There is a reason that relationship is so central to our religion, to reading the Bible, and to prayer. We will focus on prayer next week, but this week I wanted to look at the relational aspect of reading the Bible as a tie-in to what we have been talking about for the past 5 weeks.
In the past, much of church history has been focused on A) Status and B) Substance. Now, it is my conviction that these are not the concerns of the Hebrew mind (in the Old Testament) nor are they the concerns of Jesus (in the Gospels) and they will not continue to be the concerns of the world that is becoming (our post-Modern world).
That means that the only place where it has been a primary concern is with 1) those Greek thinkers (substance) and Roman authorities (status) that come after the first century – and thus after the writing of those books that would come to be in the New Testament 2) those European systems ( in Italy then Germany then England, etc.) that led up to, and really came to fruition in, the Enlightenment (think Denominations).
So let’s take Communion as an example. Jesus had this meal. Whether you say that he observed it, celebrated it or initiated it – he used the moment to demonstrate and model ultimate servant-power (John 13). Jesus’ concern about communion was relationship. He even had the meal with a disciple that he knew would betray him (and one that he knew would deny him). Jesus modeled relational truth.
In the 300-500 years after Jesus, the focus changed significantly. That is why – for even so many to this day – the main concern is A) what it is and B) who is allowed to eat it. That is why Substance and Status have supplanted Jesus’ concern – which was relationship.
That is why I think that whenever you eat a meal with someone and Christ’s love is in your heart – that is communion.You are having communion with them – at least Level 1 communion. Now, if you agree with that and what to add to it an official meal of special bread and wine – that is fine. But if you want to move to that specific meal and special ingredients without the element of relationship – then I would have a problem. Especially if you then want to add a third level which is concerned with who is allowed to eat it (and who is not) and then who is allowed to serve it.
In fact, relationship is the main focus of so much of the Bible and we miss it when we use these lenses of Status and Substance.
Look at the concept of the Trinity. The main point is that God is relationship. God is perfect relationship. But somehow in those years that followed Jesus’ time on earth – the main concern became Substance (is Jesus fully God and fully Man? ) and Status (Is the Holy Spirit equal with the other two members or not? ). Now, the whole point of a Three-in-One god is to form and inform us about the inter-relating of one to another. We miss the point of the Trinity (and the Bible) when we look at Status and Substance.
Look at Creation. The stuff that attracts so much attention and draws so many of the headlines (Creation vs. Evolution) misses the point of that section of scripture. It is important to know that the idea of Creation Ex Nihilo (out of nothing) never showed up in connection to the Genesis account until 200 years after Jesus. That means that no Jewish Rabbi would have believed that before (or during) Jesus’ life. It also means that Jesus would not have believed in Creation Ex Nihilo. God did not create the world out of nothing.
Go back and read that portion of scripture again. You will notice two things: first, that there were already substances present; second that God works with what is in order to bring forward something new. Then God gives that something new a responsibility (partnering in relationship) and then uses the something new to bring about yet a newer thing still.
So God makes the earth. Then God says to the earth ‘you bring forth plants’. Then God takes some earth and makes humans. Then God gives to the humans responsibilities on earth.
The point is not the science behind creation – but ultimately God’s relationship to creation. God calls the earth good and it is noteworthy that God never says that creation is not good! It is later that Substance and Status change the way we think about that. Substance says that the earth is “fallen” because of original sin (this is borrowed from Greek philosophy and does not come from the Bible). Status says that creation is lower than humans and therefor is of less value. Now, admittedly, there are some words that are used in Genesis that can be read that way… but if you want to read them that way ,they do have to be interpreted that way. All I am saying is that they do not need to be interpreted that way!!
I think that it is worth pausing and noticing that even our communion elements come up from the earth. The wheat for the bread and the grapes for the wine come from the soil – the earth.
I believe in the resurrection. The reason that I have been less dogmatic about it being a literal/physical resurrection than others is two-fold.
First, I am driven by a desire for a BigTent Christianity where people who dialogue about the exact nature of this or that element of the Bible can still be included.
Secondly, I don’t think that that substance of Jesus resurrected body is the point of those stories. I think that the main point is how Jesus relates to us in resurrection. The experience of the disciples after the resurrection was of Christ’s presence with them – the veil had been torn in two and soon the Comforter would come in power (Acts 2). God’s spirit – the spirit of Christ – was out and about and at work in the world.
