on anti intellectualism

In a very general way, what is referred to as “anti-intellectualism” is an attitude that tends to devalue so-called “intellectual” pursuits and as such often shows distrust in things like science, art, history, theology, and similar such things not unusually read in books. It can also tend to see academic study as pointless and vain and think those who pursue do so do it for vanity or to be elitist. It can be especially prominent in populist and religious circles (not always or only Christian ones either, but typically more conservative circles of such). One could go on…

When a strongly anti-intellectual attitude is voiced this is and can be very painful (if not traumatizing) to those who might have an intellectual bent or even have “intellection” as a “strength” such as with Clifton’s Strengths Finder (it is in my list of top five “strengths”) and see their strengths as being despised. The reality is, God has wired some to be this way – it is part of who they are – while others he has wired to be different but I think an anti-intellectual attitude is more taught and caught than it is something ingrained. Instead of appreciating one another’s strengths, we tend to play down such strengths as boring or morose. We prefer to keep things easy and simple.

It is sometimes seen as an enemy of faith and values when in fact much of our faith and values were formulated by those with an intellectual bent (the Apostle Paul was anything but an anti-intellectual). More often we tend to hold up Acts 4:13 as a model for this – Peter and John being “unlearned” and “ordinary” men. My view is that this was from the view of the overly intellectual Sanhedrin more so than the reality of the situation with Peter and John (both were well trained in the Torah as well). Instead, I think the Sanhedrin was feeling threatened so such labels were thrown about.

It is true too there are elitist persons who are intellectuals and who look down their noses at who they think might call more “low brow” kinds of people. This isn’t right either. Somehow there as to be a way for the twain to meet and to appreciate one another’s gifts and not disdain one another’s strengths.

On Exodus 34:6-7

In the Old Testament, God engages rarely in self-description, preferring to let divine actions speak more loudly than descriptive words about God’s character. At Sinai, however, God makes an exception and makes this fundamental disclosure to Moses. “Yhwh is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and filled with loving devotion and faithfulness. Who continues in passionate devotion for a thousand generations. Who bears with iniquity, rebellion, and sin, but never overlooks it. Who visits parents’ iniquity on their children’s children, as far as the third generation.” (Exodus 34:6b-7)

Many Christian commentators are drawn to the explanatory statements about sin, which function rhetorically to set God’s judgment of sin (“the third generation) over against the enormous expansiveness of God’s great love (“a thousand generations”). Israel, however, understood the main sentence to be the quintessential expression of God’s divine nature. The declaration that Yhwh is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in loving devotion reverberates through Israel’s narrative, prophetic literature, and psalms. Compassion and grace convey divine kindness, while loving devotion and faithfulness express unrelenting commitment to relationship. Together, the four terms express this core truth: God is for you. Unequivocally. Actively. Resolutely. Without fail and at all times.

In its time, this confession emphatically distinguished Israel’s God from the deities of the surrounding nations, who were notoriously fickle and given to unpredictable fits of anger. These were gods to be feared, and relating to them was largely a matter of trying to stay on their good sides. Israel’s testimony, however, consistently affirmed that Yhwh’s anger was kindled slowly and, with few exceptions, only in response to willful and persistent breaking of the covenant relationship, through idolatry, disrespect, and oppression of the powerless. Yhwh’s momentary anger was an expression, in the negative, of Yhwh’s commitment to the relationship, and it paled in comparison to Yhwh’s unbreakable “for you” love.

This is an understanding of God that has little in common with the stern and aloof God of some contemporary theological formulations. The aloof God is a demanding God, quick to anger, and full of judgment and retribution. This is a God who defines people by their sins and who is hypervigilant to punish any affront to his divine sovereignty. This is a God who is to be feared. This is the God who is being rejected by droves of former believers, who want no part in a faith that defines itself more by what it is against than by what it is for. Who seek a relationship with God but see instead churches intent on maintaining and restoring the rules. And who might yet might be persuaded by Christians who emulate the Crucified One, who by word and deed said “I am for you,” all the way to the Cross.

