|Brueggemann on Peace

I’ve been re-reading Brueggemann’s book Peace (2001). Here are a bunch of excerpts from the first chapter.

Page 14:

That persistent vision of joy, well-being, harmony, and prosperity is not captured in any single word or idea in the Bible; a cluster of words is required to express its many dimensions and subtle nuances: love, loyalty, truth, grace, salvation, justice, blessing, righteousness. But the term that in recent discussions has been used to summarize that controlling vision is shalom. Both in such discussion and in the Bible itself, it bears tremendous freight–the freight of a dream of God that resists all our tendencies to division, hostility, fear, drivenness, and misery.

Shalom is the substance of the biblical vision of one community embracing all creation. It refers to all those resources and factors that make communal harmony joyous and effective.

Page 15:

Shalom comes only to the inclusive, embracing community that excludes none.

Page 16:

A second dimension of shalom is the historic political community. Absence of shalom and lack of harmony are expressed in social disorder as evidenced in economic inequality, judicial perversion, and political oppression and exclusivism.

Page 17:

The doing of righteousness and justice results in the building of viable community, that is, shalom, in which the oppressed and disenfranchised have dignity and power.

Page 18:

The consequence of justice and righteousness is shalom, an enduring Sabbath of joy and well-being. But the alternative is injustice and oppression, which lead inevitably to turmoil and anxiety, with no chance of well-being (Isaiah 48:22; 57:21).

Page 19:

In historic community, the forces of injustice and exploitation are opposed by God’s will for responsible, equitable justice, which yields security. In personal existence, driven, anxious self-seeking is opposed by God’s will for generous caring. The biblical vision of shalom functions always as a firm rejection of values and lifestyles that seek security and well-being in manipulative ways at the expense of another part of creation, another part of the community, or a brother or sister.

Page 20:

But shalom is not subject to our best knowledge or our cleverist gimmicks. It comes only through the costly way of caring.

Page 22:

It is profound and disturbing to discover that this remarkable religious vision will have to be actualized in the civil community. The stuff of well-being is the sordid collection of rulers, soldiers, wardens, and carpetbaggers in Judah and in every place of displaced, exhausted hope.

Page 23:

Shalom of a biblical kind is always somewhat scandalous–never simply a liturgical experience or a mythical statement, but one facing our deepest divisions and countering with a vision.

Addressing Galatians 3:28-29:

Called to the Lord’s single community, bearers of God’s single promise, children of the one Abraham. Paul runs blatantly over our favorite divisions–black-white, rich-poor, male-female, East-West, old-young, or whatever…. Then Paul comes right out and says it ever more flatly: “He [Jesus] is our peace (shalom)” (Ephesians 2:14).

In addition to the Bible verses listed here, two others stood out to me in this chapter: Jeremiah 6:13-14 and 29:7.

For more on shalom, click here.

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|Three Sermons on Micah 6:8

The Woodland Hills Church recently had a 3-part series on Micah 6:8. I appreciated it, so I wanted to share it here.

PART 1: Love Mercy (Greg Boyd)

Normally I would be frustrated if a speaker made this biblical mention of mercy into a purely “spiritual” concept (i.e., God’s forgiving mercy toward us), but (a) this sermon’s rendering is beautiful to me, and (b) Boyd and the congregation have a deep and wide embrace of practical mercy that transcends a single sermon. Boyd hints at some of the social relevance of the phrase, but it’s not the focus.

PART 2: Walk Humbly (Seth McCoy)

Putting up with the poor audio quality is worth it. McCoy’s analysis of authority and vulnerability comes through loud and clear. Jesus radical vulnerability has moved me, challenged me, and I‘m encouraged to hear a pastor address it head on. It seems to me that many Christians are fixated on personal and national security rather than the vulnerability Jesus modeled for us.

PART 3: Do Justice (Greg Boyd)

The series ends on the critical theme of proactively working for justice–what is due people who were created in the image of God. As a neo-Anabaptist, you can guess a general approach Boyd will bring. It’s a conviction I share with him (not surprising since I studied at a Mennonite seminary), though I have sympathy for Jim Wallis’s approach too. I respect both men a lot, and I don’t feel the need to critique either of them on this. Regardless, it’s an important debate that I’m glad was included in the conversation.

