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  • Direction: Thoughts on Eric Seibert's Disturbing Divine Behavior
    practicing genocide against the human race The Bible s portrayal of God as violent is in that sense not unique One might ask why violent God images are nearly universal It probably has to do with trying to make sense of the harsh brutal and short lives that humans lived until fairly recently in history When bad things happened over which people had no control they found it easy to posit supernatural wrath as the cause But the pervasiveness of violent god images in the cultures of the Ancient Near East helps explain why ancient Israelites likewise thought that their God was capable of brutal violence Postmodern scholarship has brought to our attention the role of the reader in interpreting texts Unfortunately Seibert s bibliography reflects a great disparity in the number of men and women and various nationalities represented in his sources His modern authors consist of 243 men 21 women and perhaps 5 persons of color What does it mean to read texts of disturbing divine behavior from such a homogeneous cultural group whose host nations have been responsible for some of the greatest atrocities of the twentieth century I am trying to get at the mindset not cast blame One s mindset inevitably shapes one s interpretation of the Bible The New Revised Standard Version Bible for example highly valued for its careful scholarship and attempts at gender inclusivity is nevertheless quite violent and militaristic in its translation of certain texts Perhaps the reason for this is that some translators were World War II veterans who instinctively thought in military terms The NRSV inserts military structure and rankings that could not possibly have existed in ancient Israel in Rome maybe but not in Israel The NRSV has God s instructions in Joshua 6 include words and phrases such as march around soldiers and charge The King James Versions reads compass the city men of war and ascend up The Catholic New American Bible has soldiers marching in verse 3 for a frontal attack in verse 5 Soldier language envisions a trained military force warriors or men of battle does not March into the city or prepare for a frontal attack has God giving specific instructions that do not appear at all in the Hebrew text which in fact uses liturgical rather than military language priests and people rather than warriors playing major roles The NRSV s translation of punishment for capital offenses in Exod 21 those who break the law shall be put to death 17 is also a distortion of the Hebrew which merely states that offenders will die God does not command killing though it is often interpreted that way Although there are certainly many disturbing images of God in the Bible the translators have added disturbing images even when they are not there Perhaps rather than treating these texts as snapshots of who God is or as a pattern for ethics a functional approach might be adopted What is the function of these stories

    Original URL path: http://www.directionjournal.org/40/2/thoughts-on-eric-seiberts-idisturbing.html (2016-02-16)
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  • Direction: Disturbing Scholarly Behavior: Seibert's Solution to the Problem of the Old Testament God
    fleshes out Seibert s basic thesis which can be summed up as follows All the disturbing divine behavior in the Old Testament did not actually happen and or it was falsely attributed to God because of the erroneous theological assumptions of Old Testament authors In order to demonstrate that Old Testament narratives did not necessarily happen historically Seibert shows this to be the case for the book of Jonah and then attempts to demonstrate the same conclusion for the Conquest Narrative Josh 6 11 based upon its implausibility contrary archaeological evidence and lack of extra biblical evidence Seibert agrees with many critical scholars that Old Testament narratives cannot be trusted to be historically accurate in every case they only provide evidence of the context of the presumably much later writer 106 Seibert concludes by tying this discussion into his larger thesis Acknowledging that there are some things in the Bible that did not happen or did not happen as described effectively exonerates God from certain kinds of morally questionable behavior 112 Recognizing that acceptance of his understanding of the significant disjunction between the narrative and historical veracity is indispensable to the argument that he is making in the book 116 Seibert addresses objections that Christians might have to this claim e g it sounds historical so it must be it is irreverent to question the Bible it involves doubting which is bad it leads down a slippery slope it undermines my faith it diminishes biblical authority The two critical questions really surround the connection between faith and historical events and secondly the connection between historical veracity and biblical authority While Seibert affirms that the New Testament affirmation of Jesus resurrection as grounded in historical reality is important he posits that there are relatively few cases in the rest of Scripture where this connection is essential 120 It would be interesting to know which Old Testament events if any would make this short list If the Old Testament narratives proclaim theological truths such as God is the creator sustainer of the natural world and is the redeemer of Israel is not some level of historical veracity necessary to substantiate such claims In terms of biblical authority Seibert makes the completely appropriate argument that a story that is not historical can be true if it communicates truth 123 Now it is at these times that the reader encounters some puzzling argumentation No one should disagree that non historical stories can be true if they communicate truth However this is not what Seibert will argue regarding countless Old Testament and New Testament texts which he says distort the character of God These texts are not true historically says Seibert but he will also reject them as being true in the second sense They are not communicating truth about God at all If one accepts Seibert s thesis many Old Testament texts are not really true in either senses of the word true and he provides no further explanation here for how these texts are still authoritative If the Old Testament was not written to tell us about God or to recount historical events then naturally one should ask For what purpose was it written Seibert suggests that Old Testament narratives reflect human attempts to explain national failures and disasters to support the ruling elite and promote their policies by means of political propaganda and to encourage certain behaviors and beliefs These human efforts to write Old Testament narratives often have God doing disturbing things e g killing Seibert suggest this is totally understandable because these writers were simply reflecting their basic theological worldview 148 which included such ideas as God controling the natural world causing personal fortunes and misfortunes rewarding the obedient and punishing the disobedient sanctioning warfare bringing victory and defeat in battle and being the sole divine causal agent 151 61 Since the Old Testament perspective on such topics as cosmology and polygamy were seemingly misguided then one can also question and critique Old Testament theological perspectives If Israel s nontheological worldview assumptions were culturally conditioned and sometimes in need of revision might the same be true of Israel s theological worldview assumptions If so it would seem we should proceed with caution being careful not to uncritically adopt Israel s theological assumptions as our own 163 64 emphasis in original RESPONSIBLE READINGS OF TROUBLESOME TEXTS In Part 3 Seibert sets out a method for reading the Old Testament that he desires to be somewhere between a Marcionite rejection and the commonly held view that the Old Testament reflects actual historical realities and is an accurate description of God The first step is to clarify that there is a gap between how the Old Testament describes God the textual God a term borrowed from Terence Fretheim and what God is really like the actual God Since the Old Testament reflects human portrayals of God it is not necessary to assume that every Old Testament image of God reflects what God is really like 170 This provides a new freedom for Seibert who can now read 1 Sam 15 where it appears God orders Saul to kill all the Amalekites and proclaim God never issued this genocidal decree 176 If one is tracking with Seibert so far it would be logical to ask How can one know when an Old Testament portrayal of God can be trusted and when it should be rejected Or to use his language when is the textual God like the actual God and how can one know Seibert s criterion for deciding whether or not a depiction of God reflects the actual God is not the New Testament as a whole for it too contains images of God as instant executioner cf Acts 12 21 23 and willing to use massive violence on an unprecedented scale cf Revelation His measuring stick is rather what he calls a Christocentric hermeneutic I will argue that the God Jesus reveals should be the standard or measuring rod by which all

