Archive for September, 2013

Questions That Must Be Asked: the “Big Picture” questions

Upon coming to faith in Jesus and beginning what would become a regular practice of reading and studying the Scriptures, I began to be stirred to know God, walk with Him closely, and understand what He was asking of me. Along with the truth I was gleaming, I began being intrigued, and sometimes daunted, by the great many details within the pages of Scripture, its many stories (seemingly unrelated to me at first), and the cultural practices that were very different from us today. Overtime, I also began having a growing suspicion that the many, seemingly unrelated stories of Scripture were all part of one long grand narrative that God was intertwining, and I was determined to know how this Story had taken and was continuing to take shape in the present.

As I became more and more familiar with the Scriptures in general and continued seeking to understand its mainline story, I began to naturally compare what I had learned in private study, to what was being taught and shared in Bible studies, youth group messages, Sunday morning sermons, and casual conversations with friends and family. There always seemed to be certain core beliefs I shared. However, I began noticing that some of my interpretations of Bible passages differed. This, I have come to believe, is very normal and happens with most believers on some level. Having said that, while I would argue that having differences, even slight nuanced differences, is very normal, I would also argue that some interpretations are more appropriate than others. And by appropriate, I mean interpretations that are rooted more closely to the historical context(s)—including the literary, grammatical, political, cultural, socioeconomic, and geographical contexts—reflected in the many books and pages of the Bible. In addition, and equally important, studying God’s Word in this light should help the student of Scripture to more readily recognize the interconnectedness of the Bible’s many small stories as being part of one Grand Story driven by God’s purpose for the world which involved, front and center, the call of Israel.

Since gaining a better understanding (albeit this process is not done) of the Scripture in its historical context and the Grand Story it makes known, I have often wondered why not all Christians do the same? Much could be said on this matter as there are many multifaceted issues involved, but one reason must be addressed. It’s the matter of question asking. Studying and learning Scripture ought to involve asking questions, that is, questions that arise in our minds and hearts which are rooted in a deep desire to seek and understand what the Scriptures say and the truth they proclaim. This should be obvious as learning anything in life requires asking questions, but it is not so obvious to everyone. In fact, one of the main reasons why the Bible is not studied or read contextually is that certain questions are in fact stopped in their tracks before ever being asked. They are stopped, I believe, by the theological framework(s) Christians are currently working within and under. In other words, certain ways or systems of thinking about God (which is what I mean by theological framework(s)) and this universe keep people from learning more than they currently know and believe. These frameworks have signs attached to them (so to speak) that say things like “Do not ask questions that will comprise this foundation!” regarding questions and or critiques of a different particular theological point of view. They hinder people from accepting the very real possibility there is another way to interpret the Scripture that be true or more accurate than one’s current interpretation (i.e. including interpretations on particular verses, passages, books of the Bible, or what the overarching Grand Narrative is).

There’s been a trend in the Church since its beginning that if one’s questions do not work within the present theological framework of a particular church or Christian institution,—today this includes denominations, seminaries, Bible Colleges, and yes, whole branches of Christianity—they either won’t be addressed or they won’t be addressed appropriately. This isn’t to say that truth is now relative or that there is no truth to speak of. Rather, way too often, churches with established institutional structures and ministries assume that their written and spoken doctrines and theologies are completely adequate, in no need for critique, as if to say inerrant and God breathed (like the Scriptures) and not open to even the possibility that their present theological framework is lacking or in need of repair. In contrast to this pattern of living and learning, the follower of Jesus ought to be earnest in his or her pursuit of truth (and God) with confidence and humility, knowing that the theological structures of men and women should always be open to critique and at times correction or rebuke, if not from man, but from God’s Spirit himself. My own theology, doctrinal stances, and lens of interpretation are not an exception to this. In light of my rebuke of those not open to critique of their theology and or doctrines, if my interpretative lens is shown to be lacking, then I ought to be willing to listen to the reasons why by my critics. If a theology or doctrinal stance is true and adequate than it should invite any question and be open to any and all critique.

