Saturday, July 12, 2014

What's "good for you" in Christian teaching?

Alright, you theologians and atheists out there, here's finally something you can tear apart. First maybe I will begin with a list. And why pick 'Christian teaching'?  Is it different from Hebrew teaching or Greek teaching or Muslim teaching or human teaching?  There will be considerable overlaps - but also a few radical differences. In Christian thinking particularly, we have one unique component - the death of the anointed, the death of the beloved, the death of the chosen one, Jesus' death, our death.  This component is not available explicitly to any other teaching system - but it is always available everywhere implicitly.

Obviously this is a big topic. My list is this. These things are good for you.
  1. turning
  2. acknowledging error
  3. working towards completeness
  4. recognizing connections
  5. maturing
Look at that - no square script, no Greek, no Bible quotations, no God, no music even! If I were going to associate these 5 with Biblical words, they might be (though not limited to)
  1. repentance
  2. confession of sin
  3. striving for holiness
  4. seeing the body of the assembly (congregation, church)
  5. coming to the fullness of our humanity
Again, not a lot of text - I wonder if this spontaneous 5 fold list will hold up. The difference between 3 and 5 is the cooperative action of the human and the Holy One. There, I have made a first mention of God.

How then should we live? What are say, five things that we should avoid? Like growing plants, there is poison, imbalance, and there is fertilizer that enables and soil that encourages.

The list of poisons begins with
  1. revenge. And continues with 
  2. hatred,
  3. greed, 
  4. exploitation, 
  5. self-protection, 
and the violence that these things cause. What can we do in a world with apparently limited resources to deal with the natural presence and growth of these things in our lives?

The fertilizer is the word of God in theological terms - but what does this mean in non-Biblical words?
  1. Mutual respect, especially for elders, 
  2. healthy skepticism. Ultimately this will turn to the single word of
  3. loving the other, 
  4. loving the enemy
  5. loving oneself in a new way. 
This teaching, as you might guess, is fully available in the ancient poetry of the Psalms, but it requires some unpacking so that the poisons packaged in the same poetry do not get the better of sound judgment. Now for a quote to end this beginning (Psalm 2:10-12):
So now you sovereigns, let there be insight
be warned you who judge on earth
serve Yahweh in fear
and rejoice in trembling
Kiss, each of you - pure lest he be angry
and you perish in the way
for he kindles as a hint of his anger
Happy! all who take refuge in him
I hear cries of unfair! How can you begin Christian teaching with a word from the Old Testament? The question and the cry reveal just how wrong most Christian thinking and teaching is. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Wrong in that there is always an attempt from the most junior to the most senior of teachers to wrap up the teaching and hit hard with it as if it were to be used as a cudgel for revenge on all those horrible people out there that are 'not me'.

You might ask - how can we grow in the presence of such poison?

One thought - hold your fire. All texts have their own packaging. Don't eat the package without unwrapping it. Yet eat the whole package. Even some foods are poison with the antidote included. Compare fruit juice with the whole fruit. The juice alone will be too high in sugar for the health of your body. The whole fruit will give you the necessary fibre so that your body can slough off the poisonous sugar.

Question that you may be wrong. I include myself in the collective 'you'. I will use the Scripture, and in so doing, I may simply reinforce traditional stereotypes. Let's hold our feet to the fire. Let's find out if the wheat and the darnel (poison) in the words of Scripture can be separated in us for the ultimate judgment in the here and now.

There - this essay is in preparation for next week's lessons on the parable of the wheat and the tares, Matthew 13:24 ff. Notice how in every case we have looked at so far Jesus' parables in the Gospel are surrounding textual references to the 'old' Testament (Matthew 13:52). And these are not read because these words are omitted in the lectionary reading, This is not good for you if you only hear the words that are read on Sunday.