Thursday, April 29, 2010

Blogger

Blogs will become interesting again when they return to their ham radio roots.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Genesis Redux - Pt. 1

From Darren Doane:
[source]

Monday, April 19, 2010

Light and Eschatology

Introduction
One of the more challenging aspects of interpreting the First Epistle of John is understanding who John is writing against. Since this information is not plainly disclosed by the Apostle, Christians use clues both from the letter’s content and from what we know of its historical context to reconstruct likely scenarios which offer deeper understanding of the letter’s purpose and message. The most plausible and widely-received of these interpretive guesses are neatly divided into two general assumptions: either John was addressing a prototypical form of the Gnostic heresy or John was addressing a sort of Judaizing influence.

Both reconstructions have much to commend them as well as a number of difficulties that frustrate their sustainability. Coherently and competently arguing for any position on the matter would require commentary length analysis of historical questions and thematic features throughout the letter. Our purpose here is only to offer a single (albeit a highly significant, if not central) piece of the puzzle: we will show that the Johannine figure of “light” in the Epistle is an eschatologically-loaded expression which has, at the fore, New Covenant significance. In doing so, we imply that the Johannine dualism between darkness and light is primarily to be read as a contrast between the covenant of Moses and the covenant of Christ. We will do this by accounting for light as it used by John outside of the First Epistle: in the Gospel and in the Apocalypse. Because John’s first usage of light (in the Gospel Prologue) draws upon the creation account in Genesis, we will attend to the significance of light in that passage as well. Finally, we will apply our reading of light to the tricky issue of identifying John’s opponents in the First Epistle.

Light in Genesis
Genesis is a story of worlds and stories. It is a story of worlds because the creation week depicts the establishment of domains and the establishment of dwellers. It is a story of stories because the creation week depicts God’s creative process as a purposed movement from an alpha stage to an omega stage, from protology to eschatology, from the first day of the week to the Sabbatical finale.

On day one, a realm of darkness divided from light is created, and three days later (on day four) God fills it with sun, moon, and stars. On day two, a realm of waters above divided from waters below is created, and three days later (on day five) God fills it with birds and fish (respectively). On day three, a realm of waters divided from land is created, and three days later (on day six) God fills it with land animals and man. This divine making takes existing stuff, breaks it up and reorganizes it, yielding a new world which is subsequently filled three days later. These three worlds (dark/light, sky-waters/low-waters, and water/land) taken together form the different levels of a single three-story world with a ceiling-firmament above, land-pillars in the middle, and water below, establishing what might be best described as a “house” for Yahweh. God creates a world for himself out of worlds for his creatures. He builds them a house, and then they move in. He builds himself a house and then he moves in. Yahweh’s house is a mansion with many rooms.

Light plays an interesting role in this narrative. First, light isn’t first – it’s second. In Genesis i, 2 we read that before there was light there was darkness. The first act of the creation week was a movement from darkness to light. Darkness and light continue to play a vital role in the creation week, individuated and given correlative identities essential for marking out time. The first day, itself an eschatological development out of darkness, establishes the grounds by which every other day occurred. The creation of light is essential to creation.

It is worth noting that it is specifically light which is judged “good” – not darkness. We are left wondering what to make of the darkness until the very last verse of the chapter where we find that the entire prelapsarian creation – which includes darkness – is good. This is instructive. While there is no evil intrinsic to darkness, it is created in order to give way to the superior glory of light.

So the Creation narrative is a procession of better things out of good things. Darkness yields to light, and out of this first day proceeds the rest of creation. The creation itself, measured in differences between darkness and light is inherently eschatological, each day bringing forth the consummate glory of the previous day, first forming three domains, and then filling those three domains with life, finally bringing forth a domain where the glory of the Lord will rest.

Light in the Gospel of John
The Theologian’s Gospel can soundly be read as a polemic against the Jews for their rejection of the Messiah. This reading is difficult to challenge considering this Gospel’s reputation for “anti-semitism.” As such, John draws upon a slew of Old Testament motifs to illustrate the “Christ-ness” of Christ, and cast doubt upon doubters. One of the primary motifs he employs is Christ as “light.” (Curiously, Christ is no longer called “the light” after the Book of Signs.) Here we will examine only two significant examples – The Prologue and the Healing of the Man Born Blind – but it’s worth mentioning that “light” shows up in seven chapters, and it could even be considered the dominant motif (of at least the first twelve chapters) of John’s Gospel if one grouped “light” with the references to “glory,” “sight,” “the Spirit,” and “anointing” as the multiple properties of the shekinah glory-cloud and all its tabernacular fullness.

