27 October 2009

st augustine on the *task* of being a bishop

"In the life of action...what is to be treasured is not a place of honor or power in this life, since 'everything under the sun is vanity' but the task itself is to be achieved by means of that place of honor and that power--if that achievement is right and helpful, that is, if it serves to promote the well-being of the common people...

That is why the Apostle says: 'Anyone who aspires to the episcopate aspires to an honorable "task."' He wanted to explain what episcopate means: it is the name of a task, not an honor...Bishops who have their heart set on a position of eminence rather than an opportunity for service should realize they are no bishops."

Amen, St Augustine--and may I suggest that the principle holds for all in Christian leadership. The moment we forget that our calling to ministry is first and foremost about the task of ministering, rather than the honor of being a minister, we are not ministers.

Preaching to myself this morning...

26 October 2009

miroslav volf on forgiveness

Hillcrest Medical Center holds an annual clergy seminar, and this year they brought in a big gun: Miroslav Volf, a theology professor at Yale. The topic was "Forgiveness." A few of my notes from the day:

+ Our culture has three modes of existence: Taking, Trading and Giving. These correlate to Revenge, Retributive Justice and Forgiveness.

+ Our culture has been stripped of grace--we don't know how to give or forgive well -- forgiving is an art. Forgiveness is a power that one has over another, and it is necessary to set that power aside in true forgiveness. When we forgive, are we actually using it as a tool to blame and condemn the offender, to hold the offense over him or her?

+ Two essential elements of forgiveness: 1) name the wrongdoing and condemn it; and 2) don't count the wrongdoing against the offender -- separate the person from the act.

+ At two different points during the seminar he said, "A consistent feature of sin is that it doesn't want to be sin." True on many levels--I take it primarily in the sense that sin wants to be accepted as it is, as holy. But I think there is almost a wistfulness to sin: while on one level it wants to be accepted as it is, on another level it wishes to be undone, cleansed and remade into holiness.

21 October 2009

rome sweet home (well, for some)

The big Anglican news this week is that the Roman Catholic Church has made it easier for large groups of Anglican Christians to reunite with the Bishop of Rome, a relationship officially severed by Henry VIII in 1534. Rome has established Personal Ordinariates, where groups of Anglicans (presumably a diocese or province) could come into full communion with the Pope. It allows married and celibate Anglican priests of that group to be ordained as Roman Catholic priests.

Many elements of this announcement are not new. Anglicans have always been invited to “convert” to Rome. Pope John Paul II created a “Pastoral Provision” in 1980, which allowed individual married Episcopal priests who convert to become Roman Catholic priests. It also allowed “Anglican Use” parishes, Roman Catholic parishes that retain Anglican distinctives in worship, vestments, etc.

The key difference in this announcement relate to Ordinaries. An ordinary, in this ecclesiastical context, is the man who has jurisdiction over a territory or group. Usually this person is a bishop. An Anglican bishop may be married, but Rome retains, with the East, the celibacy of bishops. Were a married Anglican bishop to convert, he would not be allowed to be ordained as a bishop in a Personal Ordinariate (an unmarried Anglican bishop could be made a Roman Catholic bishop). He could still have an administrative leadership role with that group as a priest, and be the Ordinary in that manner. However, he would not be able to carry out the sacramental duties of the bishop; a bishop would have to be brought in for ordinations, etc.

This news brings a new area of consideration for a number of Anglicans worldwide. The downward spiral of the Anglican Communion and the lack of strong, decisive leadership from the Archbishop of Canterbury make this option desirable for many. On the ground here in Tulsa, this announcement changes nothing—we are not now a Roman Catholic parish, nor are we now part of a Roman Catholic diocese. We maintain our utmost love and respect for our elder brothers in the Roman Catholic Church. We strive for the unity of Christ’s Church. Yet we also believe and trust that we are a part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, fractured and broken though it might be.

Links of interest:
+ The actual announcement from the Vatican
+ A response from Archbishop Robert Duncan of the Anglican Church in North America
+ A response from Bishop Jack Iker of the Diocese of Fort Worth
+ A brief reflection on what this announcement says about the current state of Anglicanism, by Diocese of South Carolina Canon Theologian Fr. Kendall Harmon
+ The perspective of a former evangelical Anglican priest, now Roman Catholic priest, on some challenges presented by this news
+ Picture above is from an Anglican Use parish, Our Lady of the Atonement, in San Antonio, Texas

19 October 2009

a figural reading of “david and goliath”

All of Holy Scripture points to Jesus Christ. I’ve thought for some time that an interesting way to teach a 1-year Bible introduction would be to start with the Gospels and move outwards from there. The Old Testament looks forward to Christ. The New Testament looks backward to Christ.