Just look at what the Apostle Paul would experience on the Road to Damascus (Acts 9). Whatever Paul experienced was the real and post-resurrection Christ. It was enough to radically change his life and cause him to live for this cause and it would lead to his own imprisonment and death. The substance of the post-resurrection body is not the focus. Relationship is. God was in a new relationship with humanity.
I have tons and tons of examples, but I want to point out how not focusing on relationship effects even the way that we read specific verses in the New Testament. There is a popular verse that is often quoted this way “God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purposes.” That is based on a bad translation (King James Version). But that is not exactly how that verse reads and it certainly (even if it did read that way in English) does not mean that!
But listen to the Revised Standard Version “ We know that in everything God works for the good with those who love him…”
God does not cause the things to work for us. Think about how mechanistic of view of the world produces a reading like that.
A more accurate way to think of it is “God works for the good with those who love God so that all things come to accomplish God’s purpose.”
First: It is God who works – not the things.
Second: God works with us to bring about God’s purposes.
Reading the Bible with Relationship in mind affects so many things. The nature of the Trinity, the Creation narrative, the Incarnation, Communion and prayer … just to name a few!!
The bottom line is ‘how God relates to us’. Everything else is fun and function. Realizing this is one of the most important things that has happened to me and my walk with the Lord. I wish I had know this 15 years ago. I don’t regret what I learned and everything that I was taught – but I do wish that less attention had been paid to SUbstance and Structure and more had been paid to relationship.
Next week we I hope to address Salvation and Prayer. Please feel free to posts any comments or questions. I love the dialogue.
November 16, 2010 at 10:45 am
>Hey Everyday,I like the idea of looking at the Bible through the lens of relationship. I think a lot of great insights come to the surface when we look at it in this way.But, I need remind you of those who criticize others who look at Scripture with Pauline glasses. The criticism is made that Paul is just one voice in the scriptures and it isn't wise to interpret all of scripture by that one viewpoint. (Though, personally I don't see any contradictions between Paul and the rest of scripture)I think that same criticism can be made here. There is a lot of material in the scripture that talks about God being separate from creation and from mankind because of substantive differences. Differences include the basic difference between creator and creature. Another difference is between God's holiness and our sin and self-righteousness.God's holiness is a huge theme in both the Old and New (or First and Second) Testaments. God's otherness, if you will, is emphasized again and again. The point was made decades ago that those who look at the Old Testament through the lens of salvation history or "Heilsgeschichte" didn't take into account all the material in the Old Testament. I think the same can be said about looking at scripture through the lens of relationship. It just doesn't take into account all the material.By way of argument and illustration let me point out that the Old Testament concepts of clean and unclean and of holiness show rather clearly that Hebrews did indeed think about the "substance" of some things.Bacon is out of bounds to Hebrews because in it's very substance it is declared, by God, to be unclean. And this was not in a hygienic way but in a ceremonial, religious, distancing-one-from-God way.This example raises the question about the goodness of God's creation and the Fall. If everything that God created was good and it is all still good, and the Fall as it it described today is a later construct, why were naturally occurring things declared to be "unclean" in themselves?It is dangerous to minimize the effects of the Fall because to do so minimizes also the redemption that God brought about in Jesus. His life, death and resurrection have cosmic significance as well as personal significance for you, me and our communities.Wow, I said a lot more than I intended. You really got me thinking, thanks! Looking forward to more!
November 16, 2010 at 2:47 pm
>Wow. well said! Thank you for taking the time to respond. that was quite a well thought out presentation… and somebody was clearly paying attention in systematize theology class!! 🙂 I’m not trying to argue with you (as that would seem unwise on my end) I would simply like to put forward a couple of things that we might need to clarify between us.- I like the caution with Paul. That is a valid reminder. There is a difference, I believe. Paul was not the only author of the Bible and therefor it is not good to read the whole Bible through Paul. I am saying that the whole point of the Christian religion is relationship and therefor it IS o.k. to read the whole Bible with this in mind. – You are right that God is holy and humans are sinful. That is not what I am saying. I am only asking that we not read those – especially Hebrew passages – through a Greek & Roman lens that they were not written for and so it warps them. We can talk about those Old Testament passages, I just want to do it through an appropriately Hebrew lens. For instance, the language of Covenant is more appropriate than a Roman legal contract for Hebrew passages. – I think that it is telling that in Acts 10: 15 a voice from heaven tells Peter “no longer call unclean what God has made clean”. Now, if we say that is was in Christ that things were made clean, that is fine. But as Christians, that is the part that we should concentrate on. In Christ, those things are NOT unclean. Thank you so much for the thoughts. now you have me thinking…