I really appreciate what Boyd says about calling some government policies “Christian.” I have tried to make that argument as well. We can say some values are consistent with Christianity, but policy implementation is so fraught with unforeseen complications and unintended consequences. Let’s not drag Jesus name into our political quagmire.

Okay, I can’t resist. A “short” comment on the Boyd-Wallis difference. I’m all for systemic change, but I’m pessimistic about how much these fallen systems in our world can be redeemed without changed hearts and minds. And before Christians try to change the world through the government (a Constantinian model), I’d like to see us try to do it through the church by using the tools given us by the Spirit and by following the nonviolent, living model given us by Jesus.

And that means (at least partially) living what we want the world to be. Do we want racial justice in the world? Then we need to exemplify relationships of respect and fondness with all people created in the image of God with one blood. Do we want economic justice in the world? Then we need to demonstrate it in the mutuality of the community of Jesus. Do we want environmental justice in the world? Then we who believe God made the world good–very good–need to learn how to live in a way that supports the flourishing of all life on the planet, not just the short-term life of a certain economy or of a certain people group (a more robust definition of what it means to be pro-life). Like Boyd says, if all 2 billion Christians did this, we just might see some systems start to change.

If we are pursuing that as a faith community, then I support humble attempts to bring those values into our shared public space of a pluralistic society. But if we try to change society through the government without first pursuing and living these themes, then I can’t support that form of activism. Said another way, if I want the government to force people to live a way I don’t even follow (or my community doesn’t follow), then there’s a real problem even beyond the church/state issue.

I hope you’re as encouraged, challenged, and blessed by the three sermons as I was.
[I typed this on my phone while we were driving down the road recently. My partner was driving. 🙂 ]

Social Location and Biblical Interpretation

Two recent articles have spoken to a theme that I believe is important to “hearing the Word.” The focus of each is social location.

Two family members shared this article with me by Brian Zahnd — My Problem With the Bible. Zahnd writes:

I’m trying to read the Bible for all it’s worth, but I’m not a Hebrew slave suffering in Egypt. I’m not a conquered Judean deported to Babylon. I’m not a first century Jew living under Roman occupation.

I’m a citizen of a superpower. I was born among the conquerors. I live in the empire. But I want to read the Bible and think it’s talking to me. This is a problem.

This reminded me of Unexpected News: Reading the Bible with Third World Eyes (Robert McAfee Brown, 1984).

The second bit of writing is by Miguel A. De La Torre, author of The Politics of Jesús: A Hispanic Political Theology. This essay–A Colonized Christmas Story–is actually based on that book. He writes:

The Gospel narratives depicts a careful dance which takes place between Rome the colonizer and Jesús the colonized. Not far from the story-telling surface is the real world dynamics and consequences of colonization. We see it throughout Jesús’ everyday experience and how he responded to the circumstances brought about by the economic and political occupation of Judea, as made evident by questions posed concerning paying tribute to Caesar (Mt. 22:20), constantly facing danger for preaching of another reign or kingdom more powerful then the one to which Jews were subjugated (Mk. 1:15), or given a death sentence under the charge of being “king of the Jews,” hence a rival sovereign (Mk. 15:2). Even the very audience that first heard the words of Jesús was fellow colonized compatriots, many of who held an abiding hatred toward the Roman oppressors. From this colonized space, the Gospel message is shaped and formed, and ignoring this historical reality leads to false remembrance, if not pure illusions.

What does my social location blind me too? What steps can I take to change that location or to somehow see with new eyes and hear with new ears? Do I have the courage and desire to do it?

Interconnectedness

When attempting to understand peace and justice issues, I believe it is important to consider how themes intersect. That’s a pretty basic, noncontroversial statement. Intersectionality matters.

Also, I think I wouldn’t raise much backlash by suggesting that much of Western “progress” has come from it’s ability to dissect, differentiate, compartmentalize and specialize. This is true whether one considers biology, quantum physics, the industrial revolution, or even larger systems of academia or society as a whole. And then suddenly we must deal with that word system.

We have this tension between understanding the parts and understanding how the parts function in systems at the point of intersection and interdependence. Somehow we need to grasp both the micro and the macro.

And I find this in biblical thought as well. Individual themes are stressed at various points, but often multiple elements are brought into tension, or into relation. For example, compare these two verses in the third chapter of John (emphasis added):

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath. (John 3:36)

We might expect John to contrast belief and unbelief/disbelief; however, he instead contrasts belief with obedience/disobedience. So we wrestle with the intersection of belief and obedience in the Christian experience. [And us religious folk are great at focusing on minor things like tithing and forgetting Jesus’ priorities of “justice, mercy and faith” (Matt. 23:23).]