<a href=”http://<iframe src=”https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fdan.hawk4%2Fposts%2F10220680158529559&show_text=true&width=500&#8243; width=”500″ height=”291″ style=”border:none;overflow:hidden” scrolling=”no” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen=”true” allow=”autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; picture-in-picture; web-share”>via Dan Hawk on FB

The African Roots of the Day of Pentecost

This is amazing!

Daniel D. Isgrigg

Of all the books I read in 2021, nothing caught my eye more than this assertion by Thomas C. Oden in his 2011 book The African Memory of Mark:

The first Pentecost took place in the home of an African Jewish woman.

Oden’s remarkable study points out that the African church memory is shaped by St. Mark and his Gospel. St. Mark was born in Cyrene in Libya, North Africa and was the Apostle who evangelized Egypt and in Africa at large. African Christians see Mark as representative of the African perspective of Christianity.

While hints of Mark’s important African identity are present in Western considerations, it is no secret that most of Western church history accounts are Euro-centric and have ignored African church history and the continent’s ancient testimony about the shaping of Christianity. This is a point from another book I read in 2021 by Phillip Jenkins…

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What is Biblical Theology?

II. Question of Biblical Theology 

In considering definitions and descriptions of biblical theology, often these differ with who one asks. Questions arise as to how terminology is defined. What is meant by “biblical”? What is meant by “theology”? Are the two related and if so, how so? On the one hand, biblical theology is viewed as strictly for historical description. On the other hand, others claim it as purely a theological construction. In reality, biblical theology is both. It engages Scripture from both theological and historical perspectives. It attempts to discern the message of the Bible as it relates to revealing God’s plan of salvation. Biblical theology, as a discipline, seeks to explicate the message of the Bible on its own terms without imposed categories. It explores what the Bible says about God, and how it says it.

Elmer Martens describes biblical theology as:

That approach to Scripture which attempts to see the biblical material holistically and to describe this wholeness or synthesis in biblical categories. Biblical theology attempts to embrace the message of the Bible and to arrive at an intelligible coherence of the whole despite the great diversity of the parts. Or put another way: Biblical theology investigates the themes presented in Scripture and defines their inter-relationships. Biblical theology is an attempt to get at the theological heart of the Bible.

Brevard Childs simplifies it further when he states: “Biblical theology is by definition theological reflection on both the Old and the New Testaments.” Biblical theology seeks to discern what the Bible says theologically, in the light of God’s actions in history. Despite the various methods biblical theology uses to determine and communicate the Bible’s message, there is one commonality; belief in a unified structure running through the Bible. Even so, much disagreement remains. Many have given up any attempt to articulate just what the unity of the Bible is and that on its own terms. Disagreement persists as to what biblical theology is. There seems to be agreement that there is unity, but disagreement on what the unifying elements are and how to express it. It is this paper’s purpose to discuss and explain the concept of biblical theology and its unifying aspect. In response to the points of debate as to what is meant by biblical theology, the issues discussed will relate to matters of relationships between the testaments, unity and diversity, how culture plays a role, and what role biblical theology has in the life of the church. 

Doing Biblical theology is not just a method of interpreting the Bible, it is a way of thinking about Scripture. This way of thinking is rooted in one’s personal theology and thinking about the nature of the Bible. What and how one thinks about the Bible, as a religious text, is integral to how one approaches the discipline of biblical theology. For some, the Bible is strictly a history of Israel and their religion and nothing more. Others engage historical matters to glean the theological message. While the points of emphasis will vary, there are at least five different approaches to biblical theology. It is beyond the scope of this paper to discuss all five approaches. Instead, one approach will be examined in adequate depth to provide an example of biblical theology and how it functions to communicate the theological message of the Scripture. 