    Original URL path: http://www.directionjournal.org/40/2/disturbing-scholarly-behavior-seiberts.html (2016-02-16)
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  • Direction: Teaching the Old Testament: The 'Problem' of the Old Testament Revisited
    considers it to support family abuse as some do To the contrary it is this lowly foreign servant girl who is singled out by God for an angelically mediated special calling and promise as she herself acknowledges with surprise and wonder Have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing him Gen 16 13 NRSV 14 3 Literary methodologies applied to war and violence In addressing the questions of war and violence in the Old Testament interpreting problematic or offensive texts in their wider literary contexts can also help to mitigate although not remove some of the offence 15 Here is one sample When Christians are scandalized by the supposedly warlike God of the Old Testament their thoughts usually turn first to the God commanded wars of Israel to occupy the land of Canaan by annihilating the Canaanites This theme is found mainly in the book of Joshua but also in some other texts associated with the Conquest This literature received its final form in the time just before or during the Babylonian Exile when Israel Judah was about to lose its Promised Land or had already lost it In search of an answer to the troubling theological question Why has God done this to us the final editors arranged extant older materials into a loosely coherent narrative work the Deuteronomistic History Joshua Judges Samuel Kings a work surveying Israel s approximately 600 years in the land theologically The first sub question addressed was How did we get the land in the first place The answer was given in the book of Joshua foreshadowed in some earlier Pentateuchal texts Not through aboriginal ownership not through our own military prowess not because of our size and power not because of our special merits Dismissing all these self aggrandizing claims to territory found commonly in nationalistic histories the Deuteronomistic History emphasizes It was solely God s gracious gift to us 16 To make this point rather than to promote war and violence the book of Joshua especially in chapters 1 12 emphasizes the total and miraculously guided conquest of the whole land Some passages in Joshua and especially Judges 1 already modify this hyperbolic picture with an historically more nuanced account allowing for the survival of many Canaanites for centuries to come In brief the aim of the book of Joshua and the Deuteronomistic History as a whole is not to advocate glorify and promote warfare and military violence 17 4 The canonical context Extending the interpretive context in order to cope with disturbing texts or themes ultimately leads to transcending even the wider literary contexts by turning to the canonical context Neither the Old or the New Testaments separately nor the canonical Scriptures as a whole can be determined to be units by literary criteria as can smaller textual units within them But in the search for theological interpretation these selections of writings given special canonical status by the faith communities of Israel Judaism and the Church can provide legitimate theological interpretive contexts within which individual texts can be brought into dialogue with each other to ascertain Old Testament New Testament or biblical perspectives on topics such as war sexuality stewardship of land and many more This is an old approach but one helpfully brought to new prominence under the name Canonical Interpretation Criticism by scholars like Brevard Childs James Sanders Rolf Rendtorff and many others Ultimately this approach also addresses the relationship of the Testaments to each other and becomes the proper Christian interpretive context for inter facing differences within and between the Testaments including their perspectives on war 18 I have illustrated with several examples how I tried in my Introduction courses to remove or diminish unnecessarily offensive aspects of Old Testament texts or themes by applying literary and ultimately also canonical methodology to them in order to understand them more fully 19 In whatever measure I succeeded however I did not leave my students and myself with any methodology capable of disarming the Old Testament s ubiquitous texts involving war and violence Nor did I try Instead I believe we must confront these troublesome and offensive aspects of the Old Testament and the New Testament on the basis of different considerations to which I now turn THE LIMITS OF METHODOLOGY Many students and especially the brightest of them having tasted the fruitfulness of methodological solutions to problems become exhilarated in their confidence to proceed further and finish the job that is to arrive at an interpretation of the Old Testament that we can happily approve of and hand on to others There are certain considerations and cautions however that we also need to convey to our students lest we seriously short change them The following seem most important to me 1 God is transcendent and retains an irreducible mystery It was my good fortune to come upon Rudolf Otto s classic Das Heilige 20 early in my seminary studies Otto characterizes human encounters with the Holy or more precisely the Numinous i e the Holy apart from its use with reference to ethical goodness as characteristically involving three aspects for which he chooses Latin terms mysterium something inherently mysterious tremendum something that shakes one up makes one tremble fearful and fascinans something nevertheless fascinating attractive drawing one near The characteristic human response to the Holy according to Otto is the Kreaturgefühl German feeling of creatureliness or creature feeling a sense of being overwhelmed mystified and shaken up but also deeply and irresistibly attracted 21 God the Holy One of Israel frequently so called in Isaiah must be granted unfathomable mystery of character and action As teachers and preachers we must not attempt to dispel this irreducible and often frightening mystery of the Holy One even while we proclaim God s ultimate graciousness and love 2 God transcends our cognitive grasp of reality As parts of the universe humans can never make the universe as a whole the object of scientific research and understanding Natural scientists who try this become philosophers or theologians instead And since the theme of religious reflection is the whole universe and at least in biblical perspective its Creator and Sustainer no scholarly methodologies can lead to a more than fragmented grasp of its origin and structure not to mention its comprehensive meaning which in religious language would be the character and will of God Briefly put God s truth transcends what any scholarly method or even the sum total of methods can decode 22 What we can know of God comes to us as revelation through signs see below Therefore lacking a comprehensive grasp of the whole we cannot construct a harmonious i e un contradictory system of cosmic understanding That leaves us with paradoxes the most central and crucial of which is faith in a supreme and loving God in the face of the existence of evil suffering and death See below 3 Revelation of God is given to us in signs 23 A sign in biblical perspective is not objectively there for all to be perceived as such it is given in a person specific context related way We read characteristically This is shall be a sign to you 24 In the recipient of a sign experience the sign calls forth an irresistible conviction of truth and leads to significant life changes 25 Although signs convey insights to individuals that transcend the reach of scientific ways to knowing epistemology such insights can be validated through the sign s power to convince other individuals as well as groups and sometimes through historical events 26 To such communally validated signs revelation we can then apply our intellect with the help of various methodologies in order to amplify their meanings and implications theology As St Anselm drawing on St Augustine put it classically Fides quaerens intellectum Faith seeking understanding 4 All speech language of God is metaphorical Realizing this goes much further than to identify metaphors among the various literary genres and devices like poetry saga allegory simile parable and other non literal forms of artistic language and then assuming tacitly that all the rest in the Bible is literal that is to be understood as if it were descriptive of a human situation Rather we can speak of God only in the language of analogy and extrapolation i e in metaphorical language We apply language derived from our own experienced world like shepherd father or judge in a looser and less specific sense to God our Father our Shepherd our Judge when we look for words for sign experiences When we or the Scriptures do so in particularly bold fashion we call it anthropomorphic language 27 But we really have no other language for