Beginning “in the beginning,” John begins the Gospel with the beginning of the Torah (the beginning of Genesis, the beginning of the world), analogizing his own message with “the foundation of Israelite religion: God’s creation of heaven and earth.” Herman Ridderbos comments, “All that now follows in the Gospel has to be understood from the perspective of that ‘beginning’: It arises from that beginning, and that beginning is its deepest and most essential Sitz im Leben.” And if that’s true, then “light” has to be understood from the perspective of that beginning – which means light, here, is not merely borrowing from generic religious light imagery – rather, this light is creation-light, light from the beginning.

The Prologue chiastically frames the mission of the Incarnate Christ (“the true light”) with the ministry of the Baptist, a ministry designed merely to prepare the way for the light. (v. 6-15) This, in turn, is framed by the light of creation matched with the final revelation of Jesus Christ. (v. 1-5 and 16-18, respectively) The light, John writes, overcomes the darkness. (v. 5) Jesus Christ, likewise, supersedes Moses. (v. 17) In i, 11 John tells us, at the center of the chiastic Prologue, that “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” John tells this story throughout the Gospel: The light was sent into the darkness of Moses’ people, but the people did not receive him.

The Messiah heals blind people, especially Jewish people. The Jews have known this since the days of Isaiah. John knows this, too – which is why he describes the healing of the man born blind in terms of light and darkness. Jesus, as usual, identifies himself as the light of the world (ix, 5), then miraculously restores vision to a Jew. (ix, 6-7) When the enlightened man suggests that the Jewish Pharisees become disciples of Jesus they retort that they are disciples of Moses. (ix, 27-29) So Jesus, the light, consigns the Pharasaic Jews to their shadowy unrepentant blindness. (ix, 39-41)

Light in the Apocalypse
Light shows up most prominently in xxi-xxii, 5 of Revelation, the portion of the Apocalypse that describes the New Creation and the Church made perfect. As this work is regarded the arch-eschatological book of the Bible, it would be difficult not to perceive the eschatological pregnancy of light throughout Scripture, or at least in the Johannine corpus.

Chapter xxi cues us right away that creation is in view – a new creation, one which sprouts forth in the wake of a passing old creation. John tells us that the heavens above, the earth below, and the waters of the sea – that is, the cosmological house of old – has given way to a new cosmos, one in which God dwells among his people in a fullness that exceeds Eden, that exceeds the pillar of light in the wilderness, that exceeds the sanctification of the Exodus Tabernacle, that exceeds the indwelling of Solomon’s temple – that even exceeds the great outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost.

The new creation takes the form of a renewed Jerusalem, a holy city descending from heaven, a point having more to do with a covenant community than architectural structures. This connection between creation and covenant is wholly consistent with the covenantal patterns of Scripture. In every administration of the Covenant of Grace, in Noah, in Abraham, in Moses, David, and even in Christ, Yahweh is understood to be re-creating, working again with the cosmos, to build a house for his name. Covenantal reconstruction always involves cosmological destruction and renewal. That the holy city to come is specifically named new “Jerusalem” highlights the destruction of old Jerusalem, (v. 1-2) that is to say the Mosaic order – which is to say, the end of Moses is the end of the world.

Curiosity of curiosities, there is no temple in the New Jerusalem. (xxi, 22) John notes this and just as quickly notes that there is no need for light. (xxi, 23) The Lamb, Christ, is the embodied eternal replacement/fulfillment of both. Here, John pulls together temple, light, glory, lamp, and eschatology into the singular entity of the Lamb. Christ the Lamb exceeds in every way the dim light of the Jerusalem-Temple, eternally bringing an end to the darkness of old, reflecting the glory of God more purely and perfectly than every type because he is God (with us).

Light in the Apostle's First Epistle
In no other writing can we find light playing so central a role as in John’s First Epistle. The apostle writes bluntly: “God is light.” (i, 5) This summarizes the Gospel message for John, and properly, as gospel, this message underpins the central burden of John’s plea that his “children” would walk in the light. So understanding the force of the rhetoric, “God is light,” is plainly vital to reading the Epistle.

The first verse of the first chapter echoes the first verse of the first chapter of the Gospel of John, which in turn echoes the first verse of the first chapter of Genesis. This raises the question: To which beginning is John referring, the Creation narrative or the beginning of the Gospel? This is a false question. It fails to understand that John’s use of “beginning” in his Gospel identifies the beginning of Christ’s ministry as a new recapitulation of the original creation. As Peter Leithart comments, “By alluding to the ‘beginning’ of Genesis 1, [John] wants emphasize that the incarnation of the Word is the beginning of a new beginning. It’s the beginning of a new creation story.” At the get go, John’s light is the light of creation, eschatological light.