Biblical theology as History of Redemption is an approach to biblical theology that sees the whole Bible as a progressive revelation. It promotes a “whole Bible theology.” This approach seeks to look at the Bible in its own historical context to determine the meaning of the Bible, in the whole and in the parts. Its intent is to locate theological themes connecting Scripture together in order to emphasize the patterns of God’s redemptive activity in history. Its view is that the “history of redemption progresses in a chronological manner.” There is an approach to biblical theology that only asks “what it meant.” Biblical theology as history of redemption utilizes historical description as a means to see “what it meant” in order to discern what it means now. This way of doing biblical theology is strongly exegetical and seeks to communicate the Bible in such as way that hearers will be awed at the realization of God’s unfolding purposes for humanity from Genesis to Revelation. What sets this approach apart is its commitment to doing biblical theology as redemptive history.  

The commitment to seeing biblical theology through redemptive history then, means it believes the Bible is God’s word. It understands it as a revelation of who God is and how he functions. This approach believes, “God’s revelation points readers to the real events in history, but a history that is invested with meaning.” It sees redemptive history as a historical and unified progression of God’s saving activity in and for the world. The intent is to help Christians know their place in God’s redemptive plan for them, and for the world. Biblical theology as redemptive history believes the Bible (from Genesis to Revelation) has a context and meaning for which it is intended; to reveal God to the world. In this way, then, this approach functions both descriptively and prescriptively. It describes the redemptive history of the Bible, and sets forth means for Christian living in light of its theological message.

References:
Craig Bartholomew, Mary Healy, Karl Möller, Robin Parry, eds., Out of Egypt: Biblical Theology and Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004).
Edward W. Klink, and Darian R Lockett, Understanding Biblical Theology: A Comparison of  Theory and Practice (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012).
Elmer A Martens, ‘Tackling Old Testament Theology,’ JETS 20 (1977), p, 123 as quoted in Scott J. Hafemann, and Paul R. House, eds., Central Themes in Biblical Theology: Mapping Unity in diversity (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007).
Stephen B. Chapman, “Reclaiming inspiration for the Bible,” in Canon and Biblical Interpretation, eds., Craig G. Bartholomew and Anthony C. Thiselton (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006).

The Role of Biblical Theology in the Contemporary Christian Church. Why Biblical Theology matters.

 VIII. The Role of Biblical Theology in the Contemporary Christian Church. 

The role of Biblical theology in the contemporary church garners mixed response. On the one hand, there are pastors who lead congregations with a solid perspective of what Biblical theology is. They integrate it into their preaching, teaching, and general ministry. On the other hand, there are pastoral leaders who don’t even know what Biblical theology is. There is a range in between. At the heart of the issue is at least two things: one is how people understand the purpose of the Bible and its place in the life of the church. The other is how people understand theology and its role in our lives a Christians. There is much talk about “the problem of biblical illiteracy” in the church and it is common to hear Christians say “I am not a theologian.” Some of this is connected to the previous question of the prescriptive or descriptive nature of Biblical theology. In their hearts, people know the Bible points us to God and gives direction for life, and yet, all too often anti-intellectualism often pushes theology into the academy. 

What is the role of the Bible for the contemporary church? For many, while it is the Word of God, they remain uncertain what the Bible’s role is for the church. They want it to be practical and for the Bible to speak into their lives. They want to know what a Bible verse means for them. What is often missed is the need for paying attention to biblical and historical contexts so meaning can be understood. Too often the tendency is to want application and meaning before knowing the context. For some context is a non issue, they are not interested in context or in knowing the minds or intents of the biblical writers. Others may suggest we can’t know the mind

of the biblical writer and so create their own meanings. It is thought that meaning should be determined by the reader in the moment. This is the influence of postmodernism in the church – meaning is created by the reader, not the historical or literary context. This is where the discipline biblical theology can serve the church. It seeks to understand literary and historical contexts so meaning can be known,  applied, and safeguarded. Without the help of biblical theology, the meaning of Scripture risks remaining unknown, and the problem of biblical illiteracy will continue unabated. 

