Divine Dwelling, Inherited Land, and Another Detour

November 30, 2022

Texts: Exodus 40:34-38; Joshua 11:23; 1 Samuel 8:4-9

Days 17-19 in Around the Bible in Eighty Days.

God led Israel out of Egypt into the wilderness to Sinai where God dwelt upon the earth. The purpose of the Exodus was not only liberation from slavery but encounter with God at Sinai whey they would become the covenant people of God.

At Sinai, God moved to dwell in the midst of Israel by filling the newly completed tabernacle with God’s glory and presence. Dwelling with Israel, God moved the place of God’s own rest from Sinai to the tabernacle and thus moved with Israel through the wilderness and into the promised land. Carrying God’s presence with them in the symbol of the ark of the covenant, Israel entered the land as their inheritance.

Their inheritance entailed the renewal of humanity. A new humanity—liberated from imperial oppression—now dwelt in a new Eden where God would rest in the land and give rest to the land.

This new Eden was a theocracy, and covenant people of God were designed to fill the land with peace, justice, righteousness, and joy. It was a place where Israel, representing all humanity as a priestly royal nation, would be a light to the nations and invite them to hear the word of the Lord so that they, too, might flourish like a tree by running water. Like Eden, this was a land where God ruled and in which God rested, and God tasked Israel, like humanity in the beginning, to fill the land with God’s imagers and God’s glory. Israel became a co-ruler with God and a priest among the nations.

Sadly, as in Eden with Adam and Eve, Israel became dissatisfied with God’s theocratic arrangement. Israel embraced a detour as they decided to choose their own king like the nations rather than calling the nations into the light and life of God’s way.

This detour empowered oppressive and self-interested structures. Rather than living before God in communities led by people whom God raised up as needed, they decided to give power to a system of hereditary monarchs. Though God would ultimately redeem the monarchy through reestablishing a divine theocracy through the work of King Jesus, the history Israel’s monarchy became another degenerative spiral into idolatry, just like the spiral described in Genesis 3-11.

Listening to the Spirit for Discernment

November 28, 2022

In response to a dear friend’s question about listening to the Spirit and discernment.

I wish listening to the Spirit was a mechanical process that always had a clear outcome. Unfortunately, we human beings are the ones who still do the “listening,” and our listening is complicated by our own interests, biases, and fears. Just as our sanctification is a process (as we grow more into the likeness of Christ) that never ends until we are glorified with Christ, the same is true of listening to the Spirit–it is a process of sanctification itself. And, often it is a process of communal sanctification.

Discernment comes through prayerful listening to God and each other, searching the Scriptures, and communal relationships in the bond of love. It is not easy, and it is complicated. Sanctification is never easy.

Ultimately, it seems to me, we make the best communal decision we can with the right heart and trust in God’s future for the community. We listen, and then we do the right thing as far as we are able to see (discern) it.

We might also remember that the Spirit works slowly with some and more quickly with others due to any number of factors, and it is not expected everyone will be on the same page all along the process. Sanctification is not automatic, and it is often slow (like years of integrating churches and ending slavery) and always hard.

I trust God is gracious with the process even I as I don’t think we are promised uniformity or even consensus when thinking through difficult and complicated questions that are deeply embedded in our historic cultural practices.

Did Women “Preach” in the New Testament?

November 25, 2022

I was invited to visit the Highland Oaks Church of Christ in Dallas, Texas, but due to COVID I could not. I was diagnosed the day I was supposed to get on the plane to fly to Dallas. Consequently, I addressed the church through Zoom on the topic while experiencing some of the effects of COVID.

I suggest that prophecy in Israel and the church parallel the function of “preaching” in the contemporary church.

This video was part of a series by multiple speakers at the Highland Oaks Church of Christ. All the videos are available here.

Why Might We Follow the Christian Calendar?

November 21, 2022

This lesson was delivered at the Bammel Church of Christ in Houston, Texas, on November 20, 2022. The lesson begins at minute 51 through minute 77 (1:17). The lesson follows the reading of Psalm 66

Oral History of Churches of Christ: James Gorman Interviews John Mark Hicks

November 17, 2022

James Gorman, an historian of the Restoration Movement (Stone-Campbell Movement) and Professor at Johnson University near Knoxville, Tennessee, is conducting a series of oral histories about the churches of Christ in the 21st century. These oral histories are available on the ACU website.

Jamey asked me a series of questions about my biography and life among churches of Christ as well as my theological development and perspectives. The interview is available here.

It covers a range of topics, including my own shifts in theology, the value of studying restoration history, sectarianism, current challenges to the church, and the problem of evangelicalism’s influence upon churches of Christ.

I hope you enjoy listening.

Jesus Wept (John 11:35)

November 14, 2022

Sermon at the Cedar Lane Church of Christ in Tullahoma, TN, on November 13, 2022 based on John 11:32-37. The sermon begins at the 35 minute mark.

The Identity of Israel: New Humanity in a New Eden

November 9, 2022

Texts: Genesis 12:1-3, 7a; Exodus 6:2-8; Exodus 19:3-6.

Days 14-16 in Around the Bible in Eighty Days.

Who is Israel, and what is her purpose? It is a new humanity in a new Eden to continue and further the mission of God in the world.