We find pairs of words or themes throughout scripture, forcing us to consider how the ideas relate to each other, how they intersect:

It is good to study individual words, verses or themes, but may we also be mindful of the intersection of these various parts. Just as there are surprising emergent properties in biology as we look at higher and higher systems, I believe we find the same in moving from micro to macro levels of ethical and spiritual reflection and experience (two more sets of intersections there–ethical/spiritual & reflection/experience).

Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus

Yesterday my mother shared the following quote with me. She is reading Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus by Lois Tverberg, and she knew this would be meaningful to me:

The gods of Israel’s neighbors concerned themselves with sacrifices and ceremonies.  They were not terribly moral, and they were often fickle and cruel.  The God of Israel was unique in tying worship of him with compassion for others.21 When his people began to believe that rituals were all he required, God sent prophets to remind them that justice to the poor was his greatest concern.  This was the heart of Jesus’ teaching too. (p. 79)

21 See John Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature in Its Cultural Context (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 1994), 229-47.

She also shared these:

Dependent on God

What do I need to accomplish today? What are my responsibilities at home, at work, at my church, or anywhere else? Whatever my duties and opportunities may be, these words speak to me:

They [Jesus’ adversaries] felt sufficient in themselves for all things, and realized no need of higher wisdom to direct their acts. But the Son of God was surrendered to the Father’s will, and dependent upon His power….

The words of Christ teach that we should regard ourselves as inseparably bound to our Father in heaven. Whatever our position, we are dependent upon God, who holds all destinies in His hands. He has appointed us our work, and has endowed us with faculties and means for that work. So long as we surrender the will to God, and trust in His strength and wisdom, we shall be guided in safe paths, to fulfill our appointed part in His great plan. But the one who depends upon his own wisdom and power is separating himself from God. Instead of working in unison with Christ, he is fulfilling the purpose of the enemy of God and man. (Ellen White, Ch. 21 “Bethesda and the Sanhedrin,” The Desire of Ages, pp. 208, 209)

Sherman: Preview Passages

KingdomCallingIn the first chapter of Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good, Amy Sherman looks at a number of “preview passages,” or verses in the Bible that paint a picture of God’s good future. For example, she lists these two on page 27:

Wolves will live with lambs. Leopards will lie down with goats. Calves and lions will eat together. And little children will lead them around. Cows will eat with bears. Their little ones will lie down together. And lions will eat straw like oxen. A baby will play near a hole where cobras live. A young child will put his hand into a nest where poisonous snakes live. None of those animals will harm or destroy anything or anyone on my holy mountain of Zion. The oceans are full of water. In the same way, the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord. (Isaiah 11:6, NIRV)

People from many nations will go there. They will say, “Come, let us go up to the Lord’s mountain. Let’s go to the house of Jacob’s God. He will teach us how we should live. Then we will live the way he wants us to.” The law of the Lord will be taught at Zion. His message will go out from Jerusalem. He will judge between people from many nations. He’ll settle problems among strong nations everywhere. They will hammer their swords into plows. They’ll hammer their spears into pruning tools. Nations will not go to war against one another. They won’t even train to fight anymore. Every man will have his own vine and fig tree. And no one will make them afraid. That’s what the Lord who rules over all has promised. Other nations worship and trust in their gods. But we will worship and obey the Lord. (Micah 2:4-5)

Throughout the chapter she lists more preview passages in her descriptions of both justice (3 elements) and peace (4 dimensions). Then in the chapter’s conclusion, Amy addresses two potential problems that she can imagine resulting from pastors preaching these “preview passages” in their congregations.

On the one hand, some parishioners might wrongly assume that they (or the church) can “just do it.” That is, they may vastly underestimate what it takes to usher in these foretastes of justice and shalom. They may fail to rely sufficiently on Jesus and the Spirit. While the preview passages permit us a big God-sized vision for our labors and our hopes, there is a danger of them encouraging Utopianism. The kingdom of justice and shalom will arrive in its fullness only at the return of the King. And only in the King’s power–and by his wisdom and guidance–will we make progress in transforming our communities. (pp. 43-44)

The issues we face are huge. And complicated. We need God’s wisdom, hope and power. Next, Amy turns to a different potential error.