From another perspective, David L. Baker suggests people’s perceptions about the Bible overall also lies in misunderstanding the overall context of the Bible and its contents. Often, the Old Testament is thought to be irrelevant for life. He asks, “Is the Old Testament the word of God for Christians? If so, does it have the same authority as the New Testament or a lesser status” Historically, some, such as Marcion, have considered the Old Testament as no longer God’s word for today. Others have said the Old Testament is the essential Bible while the New Testament is merely supplemental. This way of thinking about the Old Testament has carried on through the ages so that even today many see it as having little to no relevance. Others give priority to the New Testament. This has led to some serious consequences. 

One consequence is the misalignment of the Scripture’s authority. Another is the loss of a comprehensive understanding of the Bible. These have contributed to biblical illiteracy in the contemporary church. Negating one Testament against the other downplays the overall authority of the Bible for the church and for Christian living. Again, Baker says the real issue is a fundamental misunderstanding of the Old Testament and its relationship to the New. He writes, “the authority of the Old Testament is not to be measured, in the sense of being more or less than that of the New Testament, but to be understood in terms of function.” He states the function of the Old Testament is not the same as the function of the New so it should not be seen as such. Each have their own function. Though they are connected and interrelated, it is important to engage each Testament on its own terms. He says not all of the Old Testament is applicable to Christians, but neither is the New Testament. “Every biblical book has its specific historical and cultural setting, and was originally written for people other than us.”

What, then, is the function of the Old Testament? Its function is to help Christians know the development of their faith by seeing God’s redemptive acts in history; how he brought about their “great salvation” (Heb 2:3). The Old Testament is relevant because it typifies common human experience. It helps make sense of life and faith. This is important because it highlights the significance of biblical theology for the contemporary church. Instead of the Bible remaining at a distance, the discipline of biblical theology can help Christians better understand the Bible in historical context so they can understand its meaning and relevance for the contemporary church. This in turn reduces the issue of biblical illiteracy.

With a solid understanding of the Bible in its historical context, that is, as a progressive revelation, will come a deeper appreciation for biblical theology. Theology, in general, has long been something that, in the modern world, has been resisted by many Christians. Caught up in the long thread of anti-intellectualism in general religious practice, Christians have touted theology as heady, esoteric, and irrelevant. American society in particular has long been given to pragmatics and sees theology as intellectual and distant. For many, the only theology worth considering is theology that works. If it is not practical it is disregarded. The reason for this is because of experiences with theology that left people wanting. It did not connect. It may have been separated from the Bible. With proper use of biblical theology as a discipline, the Bible and theology will be reunited in such a way that gives life to the church. Experienced in this manner, Christians will then be open to theological reflection in their faith and ultimately on their purpose. Through the discipline of biblical theology, the Bible and theology can be reunited as collaborators in the formation of Christians as the covenant people of God who live in the world for the glory of God and the flourishing of humanity.

References:
Baker, David L. Two Testaments, One Bible (Downers Grove: IVP, 2010).
James Barr, The Concept of Biblical Theology (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1999).
Edward W. Klink, and Darian R Lockett, Understanding Biblical Theology: A Comparison of  Theory and Practice (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012).
Lawrence, M. Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church: A Guide for Ministry (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010).
Kevin Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text?: The Bible, The Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998).

The Influence of Culture in the Shape of Biblical Theology: Our Covenant God!

VI. The Influence of Culture in the Shape of Biblical Theology

The purpose of Biblical theology is to communicate the message of the Bible on its own terms and categories. To do good biblical theology, it is imperative that one understands the influence of culture in how a particular theology was formed. One must examine the historical contexts that give shape to the Bible and the many ways culture shaped and influenced the Biblical writers. When considering the Bible’s theological and historical continuity, one can see how God worked in and through the culture as a means to make himself known. It is fundamental in understanding biblical history, theology, and how the two relate. One means God has done this is through the concept of covenant. Covenant is a theme that ties the Bible together, both historically and theologically. Covenant signified a sacred Kingship or kinship bond between people and was ratified by swearing an oath. Covenants were for establishing and maintaining relationships in biblical times. 

