Sunday, September 30, 2012

Why We Use the ESV

(In honor of Nancy Thonus Hudson, my high school friend who has served the Wycliffe Bible Translators for nearly thirty years.)*

Bible translation is an ancient and venerable practice.  One of the earliest was in Coptic for Egyptians, which dates to AD 270.  An Ethiopic translation was completed in early 5th century AD.  Fragments of an early Syriac translation has been discovered, which is not surprising since one of the major early ethnic churches was the Syrian Church.  Between the years AD 350 to AD 439 the Scriptures were translated into Armenian for those in the Caucasus mountain region and in an adjacent region another translation into Georgian was done in AD 450.  An old Latin Bible was completed in AD 195 (which Augustine used) and Jerome completed his new and improved Latin Vulgate (vulgates referring to the common tongue) in 404 AD.  Unlike the old Latin Bible, Jerome relied on the original Hebrew in his translation. This particular translation was to dominate the landscape in the Middle Ages, and unfortunately led the Western Church to neglect the original languages of the Bible up until Erasmus and Luther.   Much more could be said about translations in the East as well as the history of translations in English.  However, at this point we should note four features of translations in the early history of the Church:

  • .       Translations were a function of the missionary nature of the Christian Church which was a vernacular movement, the assumption being that people needed to hear the word of God in their own native tongue (cf. Acts 2).
  • .       The whole process started in fits and starts and because of the needs of the missionaries, not because of some central authority’s efforts.  Thus, these early translations are uneven in quality.
  • .       It was assumed that a translation of the Bible could be called the word of God for this language group, yet…
  • .       Figures such as Jerome and much later Erasmus, Luther and Tyndale realized that these vernacular translations needed to be based on the original Hebrew and Greek texts. 
All English translations are in some measure dependent on the ground-breaking translation of William Tyndale, who in turn was influenced by Luther’s translation.  He was both a first-rate Greek scholar and master of early English prose.  To him we owe memorable phrases like “my brother’s keeper” (Gen. 4:9), “the salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13), “a law unto themselves” (Rom. 2:14) and “the powers that be” (Rom. 13:1).  As you can tell, Tyndale was attentive to the aural qualities of the Bible.  He understood that the written text was in service to its oral quality and purpose: scriptures were originally written primarily to be read and heard a loud in public worship.
When people ask me why I (and now Truro) use the ESV for public worship its oral quality is one of the primary reasons I give.  There are numerous good translations on the market; I own and read several of them.  But I prefer the ESV for public worship because it stands squarely in the Tyndale tradition of Bible translation, especially his concern for good aural sense.  Because I also believe it is important for the Christian community to memorize key portions of the Bible, the ESV excels over other translations in this regard as well.  As a literal translation, it attempts to follow the rhythm and rhyme, the alliteration and assonance of the original text. The ESV has preserved the felicitous and memorably translated phrases of Tyndale which are noted above. 
 I encourage you to buy a reference edition for your personal study.  Mostly I encourage you to “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” the word of God in whatever translation you use.  For the word of God is “living, active and sharper than any two-edged sword” exposing our souls to God and God to our souls so that we can become wise in matters of eternal significance.

*Heavily indebted to Alistair McGrath's In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible... and Ben Witherington's The Living Word of God

Friday, September 28, 2012

Through the Bible, Week 5 - part 2

"Woman-at-the-well" type scene

In an early post I discussed the importance of type-scenes in the Bible.  I believe the most siginificant among them is the woman-at-the-well type scene, for it is always a betrothal scene - and remember the Bible is a nuptial book, beginning and ending with a wedding.  There are two such scenes in the patriarchal narrative: Genesis 24 and 29.  (Exodus two, recounting Moses and Zipporah is also such a scene as is Jesus and the Samaritan woman in John 4, but we will limit our comments to the Genesis accounts).  The conventially fixed sequence of events are as follows:  travel to foreign country, encounter there with the future bride at a well or spring, drawing of water, hurrying or running to bring the news of the strangers arrival and a feast at which the betrothal agreement is concluded. Variations on this sequence are important clues to a particular episodes contribution to the theology of redemption and marriage.