John proclaims the gospel of light so that his audience may have a fellowship with the apostles (i, 3) – which, in turn, is a fellowship with Jesus Christ (ii, 1) – which, in turn, is a fellowship with the Father. (i, 3) Bound up with the matter of walking in the light are questions of fellowship. To walk in the light is to walk in fellowship with the Christ of the apostles which is to have fellowship with the Father. Walking in darkness, then, must indicate the opposite: the golden chain of fellowship has been broken. And as Johannine light is the eschatological light of creation, questions of light and darkness must be questions of eschatological fellowship.

The First Epistle of John – if we read “light” along Johannine lines, and if we read the message that “God is light” as central to the Epistles’ message – addresses a problem of fellowship that flies in the face of eschatological-historical circumstances which John takes for granted. If this is true, then all questions of fellowship, atonement, knowledge, truth, love, antichrists, teaching, sin, righteousness, and idolatry – all important loci of John’s discussion – must be interpreted under a rubric which does justice to the Johannine eschatology that unifies the diverse subject matter into a (presumably) coherent message.

Light, Eschatology, and Hermeneutics
There are a number of reasons to doubt that John’s First Epistle is written to address the spread of Gnosticism. Chiefly, were it not for the input of extracanonical literature, you could not have guessed it. (This argument may sound “biblicist” in slant but the careful reader will detect our subtlety.) Given the course of revelation, given the history that springs forth as inspiration progresses from covenant to covenant, there is a final Christian witness. This fact is the heart of what is called “redemptive-historical interpretation” and, assuming its essential truth, we believe a certain overarching history can be discerned by means of Scripture alone. This is not to undermine the unquestionable dialectic between natural revelation (archaeology, patristic studies, etc.) and special revelation (Holy Writ, etc.), but only to insist that the nature of God’s speech is such that it creates its own context. A convincing case that John the Elder wrote at great pains to defeat the Hellenistic “Gnostics” requires demonstrating that this state-of-affairs fits better in redemptive-historical context than a story about Jews and apostasy. That this is so is hardly obvious.

Rather, given John’s penchant for incorporating eschatology so heavily into his primary letter, one wonders why it is not more obvious (even if undemonstrated in other respects) that Judaizers are in view. After all, the Elder points us to that new creation that has already happened (i, 1-3), the bearable light-ness of God (i, 5-7), an inaugurated eschatological state of fellowship between God, his people, and each other (ii, 8-11), marking the end of a world of darkness which we must not love since it is passing away (ii, 15-17). Indeed, he writes that this is the last hour, the hour of antichrists (ii, 18). Perhaps, the decision to detect something other than Judaism, here, stems from forgetting the connotative import of the “christ” in “anti-christs.”

Perhaps it stems from forgetting that John the Elder is also John the Jew. As such, we would do well to remind ourselves one more time that “Christ” (“Messiah”) is not a surname – it’s a vocational title. Calling Jesus “the Christ” signals the convergence of (at least) several Jewish themes of Davidic kingship, prophecy, and Temple, all of these comprehended in terms of the final stage of history. We read in the Acts of the Apostles that disciples of the Christ-Messiah came to be named after him, implicitly sharing in his calling (Acts xi, 26). Beyond this, though, two meanings emerge which should be here considered: the literal rendering which denotes anointing with oil and the much grander meaning which refers to the role of the eschatological Sabbath-Spirit. In calling Jesus “the Christ,” John tells us that Jesus is the one on whom the Spirit rests (John i, 29-34), explicitly linking oil and Spirit with messianism.

This shines some light on John’s discourse on antichrists, in which he links the themes of anointing, Spirit, and confessing Jesus as the Messiah (I John ii, 18-27). Literally, “antichrist” means an “adversary of Christ,” and John describes this adversary as a liar who “denies that Jesus is the Christ,” a denial of the Father and Son (v. 22) (a denial of both because denying the Son implies denial of the Father, v. 23). If the adversary of Christ is the one who denies that he is Christ, then we are pressed to wonder who would do such a thing? We are inclined to think that only those for whom “Messiah” carries substantial meaning (meaning pregnant with the oil and Spirit of which and to whom John refers) can take serious issue with the confession that Jesus of Nazareth is that person. In short, only the people who are promised messiah can deny messiah: Jews. And unsurprisingly, this is exactly what we see in chapter viii of John’s Gospel. Jesus announces that he is the “Light of the World” to the Jews and that to know him is to know his Father (v. 12-16). They deny that Jesus is who he says he is and he denies them the Father.

