And before Jesus, God had implied as much when he gave the last commandment to Moses: You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor (Exodus 20:17).
However, the very idea to suggest that we do not have this imperial and heightened private sphere where, as individuals, we are sovereign and lord, where neither the state nor the law can breach, seems very unamerican, almost a civic blasphemy. We have raised the concept of the private and the private sphere to the level of ideology and constitutional protection—frankly at the expense of or despite any Biblical counterargument. But, it is not the our propensity and love of the private (i.e. our privacy) that is the idolatry at issue for me here. Most Christians, and many secular, non-religious as well, accept that we, in American culture, have idols of individualism that form many of our social and economic habits (many of them poor, many rather sinful, actually). This, I will accept without argument or illustration. But, it is the actual private vs. public dualism that I find a convenient idolatry the is used both as excuse (i.e., reason) and weapon against what we do not want to do or what we do not want others to do, whether its be the state, our neighbors and local officials, and dare I say even God. The end of such idolatry seeks to strengthen and benefit those in power or who have access to power and brings harm, negative consequences, and weakens positive outcomes for the vulnerable and the poor.
I will continue this thread over the next week.
The Private vs. Public Dualism 1 of 4, 2 of 4
“It is no secret that Christ’s church is not at all in good health in many places of the world. She has been languishing because she has been fed, as the current line has it, ‘junk food’ … As a result, theological and biblical malnutrition has affected [us]…[A] worldwide spiritual famine resulting from the absence of any genuine [diet] of the Word of God continues to run wild and almost unabated in most quarters of the church.” ~Walter Kaiser, Toward an Exegetical Theology
I don’t get to preach that often now a days (or is that one word, “nowadays”?). But, I do have to listen to preaching. Here’s what I wish (for 2009), that, on a regular basis, I’d hear good exposition, built and developed through sound exegesis and biblical theology and reflection. In addition, throughout the year (and years to come), I’d like to hear messages from one book of the Bible, paragraph by paragraph or section by section (and rarely verse by verse) for a month or two or three or four straight through each Sunday. But, before the preacher even starts the series, I’d like a few things to happen.
First, I’d like to know that the preacher has read and reread and reread and reread the book. That he has learned to read each section, each paragraph, each verse with the whole of the book in mind…that he knows the parts and the whole at once. I’d like to know that he has read the book in one sitting a few times and with the more lengthier books like Isaiah or I Kings (etc.), as few as two or three sittings. I’d like to know if I were to prick the preacher, he’d bleed that bible book. I’d like to know that before he starts even one outside study of the book or commentary or other sermons that he has done all this—and gotten to know this one bible book.
While I was at Bible College, back in the 80’s, I was wondering through the library (not so unusual for me) and saw one of my fellow Preaching class students hard at work preparing for her first preaching presentation in class. I noticed that she had piles, literally stacks of books and commentaries all around her at this table—she was the only one at the table and there was no place left without a book or pile of books. Her bible, neatly placed to the side was closed. I asked her what she was preaching on. She said a verse from Psalm such and such…she was able to give the gist, but didn’t quote it. I could only say one thing: “Have you just gotten away, outside somewhere and just read and reread the whole Psalm over and over again, letting the words and phrases and progression just become part of you?” No, she replied. I recommended she not get caught up in all these books—in what other say first—before she gets to know the Psalm herself first. Then crack the other books and commentaries. Studying for a sermon starts long before one is actually preparing the outline or points or notes on that sermon.
Then I’d like to know the preacher has worked through a solid process as he (or she) develops an outline and notes for the actual sermon. I’d like to know the preacher has developed an exegetical summary of the passage that will be preached. I’d like to know that the preacher has selected at least three solid commentaries (good exegetically ones—they don’t have to all agree, just be good at working through a text) and read through what trained exegetes have to say. I’d like to know that before any preacher has gotten up in the place of God to speak to people that they have read the whole Bible at least once a year for as long as they have “felt” the call to preach.