Isaac and Rebekah's betrothal scene in Genesis 24 is the most elaborate (until John 4 which has the most elaborate and theologically vital dialogue between bridegroom and future bride), full of detail and repitition. It is also the only version in which the bridgroom is not present for the courting, but rather a surrogate.  It is also the only one where the young woman rather than the young man draws the water and acts heriocally - something of a foreshadowing of their future marriage.  Isaac is the most passive of the patriarchs; Rebekah is the most resourceful of the matriarchs.  

Jacob and Rachel's betrothal scene is more conventional up until the feast, when the betrothal agreement is concluded with a twist.  At this point, Laban, the father of Rachel and Leah, tricks Jacob by giving him his older daughter Leah in the place of Rachel.  Jacob works another seven years for Rachel and finds himself in a long tutelege of taking his own medicine.  He is painfully discovering what Esau must have felt like after Jacob decieved him.  The trickster is being tricked.   A biblical theology of sanctification is embedded in these chapters.

Knowing this type scene, its conventions and variations, is critical in understanding the Gospels and - indeed - the Bible in its entirety as the one true story we all find ourselves in.  My greatest and most enriching personal discovery in Bible study was this type-scene and its illumination of John 4, the whole of John's gospel, and indeed, the entirety of scripture.   Thanks to Robert Alter's book The Art of Biblical Narrative that alerted me to it and to much else.

Remember we are learning to read the part in terms of the whole.  But I am getting a bit ahead of myself.   I guess I can't help it.  I love this stuff.

Guest Preachers at Truro

I am pleased to welcome two great Anglican leaders to Truro's pulpit these next two Sundays, September 30 and October 7.  The Rev. Dr. Justyn Terry and the Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner are former pastors and now teach at two of our most strategically placed Anglican seminaries, Trinity School for Ministry and Wycliffe College, respectively.  Dr. Terry also serves as Dean of Trinity.

The Rev. Dr. Justyn Terry 

The Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner
I have asked them to further catechize us in our apostolic faith and our Anglican identity.  Please make a point to hear their sermons and their teaching at the Rector's Forum.  Dr. Radner will also have lunch with the Vestry and giving a poetry reading as a postlude to our Fairfax Fall for the Book Festival on Saturday, October 6th.  

Shed to Study Project, Week 5

We are laying new sub floor and insulation.  All of these will be "unseen" but essential to a livable space.  The unseen always makes life livable (or unlivable).

A Parish Built on Love.....

... is the theme of our winter parish mission.  We will be hosting Don Renzo Bonetti from Verona, Italy, the premier Catholic pastoral authority on marriage and family as a spiritual vocation.  In addition, two old friends of Truro are returning: Christopher West and Matt Maher.  Roman Catholic, Baptist, Pentecostal and other Christian leaders will be present.  Everyone reserve the weekend of January 26-27.  

We will be updating this post as we approach this extraordinary week. 

Don Renzo Bonetti
Christopher West
Matt Maher

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Through the Bible, Week 5

Monotheism and Marriage: The Drama within the Drama
Genesis 12-50

NOTE: This theme is one of the most crucial in the Bible and in the life of Truro.  We will be exploring it all year long and with particular intensity during our Parish/Region wide mission this January, featuring Don Renzo Bonetti, Christopher West and Matt Maher.  Details to follow.

The patriarchal narratives, which recount the spiritual exploits of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his twelve sons, are foundational to the rest of scripture.  It is not an exaggeration to say that Genesis is about the family and Exodus is about the state.  Thus, from a biblical standpoint, there are some things that are pre-political and beyond the state's competency.  Many Christians and Jews would say that marriage and family are such things.