God All biblical texts about God are transmitted to us by human authors and bear their stamp including the written words of Jesus preserved for us there are none that are not mediated to us by human authors in non literal speech Therefore all characterization of God in both Testaments must be assessed for its degree of anthropomorphism which will determine the degree to which it can be compared or applied to human scenarios directly Its anthropomorphic character does not rob such language of the capacity to express revealed truth but we cannot apply it with the immediate referentiality we have come to expect of objective scientific prose 28 This becomes particularly important in understanding biblical speech of God directed historical and eschatological battles but space does not permit me to pursue this 29 RECOURSE TO JESUS Christians rightly expect to find help from Jesus in understanding the Old Testament s meaning and mandate for the Church and themselves Several considerations are crucial however when we do so 1 Jesus self understanding and his interpretation by the New Testament writers and the early Church are rooted firmly in the Old Testament story 30 Crucial here are among other texts his New Testament titles Messiah Son of Man Son of the Old Testament God Son of David Good Shepherd and more all of them derived from major Old Testament themes Positing a context less innovative Jesus interpreted against the grain of much of the Old Testament can only result in a serious misunderstanding of Jesus through a consciously or subconsciously provided non biblical interpretive context 31 This does not mean that each Old Testament story should guide the Church in ethical matters 32 Jesus came into the world at a particular point in history as a living sign of the incipient messianic era representing a unique realization of the Kingdom Rule of God The Church by following Jesus will in turn live out signs of the Kingdom among them a fuller expression of God s peace than was already promoted in the Old Testament 33 2 The calling of the Church is to extend the message of God s love and salvation for the world beyond historical Israel where it was prepared over the centuries to all nations The Old Testament is not superseded by Jesus 34 but fulfilled i e acted out in its intended fullness its telos through the full obedience of Jesus to the Father Jesus life teachings and death do not constitute a different calling from that of Israel but a full incarnation or earthly demonstration of what this calling means and have therefore in themselves sign character pointing ahead to a yet greater fulfillment in God s anticipated eschatological Rule Kingdom 35 3 Israel failed in many ways to live up to its mission This led to God s judgments but not to Israel s final rejection as God s people Instead the story of Israel demonstrates through God s patient work of salvation with one chosen people God s hesed steadfast love loyalty that does not give up to humanity as a whole God s option to destroy humanity is rejected by God as the Flood story the covenant with Noah and the election of Abraham teach us Why we may ask has God chosen this long and drawn out way we call salvation history But would not the sudden termination of evil also have been the simultaneous termination of everything good After all we humans cannot even think of good without a contrasting alternative How could there be friendship if there were no enmity Healing if there were no sickness Etc 4 God s choice of a long historical road can in a preliminary way be understood as God s gracious and patient forbearance with Israel s and humankind s misuse of free will but ultimately it belongs to the unfathomable mystery of creation as such This mystery and not individual stories of violence by God is the real offence of the Old Testament and the New Testament To try to cleanse the Old Testament of its problematic or offensive historicity its earthiness where good and evil life and death are inextricably intertwined by disempowering the message of certain offensive texts by means of a literary methodology that lays all offensive characterizations of God at the feet of the human Old Testament authors is to divest the Old Testament of its powerful if often troubling message 5 Further such a literary purification of God s character through recourse to Jesus cannot stop with the Old Testament Methodologies developed in the interpretation of the Old Testament have inevitably also been applied to the New Testament including the words of Jesus Marcion knew this and Seibert despite his valiant attempts cannot escape this logic 36 If we can be freed from troublesome characterizations of God in the Old Testament by relegating them to a textual God of the respective authors it would only be fair to do the same with the many troubling New Testament texts including many frightening words of Jesus such as we find in Matthew 25 and other words of Jesus concerning the final judgment 37 One would expect Seibert to raise the question whether we might have here the words of the evangelists textual Jesus rather than those of the actual Jesus Seibert raises that question indeed but rejects it out of hand 38 THE PROBLEM OF MONOTHEISM In my view the disturbing or offensive aspects of both Testaments lie at a deeper level than that of texts which if used on the human plane non metaphorically would offend us 39 That deeper level is the level of God s mystery and our human inherent inability to understand the existence of evil violence suffering sickness etc and ultimately mortality in the Bible s monotheistic affirmation of God s complete control of creation together with God s character as ultimate love Polytheism does not have that problem there are good gods and evil gods and sometimes the one side wins sometimes the other Marcion knew that and sacrificed monotheism positing an evil Creator God and a loving Redeemer the Father of Jesus Christ The widely read Rabbi Harold Kushner knew it too but resorted instead to belief in an always understandably benevolent but limited God a God who does not want suffering but cannot help it in the face of autonomous laws of nature human freedom of choice and possibly an evolutionary dimension in God himself 40 Such attempts to resolve this overwhelming and daring paradox 41 although appealing at first glance remain superficial and inadequate The Church throughout the centuries instead has correctly I believe held fast to what can only be formulated as a true paradox namely that the Holy One is both supremely powerful and supremely loving 42 The biblical meta story both Testaments shows this God through revealed glimpses signs as working within a cosmos where to our necessarily limited mental grasp good and evil are inextricably intertwined Only through sign events climaxing in Jesus as the supreme sign can we become convinced that God s ultimate goal is our and the world s redemption and eternal life as proleptically revealed to us in the resurrection of Jesus In view of this deeper level of apparent offence confronting us in the world in which we live what help would we gain by dissociating the character of God from war and violence in certain Old Testament texts if that world is full of them Would we then not be forced to regard the biblical God as irrelevant to the real world If on the other hand we can see the life giving and sustaining work of God shine through the darkness in the ancient biblical world only then can we gain hope for ourselves and others in the world surrounding us To help our students toward that realization is in my view an Old Testament and New Testament teacher s and preacher s central calling CONCLUSION Let me come full circle In my childhood in the Soviet Union and the subsequent war and refugee years an awareness of the holy as I call it in retrospect grew in me was given shape by the biblical story and was confirmed by often veiled sign experiences as the reality that transcended everyday life It was not an easy and unproblematic reality but one to struggle with like Jacob at the Jabbok sometimes leaving me injured but in the end also blessed Gen 32 22 32 As Old Testament teachers we should help our students sustain the struggle with a story that we sometimes wish were easier to communicate We should not smooth the way for them unduly however for it is a training and preparation for the road of Jesus to the cross and to resurrection and it is the road for our own lives NOTES The Old Testament God was for Marcion the vindictive tribal God of the Jews bound to the physical world he had created who punished humans for their transgressions with suffering and death Against this God the purely spiritual Heavenly Father of Jesus sent his son Jesus who only apparently assumed human appearance to redeem humanity Marcion established a Christian canon consisting of the Gospel of

    Original URL path: http://www.directionjournal.org/40/2/teaching-old-testament-problem-of-old.html (2016-02-16)
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  • Direction: Hermeneutics, Historicity, and Jesus--Responses to Disturbing Divine Behavior: A Rejoinder