Following the collapse of the world into violent imperialism and God’s intervention that scattered humanity across the face of the earth, God decided to create a people as God’s own people from among the nations for the sake of the nations.

God called Abraham as the ancestor of a people who would multiply and fill the land God would give them, and in this land, they would become a light to the nations. 

God, we might say, rebooted the divine mission. What God intended in the creation of Adam and Eve, God now intends in the creation of Israel. Just as God blessed male and female to multiply, so Israel would multiply. Just as God placed them in a Garden, so God would place Israel in a land. Just as God dwelt in the Garden with Adam and Eve, so God would dwell with Israel. Just as God wanted humanity to fill the whole earth, so God would bless all nations through Israel.

Israel is God’s new humanity for the sake of all humanity. The land of Israel became a new Garden of Eden for the sake of blessing all the nations of the earth. God commissioned Israel, just as he had commissioned humanity in the beginning, with a royal and priestly vocation, that is, to be light to the nations and the means of their redemption.

With Abraham, God is starting over and investing in Israel the same vocation that was given to humanity in the beginning. The story continues. Babel was not the end but the beginning of a new trajectory. While Babel wanted to make a name for itself, God decided to make a name for Abraham.

Defining Marks of the Church: Acts 2:42 and Restorationism

November 3, 2022

This is a lecture I delivered at Great Lakes Christian College on October 21, 2022.

Click here for the link. The lecture begins about minute 40.

Acts 2:42: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers.”

Tumbling: A Degenerative Spiral

November 2, 2022

Text: Genesis 4:3-7; 6:11-13; 11:2-4

Days 11-13 in Around the Bible in Eighty Days

Traditionally, particularly in the West, Christian theologians have described the transition from the Garden of Eden to ground east of Eden as “the Fall.” Of course, there is a sense in which there is a fall because the circumstances radically changed: the original couple is now east of Eden rather than in the Garden itself.

However, “the fall” is often understood to mean that human beings radically changed in the moment they sinned. More specifically, their natures became utterly depraved, and they and their posterity were alienated from God through the guilt of Adam’s sin. The “original sin,” in this perspective, entailed total depravity and hereditary (or imputed) guilt for the whole human race.

In this video I suggest that a different analysis is more consistent with the narrative. Rather than humanity falling off a cliff from original righteous to total depravity as they exited the Garden, human tumbled from their original innocence through a foolish choice to anger, then to global violence, and then to imperial idolatry.

I prefer to call this a “tumble” rather than a “fall.”  What this represents is that humanity did not fall off a cliff and hit rock bottom on the day they ate from the forbidden tree but spiraled out of control through anger, violence, and idolatry. Cain murdered his brother, then the world was filled with violence, and in the post-flood period humanity embraced idolatry and pursued imperial interests. Humanity moved from innocence to idolatry facilitated by violence.

This was a tumble. Genesis 4-11 narrates a degenerative spiral into idolatry. This is the story Days 11-13 describes, and it is the topic of this video.

A Garden, Two Trees, and a Detour

October 26, 2022

Days 9-10 in Around the Bible in Eighty Days

Texts: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7.

The reading of Genesis 2-3 is widely disputed, and it is difficult to discern what the best reading is. Is this description of cosmic and human origins literal history (as if we were watching a video), a theological saga, a mytho-historical worldview, or some other genre?

My interest in this post, and in my book, is not to settle or even discuss those kinds of questions. There are many good books that engage those concerns (like William Lane Craig, John Walton, or Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither?). My interest is more theological than historical, though both are important. And, more specifically, my interest concerns the nature of humanity before God as human beings seek to live out their vocation within the creation as well as the nature of the detour that followed eating the forbidden fruit.

There are different ways of understanding what happened. What is the nature of the “fall”? What was the perfection of humanity (if we can call it perfect) before the “fall”? What is the nature of the human condition after the disobedience of the original couple? History is strewn with diverse answers to these questions.

I suggest framing a theological reading of Genesis 2-3 in this way (though this is by no means the only way to frame it): is this a narrative about the legal separation or alienation of God and righteous human beings, or is it a narrative that functions like a wisdom parable (which does not deny its historical character) about foolish choices and immaturity? Is the point forensic as in a judicial judgment, or is the point about a foolish detour as in a wisdom play? In some sense, it could be both, I suppose.

The Western traditions of the Christian Faith have typically read this as a forensic story about guilt and punishment which left humanity alienated from God in their very nature. The Eastern traditions of the Christian Faith have typically read this as a wisdom story about life and death which has left humanity sick and diseased, bereft of the divine wisdom to flourish though still blessed by God in their search for the divine.

I suggest Genesis 2-3 is more about wisdom than forensics. It is more about life, choices, and consequences than about a courtroom trial and decision. It is about the maturation of humanity rather than its probation. The consequences are not so much forensic punishments as they are destructive processes generated by foolish choices.

This is a wisdom narrative that includes all of us. We are all Adam and Eve. We all begin as immature as children, and we all have chosen foolishness with devastating consequences physically, emotionally, and relationally. And, at the same time, God has graciously pursued us, just as God remained with Adam and Eve as they exited the Garden to live east of Eden.

In this Bible class video, I attempt to tell that story.