Friday, September 29, 2006

A Seminarian Finds Love

I think you lose something when you take commitment and self-giving submission out of marriage, as so many have done in our culture. When marriage is self-serving at the core, whether it lasts or ends up being a loving marriage ends up being a crap shoot. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, just that such an arrangement tends to miss out on something.

And that something is the blessing of having someone give themselves to you, as you in turn give yourself to them. It is the kind of relationship I certainly have a hard time conjurring up, but which Christ can certainly make happen, both by His example and by His Spirit.

I have to confess I don't do this very well. This is painfully evident to me as I compare how well I've loved my wife with how well she has loved me. I am amazed at what she has sacrificed to allow me to go to seminary. You think you know love, and then someone goes and does some wordless and prolonged act of support and solidarity with you, which costs them a great deal, and then you are left speechless at that person's grace, kindness, commitment, and love.

She is a wonderful woman, my wife. I am not worthy of her. Christ has truly blessed me graciously. This gift, along with hers to me, is plenty of motivation for me to try to be more worthy. To love as I am loved.

By the way, I am okay with people modelling their marriage on the "woman submits to the man" model, but that's not what I'm describing here. We submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. I'm just saying that my wife does a much better job of this than I do. She's beautiful folks.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Bungee Jumps For The Mind

This past week I've had a few intellectual rushes. I wouldn't claim they came from me, or elevate them to the status of divine revelation or even of new ideas, but nonetheless for me they were lightbulb moments.

At Starbucks on Friday morning a group of us began the arduous but exciting journey of slowly discussing Karl Barth's 100+ page section of Church Dogmatics on the doctrine of election. (Did I ever mention what a nerd I am?) The main thing that came out was the Barth really wants to steer us from seeing Election merely from a human standpoint (i.e. God sends people to hell on purpose) and to see it first and foremost as God Electing God. In other words, God "decided" (however you conceptualize that decision taking place) to start this whole ball of wax and before we deal with why this or that thing has happened to us we have to get a handle on the fact that for some reason or another God put Himself, and us, in this position. God, in a sense, has defined Himself by Creating us, even though He was God before that. So to understand this God we must try to understand why He did that. I'm probably not doing the discussion justice. I'm sure I'll have more to say about that (as well as the interesting cast of characters who meet at Starbucks, including the Great One and the Dreaded Tony) in the future.

Another lightbulb turned on for me this morning when I realized that Theology is a humble task. We get this idea of scholarly theologians with swollen heads who just want to sit in ivory towers and tell everyone what to think. There is an element of truth to that of course, but the further I go in academia (at least among godly men and women) the more I see that when you pursue something like a doctorate you are really humbling yourself and deciding to submit the whole of your life in service to the Church and the world. The reason this is humbling is because you don't ever expect the Church or the world outside of your immediate supervisor (and whoever happens to be listening in class when you put up your hand) to hear about it! And by choosing to write a thesis, and then later maybe a doctoral dissertation you have to narrow the scope of your study to such a degree that you lose any hope of ever actually changing the world (which is what we all want to do right?) and virtually resign yourself to trying to "master" this or that tiny peice of the scholarly puzzle in the hope that as you do so maybe you can do some good, clarify the picture somewhat, or whatever.

It reminds me while I study to live, to love, and to continue to serve the Church both in my studies and outside of it. I have a new appreciation for scholars (the humble ones) and more confirmation that, like pastoring, I'm not so sure I'm up for it, but then again who really feels up for whatever peice of the puzzle (or to switch the metaphor, the body) that Christ calls them to add?

As my academic Dean said, some are called to be the brain, some the heart, and most of us are a fingernail or a nosehair. ALL are important, and all have their unique challenges which must be risen to for the sake of Christ, the Church and the world. And I'm fairly convinced that no matter what part of the body you are called to be you are always best off considering yourself a nose-hair, while doing your dangdest for God.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Inside of Sunday

Because of the intensive nature of these next two years for me at seminary I've wondered if I should change the focus of this blog for awhile. Since I'll be doing a lot of writing for classes and such, instead of practicing my writing here maybe what I'll do is sort of journal my experience at seminary, you know, log some of the things I've learned, experienced, thought of, felt.

This would of course come perilously close to the sort of teenage diary-gone-public that I had hoped to avoid, so maybe I won't do it. On the other hand, how many days go by where I have wished I could have sat down and "debriefed" with my friends and family and otherwise assorted acquaintances and strangers (as in a coffee shop)?