    God is like we must not only recognize this we must make allowance for it JESUS NOT THE ANSWER A number of respondents questioned the value and or appropriateness of utilizing a Christocentric hermeneutic to deal with problematic portrayals of God in the Old Testament Waldemar Janzen believes it is not adequate to this task and both he and Ken Esau remain unconvinced that the God Jesus revealed is really all that different from the God revealed in the Old Testament Derek Suderman also disagrees with my assertion that Jesus viewed God as nonviolent and writes I am less convinced than he that Jesus believed God to be essentially nonviolent Suderman questions whether historicity on one hand or a nonviolent God on the other are the best places to start Since utilizing a Christocentric hermeneutic is a key part of my approach these concerns require a response Esau does not believe there is enough evidence to support my contention that Jesus conceived of God nonviolently While the nonviolence of God is certainly a debatable point I felt Esau misconstrued my position as nothing more than an argument from silence It is part of my argument but only that In chapter ten of Disturbing Divine Behavior I provide considerable evidence to substantiate this claim and to demonstrate various ways Jesus challenges some of the more violent views of God in the Old Testament Esau is not convinced If these Old Testament images of God were so profoundly opposite to the actual God he writes it is difficult to imagine that Jesus wouldn t have spent more time clarifying this critical point You have heard it said that God is violent and kills sinners and causes disaster to those who reject him but I tell you Yet I would argue that is precisely what Jesus did Jesus is very careful about which Old Testament images of God he uses and how he uses them Throughout his life and ministry Jesus repeatedly speaks and acts in ways that challenge Old Testament portrayals of a God who rains down death and destruction upon people The cumulative effect of Jesus words and deeds implies that he envisioned God quite differently than the way God is often portrayed in the Old Testament Like Esau Janzen also finds my Christocentric hermeneutic wanting Though Janzen does not say this directly he clearly disagrees with the way I have represented Jesus thinking about God and also disputes my claim that Jesus conceived of God as being nonviolent He finds it utterly unthinkable that Jesus regarded the portrayal of God in numerous Old Testament narratives the Exodus the Conquest the miraculous deliverance of Jerusalem when under siege and the Babylonian exile and return as the mistaken notions of God s character promulgated by Old Testament authors But why is this utterly unthinkable when Jesus says and does many things that present God in a very different light Images of a violent God smiting sinners here and now play no part in Jesus teaching about God and directly contradict his primary message about the kingdom of God Janzen also expresses considerable surprise that I do not distinguish between the textual and actual Jesus in the New Testament in the same way I distinguish between the textual and actual God in the Old Testament He writes One would expect Seibert to raise the question whether we might have here the words of the evangelists textual Jesus rather than those of the actual Jesus Seibert raises that question indeed but rejects it out of hand I believe Janzen has misread me here I do not reject this possibility out of hand On the contrary I explore it at some length with regard to Jesus sayings about eschatological judgment 249 251 and I conclude by acknowledging that some of these sayings may be secondary 251 Additionally I devote attention to some New Testament passages which seem to suggest that Jesus envisioned God bringing lethal judgment on people here and now I argue that these passages do not originate with Jesus but reflect the thoughts of later writers 257 261 Thus while I do not engage in an extensive discussion of the historical Jesus per se I certainly do not rule out the possibility that distinctions need to be made between the textual and actual Jesus As the objections raised by Esau and Janzen illustrate not everyone agrees that a Christocentric hermeneutic represents the best way to differentiate between the textual and actual God For that matter not everyone agrees it is even necessary to make these kinds of distinctions in the first place But unless you are prepared to accept all portrayals of God in the Old Testament as accurate reflections of the moral character of God you need to have some way of determining which images are revelatory and which are not I would challenge those who question the usefulness of a Christocentric hermeneutic to propose other ways of making these kinds of distinctions Gordon Matties for example calls for a more nuanced literary theological approach Interested readers should consider his forthcoming commentary on the book of Joshua in the Believer s Church Bible Commentary series Wilma Ann Bailey suggests that the same measuring stick I am suggesting in the God Jesus reveals might be found in certain Old Testament portrayals of God that envision God as good just merciful and forgiving Hopefully future conversations can further refine a Christocentric hermeneutic and or explore alternative ways to determine the extent to which certain Old Testament portrayals of God are revelatory Before leaving this point I must confess I find it disheartening to see Anabaptists saying Jesus is not the answer for dealing with disturbing divine behavior While I fully expected this kind of response from Christians in other traditions I had hoped those within the Anabaptist community would see the value of utilizing a Christocentric hermeneutic to evaluate various Old Testament images of God At the very least it seems Anabaptists ought to

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  • Direction: Taunts of the Divine Warrior in Job 40:6-14
    is intensified by Yahweh s next statement the governing question of the second Divine Speech Will you even put me in the wrong Will you condemn me that you may be justified 40 8 Juridical terminology dominates the challenge mishpat justice tsadaq to be or declare to be righteous or innocent rasha declare wicked or guilty condemn The divine response recognizes Job s faint hope for some sort of legal resolution to his dilemma is he right or wrong Is God therefore wrong or right But the courtroom is not big enough to hold the divine defendant and the legal metaphor is cracked wide open The juridical imagery is itself weighed and found wanting a grander sort of discourse is needed And so Yahweh turns or returns to the language of the cosmic and hymnic Have you an arm like God and can you thunder with a voice like his 40 9 The rhetorical question is a taunt 10 a statement of the impossibility of challenging God Arm z e rôa is a common poetic figure for strength occurring ninety one times in the OT most prominently in Isaiah Ezekiel and the Psalms It often is accompanied by the adjectives n e tûyah outstretched e g Exod 6 6 or z mighty e g Ps 89 10 and often used in poetic parallelism with yamîn right hand right side e g Isa 62 8 or yad hand e g Jer 21 5 The anthropomorphic imagery of God s arm is deeply rooted in theophanic contexts God revealing himself to save Isaiah 30 30 is perhaps the most highly charged instance of such description And the Lord will cause his majestic voice to be heard and the descending blow of his arm to be seen in furious anger and a flame of devouring fire with a cloudburst and tempest and hailstones The density of violent meteoro lo gical events here suggests that the descending arm nachat z e rôa of this verse is a reference to a lightning bolt 11 Indeed the image of a storm god with lightning in his upraised right arm is common in Ancient Near Eastern iconography cf the Assyrian god Adad or Ugaritic Baal This fulminatory use of arm makes the parallel with a voice that thunders much more forceful in Job 40 9 This verse reinforces a growing sense of dread already anticipated in the challenge from the whirlwind that Job is here dealing with God as the Divine Warrior The next statement of Yahweh is an imperative a direct challenge Deck yourself with majesty and dignity clothe yourself with glory and splendor v 10 The verbs are adah and labash the latter is a more generic term for putting on a garment the former connotes adornment and finery The first thing to note here is the importance of clothing as an expression of personal character and integrity cf Job 29 14 12 God continues to provoke Job challenging his character as righteous sufferer to see if it is any match for God himself More specifically the language is the language of enthronement the rhetoric of royal rule this is nothing less than an invitation or challenge to put on divine attributes The qualities of divine kingship listed here are majesty and dignity glory and splendor The Hebrew poetry is striking to the ear with alliteration in each pair of words The latter duo hôd and hadar appear together regularly in the Psalms as royal attributes whether