On the other hand, we must not allow parishioners to believe that, because the full vision of the preview passages won’t [be] realized until the “age to come,” we don’t need to do anything now. It’s certainly true that we are waiting for the kingdom’s full consummation at Jesus’ return. But while we wait, it is the task of the church–Christ’s body–to enact and embody foretastes of the coming realities of that kingdom. We as Jesus’ disciples have the amazing privilege of participating in his work of restoration. Indeed, joining him in this work constitutes the very center of our redeemed lives. (p. 44)

So while we can’t usher in perfection with our sweat alone, we’re not off the hook. We still have very important work to do as the body of Jesus.

Craig Nessan speaks to this same reality in Shalom Church: The Body of Christ as Ministering Community (2010). Nessan states, “The call to social ministry is not about what the church should be doing in this world in response to the call of Jesus. Rather, social ministry is an expression of the very character of the church as the body of Christ” (p. 8).

Questions

  1. What image of Jesus does my local community get when it looks at my congregation?
  2. If the image is distorted in some areas, how can I work to remedy this error? What are my first three steps?
  3. In what ways is the image positive? Who can be thanked and encouraged for this reality?
  4. Which of Amy Sherman’s two problems am I personally more prone to–(a) thinking I can do it all or (b) thinking I don’t need to or can’t do anything?
  5. How big is my vision for what God can do and wants to do in the world through the body of the church? How does my vision affect my attitudes and actions?

NOTE: I previously wrote about Kingdom Calling here.

Justice & Righteousness

I shared these four links with a friend earlier today:

Spirituality & Peacemaking

If I were to teach a class on spirituality and peacemaking, these are some of the resources from which I would draw inspiration:

Modern (Evangelical) Church History

Reading two books I received for Christmas, I came across the following accounts of modern evangelical history. Though these are not exactly “scholarly” sources, they present the history as I have previously heard it described. Ron Sider speaks a bit about this history in the collection of interviews, Heaven and Earth. Also, look for the reflection questions at the end of this post.

moneyThe Man Who Quit Money (Mark Sundeen, 2012)

For those not raised fundamentalist, the Rapture seems a cartoonish fairy tale. But in the past half century the notion has become mainstream. As the percentage of Americans belonging to mainline Protestant denominations has steadily dropped since the mid-1960s from a quarter to a tenth, those belonging to evangelical or fundamentalist churches have held fast at about 25 percent. Factoring in population growth, that firm percentage reflects an increase in numbers. In the popular imagination, the child’s nightmare has been replaced by the Apocalypse of the Book of Revelation, with its four horsemen and pits of boiling sulfur. Those raised in the faith accept as fact that this world’s days are numbered. Clocks will stop, and time as we know it will cease. (pp. 29-30)

The year was 1946, decades before fundamentalism reached the mainstream. “Born again” and “personal savior” were phrases cried out under revival tents, not under the dome of the United States Capitol. Billy Graham’s evangelical crusades would not begin until 1948, and Jerry Falwell would not found his church until 1956. (Though some might quibble, I use the terms “fundamentalist” and “evangelical” interchangeably. Both describe a faith based more on literal Bible reading than on membership in an organized church.) As the size and scope of secular government increased during the New Deal and World War II, and mainline churches focused on social justice instead of personal salvation, more Christians responded to what looked like the apocalypse–D-day, Auschwitz, Hiroshima–by seeking the moral certainty of scripture. (p. 33)

Among evangelical Christians, all of whom await the Second Coming of Jesus, there are historically two camps: postmillennialists and premillennialists. For most of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, most were of the “post” variety, meaning that they expected the Messiah’s return after the thousand-year reign of peace. In order to hasten His arrival, they set out to create that harmonious world here and now, fighting for the abolition of slavery, prohibition of alcohol, public education, and women’s literacy.

The chaos of the Civil War and industrialization cause many evangelicals to rethink their optimism. They determined that Jesus would actually arrive before the final judgment. Therefore any efforts toward a just society here on earth were futile; what mattered was perfecting one’s faith. As historian Randall Balmer writes, these believers “retreated into a theology of despair, one that essentially ceded the temporal world to Satan and his minions.”