This isn’t the end of the story. It would be reckless to suggest that all relationships between the Johannine texts and Gnosticism (prototypical or otherwise) are imagined. Historically, a number of Fathers drew from the Johannine Epistles to combat the Gnostics, the Docetists, and the Cerinthians, especially with regard for their heretical Christologies. In fact, Eusebius and Irenaeus name Cerinthus as an actual contemporary and opponent of John. This shows us that the error John confronts in the Epistles bears significant analogy to the error of the Gnostics and their first-century predecessors. It does not follow, however, that John’s opponents are therefore not Judaizers. Rather, given the internal evidence that John is dealing with Judaizing, it follows that the error of the proto-Gnostics significant analogy to the error of the Judaizers. That is to say, the overlap of Judaism and Gnosticism may be larger than we are used to accepting. Peter J. Leithart, from the viewpoint that proto-gnosticism could better be described as either a “Judaizing Gnosticism” or a “gnosticizing Judaism,” has outlined these similarities in his commentary, From Behind the Veil. Reading the Apostle’s light/dark dualism in terms of covenantal progression from old to new, he sees that Judaizing and “Gnosticism [arise] from the same set of fears and desires.” Judaizing flees from the God who comes as man, preferring instead the mediation of angels that marks out the Old Covenant order. Gnosticism, too, prefers the god who is far off, the mediated god. Leithart notes, the Old Covenant functioned by mystery and hiddenness, noting especially the veiled Most Holy Place, and the privileged nature of God’s will to which only priests and prophets had access. In the age of the Gospel, the veil is torn, and the mystery of Christ was revealed to the whole world. “All that was in shadows is brought to the light. Judaizing attempts to maintain the age of secrecy that Jesus brought to an end; so does Gnosticism.”

Both Judaizing and Gnosticism deny “that God emerged from the twilight and shone like the Sun in visible, audible tangible flesh.” Thus, when John the elder wrote to the elect lady in exile, he wrote what would bring the Church through some of its “darkest” errors. In telling the tale of humanity growing from Adam to Christ, Douglas H. Knight has written, “In the first place sin is childishness.” Judaizing and Gnosticism both manifest that latent sinfulness that Christ has yet to purge from the whole world, that tendency to shy from the maturity that we are given in Christ. In the First Epistle of John, though, the Apostle recounts the whole of redemptive history, and assures us that we share in that same Spirit of Light which rests on the Son.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Decent Question

Civitate VII.31:
For although we can never sufficiently give thanks to Him, that we are, that we live, that we behold heaven and earth, that we have mind and reason by which to seek after Him who made all these things, nevertheless, what hearts, what number of tongues, shall affirm that they are sufficient to render thanks to Him for this, that He has not wholly departed from us, laden and overwhelmed with sins, averse to the contemplation of His light, and blinded by the love of darkness, that is, of iniquity, but has sent to us His own Word, who is His only Son, that by His birth and suffering for us in the flesh, which He assumed, we might know how much God valued man, and that by that unique sacrifice we might be purified from all our sins, and that, love being shed abroad in our hearts by His Spirit, we might, having surmounted all difficulties, come into eternal rest, and the ineffable sweetness of the contemplation of Himself? [source]

Monday, April 12, 2010

Babel as the Theological Grammar of Pentecost


Learning the Biblical Langue
As Pentecost marks the birth of the Christian Church, a better understanding of the meaning of the event leads to a better understanding of the Church’s own identity and purpose. But the Church has, from time to time, struggled to understand the meaning of the event, and so the Church has, from time to time, struggled to understand herself and her calling. The Church learns who she is from God, and God speaks to her from the Scriptures – which means learning from God consists of learning language.

Language consists of two aspects: vocabulary and grammar. Vocabulary is the realm of names, what we call things. Grammar is the realm of rules, how we say things. The Church seems decently aware of biblical vocabulary, of the words we use to name and know the world. Most of us have heard of “Pentecost.” Many of us could quickly show where to find “Pentecost” in the Bible (Acts ii) - if we weren’t sure, we might find it in a concordance first. What seems more difficult, though, is grammar – how do we talk about Pentecost? How does the Bible talk about Pentecost?

The Bible is an excellent book because it is the sort of book that teaches you its grammar as you read it. Very, very often, the Bible reads present and future events in light of past events. (And sometimes it reads past events in light of future events, too!) The grammar for talking about “Jesus Christ,” for example, is found in passages about Adam and Noah and Abraham and Moses and David. Pentecost is no different. There are rules in the Bible for understanding Pentecost and if we learn those rules, we can understand it better, and thus understand God better and thus understand ourselves better.

Essential to understanding the event of Pentecost is the event of the Tower of Babel. The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate how the biblical record of the Tower of Babel offers us a theological grammar for reading, writing, and speaking about Pentecost, teasing out (hopefully) a much richer and clearer description of the identity and calling of the Christian Church than is popularly available. We will do this, first, by meditating on the Babel text in Genesis xi, 1-9. Secondly, we will trace themes addressed in the Babel text through Scripture, highlighting any development the theme may have over the course of redemptive history. Finally, we will read Acts ii according to the “rules” we learn along the way.

Idolatry and Idle Chatter
The Tower of Babel (Genesis xi, 1-9) is sandwiched between two sets of genealogies, the first (known as the “Table of Nations”) describing the seventy nations of the sons of Noah, the second narrowing its focus to only the descendents of Shem (which leads to Terah which leads to Abram). This hints that the story of Babel is also a story of Shem (who we will remember is to be blessed) and thus draws on both Noahic and Abrahamic themes.

Attending to the Noahic themes, chapters x and xi depict the fulfillment of Noah’s prophecy at the end of chapter ix (v. 24-27): Ham/Canaan is cursed, Shem is blessed, and Japheth is blessed through Shem. Chapter x frames the Table of Nations with the comment that all these that fill the earth are descendants of Noah’s three sons, establishing an organic unity between all men (and by extension nations). Noah is a veritable new Adam1 and we even read that he became “a man of the soil” (ix, 20), planting a new vineyard/garden. But even the Noahic order succumbs to a Fall. The Table of Nations ends tracing the Shemites down to Eber’s two sons: Peleg (“Division”) and Joktan. The “division” between Eber’s sons, ultimately, is a division between the righteous and the wicked – not all of Shem is true Shem. The Tower of Babel is the story of the Shemitic Fall at the hands of Joktan’s lot. (Leithart, A House for My Name: A Survey of the Old Testament 2000, 58-59)

Chapter x, 25-30 shows us that Joktan’s descendents migrated east. Already, this hints at apostasy as eastward movement indicates moving away from the Garden of Eden rather than towards it. (Leithart, A House for My Name: A Survey of the Old Testament 2000, 53) Genesis xi, 2 emphasizes that this is exactly where construction of the tower had begun: in the East.

Reasserting the substantial unity of the nations first noted in the Table, the Babel text couches the substance of the men’s unity primarily in their common language – or more accurately in their “one lip.” The one-lipped Shemites, we read, conspired to build “a city and a tower." Waltke helpfully notes that the nature of this city is essentially a protective wall and that the tower is most likely a ziggarut, a Mesopotamian temple structure, serving as a stylized mountain. (Waltke, Bruce K.; Fredricks, Cathi J. 2001, 178-179) Kline comments:
It is… to be understood in terms of those ancient staircase-mountain structures, the ziggurats, which are frequently described as having their top in the heavens and bear names like “the house of the mountain,” “the house of the link between heaven and earth,” and “the house of the foundation of heaven and earth” (thus, the ziggurat at Babylon). (Kline, Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview 2006, 273)
In choosing to build a temple-city, the people of Joktan recall the tradition of Cain who also built a city in the East. But here, the god-who-intervenes comes to thwart the foundation of the Cainnite city-temple of blood.

One unpronounced aspect of the passage merits comment, particularly with attention to cult and culture. Note that the foil of God’s redemptive purposes is not mere cultic paganism. It’s paganism as city. This, of course has not gone unnoticed, but it has gone (in our view) misinterpreted. Meredith Kline reads this passage as a tacit condemnation at any synthesis of culture and cult in the post-diluvian, pre-Advent world. (Kline, Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview 2006, 272-278) Such a reading is hardly germane to the text and strikes this author as a projection of Kline’s anti-theonomics into a text which pushes more strongly for a polemic against pagan brands of city-craft. Subjecting this text to Kline’s reading calls into question the always already culture-cult nature of Babel’s noble twin, the Church.2

The Babel narrative lends itself to two structural readings: one that highlights the words of men (v. 1-4) contrasted to the words of the Lord (v. 5-9), and one which takes a well-attested chiastic form which pivots on the fifth verse. (Waltke, Bruce K.; Fredricks, Cathi J. 2001, 176) Obviously, these structures are not mutually exclusive. In this specific case, the literary structure actually adds an important dimension to the story as chiastic structure, with its steps, imitate the zigguratic structure of the “tower” itself. In fact, it is at the zenith of the (literary/architectural) structure that “the Lord came down” (v. 5). Precisely at this point, too, the words of men meet the words of the Lord.

That the text tells us that “the Lord came down,” by the way, is hardly mere description. The language of God’s condescension, here, communicates less the humility of the Incarnation than the poverty of the Babel building project. Or rather, while the Lord condescended to humiliate himself, it is through this humiliation that he humbles the proud plans of man. It is not only that the foolishness of the Cross is the glory of God, but it is through the glory of God that the foolishness of men’s wicked plans are exposed – even as they raised up Christ (crucified) to make a name for themselves. And they intended nothing less than this:
Let us make a name for ourselves.
Let us make a “shem” for ourselves, said the Shemites. Shem sought to magnify his own name, posturing as an anti-Adam, as one who enters Sabbath rest in the east, opposing the command to be fruitful and multiply, refusing to swarm over the earth. (Genesis xi, 4; cf. Genesis ix, 1-7) Yet, God’s purposes will not be frustrated – which leads us to mention (but only briefly) that it’s through the elect Shemite Abram that the promises to Noah are vindicated.