As I have pursued God and sought to learn what the Scriptures reveal, I have asked a great deal of questions and brought those to God in prayer, to His people in conversation, and to the Scriptures. In fact, I have spent a great deal of time searching the Scriptures for answers to those questions. At times, I have found answers to my questions, and at other times, I have not. Out of all the questions asked, there are a number of them that I believe are vitally and critically important for Christians to begin asking if they have not already. These have come to surface for me after years of study, listening to hundreds if not thousands of sermons, participating in hundreds if not thousands of conversations with other Christians on various Bible related topics, and simply attempting to live out the faith I profess in Jesus for the last twenty years, among Christians and those who are not (yet). These questions did not all come to me at once, but gradually over time.

Many of them were motivated and inspired by the discrepancy I began noticing in my early years of following Jesus between what was being taught in various Church gatherings (i.e. Bible studies, Sunday or Wednesday sermons, books, commentaries, and other resources, etc.) and what the Scriptures actually say. I found the discrepancy was largely due to two reasons: First, the Bible was not being taught in its historical context (as I mentioned above). Secondly, the basic theological framework held by the person, group, church, or Christian institution giving the teaching was (and for some, still is) not deeply rooted in the long and powerful Story of Ancient Israel, and particularly, God’s purpose to call and use Israel for the sake of the whole world. Instead it was rooted wholesale either in the entire theology (or theologies rather) of the Protestant Reformation, or that of Roman Catholicism, or the Eastern Orthodox, or some other recent contemporary theology (like that of rapture theology or other escapist theologies rooted in Plato’s “Theory of forms” and 2nd century Gnosticism). My contention is that unless a person’s theological framework and subsequent doctrinal stances are rooted deeply in Israel’s long story and their part to play in God’s overall purpose in and for this world, they are not rooted in the Scriptures, or the God whom they make known.

My desire and intention in making these claims is that others may also recognize those and similar discrepancies, and then ask the hard questions that will (with God’s help of course) point them closer to the truth. Asking hard questions when it’s not popular to do so will likely mean, as it has meant for me, that when push comes to shove you seek to please God rather than please people. This is why, in part, I have been able to explore answers to the questions I have been asking. To be of help, I included some (not all) of those hard questions below. My challenge to you, the reader, is to ask them to yourself, then take necessary time to think about your current answer(s), and why you believe them to be true or adequate. Writing your answers down can and does help tremendously to see your beliefs in front of you and will serve to be a resource to return to in the future, on your own and with other believers. The below questions are not necessarily in any particular order of importance. However, I did order them in such a way as to help those who have never given the long and powerful Story of ancient Israel serious attention, especially in terms of treating it (and treating them-the people) as a highly significant part of the Grand Story of Scripture. To put it another way, without recognizing Israel in the Grand Story of Scripture, the Story will simply not make much sense, and or your theology will end up being rooted in something other than the Bible. My questions are purposely leading, pointing toward a particular end, and some of them hint at or clearly indicate the answers (at least, what I believe them to be) within the questions.

