A long time ago Matt and I started a joint-blogging project (March 31 was the launch… wow). It was a discussion of a 9-part article, “Learning to Read the Bible Again.” We devoted a post to each of the theses in the article, and tried to pull in some outside voices with whom to compare notes. Well I’ve finally reached the end of the project, Matt finished Thesis 9 a while back. Anyway, it’s high time I jot some of my own thoughts down on the last thesis. Without further ado…
9. We live in the tension between the “already” and the “not yet” of the kingdom of God; consequently, scripture calls the church to ongoing discernment, to continually fresh re-readings of the text in light of the Holy Spirit’s ongoing work in the world.
Because the narrative of scripture is open to a future that God will give, and because our vision is limited by creaturely finitude and distorted by sinfulness, we lack the perspective of the finished drama as we seek to live faithfully in the present. Yet we trust that the story is moving to a final consummation in which God will overcome death and wipe away every tear from our eyes. Knowing that we do not see ourselves and our world from God’s point of view, we are grateful for the gifts of scripture and community and for the possibilities of mutual correction in love that they offer. We are also grateful for scripture’s promise that the Spirit of God will lead us into truth, which gives us hope that our speech and practice might yet be a faithful witness to the righteous and merciful God who is made known to us in Jesus Christ.
If the story has not yet reached its conclusion, does this have implications for understanding the relationship between scripture’s identification of God and the claims made by other religious traditions? How are our fresh rereadings to be distinguished from interpretations of scripture that purport to separate the “kernel” of the gospel from the “husk” of cultural accretions? To what standards of accountability are we called in order to keep our rereadings faithful to the God of Jesus Christ?
I chuckle when I imagine the disciples eagerly asking, naively and expectantly asking, “So, like, next week… that’s when you’re gonna restore the Kingdom… right, Rabbi?” (Acts 1:6) But we do the same thing, don’t we? We just leave it up to God to bring the Kingdom here, and we’re pretty sure it’ll be any day now. Hope is great, but by no means should it devolve into lazy expectancy. And that’s why it’s so important to begin the discussion of our last thesis with the “tension between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’ of the kingdom of God.” Like millions of believers who have preceded us, we still have a lot of work to do. Roll up your sleeves, open your Bible, and share with your brothers and sisters what you find.
We definitely don’t have the whole picture. Only our Creator does. But we don’t need the whole picture to enable us to faithfully labor toward that glorious ending. In Prophetic Imagination, Walter Bruggeman proposes a definition of prophecy where futuring is balanced with action. Paraphrasing someone’s generalizations may really mess things up, but here’s what I pick up from reading Bruggie: Don’t make the “conservative” mistake and focus only on armchair, bumpersticker imagining; also, don’t make the “liberal” mistake of running ad hoc from cause to cause with no overarching theological hope. (I might have butchered that, so let me know if it confuses/disturbs you, and I’ll actually pick up my copy of the book, get the right quotes, and be able to give a better summary.) Let me try it differently: We need to exist as a subcommunity, integrated into culture like spokes on a wheel, that “can and will be different because of the purposes of God that simply will not relent.” (again, I don’t have the book in front of me, just some rough quotes, so a proper citation is coming soon).
And so how do we know whether we’re tracking with those “purposes of God?” We stay in touch with the most accurate and most tangible snapshot of God that he has left us with… we stay in dialogue with scripture. And we stay in touch with the second most important portrait of God, the Bride of Christ. The faithful Church is a beautiful bride that naturally seeks to imitate her groom, with whom she is hopelessly lovestruck.
- If the story has not yet reached its conclusion, does this have implications for understanding the relationship between scripture’s identification of God and the claims made by other religious traditions? Scripture points us to Christ as the author and perfector of our faith, our high priest who’s “been there, done that,” and one who balanced his humanity and diety to do so perfectly and willingly. Overarching themes such as these will never change. We may not know everything yet; I’m ok if we never do. But we can rest assured that religious traditions refusing to affirm the value of Jesus’ presence among us 2,000 years ago will never find their place, their fit, in God’ yet-unfinished masterpiece. Sorry, I know that’s tough, but it’s essential.
- How are our fresh rereadings to be distinguished from interpretations of scripture that purport to separate the “kernel” of the gospel from the “husk” of cultural accretions? What?
- To what standards of accountability are we called in order to keep our rereadings faithful to the God of Jesus Christ? Theology built like trampoline springs instead of brick walls. Grace leaves room for heresy, but is not compelled to endorse it in doing so. I have to agree with Matt’s wrap-up: If we will honestly drop our agendas (whether commonly-perceived/easily-defended as noble or not), and stick to the basics of the big themes God’s got running throughout our human experience as a whole (themes discovered by study of scripture, and reflection of the common historical experience of the community, for example), and honestly test everything through the lens of “Is this faithful to Christ?”, we’ll be just fine.