These are just some things I wish for 2009 for congregations, churches, church plants, and preachers.
A while back I posted what I like to call the “contextual-observation method
” for studying the Bible and developing sermons (or bible studies). Preachers and lay-leaders might find this method useful. I know you can find books on preaching (the best one being Walter Kaiser’s Toward an Exegetical Theology: Biblical Exegesis for Preaching and Teaching
), but I was able to summarize the whole concept in one post. Follow the steps and you’ll fulfill my wish for 2009 … and beyond!
The contextual-observation method (a practical excerise)
“Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him. But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger!’” (Luke 15:14-17).
When God is silent, we should not assume we can supply what is missing. This is why exegesis is so important (vs. the danger of eisegesis, reading into the text), and why application should follow exegesis and should not be confused with interpretation—application isn’t interpretation. Since Rick Warren (of Purpose-Driven Life fame) is (again) in the news a lot, it made me think about a time I heard him on the Sean Hannity show. Warren made a comment about “tough love” should be applied to substance abuse addicts. I had to ponder more whether I agreed with his approach to addiction or not, but it was his approach to speaking for God that caught my attention. He said, “God would have us show tough love” and then preceeded to explain that he had received this principle from the Prodigal Son story in Luke’s Gospel. Warren said we have “a prime example” in what the father did not do: when the son was eating with the pigs as a result of the son’s leaving the family and living a sinful, fast life, “the father didn’t send care packages.” So says Warren.
How do we know that? Whether he did or didn’t? How does Warren know? It doesn’t say in Luke that His father didn’t send “care packages.” Warren spoke where God is silent and developed a principle to deal with other human beings (whether it is right or wrong isn’t the issue) and thus claims divine authority on the matter. Now, that’s the issue!
Can we make principles out of what the father didn’t do? Problem is, we do not have an exhaustive story—we don’t know what the father did and didn’t do other than being sure of what is described in the story. The text doesn’t say whether the father searched for the son or not. It doesn’t tell us whether he sent him “care packages” or not. Jesus, the story-teller, is silent on this. If we want to assume anything, we could assume that the Father did search for his son, since the previous two stories (parables) show the principle characters as ones who search for what is lost. But I personally would not go there since I don’t know. I wasn’t so much thinking about what the parable of the Prodigal Son meant (although I certainly have an interpretation in mind and it surely isn’t one suggesting anything remotely related to our father-son relationships or tough love on substance abusers). I was concerned about how casually, on public radio, speaking to millions of people, someone could pull a word from God from a place in Scripture where God is silent—a word not from the text of Scripture. I recall a chapel speaker once who made a point in his sermon from Genesis 12a (he even called it that, Genesis 12a), the chapter he assumed was there between Genesis 12 and Genesis 13. We are in dangerous waters, no matter how popular one is, no matter how many copies of one’s book has been sold, no matter how big one’s church is, when we speak for God, claiming His voice from places in Scripture where He is silent. This was very bothersome to me. Happens all the time—just rarely on a secular radio talk show.
“He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:11-13).
I am struck by these words. Always have been. I know, many Christians memorize John 1:12-13 as life verses or verses of assurance of salvation. I certainly did when I was a young Christian (way back in 1978!). But, that’s not what these verses are for (although memorizing them is still a good thing). In the first verse (v 11) there is an interesting spin to consider. (Some Greek here; but easy stuff.) Literally, John uses the word “own” in two distinct ways to actually give the following sense
“He came to His own place (τὰ ἴδια) and those who were His own people (οἱ ἴδιοι) did not receive Him.”
This in itself isn’t shocking: we know the story. Jesus came from His throne in heaven to the land of Israel (on earth) and the people, the Jewish people didn’t acknowledge Him as the long-awaited Messiah. We know that. Now think about it: the people in that place were the one’s who thought they had assurance of salvation by virtue of being born in that place—in Israel as Israelites, related to David and Abraham—and acting the part. Their “not receiving” Jesus, however, put that assurance in jeopardy.