What Genesis teaches about marriage is fascinating.  The trajectory of these chapters is that marriage functions as the divine pedagogy for monotheism.  As Abraham, for example, learns to love one woman he learns likewise to love one God.  His commitment to Sarah is the seedbed for his commitment to the LORD.  As God reaches out to humans in the revelation of his name, he simultaneously helps them to understand that revelation through their deepest and most intimate relationship.  God is restoring us to our original experiences so it makes sense that the two relationships that were ruptured together would likewise be healed together.

In the language of sociology then, heterosexual, monogamous marriage is the "plausibility structure" for monotheism.  It is the social practice that makes an unusual or un-empirical belief "plausible."  Remember, in the age of scripture, "monotheism" was the unusual or minority belief.

There are two recurring literary forms that are repeated in these chapters and are crucial to understand: repeated (with variation) sister-bride stories AND "woman at the well" scenes.  Part one of this post will discuss the sister-bride stories.  Part two will discuss the "woman at the well" type scene.  These are keys text in our ability to adequately read the Gospels.

Sister-bride stories

There are three stories in the patriarchal narratives where the husband seeks to portray his wife as his sister.  Abraham does it with Pharaoh in ch 12 and with Abimelech, the tribal king of Gerar, in ch 20.
The apple does not fall far from the tree and Isaac does the same to Rebekah when sojourns in Gerar in chapter 26.  What accounts for these stories?  Sarah was, in truth, Abraham's half sister. This is a window into the world out of which God is redeeming the human race.  The culture had decayed considerably; we are far from Eden.  W.F. Albright explains in his important book Yahweh and the God's of Canaan:

In fixing relationships [among the gods] in the ancient Near East, we must remember that both in Egypt and Canaan the notion of incest scarcely existed.  In fact, Phoenicia and Egypt shared a general tendency to use sister and wife simultaneously. Such kings as Amenhotep III and Ramses II married one or more of their own daughters as late as 14th and 15th centuries. Baal was closely associated with two other goddesses... For example, Anat was not only Baal's virgin daughter but also his consort (p128).

So Abraham told a half truth to protect himself but it was a half truth.  Abraham was a product of his world and God took him, progressively, out of the world in order that God might redeem that world through the messianic line promised to Abraham ("through your seed the nations will be blessed.").  The narratives repeat these sister-bride stories not just because they happened, or because they are a window into the ancient near eastern culture which produced Abraham, but because they are the site where God's redemptive action is most powerfully discerned.   Remember the rule of faith discussed earlier: 'the way out is also the way back in."  To heal the relationship with God will also heal the relationship between the sexes and vice-verse. It all goes together just as it all fell together.

We will discuss the other literary feature - "woman at the well" - an important "type scene" in part two of this post.  Till then think on this important truth about Abraham and his progressive faith in God: 

Abraham struggled mightily to believe in God's promises, to trust that God would fulfill his promise without Abraham's "help" - or - to state it more positively, that God would keep his promises as Abraham exercised simple faith.  Do you realize that Abraham got everything that God promised him through Hagar, except Jesus?  Sarah was an essential player in the plan of salvation and Abraham did not recognize that until the very end.  Oh, how far we have fallen from Eden. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Thought for the Week

Another gem from my favorite Rabbi:

In contrast to our civilization, the Hebrews lived in a world of covenant rather than a world of contracts.... Prophecy is a reminder that what obtains between God and man is not a contract but a covenant.  Anterior to the covenant is love, the love of the Father (Deut. 4:37, Isa. 63:7-9) and what obtains between God and Israel must be understood not as legal, but as personal relationship, as participation, involvement and tension.  God's life interacts with the life of the people.  To live in the covenant is to participate in fellowship of God and His people.

Heschel, The Prophets, 2:10. 

Through the Bible, Week 4

The Spiritual Rhythm of Scripture

There is a rhythm to scripture, a pattern of God's direction, human defection followed by divine correction.  Many scholars have observed it, but none have clarified its importance to the whole of scripture as David Noel Freedman in his very important book The Nine Commandments.

The pattern is set in the very beginning of Genesis and it is this:  God's Command, Human Disobedience and Divine Punishment.  God's command comes in the form (usually) of a covenant that has stipulations, humans violate those stipulations and find themselves outside the covenant in some form of exile.   