David_-_The_Death_of_Socrates

The Questions

Does the Bible contain a Grand Narrative (a long interconnected Story)?
What is the Grand Narrative of Scripture?
What was and remains God’s purpose for this world (and universe) in the Grand Narrative?
What does it mean that humanity was created in the image of God?
What is the connection between the God’s overall purpose and humanity being created in His image?
Why does the Old Testament spend so much time on the history of the people of Israel?
What was Israel’s part to play in this Grand Story? In other words, what did Yahweh God call them to do?
(First, how did Yahweh intend to use Israel as the solution for Adam and Eve’s disobedience?
Second, how is Israel intended or called to restore the broken image of God? Third, and lastly, how is this calling to be understood as being for the sake of the whole world?—the Abrahamic calling and promise of Genesis 12:1-3)
What was the purpose(s) of the Law of the Covenant between Israel and Yahweh God enacted at Mount Sinai?
Did Yahweh expect Israel to obey Him by obeying His Covenant Law?
What were the blessings Yahweh promised if His people obeyed His Law?
What curses did He promise should they disobey His Covenant Law?
Did Yahweh expect perfection in obedience? And further, did He expect perfection in obedience in order to obtain the blessings of the Covenant? Was it all or nothing as some Christians today suggest?
If Yahweh forgave His people Israel via the regular sacrifices and the yearly sacrifices given on the Day of Atonement, then why did He include a promised curse within the Law in case they disobeyed Him? Again, was it all or nothing (i.e. this may be related to at least the previous four questions, but potentially to all the above)?
Did Israel accomplish their calling (i.e. the Abrahamic calling and promise of Genesis 12:1-3)?
What was the curse of the Law? (Hint: destruction and exile).
How does Yahweh view the promised exile should they disobey Him?
What were the main reasons that Yahweh sent Israel into exile? (i.e. Was it for breaking the Covenant Law in general? Was the formula “obey and get blessings and disobey and get curses”?
Wasn’t it for Israel’s grand scale consistent disobedience in at least three main areas?—idolatry, Sabbath breaking, oppression of their own people by their leaders and other Hebrews?
Didn’t the prophets attest to these three main areas? (see all of the Prophetic Literature in Old Testament).
What was life like for Israel during their years in exile?
What did Yahweh promise to Israel should they repent for the sins that led to exile?
Didn’t Yahweh promise to forgive Israel for the sins that led to exile by no longer holding them to their account, then blessing Israel, their land, and by extension the whole earth—recalling the Genesis 12 project, giving His Spirit to them who would write His Law on their minds and hearts; using a kingly Messiah He would judge the nations who had exiled Israel and exalted themselves over Yahweh taking credit away from Yahweh for only things He should be credited; and then extend covenant status to any and all Gentiles who repent; all of this speaks to new creation on a grand scale).
What were the signs that Yahweh’s Messiah had come?
Did the work of the Messiah not only have to do with Israel but also Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the garden?
Wouldn’t the Messiah work on behalf of Israel in order to be the solution for Adam and Eve’s disobedience and fulfill the Abrahamic calling of Genesis 12:1-3, not to mention, the restoration of the kingdom of Israel—which was, to begin with, originally intended to be part of the plan to set the world right?
How did Israel’s hope (in Yahweh’s promises) affect how they lived during 2nd Temple Judaism?
Why were there so many competing factions in Judaism during 2nd Temple Judaism?
When Jesus of Nazareth looked to a crowd and said, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand?” what did he mean?
How are we to understand Jesus’ message of the kingdom (its content, its purpose, its fulfillment in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection)?
What did Jesus believe about himself? At what chronological point in his life on earth did he become self-aware of His calling?—What do the Gospels tell us about this?
What did his closest friends and disciples think Jesus was about and what he was doing when he was proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand?
What did they think about his forgiving the crippled man of his sins prior to healing him?
Did Jesus depend on the Holy Spirit (that is God’s Spirit)? For what? To heal? To obey the Law of Covenant? To abstain from sin?
Was Jesus of Nazareth able of sinning? If not, wouldn’t this diminish his obedience to the Father?
Wouldn’t not being able to sin mean then that the temptation of Satan really was no temptation at all since (in that view) he wasn’t able to sin to begin with?
However, if Jesus of Nazareth was able to sin (not that he did), doesn’t this magnify his obedience to the Father? Wouldn’t this also mean that when Satan tempted him, he really was tempted? (read each and every word of the following passages carefully: Hebrews 4:14-16; Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13)
Did (and How did) Jesus obey the Covenant Law that Yahweh gave to Israel to obey?—the Law passages we find in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy? (Hint: Yes. But in his obedience, he also critiqued present day misinterpretations and misuses of the Law by teachers of the law and others).
Did (and How did) Jesus critique some of the current interpretations of particular spiritual parties and leaders in Israel? (such as the teachers of the law, Pharisees, Sadducees, and others).
What was Jesus doing? What was his main mission or priority? Wasn’t it for the lost sheep of Israel?
Again what do the Gospel writers tell us that can help answer the above questions?
How should we understand Jesus statement that he came for the lost sheep of Israel as first priority?