Now, for why John is writing this in the first place: We must remember that John is not writing a history lesson. And, I highly doubt the apostle penned verses 12 and 13 as assurance of salvation verses to memorize (especially by us contemporary Christians). John writes to a Christian community that apparently is having a hard time believing who Jesus is and why He came. As if Jesus comes now to His own church (the use of “own place” by John here might even suggest a particular church for application) and His own people (i.e., Christians) didn’t/don’t receive Him. Now that’s shocking. But we, evangelicals feel safe—or should we be?
My reading and rereading on church growth, the practices and principles, as well as the poor theology stemming from the mix (I am including all contemporary types in this general sweep), draws me back to these verses on a regular basis. I am not opposed to reforming how we “do” things, nor against up-dating what we do. But, our modern, mechanical, often staged methods of evangelism, worship, and outreach are more like the Baal worship of old (as described in the Old Testament) and the beliefs of ancient non-Israelites who practiced Baal worship than it is of biblical roots. We act out what we want God to do for us in much of our so-called Church-growth models. But, here John reminds me that it is those who receive Him for what He does (has done), not by being born into the place, not by the will of our fleshly methodologies, but by the will of God. Rethinking church and ministry and “growth” should at least include these verses of caution. I know, one would not think to include these verses in one’s Church-growth theology—but we should.
“In a society in which idolatry runs rampant, a church that is not iconoclastic is a travesty. If it is not against the idols it is with them.” ~Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction
We look back upon history, and what do we see? Empires rising and falling. Revolutions and Counterrevolutions. Wealth accumulated and wealth disbursed. Shakespeare has written of the rise and fall of great ones, that ebb and flow with the moon. I look back upon my own fellow countrymen, once upon a time dominating a quarter of the world, most of them convinced, in the words of what is still a popular song, that the God who made them mighty, shall make them mightier yet.
I have heard a crazed, cracked Austrian announce to the world the establishment of a Reich that would last a thousand years. I have seen an Italian clown say he was going to stop and restart the calendar with his own ascension to power. I have heard a murderous Georgian brigand in the Kremlin, acclaimed by the intellectual elite of the world as wiser than Solomon, more humane than Marcus Aurelius, more enlightened than Ashoka.
I have seen America, wealthier and in terms of military weaponry, more powerful than the rest of the world put together, so that had the American people so desired, they could have outdone a Caesar, or an Alexander in the range and scale of their conquests.
All in one lifetime, all in one lifetime, all gone. Gone with the wind. England part of a tiny island off the coast of Europe, threatened with dismemberment and even bankruptcy. Hitler and Mussolini dead, remembered only in infamy. Stalin a forbidden name in the regime he helped found and dominate for some three decades. America haunted by fears of running our of those precious fluids that keeps their motorways roaring, and the smog settling, with troubled memories of a disastrous campaign in Vietnam, and the victories of the Don Quixotes of the media as they charged the windmills of Watergate. All in one lifetime, all in one lifetime, all gone. Gone with the wind. ~Malcolm Muggeridge
Whenever one takes a journey or goes out for an adventure, one encounters things unexpected. There might not be time to stop and fully enjoy or explore these discoveries, so one must make the time to return and explore more thoroughly. Such happened along the way in studying Mark 4 and the topic of Evangelism and Social Action as I prepared and developed my recent paper for the Evangelical Theological Society’s (ETS) 2008 November conference in Rhode Island. This discovery is the Biblical juxtosposition of warnings against idolatry and the caveats and stipulations regarding the poor. Interestingly, almost a seeming divine timing, has also occurred: there seems to be a rather curious new-found interest in the topic of idolatry. A few books have recently popped up on the subject—two specifically on a biblical theology of idolatry (one by my former teacher and mentor, G. K. Beale, We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry and the other by Edward Meadors, Idolatry and the Hardening of the Heart). I also sat through two presentations (i.e., papers) on the subject of idolatry in the Old Testament at the recent ETS conference as well. The timing also heightened this discovery for me—and my curiosity.
