Archive for August, 2010

Chris Wright, in his fine commentary on Deuteronomy (NIBC series), comments on the “missiological significance” of Deuteronomy (page 8):

Deuteronomy is a book for people on the move, literally at first, spiritually and morally thereafter.  It sets Israel on the boundary of the land and looks beyond that boundary to what lies in store for Israel as it moves into the future with God.

Furthermore, it is a book addressed in the name of a God on the move–Yahweh, the God who has been dramatically involved in Israel’s past movements, and indeed also in the movements of other nations on the great chessboard of history.  It presents, therefore, a God of sovereign worldwide purpose and a people with a sharp spiritual mandate and moral agenda.

Earlier Wright fleshes out some of the dynamics between God’s mission and our mission:

“[T]he detailed requirements of God on Israel are all founded upon the grace of God manifested in their history.  This is not only a structural matter but is also reflected in the way the very vocabulary of Israel’s response to Yahweh in chapters 12-26 mirrors that of Yahweh’s actions toward Israel in chapters 1-11.  This [is the] priority of grace and divine action within the covenant framework…”


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“When John echoed the Old Testament prophecies of the doom of Babylon and the doom of Tyre, using them to compose his own prophecy of the fall of Babylon, he was not ignorant of their original reference to the great pagan powers contemporary with the prophets who pronounced their oracles.  But he saw Rome as the successor to Tyre in its economic empire and the successor to Babylon in its political oppression.  Since the evil of these cities was echoed and surpassed by Rome, how much more must God’s judgment on them also fall on Rome.”

Biblical prophets did two things:  (1) they addressed their contemporaries about their own present and the immediate future; (2) they “raised hopes” so as “to continue to direct later readers to God’s purpose for the future.”  “Biblical prophecy was only preserved in the canon of Scripture because its relevance was not exhausted by its reference to its original context.”

Richard Bauckham, who I’m quoting throughout this post (Theology of the Book of Revelation) notes that grasping this approach helps readers avoid two extremes.  The first is the historian’s extreme, supposing that Revelation was only concerned with the immediate events of its audience–the historian’s extreme.  The second is the fundamentalist’s extreme, which so concentrates on what Revelation has to say about some future events at the end of time that it neglects “to ask what it meant to its first hearers”.

A bit of experience reading the Bible shows us that “prophetic promise frequently exceeded fulfillment.”  So in the OT, we find glorious promises of restoration that by anyone’s view must go beyond what actually happened when, say, Israel returned from Exile.  The prophets really were vindicated, “but in another sense they continued to inspire hopes for a much greater salvation event in which God would be vindicated universally as the God both of his people and of the nations of the world.”

Even though the premier issue at hand in Revelation is the church versus the world in the middle era of the Roman Empire, the Apocalypse “depicts the impending conflict between the church and the beast in terms which are eschatologically universal rather than historically realistic.  It superimposes the vision of the coming of God’s universal kingdom on the immediate future which John and his readers confront.”

And it still works the same way for readers today, who can look back on the judgment on the beast that was Rome’s Empire, or the protection granted the woman in the wilderness in the midst of her conflict (depicted by William Blake above) and believe in God’s promise to gain the victory and rescue his people in the future . . . no matter how dark the 21st century becomes for them.

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Speaking on Naomi, David Jackman (cited by Simon Gathercole) notes that despite her grief and complaint, she does not lose her faith:

She consciously places all her pain, bitter experiences and hopelessness within the structure of God’s sovereignty, and she leaves the explanation and responsibility with him. Whether that is escapism or realism entirely depends on the character of God. This book is designed to vindicate that character of steadfast love and dependability and to generate a similar faith in the Lord. He provides in his person the only context in which faith can learn to cope with the uncertainties, pain and bitterness of life. For he is also Yahweh – the God of covenant-love and faithfulness.

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Following up on fidelity in Lonesome Dove, on the flip side, there are commitments that are not necessarily so commendable:

* The fellas tend to embody the slogan, “to thine own self be true”.  Call keeps quiet even on things that should be mentioned, Gus tells us, because he “ain’t much of a mentioner”.

* The commitment to one’s friends and one’s self interferes with the ability to commit to one place and one woman and family.  This is Clara’s final blast against Gus and Call, and it’s a sharp one.