of an earthly king Ps 21 6 45 4 ET v 3 where the king is addressed as a gibbôr or divine 96 6 104 1 111 3 145 5 Their use here following the reference to the arm and voice of God in v 9 solidifies the impression that Yahweh is in effect challenging Job to put on his own royal robes They call to mind the enthronement psalms that describe either the divine clothing Ps 93 1 104 1 13 or the divine throne Ps 97 2 99 1 or the proclamations of divine dignity and power Ps 96 6 7 cf especially the celebration of his right hand and holy arm Ps 98 1 However the first pair gaôn and gobah are slightly surprising in the mouth of Yahweh Both are much more commonly understood as negative qualities arrogance pride pomp 14 The pair shows up in Prov 16 18 Pride gaôn goes before destruction and a haughty gobah spirit before a fall There are to be sure a few OT texts where gaôn and related forms are used as positive divine attributes most notably in the Songs of Moses and Miriam in Exod 15 But even these occasions are embedded in descriptions of destructive activity the defeat of the Egyptian chariots Exod 15 1 7 21 or the terror of the Day of the Lord Isa 2 10 19 More commonly however those who exhibit such lofty conceits are liable to divine censure and judgment cf gaôn in Isa 13 11 Job 38 11 gobah in Jer 48 29 Ps 10 4 That Yahweh here includes them as desirable attributes is one more instance of the theologically destabilizing rhetoric of the book as a whole Another dimension of this challenge emerges The style of this passage is that of the hymn of praise 15 Thus we should hear God s challenge to Job framed in such hymnic language as a response to Job s earlier doxologies of terror 16 In two earlier passages 9 4 10 12 13 25 Job mimics and subverts traditional hymnic forms describing the destructive power of God in both creation and human society God now it seems returns the favor But this retort is striking Job has at least used a form of address that is appropriate for the divine That God uses hymnic and enthronement language to challenge Job is a harsh and surprising irony The sarcasm is heightened by the earlier address to Job as geber man one who is definitely not divine All of these dimensions of verses 9 10 divine thundering royal enrobement the aura of kingship conspire to conjure up an image of God as the Divine Warrior who is daring Job to exchange places with him The Divine Warrior motif is a well known mythic pattern found throughout the literature of the Ancient Near East The motif is central to the imagery and theology of God as victorious monarch 17 The motif incorporates an archaic mythic pattern of going out for war and returning victorious the Divine Warrior goes forth in the storm to battle against chaos Nature convulses writhes and languishes when the Warrior manifests his wrath The warrior god returns to take up kingship among the gods and is enthroned on his mountain The Divine Warrior utters his voice from his temple and Nature again responds The heavens fertilize the earth animals writhe in giving birth and men and mountains whirl in dancing and festive glee 18 These elements are not always all present in any given literary expression of this mythic pattern nor are they always thus ordered But it is again striking that the general pattern is clearly inverted in the larger scope of the Divine Speeches In Job 38 39 we see abundant rain poured out upon the fecund earth 38 25 30 37 38 and several instances of animal procreation and nurture 39 1 4 13 16 30 spinning an allusion to the motif s final element The third element is reflected I suggest in the attributes and activities of divine kingship as depicted in 40 9 10 The second element then seems to be present through the challenge to wrathful activity overflowings of your anger in 40 11 13 Finally the initial element of battling chaos in the form of primeval monsters is certainly reflected in the invitation to control Behemoth and Leviathan 40 15 41 34 Such an inversion or subversion of accepted theological or mythic patterns is not unexpected in the book of Job I suggest that the inverting of this mythic pattern helps to signal the climax of the book of Job the trajectory moving from celebration through wrath to the monsters of chaos leaves Job and the reader at the threshold of the moment of creation If the model of Urzeit Endzeit 19 holds good one might say theologically that while Job is left in the dark by his experience hides counsel without knowledge 42 3 he stands at the threshold of and is beginning to glimpse 42 5 a new creation The more immediate point is that God himself in his answer to Job appears to confirm Job s accusation 16 13 14 that he is present and active as Divine Warrior But paradoxically God is inviting Job to don the divine attributes This leads to a more specific challenge in verses 11 13 A series of six imperatives dare Job to thwart the divine enemies Or more shockingly it may be that God is placing himself as the enemy who mocks by inviting an attempt at conquest the proud gēeh whom Job is to conquer is cognate to the rather ambivalent gaôn majesty of verse 10 a dubiously divine attribute Likewise the wicked r e shaîm echoes God s earlier allegation against Job Will you condemn me i e do you pronounce me wicked tarshîenî v 8 While it does not seem that God is making himself out as Job s prime foe the overtones that resonate between divine description and that of the enemy do communicate the precariousness of Job s position Yahweh challenges Job to express the overflowings of his anger ebrôt apeka Divine wrath is a necessary aspect of the activity of the Divine Warrior King 20 The point of the challenge is for Job to demonstrate the divine power that accompanies divine attire The first phase of this challenge is to identify and conquer those who are proud and wicked such as Yahweh undertakes in Isa 2 10 22 The centrality of the challenge is emphasized by the tight chiasm of vv 11 12 and the virtual repetition of look on all who are proud v 11b 12a One cannot exercise the prerogatives of divine rule without bringing low those who exalt themselves The second phase of this program for conquest is to bring about the death of the enemy hide them in the dust together v 13a Dust afar is a symbol of human mortality see Gen 2 7 and especially 3 19 echoed in Job 10 9 and is appropriate as a sign of mourning in the face of suffering and death Job 2 12 16 15 Dust can be used as a counterpart to Sheol the Hebrew underworld 17 16 and thus to lie 7 21 or be hidden 40 13 in the dust is to be consigned to the grave both literal and metaphysical Job is challenged to bring about the total downfall of his enemies and hide them in the hidden place battamûn the first and last word of v 13 derive from the same root which the NRSV translates in the world below This is the final phase of the Warrior s conquest over the wicked the one who wears the divine attributes has demonstrated his skills for effective moral governance of the world All that remains is to celebrate the triumph And even here Yahweh obliges Verse 14 is the apodosis the consequence of the challenge If you can accomplish all this then I will also acknowledge you The word spoken here is once again shocking acknowledge is yadah one of the central acts of Hebrew worship The root meaning seems to be to confess i e to utter publicly what is true with regard to human or far more commonly divine character and activity 21 Thus one confesses one s sins which hinder one s relationship with God One also confesses who God is this is usually translated as offering praise or thanksgiving The word is one of the central words in the Psalms used sixty seven times and the precise formulation found here ôdeka I will acknowledge praise you is used fourteen times in the Psalms and also in 2 Sam 22 50 and Isa 12 1 The word is rarely used in this positive sense of another human being the only other exceptions are Gen 49 8 with a pun on Judah s name and Ps 49 18 In other words when the word has a positive sense the object is almost exclusively the Deity But most startling is the reality that this is the only place in Scripture where God is the subject of the verb God is the one who offers to confess acknowledge and even praise Job for his conquest This is a remarkable offer even if intended as a taunt The presence of words with strong hymnic overtones yamîn right hand and yasha save give victory reinforce the interpretation of yadah as not simply an acknowledge ment but the more religiously potent praise cf Ps 17 7 20 6 98 1 108 6 Thus if Job can accomplish the divine dare of putting on God s royal robes and conquering the wicked God will confirm Job s triumph by offering him praise an offering that normally flows only godward From this point Yahweh resumes his tour of the created world drawing attention first to Behemoth and Leviathan This is the beginning of the next textual subunit and thus we need point out only the transition The presence of these creatures makes more sense as we see them facing off with the Divine Warrior thus as mythic representatives of primeval power and proud rebellion And as Yahweh indicates in his on going confrontation