Archive for the ‘reading’ Category

Not a Man But a Boy

From Bonfire of the Vanities:

…in that moment Sherman made the terrible discovery that all men make about their fathers sooner or later.  For the first time he realized that the man before him was not an aging father but a boy, a boy much like himself, a boy who grew up and had a child of his own and , as best he could, out of a sense of duty and, perhaps, love, adopted a role called Being a Father so that his child would have something mythical and infinitely important: a Protector, who would keep a lid on all the chaotic and catastrophic possibilities of life.  And now that boy, that good actor, had grown old and fragile and tired, wearier than ever at the thought of trying to hoist the Protector’s armor back onto his shoulders again, now, so far down the line.


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The Revelation of Jesus

In Revelation 1:9ff, John introduces himself to the recipients of his letters as one who, “in Jesus”, shares in “the tribulation, the kingdom, and patient endurance”.  He describes what he has seen:  the Messiah, the Son of Man, holding the seven stars (churches) in his right hand while he walks among them.  Michael Wilcock scatters some nice comments through this section of his commentary.

The lampstands are scattered across the earth; but the stars are held together in the hand of Christ.

En Patmo we suffer; but En Pneumati we reign. [Noting the juxtaposition of being in exile on Patmos, but being in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.]

The Christian knows he lives in the real world; but as to what it means, where it is going, why it treats him so capriciously, how can he know these things?  [L]et it be related to that world, and he begins to understand.  He comes to see a plan in history, and to grasp what is really happening, where he fits in, and how it will all end.

He is able to face the tribulation, because of what he knows of the kingdom:  to confront the storms, because his foundations are deep in the rock.

‘The tribulation and the kingdom’ produce ‘the patient endurance.’  That is the object of the book of Revelation.

Michael Wilcock, The Message of Revelation, 42.

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The Church is sojourning, going through wild places on the way to an awesome destination. We are being led out of the wilderness, and while we lose a few (and sometimes almost entire generations) along the way, and the task of leadership requires discipline, but that doesn’t mean throwing them under the bus.

“The Church is not ideal. It is not, nor was it ever intended to be, a gathering of the nicer people in town. God is not fastidious in the company he keeps. There are sinners aplenty, hypocrites in droves, the ill-mannered and unwashed … men and women who are on the way to growing up to the stature of Christ. Not many of them are there yet.” Eugene Peterson, The Practice of Resurrection, p. 184

HT: Maxie Dunnam

Peterson’s book is on Ephesians, about (among other things) resurrection life at work in believers. Highly recommended.

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In biblical scholarship one inevitably encounters data that appear challenging or “threatening” to traditional points of view.  To oversimplify, there are three possibilities:  head-in-the-sand denial of difficulties; learning to accommodate to them, allowing that God uses Scripture as he chooses, which is sometimes not in ways we would expect; or rejecting the value of Scripture altogether.

After a fairly destructive review of Ehrman’s book, Misquoting Jesus in Books and Culture, Robert Gundry closes with a word of encouragement not just for Ehrman, but for all of us.

Despite the foregoing criticisms, my sympathies often lie with Ehrman.  The rigidity of the fundamentalism in which I grew up far exceeded anything he has described concerning his own experience.  His inveighing against homogenizing the distinctive messages of biblical authors for the sake of historical harmony strikes in me a resonant chord.  And at an early stage of my doctoral research on Matthew’s use of the Old Testament, what increasingly seemed to count as misquotations—the usual suspects:  reversing Micah’s description of Bethlehem as small into a strong denial of that description (2:5–6), quoting Hosea’s reference to Israel’s exodus from Egypt as though it predicted the Messiah’s stay in Egypt and exit from there (2:15), and so on—led me at one point to say aloud in the privacy of my study, “God, it’s not looking good for you and your book.”  So why didn’t I arrive at Ehrman’s “dead end”?  I have no explanation except to say that “by the grace of God” . . . I was spared a hardening of the categories through which Scripture is perceived. Or since they were already hard—unreasonably hard—I should rather say that the Spirit of God softened my categories so as to give them an elasticity that accommodates the human features of Scripture without excluding its ultimately divine origin.  I pray that Ehrman and all others like him may enjoy such a softening.

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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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