The story of Babel then outlines the transformation of man from Noah to Abram. The Lord strikes at the lip of man both in judgment,3 dividing4 the linguistic unity that made possible the Babel project, and as a means of accomplishing his goals for humanity, causing them to fill the earth (which has been the frustrated human vocation since Adam).

Lips and Logos
God is nothing if not a speaker. The god-who-speaks is (logically) prior to the god-who-creates-of-nothing, for God’s speech is what brings the cosmos into being (further, it is his speech that brings an end to the cosmos). The Father speaks the Son upon the breath of the Spirit and a truly “Christian” account of language proceeds from this matrix of Word and Being. Essential to the human vocation, then, is to image this speech of God.5 Babel exemplifies the pride intrinsic to postlapsarian man’s speech. The speech of men still build-creates cities, but fallen man speaks violence, founding every city upon the blood of brothers. The Babel narrative depicts this contest, the contest of the word of men against the Word of God. When the Lord came down at Babel he divided the tongues of men, thus dividing the works of men against themselves. The City of God is borne of pure words borne upon pure lips, and a cursory search of Scripture for the word saphah (lip) reveals that the subject shows up well over a hundred times, so a thorough study of Babel must needs attend to this phenomenon.

The most well-known account of labial religious themes is likely Isaiah vi, the call of the prophet Isaiah, wherein Isaiah despairs of his inadequacy to bear the oracles of God upon his “unclean lips.” He cries that he dwells in the midst of a people with “unclean lips.” This, however, recalls older statements to the same effect: Moses challenged the Lord’s charge to challenge Pharaoh, complaining that he bears “uncircumcised (and thus unclean) lips.” (Exodus vi, 12, 30) Both cases betray the concern that the purposes of God require purification of the lip. The Moses-Isaiah link gives an important prophetic dimension to speech, and Isaiah tells us that the lips of the prophet are made pure by the application of holy fire. (Isaiah vi, 6-7) G.K. Beale helpfully points out that Isaiah speaks of tongues and fire in at least two other places: xxx, 27-30 and lxvi, 15-24. (Beale, The Descent of the Eschatological Temple in the Form of the Spirit at Pentecost: Part 1: The Clearest Evidence 2005, 84-87) In the former case, Isaiah compares the coming of the tongues of fire to the Sinai theophany (cf. Exodus xix), and in the latter case he emphasizes the Lord’s fiery rebuke as simultaneously an act of purifying judgment and the occasion of the ingathering of the nations into a new creation, a new Israel – in both cases, Isaiah is clear that the pure and holy tongues of fire are the Lord’s.

Lip/speech theology continues to receive play throughout the prophets. Zechariah’s vision of the golden lampstand describes the seven lamps of the gold menorah as seven lips (of fire). (Zechariah iv, 1-7) John understands the lampstands as the churches (Revelation i, 20), and so the lips of fire are the mark of the New Covenant Church. (Kline, Glory in Our Midst: A Biblico-Theological Reading of Zechariah's Night Visions 2001, 131-136) Most impressively, though, the prophet Zephaniah tells us that on the occasion of the Judgment of Jerusalem, when the nations are being converted:
[A]t that time I will change the speech of the peoples
to a pure speech,
that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord
and serve him with one accord. (Zephaniah iii, 9)
So the Lord explains that, at some point, he will pour out tongues of fire upon the nations such that the speech of the nations is changed and purified, that all people might call upon the name of the Lord. They will do this because he will put his words in their mouth. (Deuteronomy xviii, 186) In inheriting the prophetic call, one exhibits the theophanic glory of the burning tree, the burning bush, the menorah flame, the Shadrachs of Scripture, pure and unscathed by the glory-flames of God.

It is for this very reason that we should not be surprised in the least that John’s Gospel states that the Word became flesh7 and dwelt among us (“And the Lord came down…” Genesis xi, 5). We should not be surprised at all that the Shekinah-Spirit comes and rests upon the one who comes down from heaven. It is unsurprising that this Word of God, who knows what is in man (John ii, 23-25), is baptized in the very Spirit-fire that he intends to pour out over the entire world. Christ is the pure word, the unifying creed of the holy city, the humbled word of the Cross, that the Father exalts as the foundation of the final eschatological temple. As such, Christ is the language by which humanity is reunited, reconfigured toward shalom, the means by which the Lord will fill the Earth with presence, bringing together all nations under his lordship.