with Job he knows Job is not up to the divine challenge presented in verses 9 13 BIBLICAL THEOLOGICAL REFLECTIONS The text in Job 40 6 14 is one more anomaly in a book of anomalies In the midst of four sustained chapters focused intensely on the confounding wonder and wildness of creation God turns to strafe the suffering Job with a taunt Taken on its own it is a harsh and very troubling text It will not do to simply smooth it over Hartley for example says that Yahweh is expressing his care for his servant He is seeking to overcome Job s resistance by gently and persuasively leading him to submission 22 Yahweh may have been persuasive with Job but he is hardly gentle in these verses And if the divine challenge is an expression of care it is certainly an extreme instance of tough love The careful reader must take both the larger context and the rhetorical strategy into account The context is that of the Divine Warrior His presence is evoked through several means 1 the strong agonistic challenge get ready to fight 2 the hymnic cadences reminiscent of enthronement psalms and other royal liturgies 3 the heaping up of divine royal imagery wardrobe and action conquest and 4 the following section of the Divine Answer focusing on Behemoth and Leviathan who are best interpreted as primeval and mythic creatures and not merely zoological oddities 23 Thus the harshness of this text must be a consequence of seeing God as Divine Warrior in the larger setting of Job and his cry for justice The Divine Warrior is invoked as a necessary response to theodicy Describing and acknowledging God as the Divine Warrior is troubling It is awkward in any context ancient or modern that seeks to promote a biblical shalom 24 However this text in Job is one of several that highlight the importance of the Divine Warrior motif as a means of finding one s place in a wild and uncertain world This motif is I suggest inextricably linked to a biblical worldview It is clearly present in a number of passages that link the Divine Warrior with the creation of the world Awake awake put on strength O arm of the Lord Awake as in days of old the generations of long ago Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces who pierced the dragon Isa 51 9 This violent vision of primeval conflict has several points of resonance with our passage in Job the call to be clothed labash cf Job 40 10b with a divine attribute the reference to the powerful arm and the conquest of the dragon tannîn named also Rahab here and Leviathan in Ps 74 14 As such this verse in Isaiah is an important counterpoint to our passage in Job for it highlights the normal Israelite expectation that Yahweh alone is able to act as Divine Warrior This motif of conflict is often said to be absent in key OT passages treating of divine creative activity e g Gen 1 Gen 2 3 Ps 104 Prov 8 22 31 I suggest that it is not absent only muted or in the case of Gen 1 delegated to humankind The motif is present whenever the text acknow ledges that creation or an element thereof needs to be limited to be constrained against transgression Prov 8 29 or to be subdued Gen 1 28 God the Creator rides a chariot is attended by servants of flame and wind note the destructive and theophanic descriptions and utters a rebuke with a sound of thunder Ps 104 3 4 7 All of this conspires to propose that there is something inherent in creation as biblically portrayed that must be controlled and ultimately conquered One might wish at this point that the Bible offered more clarity on the nature of this something In the wisdom of divine revelation however it does not What it does offer however is the reality of God as Divine Warrior the reality that whatever that something is it will not overpower or outlast the Living God There is a further and final dimension to this text from

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  • Direction: People of the Book: The Significance of Mennonite Brethren Biblicism and Hermeneutics
    by the practices of the exuberant movement While expressions of joy were not categorically condemned such demonstrations were to reflect sensitivity to others and the leading of the Spirit The havoc created by dictatorial leaders was countered with an insistence on congregational participation where no leader could act independently of the church 9 The ongoing practice of engaging in regular Bible study by early Mennonite Brethren reflected a deep appreciation for congregational involvement Weekday Bible studies often involved several families gathering to read Scripture together followed by an open discussion regarding their understanding of what was read 10 Another regular practice involved several villages hosting a Bible conference where visiting teachers along with local ministers would take turns commenting on the meaning of a particular passage The congregation was actively involved in asking questions and contributing to the discussion 11 The example of how early Mennonite Brethren leaders eventually responded to the exuberant movement brings to the surface several ways in which Mennonite Brethren biblicism was expressed A clear commitment to the Word of God as the authoritative guide for life in the church did not mean that one could then embrace a wooden literalism Rather Mennonite Brethren were concerned that an appropriate approach to the Bible involved reading individual passages in their context and in light of the rest of Scripture Reading the Bible together in the church furthermore provided a check and balance on individualistic and arbitrary interpretations THE INERRANCY DEBATE A second window into how Mennonite Brethren approach Scripture emerges from the debate over the nature of biblical authority that swept through North American Evangelicalism during the 1970s and caught Mennonite Brethren by surprise in the ensuing conflict Much of the hype surrounding this debate was initially fuelled by Harold Lindsell who in 1976 challenged evangelicals to embrace inerrancy as the defining criteria for evangelical identity in his book The Battle for the Bible 12 In the April 1977 issue of Direction Howard Loewen and David Ewert assessed Lindsell s contention that inerrancy is the watershed between faithful evangelicals and those who have no right to use the name 13 In Ewert s brief review he states It is disheartening when brothers within the evangelical tradition confront each other as enemies or rivals when they discover that not everyone understands the Bible exactly as they do But it strikes me as unspeakably sad when someone feels called to divide the evangelical movement in which the Bible is confessed to be inspired and authoritative for doctrine and practice by demanding that everyone use the same vocabulary when defining inspiration 14 Ewert goes on to state The real test of whether we hold to the doctrine of inspiration is not to be found in man s inadequate attempts to define the mysteries of God s revelation in the Scriptures but in our willingness to live according to the teachings of the Word of God Lindsell s book is of no help in this arena Indeed the reader can easily be deceived into thinking that if only he has the right definition of inerrancy he is already a true and faithful follower of Jesus Lord of the Scriptures 15 Ewert s response emphasized the historic Mennonite Brethren assertion that the Bible s authority is best defended by the evidence of newness of life and humble obedience rather than a creedal or doctrinal statement In his next book The Bible in the Balance 1979 Lindsell harshly critiqued the Mennonite Brethren in general and David Ewert in particular for being infiltrated with a view of Scripture which impugns inerrancy limits the trustworthiness of the Bible and lays down the dictum that the nature of biblical authority is such that it can never be satisfactorily formulated by an assertion regarding the accuracy of textual details 16 His critique brought the larger evangelical debate into the Mennonite Brethren conference with a particular focus on the Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary where Ewert was teaching Ewert prepared a brief statement of defense in which he declared For thirty five years I have preached and taught the Word in the Mennonite Brethren Church Never once have I even suggested that the Scriptures may be in error Indeed when faced with what appear to be insoluble problems of interpretation and every sincere and informed Bible reader knows about such I have always proceeded on the assumption that the Bible is correct even though my understanding of it may be far from perfect 17 Eventually the Mennonite Brethren General Conference Board of Reference and Counsel addressed the question of the inerrancy of Scripture in a resolution in 1987 18 They affirmed the 1975 Confession of Faith which declared that all Scripture is inspired by God and the Old and New Testament is the infallible Word of God and the authoritative Guide for the faith and life of Christian discipleship 19 While they identified with those who confess the inerrancy of the original documents of the biblical books they also recognized that the precision of any person s definition