I've often thought of this two year hiatus of ours in po-dunk Saskatchewan, cloistered into a small Christian community, as a retreat of sorts. Call it a Sabbath. Call it a time of monasticism. Call it escaping into a bubble. I don't care what you call it, it is what it is, and I'm looking at it as one big Sunday. If my life is a month, this is one of my Sundays. Whereas this blog was meant to be a place for me to think out loud about Christianity in the workaday world, this side of sunday, I suppose for a time it might be appropriate for the blog to now go inside Sunday and become a chronicle of what I find there.

Sounds pretty self-important to me. Well, this is pretty important to me, and since I know I have a few loyal readers whom I wouldn't mind sharing my experience with, maybe it would be worth a try. We'll see.

Thing is, I'm already well into this seminary thing. Two classes down the crapper already. I could write volumes (indeed it feels I already have) about what I've experienced already.

Suffice it for now to summarize my meeting with our registrar today. He asked me how its been so far. I told him that I was shocked in my first class to feel like I was the most conservative person in the room. Then, in my second class, to my amazement I felt like I was the most liberal person in the room! I'm not crazy about either label to be honest, but the point is that these classes stretched me in opposite directions.

That doesn't necessarily mean I'm any the wiser of course. It could be that I'm being stretched so far that, as one radio talk show host once said, I'm now big enough to contain contradictions. I hope I don't just become a black hole for all assorted sundry of perspectives. I do hope to come out with my Christian worldview sharpened and my character refined. Thing is, I can't see this happening if I isolate myself in a room of personal yes-men and proof-text my way to comfort. I'm looking for iron to sharpen iron.

We'll see how that goes.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul

I'm not sure if this will be that interesting to anyone, but most of the writing I'm going to be doing these days will be for seminary. The following is a 1200 word review of a controversial book which I thoroughly enjoyed. It can be a bit wordy, sorry, that's kind of how the book was and so I think it affected the way I wrote. If anyone reads this review let me know, I'd be curious ......

The intertextual approach put forward and practiced by Richard B. Hays in Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul adds volume to some muffled themes of Paul’s letters and provides the impetus for a hermeneutic that is both exhilarating and frightening. Although at first glance it appears that this book is merely offering one more critical method to the exegetical tool box, it ends up challenging current boundaries of biblical interpretation and pushing the Church to not simply read and interpret but to take part in and embody the living Word of God. Though written in 1989 this book takes the reader into relatively uncharted territory, lacking many of the hermeneutical comforts of home yet provoking good dialogue in the community of faith.

Hays’ intertextual approach is influenced by literary critical methods that recognize the echoes of past literature in later poetic writings. By alluding to a former expression a poet can play off of already established imagery and either turn the tables on the expression to say something new or revamp it to plumb even further depths of meaning. The recognition of this phenomena in Paul’s letters, so richly interwoven with Old Testament quotes and allusions, is essential to Hays’ approach. He presents the rationale of the approach this way:

The phenomenon of intertextuality–the imbedding of fragments of an earlier text within a later one–has always played a major role in the cultural traditions that are heir to Israel’s Scriptures: the voice of Scripture, regarded as authoritative in one way or another, continues to speak in and through later texts that both depend on and transform the earlier (Hays 1989, 14, emphasis mine).

It is one thing to recognize that later portions of Scripture depended on previous ones for significance, but to allow for transformation of meaning is to open a door few evangelical exegetes would be eager to walk through. Indeed it would be tempting to dismiss Hays approach from the outset, except for the fact that this is exactly the type of hermeneutic that Paul himself seems to employ.

Introducing them as apparent misreadings of Old Testament Scripture, Hays points out several instances when Paul transforms the original meaning of the ancient text and applies it in a new way to contemporary issues. Hays then highlights the intertextual dynamic in a way that illuminates Paul’s meaning. Although it is not his declared motivation, the result is a compelling defense and further advocation of Paul’s unique hermeneutical style. Some of Hays’ readings are more convincing than others.

One of the best examples of this may come in Hays’ description of Romans 10:5-10, where Paul takes the meaning of Deuteronomy 30:12-14 and flips it completely upside down. Whereas Moses was using a rhetorical argument to emphasize the availability and attainability of the commandments (“the word is very near you”), Paul alludes to it in order to assert exactly the opposite. What the people were searching high and low for was Christ, who had now come (“the word is very near you”). Since Christ had of course not come at the time of Moses’ writing this could be easily be written off as bad exegesis.