* Related to this is the fact that although Clara’s charge applies to them differently (Gus is out for fun and rest, and Call is out for work and activity, yet both of them stick with each other), self-commitment is the great trump in both cases.  Workaholism and whores both eventually rob you of things you love, whether a life with Clara “and a passel of kids” (Gus) or acknowledging your son (Call).

Those alternatives are of course difficult–the book does not pretend that life with Clara would have been a bowl of cherries.  The various terroristic sociopaths scattered throughout have effectively left society and healthy social norms, and Bol and Elmira and Po have left (or killed!) their spouses for similar reasons:  that sort of long-suffering commitment and connection (the cowboys would call it “entanglement”) not only flies in the face of fun and freedom and self-actualization, it’s pretty dang brutal at times.

Gus or Call attempting a committed life could perhaps be compared to a mustang taming itself.  It’s not natural, and it sure wouldn’t look pretty.

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Lonesome Dove: Fidelity (1)

This week I finished Lonesome Dove (the Pulitzer Prize winning book and the miniseries), but I’m not sure it’s finished with me.

The book is more a study of the human condition than a morality tale, although there’s some good that shines through and some bad that casts a shadow (sometimes personified, as in Blue Duck).

One key theme permeating the book is fidelity, notable both in its presence and its absence:

* commitment to pursue and hang horse thieves and other criminals and to rescue those in trouble, even if it means hanging one of your closest friends, having to bury someone over nothing more than a dozen horses, or risking the lives of young companions

* commitment to keeping your word, even if it means hauling a corpse two thousand miles on a wagon

* commitment to doing one’s job, even if it means loss of limb (personified in Deets)

* commitment to respecting others, with the possible exception of “Messicans”.

* joyful commitment to brutal honesty with others, including the ability to call one another out on very personal matters

* commitment to life “where you are”.  Even though it’s a travel epic, there’s still a sense in which the movie preaches a certain commitment to contentment.  So Gus tells Lorena, the whore who longs for the freedom, cool weather, and sophistication of San Francisco:  “Life in San Francisco is still just life. Now if you want only one thing out of life too much, it’s bound to be a disappointment. So, the only healthy way to live life, as I see it, is to enjoy all the little everyday things, like a sip of whiskey in the evening, a soft bed, or a glass of buttermilk, or say a feisty gentleman like myself.”  (This is also epitomized in the scene where Gus chases buffalo…)

In a separate post, I’ll look at the darker side of fidelity.

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I’ve spent a fair bit of time pondering where the divide lies between orthodoxy and heresy, that divide famously defined by J. Gresham Machen as Christianity and Liberalism (whatever the latter happens to go by; it often assumes Christian names for its gods and churches).  Al Mohler is the President of Southern Seminary; he thinks that abandoning a young-earth, six-day view of creation is a great gateway to apostasy.  Others point, with more validity, to the cruciality of particular understandings of atonement and inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture.

Machen himself, however, pointed to one great door through which so many enter, and I think this may be the grandaddy of gateways to another religion:

The truth is that liberalism has lost sight of the very centre and core of the Christian teaching.  In the Christian view of God as set forth in the Bible, there are many elements.  But one attribute of God is absolutely fundamental in the Bible; one attribute is absolutely necessary in order to render intelligible all the rest.  That attribute is the awful transcendence of God.  From beginning to end the Bible is concerned to set forth the awful gulf that separates the creature from the Creator.  It is true, indeed, that according to the Bible God is immanent in the world.  Not a sparrow falls to the ground without Him.  But He is immanent in the world not because He is identified with the world, but because He is the free Creator and upholder of it.  Between the creature and the Creator a great gulf is fixed.

J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Eerdmans, 1923), 62-3.

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Our friends at Advance Memphis are in the final four to win the World Magazine HOPE award for effective compassion. We highlighted the opportunity to vote when the polls first opened and now, with a few hours until voting stops at midnight, we ask you again to vote by clicking HERE if you have not already and pass along the voting opportunity to someone else.

It only take a few seconds and, if Advance wins, they get $5000. Follow the link to vote, take some time to pass it on, and if you are wondering why we love Advance, take a moment to look through some former posts. Keep in mind you get one vote per computer, so if your phone has internet you can vote there too.

to vote, go HERE.

to learn more about Advance Memphis, go HERE.

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