References to what I call the vulnerable trio, the widow, orphan, and alien/stranger are scattered throughout the Old Testament, particularly in contexts that concern God’s covenant with His people or a reaffirmation of that covenant (cf. Ex 22:22, Dt 10:18; 14:29; 16:11, 14; 24:17, 19, 20, 21; 26:12, 13; 27:19; Jer 7:6; 22:3; Zech 7:10; Mal 3:5; cf. Lev 19:34; Isa 1:17, 23; 10:2; Ps 94:6; as well, cf. Ex 23:12; Lev 19:10; 23:22; Dt 14:29; 15:9ff; 24:19ff; 26:12ff). What is interesting is that in many of these texts, within the contexts is mentioned the concept of idolatry—warnings, consequences, references, etc. It all begins in the first covenant stipulations given to Israel as they were poised to enter the promised land:
He who sacrifices to any god, other than to the LORD alone, shall be utterly destroyed. You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry; and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless. If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest (Ex 22:20-25).
This is repeated in various ways throughout the exodus journey story and then is repeated throughout the Old Testament in places that recall this first juxtaposition and warning regarding idolatry and the poor. Even toward the end of the Old Testament Israel story, the two themes—idolatry and the vulnerable/poor—are brought together:
“Assyria will not save us,
We will not ride on horses;
Nor will we say again, ‘Our god,’
To the work of our hands;
For in You the orphan finds mercy.”
I will heal their apostasy,
I will love them freely,
For My anger has turned away from them.
I will be like the dew to Israel;
He will blossom like the lily,
And he will take root like the cedars of Lebanon.
His shoots will sprout,
And his beauty will be like the olive tree
And his fragrance like the cedars of Lebanon.
Those who live in his shadow
Will again raise grain,
And they will blossom like the vine.
His renown will be like the wine of Lebanon.
O Ephraim, what more have I to do with idols?” (Hosea 14:3-8a)
Thus, I am preparing another paper for next year’s ETS annual meeting. Next year’s conference topic is “Personal and Social Ethics” and is appropriately taking place in the city of New Orleans (LA). The paper I am preparing and beginning to research is not necessarily part two of the Wasted Evangelism paper I presented this past November (2008), but it certainly stems from it—or is an off shoot from some of the “discoveries” and conclusions I made from the research of that paper. The working title for the paper right now is “Idolatry & Poverty: Where Public vs. Private Isn’t Enough.” So I begin…studying idolatry and poverty together…and seeing where that takes me.
Two of the first idolatries I am investigating concern the notion or myth of the progress of history and the myth of the “Private vs. the Public.” I hope to post, soon, a thread of thoughts on “The Private vs. Public Dualism: A Convenient Idolatry.” And then as we move into the new year, some thoughts in a thread on the idolatry of being “progressive.” Hopefully, in all this, I will bring out a few implications of such idolatry on the topic of poverty. One of these areas falls more in the right and red column, and the other into the left and blue. Both sides of the aisle, as it were, are idolatrous—neither, in the end, are helpful to the poor in America. Kept popping on…I suspect this weekend I’ll be working on the first thread…
A while back I presented a message called, What if God has not spoken? Not only does it have some choice quotes from well worth while writers...I make some good points well myself on the subject of God’s existence and the reliability of the Bible. Originally I prepared and delivered this message as a three part series for a church in Calgary, AB, later at Prairie Bible College chapel message, and most recently at a church in Fairfield, CT. Seems timeless to me and worth presenting over again. Please feel free to download and pass around if it is a helpful piece.
Listen to What if God has not spoken?
PS I am open to presenting the series or this message elselwhere...just let me know ().