Rebuilding the Ruins: Pentecost and Polis
On a literary level, two features stand out which suggest Luke intended to read the Pentecost event with Babel-tinted glasses. The minor hint is that in both narratives, there appears an enumeration of all the nations of the world. Babel is preceded by Genesis x, the “Table of Nations,” and Acts ii situates the Pentecostal miracle in the midst of “every nation under heaven.” (v. 5) The greater hint is stronger: Babel tells the tale of God confusing men’s tongues, dividing them up to set them against one another. Pentecost tells the opposite (though corresponding) tale of God of bringing men together, harmonizing men’s tongues that they might hear and understand each other. It is for this reason that Pentecost is read as the reversal of Babel. (Johnson 1997, 60, Ferguson 1996, 60, Beale, The Temple and the Church's Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God 2004, 201-203)

Pentecost reverses Babel, sure enough. But we pay mere lip service to the miracle of tongues if we fail to attend to what this means. That God destroyed one city is duly noted. That he juxtaposes Pentecost with the event tells us more than that Pentecost merely negates the curse of old. Such a reading reduces Christianity to mere soteriology – at the expense of eschatology. But no such theological triviality can be attributed to the Apostles. To the question, “What does this mean?” Peter responds, in no uncertain terms, that Pentecost is the end of the world. (Beale, The Temple and the Church's Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God 2004, 212-215) So Pentecost is apocalypse. But of what sort?

The Pent-ocalypse marks (among many other things) the eruption of a new Babel (which we will remember was a temple-city complex) upon the face of the earth. As temple-city, we do well to note the foundations. Contra Babel-Cain’s city of blood, the city of heaven subverts the Cainite programme of old, resurrecting the brethren murdered in its wake as the foundation. (Singing with Tertullian, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”) Which is to say, the Church rests upon our murdered brother, “this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts ii, 36) And from our brother rains the rushing wind of ordination (cf. Numbers xi, 25), creating a nation of priests through a mighty Baptism. As the Baptist foretold, the Messiah came to baptize with Spirit and fire. With Ferguson we must affirm that this may not be something necessarily beneficent to all present company, which is why Peter answers the earnest question “What shall we do?” with a pressing “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts ii, 37-40) (Ferguson 1996, 61)

The Table of Nations makes it very clear that the Noahic world was unified by blood. The advent of Pentecost transforms this. By the Spirit the new city is yet again knit together with blood, but as Peter Leithart has commented, “it is blood shed, not blood transmitted in birth.” (Leithart, Against Christianity 2003, 93) Were we to remember that Pentecost tells us that men are yet again being re-bound by the gift of the harmonizing Word, we would do well to consider the way in which this Word supplants the wicked word of men: The Word binds men together in itself through the work of the Spirit, offering itself under the form of holy bread and wine, flesh and blood that all disciples are called to feast upon. (John vi, 53-58 and I Corinthians x, 14-22) The disciples understood this and that is why Luke indicates that breaking bread was an essential mark of fellowship in the Pentecostal Church. (Acts ii, 42)

Symbolic though they be, Baptism and the Eucharist become, under this reading, key elements of embodying the Church as a legitimate rival to Babel. In Baptism, believers are preserved against the judgment of the god-who-comes-down. In the noble Cup, all nations share in a blood-Word who binds them together, drinking and eating with lips made holy by the gift of the Spirit. In fact, not in spite of their symbolic nature, but precisely because they are symbols – words – are they the substance of the rhetoric which brings all things to their proper end, be that end the end of glory or that end the end of wrath – the peace which (simultaneously) passes (and founds) all understanding. (Philippians iv, 7)

Notes
1. This is the point of the new creation language throughout the Ark narrative. (Kline, Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview 2006, 220-230)

2. Peter Leithart outlines the “church as polis” reading quiet pointedly in his book Against Christianity. (Leithart, Against Christianity 2003)

3. Note v. 5: the Lord came down to “see” the tower-city. Seeing indicates God’s action as judge. (cf. God’s “seeing” in the Creation narrative.)

4. It needs to be noted somewhere that Joktan’s brother Peleg, whose name means “division,” is not so named because there was an earthquake near his birth, as Robert Alter strangely suggests. (Alter 1996) Rather, his name refers to the separation of the families at Babel. Waltke defines this literary practice as a “paronomasia.” (Waltke, Bruce K.; Fredricks, Cathi J. 2001, 163)

5. See James Jordan’s explanation of this task in his chapter “Symbolism in Worldview.” (Jordan 1999, 29-38)

6. Which means that interpreting Pentecost in light of Babel offers a powerful polemic against Islam.

7. That the Word became flesh indicates something important about anthropology and the imago dei. It obliterates static understandings of language since it says that the Word of Being is a “human word,” a Word-Man.


