Thursday, September 16, 2010

Latest book by James Dunn

A note after reading three reviews of this new book, Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? The New Testament Evidence by Dunn herehere, and here. HT James McGrath whose book maybe I should read.

I am not a professional theologian. I read the New testament in translation. I read bits of the TNK in Hebrew - not because I am any good at Hebrew but because the poetry loses its shape in translation. I read the Psalms because the Epistle to the Hebrews uses the Psalms as the words of the dialogue between the Father and the Son. For me, this fact shows that the writer of the epistle understood the Psalter to record something about the way Israel was to identify and participate in the same dialogue with God.

Now that seems to me to be of critical importance. I found this a vital sign - something worth pursuing. An invitation by God the Spirit. It does not leave me without questions - but (based on the reviews) I do not find my questions being addressed in this latest book - though I have learned much from reading earlier books of his.

What I found in the psalms is a voice and a spirit of the authors that mirrors every aspect of my own personal being and I found the responding voice that teaches everything I needed to know one moment at a time even if I did not know in advance that this was what I needed to learn. Is this worship? (John 4:29)

Who is it that I worship? And is my worship well informed? I find these very difficult questions.What will I do with the language of the NT in its many multi-authored traditions.

There is a variety of expression in the NT that is coherent with the TNK witness but which we reduce too much to the Jesus Christ soundbite. How careful the NT writers were is debatable, but they do not use just Jesus Christ, sometimes Christ Jesus, sometimes Christ alone, sometimes Jesus alone, sometimes Spirit alone, sometimes the Lord the Spirit, Spirit of Christ, and Spirit of Jesus Christ.

I think I am a 'Trinitarian' - I am certainly not a worshiper of Two Gods. No binary here - nor am I a worshiper of Three Gods. As the Shema notes - יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָֽד The Lord our God, the Lord is One, where in each case 'Lord' is the name יְהוָה. So the definite article hardly belongs in the sentence. It is not that there is 1 God but that יְהוָה is our God, יְהוָה is one - whole, Holy, without division, without dysfunction. I realize that one can translate the 4 words at least 5 different ways - but let such cavils over verb-less clauses be put aside. Worship doesn't argue. When it comes to worship, the conversation with the woman at the well (John 4) comes to my mind - God is Spirit - and those who worship must worship in spirit and in truth. And prior to that he says - we know what we are doing - for salvation is from the Jews.

Scot McKnight asks: was their [the early Christians] worship possible without Christ? My immediate response when the word Christ comes up alone is - When you say Christ do you always imply Jesus?  If the psalmists worshiped - it was because they were in the Anointing Spirit by election. This Anointing precedes the writing of the NT. (So 1 Peter 1:11 attributes to them the Spirit of Christ.) Is it from these words that Jesus himself learned? Can we all learn the same way from God in dialogue with God, teaching as at the knee of a mother?

Was such an Anointing of the son / the servant / the king / the priest or Israel or any who feared יְהוָה also possible before Jesus? Of course it was. Surely that's why the psalms work the way they do. They, by the invitation of God, invite every reader into the conversation. Like the words of Jesus, creating the sense that they make, the words of the Psalter are spirit and life creating us as we hear them.