Tuesday, April 27, 2010

ROCK your faith! A few core tenets. . .

I've been chewing over a variety of theological ideas with you all over the approximately year and a half that I've been blogging.  These have been supplemented by long conversations with my good friend Ben (who's not blogging theology right now), as well as a variety of books I've mentioned.

Ben and I have come to the realization that four key concepts do a pretty good job of summarizing where we're departing from the Evangelical mainstream, and in these four areas we find a clear call to re-focus our faith.  The mnemonic "ROCK" helps me to think about them:

Rightly dividing the word - The concept that the Bible contains many words of God, though it is not, in its entirety "the Word of God."  Carefully, prayerfully, and in fellowship with others, discerning the words of God within the Biblical texts and narrative, is important to understanding God's priorities and commands.

Open View of God & the future - Though it is wildly unpopular in orthodox Evangelical circles, the notion that God has released the control of certain decisions to his creation, and actually experiences those things unfolding in time, is a liberating perspective.  It completely does away with the determinism of predestination, as well as a lot of the theodicy arguments of why a good God allows evil.  In its place we find God interacting with his creation in a dynamic and sacrificial way, suffering with those who suffer even as he ministers to their wounds, or commissions his people so to minister.  In the Open View, God calls us to work because he has work he ACTUALLY WANTS US TO DO.

Christus Victor as the model for atonement, within the context of a Warfare Worldview:  This perspective recognizes that sin is not merely the failings of humans, but the corruption of a whole swath of creation (maybe all of it) by God's enemies, the Principalities and Powers of which the New Testament writers spoke.  Jesus' death and (more especially) resurrection were key battles in that war, in which we are now engaged with God in fighting to take back territory and citizens occupied and enslaved by the enemy.  Paradoxically, as the weapon of Jesus' victory was to take on death and defeat it by rising anew, so our greatest weapon is to take on hatred and defeat it with his love, for our weapons are not carnal.

Kingdom citizenship - We understand the salvation of Jesus not to be simply a future escape from earth to heaven, but rather his naturalizing us into citizenship in his kingdom (the new creation) here and now.  As God breathed into Adam the breath of life in the first creation, so Jesus breathes into his disciples the Breath (Spirit) of new life in the new creation.  With our new citizenship we are now aliens in this present enslaved world, and we (individually as citizens, and collectively as embassies or outposts of the kingdom) are called to work as reconciling ambassadors and members of a divine resistance, participating with Christ to take back his territory and his people from the slavery under which they now live.  Our goal is not to get people "believing" in a "religion;" it's to help people to recognize who is their true king--to bow the knee to Jesus as Lord now, and then to join us as citizens of Jesus' growing kingdom.

These four concepts have the capacity to ROCK some dearly-held doctrines.  But I hope the will also ROCK a few lives and maybe even  ROCK a church or two!  ROCK on!

9 comments:

RJ said...

Rock on Dan! Great post of which I 100% agree and I also believe is 100% biblical. It is amazing what you can find when you don't approach being a disciple of Christ through a filtered lense as many denominations do.

Ruth said...

This is a wonderful summary of what is desperately needed among those who are satisfied with calling themselves "believers" and excluding any who do not conform to their little lists of "correct doctrine". I pray it may be heard far and wide -- and heeded.

Josh said...

I'm with you fully on points 3 and 4, Dan. I continue to think about how a Christus Victor understanding might encompass the variety of New Testament atonement images. And I think it is essential for churches to focus more on the kingdom of God if they are to free people from the assumptions of modernity, including the notion that the individual self and the nation-state are the highest goods.

I agree with you partially on your second point. I think God has sovereignly decided--freely chosen--not to run the world like a cosmic puppet-master pulling strings (though God could choose to do so). But you seem to be pushing beyond this idea.

Finally, I don't find the way you articulate Scripture in your first point compelling. The claim that the words we read in the Bible (some or all) are God words suggests a divine dictation understanding of Scripture's inspiration. I find little if any support in Scripture for this view; moreover, it is easily ridiculed. (When a person tells me that s/he heard God's voice audibly, I suspect mental illness.) Another approach that also allows for making distinctions in our reading of Scripture is the understanding of the Bible as "God's word" rather than as "God's words." In this view, the Holy Spirit inspired the biblical writers to write (inspired writers), but did not dictate the words they wrote (inspired words). Therefore, when we wrestle with parts of God's word (say, God-sanctioned genocide), we are not disagreeing with words spoken by God; rather, we are questioning the words of an inspired author who was nonetheless human and fallen.

Dan Martin said...