We see it clearly established with Adam and Eve:

  1. God commands them not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
  2. They both disobey and eat (amidst lots of drama) from the forbidden tree.
  3. They are punished - indeed, exiled from the garden - for having disobeyed God's instruction.
This pattern is repeated with Cain:

  1.  God tells him to gain mastery over his anger.
  2. Cain succumbs to his anger and kills Abel his brother.
  3. Cain is punished - exiled as a wanderer - for having disobeyed.

As we approach the end of this narrative sequence, we see it re-appear in story of the tower of Babel:

  1. After the flood, God renews the covenant with creation and tells the peoples to be "fruitful, multiply and fill the earth" being stewards of creation as God originally intended (8:17 and 9:1).
  2. Certain one's migrate and settle in Shinar "to build a city and make a name for ourselves" (11:4).  
  3. God punishes them for disobeying his command and the hubris which caused them to build a great monument to themselves, by confusing their language and scattering them over the face of the earth - another form of exile (11:8).  

This clear pattern of "command - disobedience - punishment" is the story of Israel writ large.  However, the punishment is never merely punative.  The pattern repeats itself because the point of the punishment is redemption -  a second, third, fourth, etc chance.

The story of the Old Testament is encased in a literary envelope: Abraham is called out of Babylon and the children of Israel are ultimately exiled there, ending up where it all began, having shown themselves unwilling to keep God's commands, incapable of covenant fidelity.

What does God do with such a people?  How does he rectify the problem of serial covenant infidelity?  The prophets predict a new covenant and a new person/people who will renew yet again the old covenants.

But that is getting ahead of the story at this point.   But don't miss this all important pattern.

This is yet another example of the Bible teaching us how to read the Bible.  

Thursday, September 20, 2012

One Thing (among several) that Makes Truro Special

People have asked how Alpha is doing at Truro.  In mid October we will be hosting the Alpha-USA board here and the staff has put together this wonderful snapshot power point presentation of our collective work of evangelization through Alpha.  I love this parish.  It is amazing!  Take a look and see if you don't agree.

Click here to download the Alpha at Truro Anglican presentation.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

My Influences

Over the years a number of you have asked who are the key influences in my life, especially those who have formed me as a Bible teacher and theologian.  I always confess that I am not a scholar of the Bible but I am a lover of the Bible.  I have studied with great Bible scholars so I know the difference.  There are a handful of scholars that have shaped me in ways I am still trying to understand.  I will identify the top three with which I have studied and the books or theologians they introduced me to that continue to inspire me.

1) Dr Kenneth Mathews
The first great scholar I studied with was in college.  He is Dr Ken Mathews, who now teaches Hebrew Exegesis and Old Testament at Beeson Divinity School.  He did his PhD in Semitic Languages under David Noel Freedman, one of the three or four greatest biblical scholars of the twentieth century.  Like his mentor taught him, Dr. Mathews taught me to read the parts of the Bible in terms of the whole.  Before Dr. Freedman published his phenomenal book The Nine Commandments, Ken taught me to read the Bible this way.  This reading strategy put me on the trajectory I still follow.  (BTW, along with Nashotah House, Trinity School for Ministry, Regent College and Asbury Theological Seminary, Beeson Divinity is one of the Seminaries to which I direct people for theological training).

2) Dr. Leslie Fairfield
Les was my teacher of Church History at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry.  I have never had a more influential professor, for he asked the questions that directed the itinerary of all my subsequent theological education.  His seminal article, The Anglican Tradition: Three Streams, One River, is the single best short essay on Anglicanism.  It was the first article which we published in our Truro Tract Series.  Les taught me to understand Anglicanism from the "inside out" as a movement of reform and renewal within the wider Western Church AND he taught me that "a church without a memory is a dangerous thing."  During the Anglican Crisis I asked Les who I should study for inspiration and guidance.  He recommend Wesley.  So he, in part, is to blame for my theological interest in and doctoral studies on two heroes of the faith: Augustine and Wesley.   Dr Fairfield is a master pedagogue and I often ask myself "how would Les teach this?"