While the Old Testament’s witness to Christ is primarily seen in the prophecies of Jesus’ birth, suffering, death and resurrection, the Church has historically also seen in the OT a secondary, more narrative witness to Christ, a witness typological or figural in nature.

For example, Numbers 21 has the story of the people of Israel being bitten and killed by snakes. Yahweh instructed Moses to create a bronze snake and raise it on a pole. Any Israelite who had been bitten by a serpent could look up at the snake and live.

The Church has understood this story on one interpretive level as a foreshadowing, or prefiguring, of Christ and his work on the Cross. St Augustine wrote, “As then formerly he who looked to the serpent that was lifted up, was healed of its poison, and saved from death; so now he who is conformed to the likeness of Christ's death by faith and the grace of baptism, is delivered both from sin by justification, and from death by the resurrection: as He Himself said; That whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. What need then is there that the child should be conformed by baptism to the death of Christ, if he be not altogether tainted by the poisonous bite of the serpent?” (quoted in St Thomas Aquinas’ Catena Aurea)

Note that this very patristic hermeneutic is focused on Christ, not on contemporary concerns. Many exegetes today will look to the Old Testament primarily for transferable principles, such as “the Lord helped Moses and he’ll help you.” While that method is certainly legitimate, figural interpretation explores another layer in the stories of the Hebrew Scriptures, looking for pictures of our Lord and his life on Earth.

Here, I want to pursue a figural reading of the story of David and Goliath. Elements of my exegesis are reflected in various patristic writers, but I have yet to find a systematic figural interpretation of 1 Samuel 16 & 17 such as I offer here.

I begin with the actual battle of David and Goliath, then move to the secondary characters of David’s brothers and King Saul, and conclude with a “practical application” that moves beyond an exercise in exegesis to good news for the modern follower of Jesus Christ.

David & Goliath
The primary opponents of 1 Samuel 17, David and Goliath, foreshadow the true opponents of the Gospels: Jesus and Satan.

David is the preeminent Old Testament character associated with Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is of the line of David (Matthew 1:1). The Gospel of Matthew includes no less than nine references to Jesus as “Son of David.” David can easily be seen as prefiguring Jesus Christ.

Goliath is the enemy of Israel, bent on terrorizing, defeating and ultimately enslaving the people of God. While these qualities do not make him unique in the Old Testament, he is certainly the epitome of evil in this story. Goliath prefigures the Adversary.

David attacks and defeats Goliath with two weapons: a sling, and Goliath’s sword. As David approaches Goliath in the field of battle, 1 Samuel 17:40 tells that he put “five smooth stones” into his pouch for use with his sling. There is nothing in the immediate context to indicate why the writer gives this unusual detail of the number of stones.

From a Hebraic numerological perspective, the five stones could represent the five books of the Law. Other Old Testament parallels of five include the number of several materials used in the building of the Tabernacle (e.g. Exodus 36:10, 16, 31-22, etc.). More closely might be the few times in the historical books where groups of five kings opposed to Israel are mentioned, such as five kings of Midian (Numbers 31), or five Amorite kings (Joshua 10), both groups of which were eventually executed. Each of these possibilities has potential hermeneutical value in a non-Christological interpretation of the “David and Goliath” story.

For this essay, viewing the Old Testament through the lens of the Gospels, let us look to the life of Christ, more specifically, the five wounds suffered at his crucifixion: two in the hands, two in the feet and one in the side. The wounds of Christ, signifying his death, were certainly the means by which Christ defeated Satan on the Cross. As five smooth stones were gathered by David to conquer Goliath, so five wounds were suffered by Jesus as he defeated Satan.

The second element of David’s victory over Goliath was Goliath’s own sword, which David uses to cut off Goliath’s head. The prefiguring continues: just as David used Goliath’s own weapon to completely defeat, so Christ used Satan’s own weapon to completely defeat him: by death he destroyed death.

David and his brothers
1 Samuel 16:1-13 opens with God instructing the prophet Samuel to go to Jesse of Bethlehem, to anoint one of his sons as king of Israel. Each of David’s brothers is rejected by the Lord, despite their appearance of being perfect candidates. Finally Jesse calls David, who is away tending sheep. Yahweh instructs Samuel to anoint David king, which he does, in front of his brothers.