Through the means of covenant, God has established and maintained a relationship with humanity. Covenants were binding agreements between two or more people that formalize a relationship that already exists. In modern times, one might think of it like a treaty. Covenant is rooted in the concept of cutting (e.g., kārat bĕrît) which was often part of the ceremony involving animal sacrifice. It was common in the surrounding culture to make animal sacrifices when making a covenant. For example, in the covenant God made with Abraham (c.f., Gen 15), a heifer, a goat, and a ram were literally cut in half and set up opposite of each other. The parties would then pass through the cut pieces as a symbolic way of ratifying the covenant and committing to the relationship. In the case of Abraham, God had caused him to fall asleep and then had the smoking firepot pass through the pieces (Gen 15:11). This put the burden of fulfilling the covenant solely on God making it an everlasting covenant (Gen 17:7). God has made covenants with humanity as well. His covenant with Noah in Genesis 9 was with all of creation as an everlasting covenant (v.16).

Archaeological study has revealed several forms of treaties from the Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) world. Some of these treaties show relationships between nations such as with Egypt and other nations or between people considered equals, and some that were between a King and his vassals. Evidence has shown further the covenants found in the Old Testament followed closely these various treaties in form and sequence. One followed closely, in particular, is the suzerain-vassal treaty. This treaty usually took place between a superior with a subordinate to establish a treaty based relationship. The “formula” and the stipulations of the treaty were emulated in the divine covenants of the Old Testament. They had a preamble, a historical prologue, various stipulations, blessings and curses. Often the formulas were expressed in portions and spread out in Scripture. 

In Genesis 15:7, YHWH says, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.” Later, Genesis 17:1 follows it up with “I am God Almighty, walk before me and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” The rest of the chapter goes on to list more stipulations with blessings and aspects of the covenant. This pattern is repeated in each incident when God renews the covenant ultimately leading into the New Testament when Jesus Christ, through the cross and resurrection, even Pentecost, establishes the New Covenant. Although much was new, there was nothing expressly “new” about the New Covenant. It simply reaffirmed the original covenant. The newness of the New Covenant lies in its scope. Again, whereas the “Old” Covenant was for the people of Israel, the New Covenant was now for all who were excluded in the Old; it will be spiritual in nature, and will allow for individualized personal knowledge of God for any and all who have a relationship with him. 

It is significant that God used the suzerain-vassal treaty to establish his covenant relationship with Israel. Most commonly the suzerain-vassal treaty was used to establish a Kingship over a people. It took place to establish a relationship and a kingdom; for a King to have a people, and the people a King. This covenant came with “a strong sense of promise, obligation, and reciprocal responsibility.” Jeremiah 31:33 “I will be their God, and they will be my people.” Within redemptive history, the purpose of utilizing covenant was for YHWH to be set up as King. YHWH sought a people. He found them in the nation of Israel. His calling of Abraham was the beginning of the process. He told Abraham that he would be a father of many nations (Gen 17:4). Out of this came the nation of Israel, a people chosen by God to be his people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. God’s saving purpose through the means of covenant was not simply that people would be saved, but that they would be saved to be a people. To be a community of the King. To be his treasured possession who would see his salvation to the ends of the earth! (Ex 19:6: Isa 49:6). There were multiple covenants renewals culminating in the New Covenant that set up Jesus as King over all the earth with the church as the new people of God filled with the Holy Spirit to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. This is our covenant God!

References:
-Tiberius Rata, “Covenant.” In Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets. IVP Bible Dictionary Series, Boda, Mark J, and J. G McConville., eds (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2012).
-Hahn, S., “Covenant” in J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).
Elmer Martens, God’s Design: A Focus on Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981).
Scott J. Hafemann and Paul R. House, Central Themes in Biblical Theology: Mapping Unity in Diversity, (Baker Academic, 2007).
Daniel I. Block, Covenant: The Framework of God’s Plan of Redemption (Baker Academic, 2021).