3) Dr. Dennis Kinlaw
Dennis Kinlaw came into my life during my late thirties while I was teaching at Asbury Theological Seminary and writing my doctoral dissertation.  Dr. Kinlaw is a contemporary of Billy Graham and John Stott, and like them, is an evangelical statesman in the truest sense of that term.  He is simply the most sagacious man I have met and he introduced to me the theology and poetry of Karol Woytjla, who became Pope John Paul II.  His little book of brilliant theology, Let's Start with Jesus, is the single best evangelical entree into John Paul II's nuptial theology (though it was not written for that purpose).  Along with Augustine and Wesley, JPII is the most influential theologian on my thinking.  George Weigel's biography of Pope John Paul II is the only book in my libarary that I read and within four pages begin to cry.  And I still don't know why.  For these, and many other gifts, I owe Dr. Kinlaw a debt that cannot be paid.

Who are the influences in your Christian life and witness?  To name them publicly is not bragging; its gratitude.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Missio Alliance: A New Mission Initiative

Dear Truro

A new interdenominational mission initiative is being launched this spring and yours truly is involved.  Our first conference will be held next April 11-13, 2013 in Alexandria, VA. How did I get involved with this groups of mission practioners?  Partly through my work with Alpha, in part with my involvment with Fresh Expressions (a church planting movement out of the Church of England) and partly because of my deep collaboration with the Virginia Baptist.  This is a wonderful group of brothers and sisters in Christ who are rising to the challenge of the mission field which is emerging in North America.  Please read below for information concerning the network of mission practitioners and our first conference.

As the Church in North America wrestles with the complex realities of an increasingly Post-Christian cultural context, there’s a need to consider afresh what God is doing and calling us to in His Mission. In recent history we have witnessed increasing fragmentation within evangelical Protestantism and sharp denominational decline. Yet even amidst these challenges, we believe there is a unique opportunity to work toward the renewal of the Church for Mission in North America.
The Missio Alliance seeks to provide a seeding ground for such renewal. We aim to bring pastors, practitioner-theologians, leaders, and missiologists together from across the spectrum of the North American Church to work for a Kingdom-driven, gospel-centered, biblically grounded theology and ecclesial practice for God’s Mission in North America.
We seek to provide a place for theological dialogue, training, and the creation of resources to navigate present and future missional challenges. Grounded in The Cape Town Commitment of the Third Lausanne Congress, these endeavors will emerge out of a strong and distinctive theological identity that is rooted in relationships. We will seek to cross cultural and denominational boundaries, creating by the Spirit a gospel dynamic for discerning the challenges of our time.
In these early and formative stages, the Missio Alliance is seeking to build generative partnerships with leaders, churches, networks, denominations, and centers of theological education. 

For more information, click here to view the brochure. 

The Path of Peace: A Precondition of Evangelistic Fruitfulness

Dear Truro Family,
Below are words of encouragement that I received from some of our best leaders of the church, as we pioneer a peaceable way into God’s future:

We are so looking forward to welcoming Bishop Shannon Johnston and Tory Baucum to our Leadership Conference in London. Our prayers are with them –and all our brothers and sisters at Truro Anglican Church and throughout the diocese of Virginia – as you work together to bring peace, unity and healing.
Nicky Gumbel
Vicar, Trinity Brompton

Faith, hope and love are commended to us in God’s word and you have shown all three virtues. I give thanks to God for the faith you have shown in standing firm, for the hope you’ve expressed in stepping out and, most of all, for the love you have shown in staying gracious. May the God who led Israel through the wilderness go with you in the days ahead.
The Reverend Canon J. John
Conventry Cathedral

