Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Biblical Global Justice

This semester at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary one of the classes I'm taking is Biblical Global Justice with the Rev. Dean Borgman. As soon as I saw the syllabus I knew I wanted to take the class. Our first textbook is "Rise Up, O Judge: A Study of Justice in the Biblical World" by Enrique Nardoni. It's by far the most scholarly of the books he's requiring for the class. But it's well worth the reading, if only for the fact that it makes abundantly clear that the Biblical model of justice predated the Biblical text. I know that this can seem scary to many Christians, especially evangelicals, since it seems to put into doubt the uniqueness of the Biblical witness. I used to struggle with that same tension. Many years ago I used to say that the pagan writers borrowed their ideas from the Hebrew writers and that that explained the similarities between the Biblical text and the surrounding cultures. I didn't know then that these writings predated the Biblical witness by hundreds of years in some cases. So as I came to realize that the Biblical writers were the ones doing the "borrowing" I had to decide how I was going to deal with that. I couldn't go back to my previously held position. The archeological evidence is far too strong to put the Hebrew text in the front of the line chronologically. I still believe very strongly that the Biblical text is unique in comparison to other texts, in that it reveals like no other texts of that time (or since) the singular Creator God Yahweh over and against the other gods of the surrounding nations. Is there a great deal of similarity between the temples, the covenant language, the creation stories, the flood narratives, and the Biblical narratives? Absolutely. As an evangelical, I believe that God has spoken in a peculiar way through the Hebrew prophets so that his Person and attributes are revealed in a way that gives us an accurate picture of Who God Is. Is it exhaustive? Not in the least. But is it sufficient for a right knowledge of the Creator God of the universe. Yes. It is also sufficient for a saving knowledge of that Creator God to those up to the time of the first advent of Christ. Once again, as an evangelical Christian, I believe in the unique salvific centrality of Christ's Person and Work.

The reason for all of the prolegomena here is that it is sometimes the case that those who would affirm what I've just affirmed regarding the composition of the Biblical text also negate or at least relativize the centrality of the Biblical witness and by extension the centrality of Yahweh in the OT and Christ in the NT as regards salvation.

In tonight's class, in particular, we dealt largely with the issues of economics and what the Bible says about economic issues. The readings so far have leaned liberal in their analysis. But remember, this is Gordon Conwell Seminary, which is not, and never has been known as, a liberal seminary. It's a very theologically "conservative" i.e. orthodox school within the evangelical Christian tradition. But because this class is dealing specifically with the issues of global justice, and it's trying to address them from a Biblical perspective, some of the passages (and analyses) are going to sound downright liberal, whereas other passages are going to come off sounding very conservative. If your theology offends political partisans of both stripes, you're probably somewhere that's good. It's not guaranteed of course. The standard isn't who you offend. It's who God offends. If you find yourself offending the same types of people He offends in the OT and NT, then you're doing well.

Do you sound like you might be a crypto communist because you like early Acts too much, and Mary's Magnificat gives you the warm fuzzies? But at the same time you're thought to be dangerously narrow-minded because you actually believe Jesus when He says that there is no way to get to the Father except through Him, and that in the same Acts you agree that there is no other name under heaven by which women/men may be saved? If you believe that all of these passages are equally inspired, then you just might be a Christian who is equipped to speak to the idolatries of both the left and the right. You may also be a Christian who can speak to the idolatry of consumeristic consumption that has ravaged the spiritual life of American evangelicalism. But in order to be able to speak to that particular idolatry, you (I) must first own up to our part in partaking of that deadly delicacy, turn from it, and then reach out to those caught up in the same mesmerizing meme which tells us we are what we own. And that we can never own enough. Our diagnosis must be savagely precise so that we can administer the anointing oil of the good news of Christ and His Kingdom. Nothing else will do. Nothing more, because nothing more is needed. Nothing less, because nothing less will suffice. Christ and his Kingdom gives us the motivation to move mountains in our world all the while knowing that moving a mountain and not knowing Christ means you've just rearranged the chairs on the Titanic. As Christians, we're called to heal, mend, tend, and minister to the whole person, body and soul. Nothing less and nothing more. Because nothing less will suffice and nothing more is needed.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary

It's day two here at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. I'm still settling into the routine of life out here. It's been eight years since I last was in an academic environment. Classes start on Friday morning. Yesterday, today and tomorrow is orientation for all of the new students. I drove out on Monday morning and drove through the day until about 1am. I stopped in Lee, Mass. for the night and took off again at 6am for the last leg of the trip. I got into Boston around 8:30am and drove right into rush hour traffic. It was stop and go for about half an hour. But once I hit 95 north it cleared out considerably. As I got closer to GCTS I kinda knew where I should exit and I kinda knew what the main roads were that led into South Hamilton. Well, needless to say I drove for almost 2 hours around the northern suburbs of Boston looking for GCTS. Eventually, I found a cop in Beverly, a neighboring town, and asked him for directions (he was the third person I had asked BTW!). Once he realized that I was hopelessly lost, he told me he would lead to the seminary himself. A few minutes later, after he got done having a vehicle towed, he pulled beside me and led me to the front gate of Gordon Conwell! What a blessing! I wish I had gotten his name, but in any case I am very grateful for the services of this gentleman from the Beverly Police Department. He made what was turning into a very stressful day into one that I now look back on with gratitude.

The days leading up to my trip out here were just as dramatic. I only applied three weeks ago. And I also only received confirmation that I was accepted last Wednesday! My last day at work was last Friday, so either way I had to move on to something new. I drove out here with only the acceptance confirmed, nothing else. No housing had been secured. No financial aid had been secured (that's still being worked on!). But I came out with my car packed to the rafters trusting that God was behind all of this. I was excited, anxious, sad, happy, nervous; just about every emotion ran through me in the past week. In fact, on Saturday I really struggled with anxiety right off the bat and had a hard time getting packed. Thankfully, good and faithful friends helped me that day get through and I was able to get most of my belongings packed away in storage.

Then Sunday came. I went to church. It was great as usual, but it was also emotional to see my friends there, knowing that I wouldn't be seeing them again for several months at least. Then after church Jeff and Melissa had a dinner for me with a bunch of other friends, many of them from my Hope College days. That was even more emotional. Finally, Sunday night came and I became so anxious that I thought I might not even go. Every potential drawback came roaring into my mind of why I shouldn't do this. Everything that could go wrong stared me in the face. I was terrified of what might happen. I was also very sad at the prospect of leaving Holland after 12 years. I had built up many very important friendships over the years, not the least of which was Jeff and Melissa and their little boy Tsepo. That was the hardest part by far. Even writing this causes tears to well up in my eyes.

But once again, Jeff spent time with me late Sunday night and we talked, I cried, he listened, and he asked the right questions. A little later a friend (Jon) who is staying at the house came in and we also talked for nearly an hour until I calmed down. I finished up packing what I could into my car that night, got what sleep I could, and got up Monday to leave.

I woke up later than expected simply because I was both physically and emotionally exhausted. So I didn't actually leave until 9:30am. But because of the rest and the conversations I had had the night before I awoke in a much better frame of mind. I packed what was left that could fit in my car and I said goodbye to Jeff, Melissa and Tsepo and drove off. I found out the next day when we spoke on the phone that that moment was the hardest one for them. We've shared our lives for over two and a half years and had become family. I will always be grateful for what they have been for me both as friends, but also as my sister and brother in Christ.

The trip ended up being much better overall than I had expected. The car ran perfect the whole way. The trip itself, by the end, was just over a thousand miles (part of that of course was due to my getting completely lost right at the end). Anyway, here it is, day two, and my housing is provided for; which was my biggest worry. And my financial aid is slowly coming together. I still need to find work. But I trust that that too will fall into place. So far I've had no reason to doubt that God will provide for me. After all, he's been doing just that throughout my whole life. This particular adventure is just one more example.