of revelation and inspiration is not necessarily an index of his or her spiritual depth or faithfulness to God and his Word 20 J B Toews contended that the evangelical debate regarding the inerrancy of the Bible was historically foreign to Mennonite Brethren whose inherent biblicism did not question the trustworthiness of the Scriptures 21 To accept the Bible as the Word of God was an exercise of faith that found its verification of genuineness in a life of obedience to the teaching and life of Jesus 22 Ewert s engagement in the debate typifies Mennonite Brethren aversion to grounding faith in abstract doctrinal formulations rather than directly in the biblical text He also reflects the belief that discipleship not just a simple intellectual affirmation is the proper response to biblical revelation These two examples represent an inductive attempt to articulate how Mennonite Brethren approach the Scriptures as evidenced in their response to internal disagreements and external challenges Both examples reflect a consistent underlying biblicism even though these events were separated by over a century When confronted Mennonite Brethren are able to articulate a particular approach to reading the Scriptures which informs their biblicism THE EFFECTS OF MENNONITE BRETHREN BIBLICISM A second method I wish to use in an attempt to articulate a Mennonite Brethren approach to the Scriptures is to explore how Mennonite Brethren biblicism gives shape to a particular way of interpreting Scripture 1 An Implicit Theology First the direct appeal by Mennonite Brethren to the Bible in all matters of faith and life has contributed to the development of an implicit theology When faced with a question or issue in the church Mennonite Brethren insist it must be answered from the Bible What does the Word say 23 They assume that a careful study of the Scriptures will persuade all of the truth Consequently Mennonite Brethren have not been concerned with creating a systematic doctrinal framework that could make sense of the content of faith The Bible itself is their guide not a set of doctrines derived from the Bible The truthfulness of Scripture is supported by the evidence of new life and a walk of discipleship not by a memorized faith Yet J B Toews acknowledges an implicit faith can be sufficient for a church movement as long as it exists in the context of a homogeneous culture with a prescribed lifestyle that expresses the movement s understanding of faith and practice 24 The cultural isolation of Mennonite Brethren in Russia did not force them to delineate their theological commitments It took forty years before Mennonite Brethren felt compelled to write their first Confession of Faith However the experiences of migration acculturation and mission continue to challenge the capability of an implicit faith to provide adequate theological boundaries for Mennonite Brethren Even though Mennonite Brethren have not developed a systematic theology the ongoing need to articulate an understanding of their faith in changing contexts has pushed them to define more clearly how they read the Scriptures The ongoing development of the Confession of Faith and the adoption of a biblical theology approach illustrate how Mennonite Brethren have wrestled with the implicit nature of their theology The 1902 Confession of Faith acknowledges that every confession of faith as every other teaching and exposition of Scripture is subject at all times to examination and estimation under the guidance of the Holy Spirit according to the Holy Scriptures 25 While Mennonite Brethren understand their Confession of Faith to be descriptive of their corporate understanding of the message and intent of Scripture they also recognize that their perspective at any given time is always limited Consequently the Confession of Faith is never given equal status with Scripture since it is necessarily open to periodic revision The Confession of Faith not only represents core Mennonite Brethren convictions such as Christology and ecclesiology but also particular concerns at a given time and place Various concerns such as leadership models may change over time or reflect issues particular to a specific context For example the Colombian Mennonite Brethren conference added four articles requiring special attention in their context to the 1999 General Conference Confession 26 In this way the Confession can function as a bridge connecting biblical principles with contemporary concerns While the revision of the Confession may reflect new questions and perspectives the process represents the Anabaptist practice of community hermeneutics where the church seeks to discern together the meaning and intent of Scripture 27 This process of community discernment allows for free and open discussion and safeguards against individualistic and private interpretations 28 However once the process has been finalized the Confession becomes normative since it now summarizes what Mennonite Brethren believe the Bible teaches Leaders and churches do not have the liberty to disregard or teach doctrines that are not in agreement with the Confession 29 In practice the Confession functions as a hermeneutical guide for how Mennonite Brethren approach Scripture On one hand where there is agreement among Mennonite Brethren the Confession provides an interpretive framework for how to read the Bible 30 On the other hand if an issue is not explicitly addressed by the Confession there may be freedom to hold a variety of interpretive positions The embrace of biblical theology particularly by the Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary in Fresno MBBS also is an attempt to address the presence of an implicit theology among Mennonite Brethren During the 1960s then president J B Toews began to refocus MBBS from being a fundamentalist institution to one with an Anabaptist orientation 31 As part of this process the MBBS adopted biblical theology as its defining approach to the study of the Scriptures In contrast to the philosophical categories employed by systematic theology to construct a logical doctrinal system biblical theology seeks to synthesize the biblical material using biblical categories 32 This sensitivity to the language literary forms and themes used by the biblical writers themselves reflects an attempt to hear the Bible in its own terms without imposing foreign categories and assumptions onto the text Rather than defending polarizing positions based on different perspectives or theological camps biblical theology seeks to take into account the whole of biblical teaching on a subject despite the tensions that may exist within the text 33 The often contentious issue of eschatology illustrates well how a biblical theology approach shapes the way Mennonite Brethren interpret the Bible 34 Attempts to make sense of the Bible s teaching on the end times have resulted in numerous conflicting eschatological positions pre millennialism post millennialism amillennialism pre tribulation mid tribulation post tribulation Biblical theology seeks to move beyond these debates by listening to all of Scripture s teaching without forcing every verse into a prescribed position Preoccupation with the how when and where questions of eschatology can deflect us from proclaiming key biblical themes like the return of Christ his ultimate triumph and the final judgment 35 Mennonite Brethren have sought to define their understanding of the end times using biblical terms rather than systematic categories 36 Both the Confession of Faith and a biblical theology approach may contribute to the perpetuation of an implicit Mennonite Brethren theology particularly with their encouragement to keep returning to the biblical text However they also take a step toward a more explicit articulation of how Mennonite Brethren read the Bible by providing an interpretive framework 2 The Hermeneutical Problem A second effect of Mennonite Brethren biblicism is a naivety about the hermeneutical problem The hermeneutical problem emerges as one seeks to discern how best to bridge the distance between the world of the Bible and one s own contemporary context Mennonite Brethren biblicism with its emphasis on a straightforward reading of the biblical text has tended to ignore the significance of either context as well as the gap that may exist between them The incarnational nature of God s revelation calls us to be careful to read each passage in its literary context what precedes and follows a specific text its situational context for example what was going on in Rome when Paul wrote his letter and its cultural historical context the larger background behind what was written A literal reading of the Bible seeks to understand the original author s intent which is grounded within the particular context in which it was written This is very different from a literalistic approach which extracts words from their biblical context thus severing them from the meaning the author intended 37 With a literal reading if the author intended to use a figure of speech or a symbolic picture then that is how it should be read On the other hand perhaps the more difficult hermeneutical task is to recognize