In 1 Samuel 17, the three oldest brothers are part of the army of Israel facing Goliath and the Philistines. They react with anger at David’s appearance at the battle (1 Samuel 17:28), even though David is only there following the bidding of his father, bringing them gifts of food (Caesarius of Arles sees in Jesse a type of God the Father sending his Son).

Let us consider David’s brothers as prefiguring the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. They would have been considered the presumptive favorites for leading Israel, just as David’s brothers. Just as David’s brothers saw themselves rejected in the anointing of David as king, so the Pharisees would have seen themselves passed over at the baptism of Jesus (for which they were present, and which clearly signified God's favor upon Jesus). The Pharisees and Sadducees then respond in anger and jealousy to the Son who had simply been bringing them gifts from the Father. David’s brothers, in their presence, rejection and anger and jealousy, prefigure the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ day.

Saul’s importance to the story comes in 16:31. He has heard that David is questioning why Israel allows Goliath to speak about Israel the way he does, and sends for him. When he finally allows David to go fight Goliath, he clothes him in his own armor, which David cannot use. David instead needs to fight Goliath on his own terms, not as an armored warrior, but as a shepherd. The people of Israel try to clothe Jesus in their own conception of what a Messiah should look like, seen especially in the disciples’ numerous queries about when Jesus will restore Israel, as well as the shouts of Hosanna to the Son of David at the Lord’s entrance to Jerusalem. Saul, the King of Israel representing the people of Israel, also prefigures the people of Israel in the time of Jesus.

So let’s say you buy it. The question now: so what? Surely it is an interesting hermeneutical exercise, but is there nothing more? At least two applications come to mind.

On one level, it is encouraging for the Christian to gain perspective on Christ’s victory over sin and death. Any time that we reflect on what Jesus did for us on the Cross, we can grow in our love for the Lord and our commitment to obedience to his will for our lives. That ought to be enough for any faithful follower of Jesus Christ.

However, there is another interesting applicative layer, for which we go to the verses of 1 Samuel 17 immediately following the slaying of Goliath—the decapitation does not end the story. The Philistines see that Goliath is dead, they flee, and the Israelites, with a shout, take chase and pursue the Philistines as far as Gath and Ekron.

Here is where the believer can take great courage today. It is clear in the New Testament that Israel prefigures the Church. Just as the battle with the Philistines was won by David conquering Goliath, so the battle with sin, evil and death was won by Jesus conquering Satan and the grave in the Crucifixion and Resurrection. We, the Church, are like Israel routing the Philistines—we’re in the mop-up of the battle against evil. Let us never retreat from a defeated foe; let us remember that the battle has been won, the victory has been secured by Christ’s victory on the Cross.

13 October 2009

stop karen armstrong!

Researching Islam the last year or so, one of the books I've read is Karen Armstrong's Islam: A Short History. I wasn't expecting much, but the book was worse than I thought it would be.

In the (short, thank God) book, rather than actually detailing the promised "history" of Islam, Armstrong instead seems more motivated to demonstrate that Islam is actually the progenitor of human rights in the West, a model for all to follow in religious and cultural tolerance.

The entire book was more of an op-ed piece for modern religiosity than an actual account of the historical development of Islam.

Unfortunately, Armstrong's religious writing goes far beyond deconstruction of Islam only, but covers much of the face of contemporary religious thought. Her influence is both widespread and unfortunate.

"Stop Karen Armstrong!" is a brief, enjoyable article penned by one of my favorite contemporary preachers, Fleming Rutledge:

'Karen Armstrong and others like her are "religious" without a clue as to the Subject of theology. If she really understands the Church Fathers at any level, one seeks evidence in vain. If she has ever heard of the Reformation she does not indicate it. If she has ever had any serious dialogue with any major Protestant theologian her writing does not show it. If she has ever heard of the doctrine of revelation she shows no sign of it. She is a walking, talking, writing exhibit for Freud's basic thesis: God is what we have made up out of our own wishes and needs.'

Read the whole article,"Stop Karen Armstrong!", at generousorthodoxy.org

12 October 2009

prayer as product of the church

"Even if [the Christian] does not use a traditional formula like the Lord's prayer or the 'Glory be to the Father', he prays within a whole framework of Christian ideas received from others. When his prayer is most spontaneous and from his own heart, the belief according to which he prays, the general type of his prayer and much--probably most--of his actual phrasing are actually drawn from what he has learned from others--his teachers, Christian services he has attended in the past, his mother, his Bible, many different sources. Ultimately it all comes to him, even the use of his Bible, from the tradition of prayer evolved in the worshipping church."

-Dom Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy