A socio-theological approach to scripture: The World Behind the Word

•September 3, 2015 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been doing some thinking lately on the relationship between History, Theology and the Church. I’ve been irritated by a scholar who argued for theological formation divorced from historical foundation and this morning have recieved a fresh appreciation for Philip F. Esler. I remember encountering Esler’s writings at undergraduate level, and loved a lot of what he had to say, particularly to do with social-context. In a chapter i’m reading at the moment he outlines why he takes social context incredibly seriously when studying scripture. 

Esler’s approach to scripture seeks to combine history, theology and community (in a nut shell). This approach essentially attempts to open up a dialogue between the writers of the New Testament and ourselves. It is ‘necessarily intercultural, given the great cultural distance between us and them, and critical, since there will be areas in which their ways (the acceptence of slavery, for example) are not our ways.’ A responsible reading of scripture recognises and acknowledges the differences not only between author and reader, but between authors themselves – allowing each author to tell their story in their time. 

In order to allow each author to do this, a socio-theological approach recognises the ‘necessity of attempting to understand our biblical forebears in all their historical particularity.’ The purpose of this is not to confine their beliefs to history, but to drag their history into our present in order to inform our future. ‘It is not a body of systematic theological truth that depends on ignoring or eliminating the historical distinctiveness of the New Testament writings. Rather, it renders articulate the theological foundations of what we are doing when we try to grasp the original meanings of the New Testament as composed by persons who, like us, belonged (or belong?) to the Body of Christ and experienced the same Holy Spirit in spite of the gulf between us and them.’ 

According to this approach to the bible then, the purpose of the historical, critical, study of scripture (something often viewed sceptically by paritioners and congregations alike) is to better inform our teaching in order to better equip the Church.

Sacrifice, presence and unity – for the disillusioned, downtrodden, and destitute

•April 27, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Genesis 11 – the flood has shrunk back to the depths of the earth, Noah and his family have received promises from god, and humanity again is thriving. 

The people of earth are growing in number and strength daily, developing as a group, as a community, motivated by ambition of self, claiming that now we can do all things, we are self-sustainable, we are ready to rise to the heavens like god himself. 

Come let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the earth.

Babel – the place of selfish ambition, of pride, of sustainability and of idolatry. From this place, god scatters the people of the earth, bringing confusion to their language. And thus the earth is populated as far as the four corners.

fast forward several periods of time, multiple king(dom)s later, throw in a few invasions and exiles and all the other events that seem to have made up Israel’s day to day life throughout the Hebrew Bible, skim through the invasion of Greece and the statues of Zeus that were erected in the temple and we find ourselves staring at a crucified Christ. We find ourselves in the very place that destinies of such magnitude have always been decided; in a field. On the outskirts of a city.

‘Good’ Friday as it has come to be known was not a good Friday at all back in the day.

The disciples hopes and dreams have turned to fears and failure. The band has packed up and people are going home. Those who hoped for messianic conquest, for the inauguration of god’s physical kingdom, a reclaiming of the lands promised to Abram, their hopes have been crucified and left for dead. Hanging in a field. 

50 days later, any selfish ambition of ‘Lord, when you come in your power, chose me to sit on your right and my brother on your left..’ is surely now left by the wayside as blind panic, grief, and utter confusion has set in. Pride is all but gone. And the people have gathered to pray and to follow the last instruction the Christ left his followers before his ascension. 

It is at this moment of abandonment of self that the spirit of god falls on the room and the disciples are filled with power, they are conformed to the spirit of Christ. 

With the sacrifice of personal ambition coupled with the presence of the spirit comes the gift of a tongue, of a language, so that each of the scattered of humanity in Jerusalem hears the good news in their own tongue. 

Discord and disunity are replaced, are transplanted, with unity, with all believers being of one accord and yet pregnant and alive with diversity. One astute bystander asks;

What does this mean?

It means that the scattered of Babel, the wanderers and nomads of the earth, the disillusioned, downtrodden, and the destitute have all now, by the power of gods spirit, become the gathered of god. And many will be added to their number. Daily. 


