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.

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