Wednesday, January 14, 2009

To Perform the World Beyond the Reach of Pharaoh

On of the benefits of sojourning at a seminary is that you get to hear the guys who write the books. Today, my favorite author on matters pertaining to Scripture (particularly the Old Testament) is on campus. Walter Brueggemann just spoke on Exodus at a conference on Engaging Scripture for the Sake of the World. WB never disappoints, and so I have a little theology geek buzz going.

I'll just mention one point that WB made today that presses some on what I've been blogging about of late. WB sees the decalogue (10 commandments) as counter commandments, standing in contrast to Pharaoh's commandments about production, bricks, and straw in Exodus 5. Against the insatiable culture of slave production under Pharaoh's control, the way of YHWH provides a coventantal neighborliness that allows acts of kindness toward others.

In the middle of this wonderful exposition of Scripture, Brueggemann made comments about God and the world. He was taught in seminary, he told us, that if you begin theology with God's initiative you're likely doing good theology (I was taught the same thing). Problem is, he said, the biblical writers weren't clued in to this little theological key. Brueggemann refers to the middle part of Exodus as the narrative of departure and noted today that it is human initiative that pushes the story along. Pharaoah produces a cry through oppression, Israel cries out againts Pharaoh's reach, and God responds to the cry of Israel.

The initiative of the Exodus is located in the cry of the slaves that move beyond Pharaoh's reach. The cry is the refusal of a dehumanizing way of life built around insatiable production. The one who is other than Pharaoh (the holy one of Israel), hears Israel's cry and calls them into the performance of a counter story.

I simply want to point out here that creation is active in the drama of redepmtion. The story of God-world is not just a story of God's initiative. God is moved by human initiative. This is not to say that humans can provide their own deliverance, or that God is not an initiator. It is to say that God's relationship with creation is ust that--a relationship. The world is not simply a passive recipient of God's irresistable plan. The world is a real participant in the drama of redemption.

This dynamic view of God suffers with the negotiations made by early Christian apologists with a Greek thinking world. Stan Grenz, and others, refer to the theology that emerges in this period as onto-theology. That is, thinking about God that is rooted in a certain notion of being, namely a substantialist perspective that divides the world into subjects and objects. And in this world, God only works if God is impassable, that is not affected by the world. God is a persisting subject--omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent. In Trinitarian thought, great pains were made to shield the Father from the suffering of the Son.

We still live with much of this today. With regard to mission, we have used passages like Matthew 28 and the biblical language of sending to support a substantialist notion of God. God sends the Son, sends the Spirit (a point of contention between East and West), sends the church. The world is simply an object. The church simply an obedient instrument of God, on the side of God in a series of sendings. The result is a strategic view of mission rooted in a paternalism, often resulting in a heavy-handed imperialism or ethnocentrism parading as the kingdom of God.

The biblical story is not one of an impassable God, a persisting Subject, but of a God who is revealed in relation to human cries, whether of the cries of slaves in Egypt, or of the Son in the Garden of Gethsemane.

WB always raises the spectre of an unmanagable God who if faithful, consistent, precisely in response to human suffering. This, I believe, is the necessary starting place for "Engaging Scripture for the Sake of the World."

1 comment:

Lisa Gonzales-Barnes said...

For some reason this made me think of Immanuel, God with us. There is something very simple (but mysterious) about that kind of relationship. A mutual partnership in action.