Faith and Love are inseparable

•April 13, 2014 • Leave a Comment

“[F]aith (participatory fidelity, loyalty, obedience toward God) reverses the idolatry and hardheartedness that plague the human race, thus fulfilling the covenant’s expectations about relations with God. Love, on the other hand, reverses people’s mistreatment of one another and thus fulfills the obligations of the covenant toward others in the form of cruciform justice. But the two, pistis and agape [faithfulness and love], are inseparable, because they were and are joined in Christ, the image and manifestation of God.”


Michael Gorman, Inhabiting The Cruciform God, p. 91


Co-crucifixion… Thoughts from a dinning room

•April 12, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who love but Christ who lives in me. And the life I live, I live by the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me by giving himself for me.

– St. Paul

I’ve been thinking about the bizarre events of Paul’s own crucifixion with Christ and quite how that works..

From what I can fathom, it seems to work something along the lines of the following (as far as initial primitive thoughts go..); Paul paradoxically joins in Christ’s death and resurrection in the same way that Christ is at once both the crucified and the resurrected one, so too is Paul. He (continually) hangs his flesh upon the cross, putting to death his former self, and simultaneously is (continuously) being raised to life, a new life in Christ.

Death, declaration and participation.. (Thoughts from a coffee shop)

•April 8, 2014 • Leave a Comment

So these few short paragraphs have developed over the last day or so.. They may seem disjointed or disconnected, but this is the way my head seems to work at present – enjoy!

Christ’s death on the cross is the unified act of faith towards god and love towards humanity. In his death, the law of Moses is fulfilled.

Christianity is a triune declaration of what has been done, what is being done, and the much that is still left to be done. It is a prophetic remembrance. As such we are called to speak out and reimagine the future in light of what has already come to pass.

We not only participate (sacramentally) in Christ’s death in baptism, but also through joining him in co-crucifixion (metaphorically). In aligning ourselves to an ethic of fidelity (faithfulness), charity, and love.

Gods, heroes and shepherds..

•February 11, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been doing some thinking about the Homeric narratives The Iliad and The Odyssey and doing some reading of the first. So thought I would put up some initial thoughts in comparison to the gods and leaders of the bible.

The first thing that struck me is quite how westernised our image of God is (I realise that this may seem obvious). In the opening book of The Iliad the old man Chryses comes to lord Agamemnon to seek the release of his daughter, Chryseïs, who is serving as Agamemnon’s concubine. His request is denied and he is sent on his way. Chryses falls to his knees outside the camp and calls on Apollo the swift-footed archer, resident god of Olympus.

Apollo hears the cry of Chryses and comes to his aid by subjecting Agamemnon’s forces to a variety of plagues. But my point is this, how often in the Christian west do we expect Yahweh, our God to behave in a similar fashion. To hear our requests and to come down to our aid when in fact the god of the bible, of Israel and of us is Immanuel, God with us.

even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil for you are with me. Your rod and your staff they comfort me. (Psalm23)

I just wonder whether we have taken the nomadic god of the bible, the creator of heaven and earth and have enshrined him and confined him to the heady heights of Olympus.

Secondly, and this is a far less developed though so bear with me, is that in church leadership in the 21st century we seem to demand and expect our leaders to be like charismatic Agamemnon, mighty in word and deed, the lord and shepherd of men (both are titles ascribed to him in The Iliad). Heroic leaders who charge ahead of their armies for glory. This is the image of leadership that the western world, so hugely influenced by the Homeric narratives, has come to expect of it’s leaders. And yet the biblical narrative shows us another shepherd, another way of leading.

Agamemnon was called the lord and shepherd of the people.. I think that in the west today, and perhaps world over, out pastors (shepherds) are more expected to imitate the dynamic heroes of Ancient Greece than we expect them to imitate The Lord, our good shepherd. The Christ.

We cannot bring good news on our own..

•February 8, 2014 • Leave a Comment

In many ways, Jesus makes it clear that ministry is a communal and mutual experience… We keep forgetting that we are being sent out two by two. We cannot bring good news on our own. We are called to proclaim the gospel together, in community.

Henri Nouwen – In the Name of Jesus