I am truly delighted to hear the news and progress regarding Truro Church from the Rector and the Bishop. This is indeed a true act of reconciliation. Therefore it is a true act of Christ as we are all called to be Ambassadors of Reconciliation (II Cor. 5.20). It always involves love and compromise but ultimately always demonstrates the love of Christ.
Canon Andrew White
Baghdad, Iraq

Tory Baucum and Bishop Shannon Johnston have built a friendship and respect despite disagreements, that provides a valuable model for the rest of the Anglican Communion.
Reverend Dr. Graham Tomlin
Dean, St. Mellitus College, London

We are delighted and heartened by all that Tory Baucum, Bishop Shannon Johnston and Truro are doing to restore relationships within the Anglican communion and to bring greater unity within the Body of Christ.
Nicky and Sila Lee
Holy Trinity Brompton

I warmly applaud the deep and patient commitment to peacemaking, and a continued relationship, that Truro Church and Bishop Shannon Johnston of the diocese of Virginia have made. When Christians profoundly disagree they are still to relate to one another as Christians. Rector Tory and Bishop Shannon, and all those who have worked with them during this painful and demanding process, have set a vital example of what this can mean. Miroslav Volf wrote that the question we need to ask today is ‘What resources do we need to live in peace in the absence of the final reconciliation?’ You have begun to provide a tangible answer to that question, which I pray will be reproduced in many other divided parts of Christ’s Church. I applaud you, will pray for you, and encourage you to continue of this way.
+Graham Cray
Archbishop’s Missioner for the Church of England and Leader of the Fresh Expressions Team

Division, dislike and even hatred are the quickest ways to kill churches. The first to leave is the Spirit of God. Reconciliation and modeling difference without enmity to a world in desperate need of it is both healing spirituality and effective testimony to Christ. I was privileged to be with Tory and Elizabeth and Bishop Shannon recently and it renewed my vision.
+Justin Welby
Bishop of Durham

It was a delight to welcome the Rector and the Bishop to London and to share a meal with them. I was deeply impressed by the spirit in which they were determined to work together for the common good and cause of the gospel. I believe that the ball is at the feet of the Christian community in this very distressful time for the world. We need to do everything we can to promote the spirit of reconciliation and offer the hope there is in Jesus Christ to a very needy world.
The Rt Revd & Rt Hon Richard Chartres
Bishop of London

We in the diocese of Kigezi thank God  for Truro’s “partnership in the gospel” (Phil 1:5) with us. You have “partnered in the Gospel” with us in ministry, visits, financial support (for the Diocese, Rugarama Hospital, and Bishop Barham University College), sponsorship of orphan children through TOUCH & Compassion International, support for missionaries, friendships, and more. You have become a precious part of our lives. Laura and I have appreciated being with you, at your invitation to strengthen the relationship. Though you cannot see the outcome, trust the Lord, for He knows what is best. Be assured that He sees your trials and He is with you in your tests. We pray that in the days ahead, Truro will “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power … by putting on the whole armor of God.” (Ephesians 6:10.11).
+George Katwesigye
Bishop of Kigezi, Uganda

Jesus asked us to love one another and lay down our lives for our friends. The Apostle Paul spoke of Christians as “ambassadors of the Kingdom of God”. I am delighted to publicly brag about Tory Baucum and Truro and to identify you as outstanding examples of what Jesus and Paul called for: kingdom  ambassadors who lovingly, in word and deed, make real the rule and reign of God for the good of others. I am proud to call you friends!
+Todd Hunter
Assisting Bishop to the Bishop of Pittsburgh/Churches For the Sake of Others

I don’t have the facilities to make a video tape greeting, but please extend my greetings and best wishes to all of the greater Truro community. The Parish and Rector are “always in my mind” –with great fondness and thanksgiving. The “Truro years” were the best in our lives.
Warmest regards in our Lord,
+John W. Howe, Ph.D., D.D.
Retired Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida, former Rector of Truro Church

Elizabeth had brain surgery shortly after our special service and I never had the opportunity to thank and recognize all the leaders who are wishing us well in our peace-making endeavors.  So I write a general thankyou to all my friends who are walking with us in the path of Christ, the prince of Peace. I also write a particular thank you to Bishop Howe who opened doors closed to me and to Nicky Gumbel who created a great environment for truthful and redemptive conversation.