I should clarify point 1, Josh. I don't know if you've read my series on Biblical inspiration, but I most categorically do "NOT" mean to imply any sort of "divine dictation." This post is a good place to start. In it I argue that we should let the Biblical texts speak for themselves, and when they self represent as witnessing to God speaking, then we take them at their word, with particular emphasis to the recorded words of Jesus in the gospels, and the "Thus saith the LORD" portions of the prophets. My approach is not to say that even these are directly dictated, but rather that they are the faithful witness of honest people who heard and observed the things they report hearing and observing. My overall approach, then, is that "rightly dividing the word" means seeking to understand the texts according to what they claim to be saying, not superimposing an artificial doctrine of inspiration and an equally artificial imprimatur as the "Word of God" over the whole assemblage.

In your example of God-sanctioned genocide, I look at the "words of God" referenced above (Jesus and the prophets), and from them conclude that the claims of the writers of the Pentateuch, Exodus, and Kings/Chronicles were as jingoistic and apologistic for their own national identity, as they sound in the adjacent passages, and that (rather like the leaders of certain modern nations) they had a habit of crediting God for their own bellicose vision. It is precisely separating out the "words of God" that leads me to an alternate interpretation of the rest of the words in the book.

As to the Open View of God, you are right that it goes beyond the notion that God is not a "divine puppet-master," to the point that God has truly released not only the control, but the determined (and therefore knowable) outcome of events, to the choice of his creatures. Again, take a look at my posts on Open Theology for more detail (even better, read Greg Boyd's excellent book God of the Possible), but the bottom line is that God's ability to accomplish that which he wills to accomplish is due to his sovereign authority and power, not due to (or dependent upon) foreknowledge. It accepts the interactive God presented in the scriptural account, as truly interacting with creation, not merely play-acting something he's already determined and known.

Hope this clarifies things, and thanks for engaging!

Josh said...

So, if I'm reading you right, "God's words" are the words that the Bible directly credits to God (the Old Testament's "Thus saith the Lord" divine speeches) and the words of Jesus (who is God in the flesh). These words take hermeneutical priority over other words in the Bible. This move makes sense to me (though the phrase "God's words" still makes me itchy).

I need to do more reading on "open theism."

Dan Martin said...

These words take hermeneutical priority over other words in the Bible.

Yes, exactly. You have summarized my position correctly. I sympathize with your "itchiness" regarding the term "God's words," given the abuse to which such terms have been subjected over the years. I use it partly for the parallelism-but-yet-contrast to the notion of the entire Bible as "God's Word," which as you now know, I dispute.

Take a look at these two quotes by Tom Wright for a little clarity there. Remember that Jesus as the Incarnate Word is the real Word of God, and everything we have written is testimony of him.

Thanks again, Josh. It's useful to have the feedback to clarify what I am--and am not--saying.

Josh said...

Helpful quotes. I like Wright.

groansfromwithin.com said...

Dan... I am with you guys on points 2,3,4 or should i say I agree with "OCK" but am not sure about "R". Now, I am sure that if you fleshed that out a bit I may find myself compelled, but right now i am not clear on the difference. One of my weaker points in my own theological study is understanding biblical inspiration. Not sure where I land except that I believe that the Holy Spirit had some involvement. Your explanation to Josh is good and I should take time to revisit your series you mention. -- Kurt

Dan Martin said...

Thanks Kurt. I believe you and Josh are giving me the impetus to write a new Biblical Inspiration post to recap, summarize, and clarify my position there. But since I don't have time to give that post justice right now, let me just do a quick-and-dirty for you:

1) The contemporary Evangelical/Fundamental notion of verbal-plenary inspiration (VPE) in all its various forms is a serious error. It results in a "flat-book" hermaneutic where any obscure phrase or verse can be lifted out and inflated into a whole dogma, with the result frequently being the generation of a great deal of heat, very little light, and a lot of unnecessary division and controversy among believers.

2) The related doctrine, perhaps more popular these days, that the Bible is "inerrant in the original manuscripts," claims to be more nuanced than (1), but if you examine the doctrines extracted and defended under it, you find the same basic notion--that God breathed out the entire Bible and every little bit must still be seen as "God's Word."

3) My position is that both (1) and (2) above are extrabiblical claims, superimposed on the canon by later teachers, and not claims the biblical texts ever make about themselves. Rather, some of the texts refer to themselves specifically as God speaking, and the vast majority make no such claim. There are plenty of times when God has spoken to his people; many are recorded by faithful witnesses in the Biblical text, and we can, I believe (with proper discernment, in the context of the body), trust their witness.

"Rightly dividing the word," then (although I admit I'm borrowing a phrase out of context--ha!) is the process of exercising Spirit-led discernment to discover, within the texts of the Bible, that subset which are actually God's words. I have proposed that Jesus' words as recorded in the Gospels are the pinnacle of this hermaneutic, and below them but still high in the order of things are the "Thus saith the LORD" declarations of the prophets. But that's only my initial outworking of a hermaneutic which must be prayerfully and repeatedly exercised within the context of a Spirit-led body.