Wasn’t it due to the fact that Israel did not (and could not) fulfill the Abrahamic calling of Genesis 12 and the Mount Sinai Covenant between Israel and Yahweh, due to grand scale disobedience in the 3 areas mentioned above? In other words, wasn’t Jesus representing Israel as Messiah, both in Israel’s original calling and covenant, by his entire life, death, and resurrection?
How should we understand Jesus being a Jew? Of the lineage of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? In other words, does Jesus Jewish identity have anything to do with his mission on the earth to Israel?
And along with that last question, why did Jesus become a Jew if he was the word who was God (John chapter 1)? Asked differently, why did God become a Jewish man? And not a Caucasian in the 21st century? Or you name the ethnicity and race, why a Jewish man?
How should we understand Jesus life as a whole (not just his death or resurrection)?
How did the Gospel writers, Paul, and other New Testament authors understand Jesus death in light of his life lived? Also, what did this mean within the Long Story of Israel (from the Abrahamic calling/promise to the Sinai Covenant to the failure to obey the Law on a grand scale to the future hope of Israel as told by prophets)?
How should we view Jesus death as necessary and God’s will if human agents were involved? If Jesus believed it was God’s will (the Father’s will), then does this mean God forced the Jewish leaders and the Romans to crucify him? Doesn’t this conflict with other current theological paradigms? Could the crucifixion of Jesus been both God’s will and human will? How?
And doesn’t the Gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) paint the picture that human agents were to blame for Jewish death, namely hard hearted religious leaders, a large crowd of Judeans, and the Roman authorities (namely Pilate on behalf of Caesar—see in particular Matthew 26-28; Mark 14-16; Luke 19-24; John 18-21; and Peter and the apostles’ statements to the Jewish religious leaders in Acts 2-4)?
What did the Jews believe about a future resurrection (those who believed it would occur someday)?
How did the Gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John), the apostle Paul, and other New Testament writers understand Jesus resurrection? (see NT letters and epistles).
What did they believe was raised?—his spirit alone? His body alone? Or his body and spirit (working against the notion of immortality of the soul)?
Didn’t they believe that God the Father raised Jesus from the dead, who had been completely dead for three days, by His Holy Spirit?
What did Jesus resurrection mean for the forward moving Story of Israel?
What did Jesus’ resurrection mean as a fulfillment of Israel’s (and God’s promises) hope foretold by the Hebrew prophets (Old Testament prophets)?
What did Jesus’ resurrection mean as restoring the image of God that was broken due to Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the garden?
What did Jesus’s resurrection mean as fulfilling the call of Israel (Genesis 12:1-3), the very call that Israel on a grand scale failed to accomplish?
What did Jesus’ resurrection mean as being a prototype for all humanity and all creation?
What did Jesus call his followers to do to continue his mission on earth?
What did he promise his Spirit would do in, through, and for them?
What did the coming of the Holy Spirit mean for the first Christian Jews in relation to the promises of Yahweh through the Old Testament prophets?
How did Paul and the other New Testament authors understand the saving work of Jesus death on a Roman cross?
What did they mean by Jesus death being first for the Jew and then the Gentile (hint: the above questions and their answers regarding the Story of Israel, their calling, covenant, and future hope will help to answer this).
How did they believe God was holding the arrogant nations—who held Israel in exile and all those who continued to have power over Israel following their return from exile—accountable by the cross and blood of Jesus?
Along with this, how did they believe God was holding Israel accountable for the sins that led to exile by the cross and blood of Jesus, as well as their present and future sins?
Along with this, how did they believe God was holding the whole world accountable for their sins by the cross and blood of Jesus? (i.e. How did they believe worldwide justice was accomplished by the cross and blood of Jesus?)
How did Paul (and other NT authors) view God’s purpose, work, and accomplishment to set Israel, and by extension, the whole world (and all creation) right by the man Jesus Christ whom they now called Lord?
How did Paul (& other NT authors) understand Jesus to be Lord (over the Jews, Gentiles, and all creation)?
How did Paul (& other NT authors) understand the Church in relation to the Old Covenant People of God (i.e. the church is the inclusion of Gentiles as the people of God but not to the neglect of Israel, nor a replacement of Israel)?
How did Paul explain God’s pronouncement whereby both Jews and Gentiles may obtain covenant status as the people of God (i.e. the Church, the Body of Jesus Christ)? In other words, how is someone declared in the right, justified by God?
How did Paul and other NT authors view the Spirit of God (echoing the question already asked)? And what is the work of the Spirit in the life of the Church?
What is the Church called to do by the Spirit in and for this world in light of what God has done in and through Jesus and will someday do in and for us at the future Resurrection?
How ought the Church to live in light of the future Resurrection of all things, when the dead are held accountable for their lives, when darkness will be no more, and heaven and earth will finally and fully join together? When, as Paul put it, God will be all in all (1 Corinthians 15:28)?
How do the above questions about Jesus and His Church intimately fulfill Yahweh’s call of Israel (i.e. the Abrahamic calling and promise) and purpose for the whole world?

Again,
Does the Bible contain a Grand Narrative (Story)?Yes
What is the Grand Narrative of Scripture?……
What is your part to play in it?……
Have you joined the Story?……