This schism widened in the twentieth century. After the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial in which fundamentalists were humiliated by the national press, premillennialists retreated into their own subculture, shunning the politics and causes of the times. “They turned inward,” writes Balmer, “tending to their own piety and seeking to lure others into a spiritualized kingdom in preparation for the imminent return of Jesus.” (pp. 36-37)

redRed Letter Revolution (Shane Claiborne & Tony Campolo, 2012). This excerpt adds more details to the history of the terms fundamentalism and evangelical.

During the late 1800s, scholars in Germany created a critique of the Bible that really tore traditional beliefs about the Bible to shreds. They raised questions about who the authors of Scripture were and suggest that much of the Bible was only the rehashing of ancient Babylonian myths and moral codes. In addition, theologies came out of Germany from the likes of Friedrich Schleiermacher, Albrecht Ritschl, Ernst Troeltsch, and others who raised serious doubts about such crucial doctrines as the divinity of Christ and his resurrection from the dead.

There was a reaction to all of this “modernism”–the name given to this recasting of these new Christian teachings that were attempts to be relevant to a rational and scientific age–and a collection of scholars from the Unites States and England got together and published a series of twelve books called the Fundamentals of the Christian faith. These books were an intelligent defense of the traditional doctrines that we find outlined in the Apostles’ Creed.

It was in reaction to those books that Harry Emerson Fosdick, a prominent liberal preacher in New York City, preached a sermon called “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” which was printed and circulated throughout the country. Thus the term fundamentalist was born.

The label fundamentalist served us well until about 1928 or 1929. From that time on, and especially following the famous Scopes trial in which William Jennings Bryan argued against Darwin’s theory of evolution, fundamentalism began to be viewed by many as being anti-intellectual and naive. Added to this image of anti-intellectualism was a creeping tendency among fundamentalists toward a judgmentalism, by which they not only condemned those who deviated from orthodox Christian doctrine but any who did not adhere to their legalistic lifestyles, which were marked by condemnation of such things as dancing, smoking, and the consumption of alcohol.

By the time the 1950s rolled around, the word fundamentalist carried all kings of negative baggage…. About that time Billy Graham and Carl Henry, who was then the editor of Christianity Today magazine, began using a new name: evangelical. Again, orthodox Christians had a world that served us well, and did so right up until about the middle of the 1990s. By then, the word evangelical had lost its positive image with the general public. Evangelicals, to a large extent, had come to be viewed as married to the religious Right, and even to the right wing of the Republican Party.

When preachers like you [Shane Claiborne] and me go to speak at places like Harvard or Duke or Stanford and are announced as evangelicals, red flags go up and people say, “Oh, you are those reactionary Christians! You’re anti-woman; you’re anti-gay; you’re anti-environmentist; you’re pro-war; you’re anti-immigrant; and you’re all in favor of the NRA.” Defending ourselves, we say, “Wait a minute! That’s not who we are!” I think evangelicalism also has been victimized by the secular media, which is largely responsible for creating the image by treating evangelicalism and the religious Right of the Republican party as synonymous.

It was in this context that a group of us, who were sometimes referred to as “progressive evangelicals,” got together and tried to figure out how to come up with a new name for who and what we are. We kicked around various names and eventually came up with the Red Letter Christians. We wanted people to know that we are Christians who make a point out of being committed to living out, as much as possible, what those red letters in the Bible–the word of Jesus–tell us to be and do. We’re not into partisan politics, though we have a bias for political policies that foster justice for the poor and oppressed, regardless of which party espouses them. (pp. 3-5)

Note: Donald Dayton provides a history of evangelical social reformers in Discovering an Evangelical Heritage (1976).

Reflection Questions:

  1. Where does my faith tradition fit in this history? Where does my family fit?
  2. How have world events shaped church history and theology?
  3. How would you change church history (the reaction to world history) if you could?
  4. What is at stake with labels and public perception?
  5. Are the red letters central to my Christianity? Why or why not?
  6. What is the relationship between the red and black letters of the Bible, between what Jesus said and what came before and after him?
  7. If you’re a Protestant Christian (the assumed main intended audience of the book), what elements from mainline Christianity and from evangelical/fundamentalist Christianity do you value or accept? If you’ve read the introduction to the book, you know the question could be expanded to include what elements of Catholicism (and Orthodox) are also meaningful to you?
  8. Is there any value in contemplating this history, or is it all nonsense or simply not relevant for our world today?