At the very least it seems highly unfair to the Hebrews, until we give Paul permission to reinterpret Deuteronomy 30 and in light of recent events. Christ fulfilled the Law and offered righteousness to all by faith. Looking back, Paul understands that when the Hebrews were pursuing the Law they were actually participating in the covenant to come, inasmuch as they were doing it as an expression of their faith in Yahweh. Moses was inadvertently calling them to faith in the same gospel as Paul. Through intertextual echo Paul is able to assert a meaning that Moses and his original readers would not have asserted, while staying faithful to the principle and the truth of what Moses was saying.

It is difficult to summarize Hays readings in such a short space, but two other examples merit mention. One of the weaker “echoes” is his treatment of 2 Corinthians 3:7, which is an allusion to Exodus 34:30, the passage about Moses veiling his face because the people could not bear the sight. Hays posits that what Moses was hiding was the “transitory” nature of the glory on his face because what the Hebrews really wanted was the “script” rather than the “spirit.” As a result they were unable to see that which pointed so clearly to Christ. While the argument as a whole is somewhat convincing it is so convoluted that one begins to wonder how anyone could have ever got it or ever could–and how “near” the Word of God actually is. It would be interesting to try to better Hays description of the echo to see if it is actually preachable.

One of the more amazing insights gained from Hays’ intertextual reading is the puzzling case of Galations 4:21-31 where Paul equates Hagar, rather than Sarah, with Sinai. Since the Sinai covenant came to the descendants of Sarah this seems like Scripture-twisting to the extreme. However, by allowing Paul freedom of metaphor Hays recognizes that Paul is playing the Mosaic covenant against the Abrahamic covenant rather than the New. The promise to both Jew and Gentile goes back to the Abrahamic covenant, and while the Mosaic covenant came after, the promise was still to be claimed by faith. Once the leeway for intertextuality is granted, Paul’s point is able to shine through. The Law was righteous, but on its own it could only produce slaves. The playing of ancient covenants against each other points the Hebrews to the fulfillment, the power, and the freedom that had finally come in Christ.

Hays is modest yet confident in the validity of the intertextual approach. He is honest about its inherent dangers, but he also provides a compelling argument for utilizing the method and accepting the ramifications that unravel from it. These ramifications place greater demands upon the people of God, pushing them toward a more vital dialogue with one another and with the text, but isn’t that what we ought to expect when we approach a book that claims to be the “living and active” Word of God; “sharper than a two-edged sword?”

Although I would like to put further thought into the ramifications of Hays’ hermeneutical approach (or should I say Paul’s?) and sense a need for greater definition of the criteria and constraints to be employed in this hermeneutic I cannot deny that I find within it an enticing and compelling way to approach the Bible. Certainly this creative and “free” approach to biblical interpretation opens up new dangers for the church which need to be addressed carefully. However, the risk involved may reap substantial (and much-needed) rewards for the Church today. Rather than compromising our faith in God, wielded properly this way of reading the Bible intensifies our need to trust Him and interact with Him, even as Scripture unfolds and speaks afresh write before our eyes. Rather than leading us down a path toward individual and relativistic theological sidetracks, pursued carefully this approach leads us to a humbler and more interdependent relationship with our community of faith.

Written for:
BT620 Pauline Epistles, Martin Culy, PhD, Briercrest Seminary, September 11, 2006

Monday, September 04, 2006

My Generation

The door has long-since opened, as culture shifts, for a revival and renewal of Christianity. It springs, I hope, at least as much from a true appreciation of the life and works of Christ as it does from a reaction to the sins of others. I feel like the church may be waking up from a tendency, although well-intentioned, to seem like we come not to save but to condemn.

Like those 20 centuries past who were looking for the Lion of Judah and got the Lamb instead; we have wanted to represent Christ as he will present himself at the second coming rather than as he did at the first. In short we have found it easier to judge than to forgive; easier to criticize than to love. I feel like my generation is emerging from that.
But with my gladness for this comes retiscence too, as I wonder what we are emerging into.

We still need a New Testament revival. Not a bunch of people who claim pleasure or worship music or fellowship or tolerance or pluralistic spiritualism as their god and call it Christ but a group who want to know and experience and express the self-giving, self-sacrificing, relentlessly loving, ardently Father-seeking Christ who has already come into the world.

In our love of grace we can't lose sight of what makes grace grace. We must be mindful of the next coming even as we strive to live the first. We must be humble, and as such we must obey. What I'm wondering is this:

My generation has shown that they will worship, but will they bow?

Friday, September 01, 2006

Lent Day 22

Nails through the wrists,
He laid down on His own.
Instead of clenching fists
An open hand is shown.

He wore the cross
Like no one ever could.
I know all is not lost;
I've seen my God upon the wood.

"I, when I am lifted up
will draw you to myself."
His invitation is enough;
His death, my life, my health.