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.

Human Identity and Vocation

October 11, 2022

Days 5-8 in Around the Bible in Eighty Days

Text: Genesis 1:26-28

Who are we as human beings? What is our identity, and what is our responsibility and function on this earth?

The long history of spirituality, which is evident in today’s Western culture, has included a search for the authentic self. It seems we are constantly on a quest to discover our true selves and thereby embrace, if we can, our authentic identity as persons.

The story of God provided in Scripture identifies human beings as imagers of God. While the history of theology has often debated the particulars of this description, the general meaning is that human beings represent God within the creation as imitators of God. We are equipped to be Godlike and to work with God. There is not only a deep relational connection between God and humanity that is unique within the cosmos but human beings are partners (co-rulers, co-workers), junior partners to be sure, with God within the cosmos.

Our identity is a gift; it is a grace. We ought to receive it and welcome this dignity with which God has graced us. To resist this identity is to create dissonance with the creation, generate chaos within the God-human relationship, and break the bonds of community between ourselves and others, including the creation.

With our identity comes tremendous responsibility. Our vocation is summarized in some brief but rich language.

  • Fill the earth with other imagers who are the glory of God—the God who enjoys enriching the earth with more authentic representatives.
  • Subdue the earth, which is to continue the process of overcoming the remaining chaos within the creation and thus co-participate in God’s continual ordering of the world.
  • Rule the earth with God as co-rulers, which invites us in the task of caring for God’s good creation like shepherds who care for their flocks.

Representing God, humanity partners with God in filling, subduing, and ruling. This is our human vocation; it is the task God has given to us and for which our identity qualifies us. In fact, some suggest that our vocation is our identity, that is, it is the image of God or how we image God.

Our vocation is the touchstone for thinking about how we pass our days upon the earth. Who are we? What are we invited to do? What does it mean to participate in the mission of God? What career should I pursue? How does my career participate in the mission of God and express my identity and vocation?

These are the sorts of identity and vocational questions human beings ask. It seems to me, at least in my own experience, we discover meaning and significance in life when we locate ourselves in the story of God. When we welcome the identity God has given us, pursue the life into which God has invited us, and embrace the vocation with which the story of God tasks us, we find our authentic selves. We find ourselves in the presence of God’s grace, mission, and community.

Love Your Neighbor

October 10, 2022

Text: James 2:1-8
Sermon begins at the 45 minute mark.

Hebel Happens: A Sermon on September 11, 2022

September 12, 2022

This sermon was delivered at the Well House Church in Nashville, TN. The sermon begins at about 44 minutes.

Hebel happens.

9-11 happened.

Hebel is the word the preacher in Ecclesiastes uses thirty-seven times to describe a world soaked in death.

Life is brief, a vapor. It is absurd and an enigma. It is unfathomable; we can’t make sense of the world as it now exists.

Stuff happens; and it is hebel—enigmatic, transitory, and futile.

COVID-19 happens. Job losses happen. Violence happens. Abuse happens. Cancer happens. Death happens. It is hebel.

How do we respond to hebel?

We lament, question, and protest.

We need to sit there for a time. We should neither escape lament nor rush it. Let it happen. It is a healthy response to hebel.

How do we respond to hebel? We lament. But that is not all.

We open our eyes to see the beauty in the world. We embrace the goodness of creation and its joys.

Even the preacher said, “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart . . . Let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the [spouse] whom you love.”

Without diminishing the pain of our lament, we affirm the goodness of creation: the joy of food, wine, companionship, vocation, children, and life.

There is hebel, and there is good. Something is wrong with this world, and there is also something good about it.

Today, we lament the evil, and affirm the good.

We lament 9-11, and we also give thanks for the good in our lives.

We lament the pandemic, and we also gratefully enjoy family, food, friends, and faith.

Wise and Foolish Builders: Matthew 7:24-29

August 29, 2022

A sermon on the wise and foolish builders in the parable of Jesus at the end of the Sermon on the Mount.

Encountering Jesus at Table: The Emmaus Road Narrative (Luke 24:13-35)

July 21, 2022

Why do we eat at the Lord’s table like it is still Friday when it is Sunday, resurrection day?

A Podcast Discussion: New Heavens and a New Earth

July 13, 2022