how our own context influences sometimes unconsciously our reading of the Bible We also bring to the biblical text our experiential context experiences that shape who we are our situational context what is going on in our lives and our cultural historical context often reflected in our unstated assumptions values and attitudes How do these factors influence our reading of Scripture One of the best ways to become aware of our own pre understandings as David Ewert calls the influence of our experience situation and cultural setting is to study the Bible in the context of the Christian community where our interpretations can be challenged affirmed or corrected 38 Mennonite Brethren have sought to practice a corporate hermeneutic which listens to the concerns of individuals and churches but discerns together the meaning and intent of the Scriptures This safeguards our denomination from the extremes of individualism and private interpretations but allows for free study and discussion 39 This practice is modeled after the early Anabaptists who appealed to Matthew 18 18 20 the Rule of Christ and 1 Corinthians 14 29 the Rule of Paul as the basis for engaging in congregational discernment 40 One of the dangers of ignoring the significance of the hermeneutical problem is that we might be tempted to identify our interpretations with the biblical text itself To do so is to bestow upon them a finality a sufficiency which lifts them above the text and out of the reach of criticism Far from establishing the text s authority therefore this is a strategy which effectively overthrows it and enthrones our interpretation in its place We are no longer genuinely open therefore to consider it afresh or to hear it speaking in any other voice than the one which we have now trapped tamed and packaged for observation 41 In hindsight Mennonite Brethren have admitted that they have promoted at times legalistically a culturally informed set of values as if they were clear biblical principles 42 It is sometimes easier for a later generation to recognize how a limited cultural perspective has been conflated with our reading of Scripture The awareness of the hermeneutical problem does not diminish the clarity of Scripture but it does call us to walk with humility in recognition of our own limitations especially when we find ourselves in disagreement with other believers 3 Affinity with other Evangelicals A third effect of Mennonite Brethren biblicism is the willingness to associate with other believers who share a similar biblicism Since the criteria of faith for Mennonite Brethren rests primarily in the evidence of a new life based on repentance and an experience of personal conversion they have liberty to fellowship with people from other denominations whom they considered true believers 43 On one hand exposure to various denominations and movements has been a tremendous gift for the Mennonite Brethren because it has enriched them with what God has been doing within the larger Christian community Mennonite Brethren have much to learn from others On the other hand Mennonite Brethren have tended to borrow freely and often uncritically from many different theological traditions The lack of both an explicit theological framework and an appreciation of the hermeneutical problem has hindered them from being able to discern easily what lies behind or comes with the biblicism of other Christian groups This has caused confusion at times when Mennonite Brethren have too quickly adopted new ideas that later were discerned as incongruent with long held Mennonite Brethren convictions A further complicating factor is that Mennonite Brethren identity has always reflected a unique blend of perspectives Initially Mennonite Brethren represented a mixture of Anabaptist Mennonite Pietist and even Baptist influences Today in North America Mennonite Brethren identify themselves as both Evangelicals and Anabaptists Numerous attempts have been made to highlight the uniqueness of the Mennonite Brethren often with a set of distinctives that highlight differences in comparison with other groups or denominations I would suggest that a more helpful approach would be to take up the challenge of articulating a set of core Mennonite Brethren convictions which would reflect their own theological center and offer a vision for shaping their continuing journey together 44 As a result of this affinity for other evangelical groups Mennonite Brethren are becoming increasingly

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  • Direction: A Tribute to Hans Kasdorf: A Gentleman, a Scholar, and More
    areas of mission history and theology and published in both English and German He was nothing if not thorough He earned two doctorates one from Fuller Theological Seminary and another from the University of South Africa in Pretoria A pamphlet It s Sunrise in World Mission 1984 was a vision statement launching the Master of Arts program in the Department of Mission which he headed at the Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary His book Christian Conversion in Context Herald Press 1980 gained credibility from his own five year missionary service in Brazil Although his passion was for global mission Kasdorf cared also about history and theology This interest was reflected in his second doctoral dissertation of 706 pages entitled A Century of Mennonite Brethren Mission Thinking 1885 1984 Even preceding his death though with limited energy given a failing heart he was at work on a manuscript tentatively titled Theology and Mission He and his wife Frieda translated diaries of mission personnel from the German His autobiography The Design of My Journey was published in 2004 A volume of essays was published in his honor in Germany Die Mission der Theologie Festschrift für Hans Kasdorf zum 70 Geburtstag Verlag für Kultur und Wissenschaft 1998 The journal Direction devoted an issue 1994 in honor of Dr Kasdorf Hans was a Spirit filled man of deep piety and devotion He reveled in Bible study his lectures were laced with biblical insights A man of prayer he prayed earnestly for missionaries among them many who graduated from the Master of Arts program several of whom are administrators in mission agencies He was in love with his Savior and relished conversation about the God whom he served His life s motto and orientation might be summarized as his friend John N Klassen a missionary in

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  • Direction: Living Under God's Judgment
    John the Baptist calls his audience you brood of vipers Luke 3 7 and then he informs them every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire 3 9 In Matthew 25 Jesus describes how the Son of Man will sentence the wicked Depart from me you who are cursed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels Judgment is a significant topic in the letters of Paul and takes up entire chapters in the book of Revelation From Genesis through Revelation the judgment of God is a central theme We can t relegate the judgment of God to the Old Testament and the grace of God to the New Testament The Bible is far more complex and profound than that In both testaments God is first and foremost gracious That is why already at the beginning of the Bible God embarks on the grand project of offering divine grace and wholeness to a broken world But the grace of God does not eliminate the judgment of God In the heart of God grace and wrath live side by side in a paradoxical relationship God is infinitely gracious But God also has a wrathful side which manifests itself in acts of judgment The Bible does not resolve or relax this paradox There is a contradiction here which we cannot fully understand nor should we seek to explain it away In some earlier eras of church history the weight of the church s teaching was on God s judgment As a result many people experienced God as somewhat of a tyrant always keen to punish and to consign the wicked to eternal damnation Some of us here have been deeply hurt by this kind of inappropriate teaching and preaching In response we have sent the pendulum swinging in the opposite direction and we virtually never speak of the judgment of God Even the lectionary which is supposed to give us a balanced diet of biblical texts steers us away from judgment passages So what happens to our understanding of God when we relax the paradox too much in favor of the grace of God God becomes a God of infinite love and grace who always affirms supports and comforts us no matter what we do God becomes a cosmic teddy bear always prepared to give us warm fuzzies If you want to invade and destroy the country of Iraq under false pretenses that s okay I will love you anyway If you want to kill five million Jews that s okay I love you anyway This kind of God becomes toothless and gutless Of course God is infinitely gracious and of course God comforts affirms and supports But this is only half of the paradox As a friend of mine once observed the God of the Bible is an ass kicking God When the world can spend billions of dollars waging war in far off places while doing so little

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