Bibliography
Alter, Robert. Genesis: Translation and Commentary. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1996.

Beale, Gregory K. "The Descent of the Eschatological Temple in the Form of the Spirit at Pentecost: Part 1: The Clearest Evidence." The Tyndale Bulletin 56, no. 1 (2005): 73-102.

Beale, Gregory K. "The Descent of the Eschatological Temple in the Form of the Spirit at Pentecost: Part 2: Corroberating Evidence." The Tyndale Bulletin 56, no. 2 (2005): 63-90.

—. The Temple and the Church's Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Dempster, Stephen G. Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003.

Ferguson, Sinclair B. The Holy Spirit. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Gaffin, Richard B. Perspectives on Pentecost: New Testament Teaching on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1979.

Johnson, Dennis E. The Message of Acts in the History of Redemption. Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1997.

Jordan, James B. Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the World. Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1999.

Kline, Meredith G. Glory in Our Midst: A Biblico-Theological Reading of Zechariah's Night Visions. Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2001.

—. Images of the Spirit. Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1999.

—. Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview. Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2006.

Leithart, Peter J. A House for My Name: A Survey of the Old Testament. Moscow: Canon Press, 2000.

—. Against Christianity. Moscow: Canon Press, 2003.

—. Blessed are the Hungry: Meditations on the Lord's Supper. Moscow: Canon Press, 2000.

Pelikan, Jaroslav. Acts. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2005.

Reno, R.R. Genesis. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2010.

Vos, Geerhardus. "The Eschatological Aspect of the Pauline Conception of the Spirit." In Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos, by Richard B. Gaffin, 91-125. Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1980.

Waltke, Bruce K.; Fredricks, Cathi J. Genesis: A Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Thomas (the Lesser) on "Evangelism"

A drama in miniature:
Him: Are you saved?
Me: Sure...
Him: So you accept Jesus...etc
Me: Occasionally.
Him: What...?
Me: I'm baptized, not a damn thing I can do about it. I just work here. Say, are *you* baptized?
Him: Me? Yeah, I...
Me: Then you're saved. Let's get a beer and talk about it.
Him: What? Wait, I...
Me: Say, you like bread and wine?
via fb.

Friday, April 9, 2010

More Importantly

We have to ask, though, does anyone who affirms the Spiritual Presence of Christ in the Eucharist actually believe it's only a symbol? As if, there were something insufficient about being a symbol. As if, in being symbolic, the Supper was meaningless. (Is it even possible for a symbol to be meaningless?) Much more, how is Christ's Presence in the Supper less "Real" if we say he is so by means of his Spirit? Is the Spirit's presence unreal? Does the Spirit fail to really make Christ present among us? Can any Lutheran actually deny that symbolism is really present in the elements and circumstances of Communion? The way out, here, seems to lie in affirming the absolute symbol-laden quality of reality. Is the Presence Real or Symbolic? That is a false question. The correct view of the Supper must be that, in it, we have the Presence of a Real symbolism, symbolism that we can believe. In the Eucharist, with its manifold imagery drawn together, things are taking place before us that are so utterly real and foundational, that we can barely grasp at describing the mechanics of it, things which we lack a sufficient metaphysics to describe, things so real it requires faith to perceive it.

Calvinists and Lutherans alike believe that the "is" means "is." But only a robustly creational ontology, one that gives heed to the biblical view of the world can make since of what "is" even means. I tend to think both traditions have some helpful insight on how to sketch that out, but we all know that excommunicating Baptized Christians because they disagree about the meaning of the word "is" is treachery.

Just so you know...

Cathleen and I have found a church: link.

Church of the Redeemer is one of 100s of Anglican churches exiled from the ECUSA. Just after paying off the mortgage on their gorgeous building, they lost it to the diocese a few years ago, and have been meeting in a messianic synagogue ever since, currently residing in the newly founded Anglican Church in North America.

If you divide up Anglicanism into the three strands of Evangelical, Reformed, and Catholic, Church of the Redeemer's on the Reformed side of Evangelical - there's a Packer, Piper, Stott influence, but an undeniable hand-raising, praise chorus, PowerPoint, Billy Graham-ish vibe to it as well. It kinda feels like a baptist church sometimes, but it still follows the essentials of the prayerbook liturgy, and mixes in some good hymns every now and then. The clincher is that it's got a strong communal presence, with people of all ages there, and a worship that Christianly consummates around Christ's bread and cup. There are some other especially commendable things about it (like the bishop and the rector there, and my friends that are there as well), but that's the long and the short of it. It's a church like so many others that has its share of annoyances, but Christ is there, and we are here, so it's somewhere we can happily commune.