 These quotes represent not only our most orthodox leaders in Anglicanism but those who are evangelistically effective leaders, the ultimate test of orthodoxy.   (Those on the right and left who remain coiled for action and are riven in spiritual sterility are seldom as orthodox as they claim.)  But these leaders walk the talk of obedience to Jesus.  

I will be sharing more about the importance of these alliances in our work and witness in the months ahead.  

Two of these leaders are serious contenders for Archbishop of Canterbury.  Please keep Bishop Chartres and Bishop Welby in your prayers.  They are dear men of God and dear friends to Truro. 

What common themes do you find in their comments and in their lives?

Shed to Study Project, Week 4

This week we put in windows and siding.  I needed to see visible progress in order to be motivated to install insulation and dry wall.  It was very satisfying.  Keith Jones was my side-kick.  Master craftsman, John Cardinal, continues to coach me in the craft of carpentry.  And Sandy Bittner oversees and coordinates the activities so the right knows what the left is doing.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Shed to Study Project, Week 3

This week was about re-wiring.  This happens before the re-inforcement and insulation.  The order is to start with the smaller installations and work up.   The Lord re-constructs us similiarily.....

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Through the Bible, Week Three

Original Sin - The Other "Original Experience"

Genesis three is one of two "hinge" passages for the Biblical story.  Both hinges are a drama of man and woman around a tree.  The first protays the first Adam and Eve around the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the fateful choice that is made there.  The second portrays the second Adam and Eve around the tree of Calvary, and the fateful choice that is made there.  All of human history turns on these two episodes, what has done, not done and what was undone there.

Genesis describes how the original unity and harmony established in creation is destroyed by the first man and woman's choice to reach outside of God's will for them, to cease trusting in the goodness and reliability of God towards them. At the end of chapter two we are told the man and woman were both naked and "not ashamed."  By chapter three, verse seven, the same couple is sewing fig leaves together to cover themselves.  What transpires to change "naked and unashamed" into "sewing fig leaves together and made themselves loinclothes?"  The drama of human history (not just the Bible - which is the meaning of human history) turns on this question.

Our first parents succumbed to a lie.   John Stott's analysis of the first temptation, leading to the first sin, is one of the best short anaylsis I have read (pp30-32).  In asking the insinuating leading question, "did God really say, 'you must not eat from any tree in the garden?'",   Stott explain that the devil in the form of the serpent opened a line of faulty reasoning that ultimately denied the truthfulness of God (actually God did not say what the devil suggests), denied the goodness of God (overlooking the broad permission the LORD already gave them - "you may eat from every tree of the garden") and denied the otherness of God ("you will be like God...").  They were already God-like, being the only image-bearers in creation.  

At the heart of original sin is denial: doubt leading to denying the goodness, truthfulness and otherness of God.   This is what separated our first parents from God, from one another and, eventually, from all of creation.  Genesis 4-11 will document this progressive social deterioration. 

If doubt and denial lead us out of relation with God then it is safe to suppose that trust in the goodness, truthfulness and otherness of God will lead us back in.  And this is what scripture teaches: we are made right with God through faith.   The way out is also the way back in.  The rest of the scriptures describe the process (grace on God's side and faith and repentance on our side) of bringing people estranged from God and one another into reconciliation with God and all of their original experience.  

As suggested at the beginning, we will be confronted again with a couple, a choice and the same God of goodness and truth.  Learning how to read Genesis three teaches us how to read the passion of Jesus.  And vice versa. 

What does Genesis three teach us about combatting temptation - and the temptor?

What might you do the next time you are tempted to think God is something other than entirely good and truthful to you?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Thoughts on Marriage

Marriage is more than human.
It is a "microbasileia," a minature kingdom,
which is the little house of the Lord.

Clement of Alexandria

A harmonious marriage alliance is at once
a holy love, an honorable love, and a
peace with God.  God with His own lips
consecrated the course of this alliance, and
with His own hand he established the
coupling of human persons.  He made two
abide in one flesh, so that He might
confer a love indivisible.

Paulinus of Nola

Marriage is the sacrament of love.

John Chrysostom

As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
      So your God will rejoice over you!

Isaiah 62:5

Let us rejoice and be glad and give HIm glory!
     For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
     and His bride has made herself ready.

Revelation 19:7

Through the Bible, Week 2 - part 2

After a string of "it was good" and one "very good" God mentions something that is "not good."  Man is alone.  OF all the animals which he has named, not one is capable of entering into communion with him.  Man in the "image of God" is made for communion, for deep abiding friendship and companionship.  So the Lord God decides to make a companion, a friend, a soul-mate for Adam (which literally means "earthling").

In this creative act, like the creation of man in chapter one, the Lord God does not merely "speak" woman into existence but rather "forms", "shapes," and "constructs" her out of the very side and substance of the man.  The terms used for this procedure have architectural overtones. So they will find shelter in one another.

The first recorded words of the man are spoken after the creation of woman, and they are in verse, a naming poem in which each of the two lines begins with the feminine indicative pronoun "this one" and is also the last Hebrew word of the poem, forming a tight bookend structure:
This one at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh
This one shall be called woman for from man was this one taken.

Man speaks when he has someone who can answer.  Language's original purpose was to serve this communion of persons.

Pope John Paul II has written masterfully on this passage.  He reminds us that before "original sin" (narrated in Genesis three) there were three other and even more "original" experiences:
1) Original solitude - humans are unique "image-bearers" and stand apart from the rest of creation in their capacity for self-consciousness and communion with God
2) Original unity - human relatedness and communion is inscribed in the body as male and female.  This is portrayed in Genesis 2 through the story of Adam's Sleep, Adam's Rib, and Adam's Song.
3) Original nakedness -  is original solitude and unity as they appear in the body, making visible the person through the body.  The body is the sacrament of the person, the transparent connection between the body and love.

One commentator captures these insights this way:  "Adam recognizes that Eve shares his human nature, yet it is embodied in a different way.  This sexual complementarity of the man and woman - their bodily differences within a common nature - reveals their call to relationship.  In fact, their sexual differentiation is what enable them to become a mutual gift of self to one another.  Their bodies' natural aptitude for union is the visible reflection of their interior capacity to form a communion of persons."  Mary Healy, Men and Women are from Eden, p. 24.

Toward the end of his life and a few years after the death of his beloved wife, Mark Twain wrote his most overtly theological and contemplative work, Eve's Diary.  The voice is Eve's, narrating life outside of the garden of Eden.  She dies.  Then Adam's voice appears, as he puts the finishing touches on his wife's manuscript.  He finishes her account of life outside the garden with these words:  Wherever she was, there was Eden.  

Mark Twain understood Genesis two quite well.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Thought for the Week

This quote on the Bible is from the great 20th century theologian and rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel:

The divine quality of the Bible is not on display, it is not apparent to an inane, fatuous mind; just as the divine in the universe is not obvious to the debaucher.  When we turn to the Bible with an empty spirit, moved by intellectual vanity, striving to show our superiority to the text; or as barren souls who go sight-seeing to the words of the prophets, we discover the shells but miss the core....To sense the presence of God in the Bible, one must learn to be present to God in the Bible. Presence is not a concept, but a situation.... Presence is not disclosed to those who are unattracted and try to judge, to those who have no power to go beyond the values they cherish; to those who sense the story, not the pathos; the idea, not the realness of God.

The Bible is the frontier of the spirit where we must move and live in order to discover and to explore.  IT is open to him who gives himself to it, who lives with it intimately.  We can only sense the presence by being responsive to it.  We must learn to respond before we may hear; must learn to fulfill before we may know.  It is the Bible that enable us to know the Bible.  

God in Search of Man, pp. 252-53.