The Kingdom of God: 4 talks

First post in a long while…

This past winter I gave four talks on the Kingdom of God. The forum for these was Gutenberg College’s Community Classes on Tuesday nights.

The Kingdom of God had became a focal point in my thinking as I concluded my studies at Regent College last year for several reasons. One of the (many) books that was particularly influential in provoking my thinking on the kingdom was N.T. Wright’s, Jesus and the Victory of God (click here).

Wright’s book is controversial at many points, but one of his main contentions is unassailable: the historical Jesus of Nazareth believed, taught, and acted as though the the long-awaited Kingdom of God mattered more than anything else AND was being inaugurated with his arrival and ministry. Many down through the centuries have debated just what Jesus’ claims concerning the kingdom meant, how literal they were, and to what extent the kingdom’s fullness was actualized (or not) during the first advent and subsequent resurrection/ascension.

What everyone can agree on is that the Jewish hopes of the long awaited kingdom– when God would put everything right for Israel–looked nothing like it was supposed to in the person and ministry of a Messiah who invited sinners and prostitutes to participate in the kingdom and went and got himself killed by the Romans.

Adding my own voice to the debate, the questions I wrestle with during the talks were as follows:

  1. What is the content/substance of the Kingdom?
  2. What is the timing of the Kingdom?
  3. What is the geography of the Kingdom?
  4. To what extent is the Kingdom a current reality versus a future hope?
  5. Who gets to participate in the Kingdom?

The four talks are outlined as follows:

  • Talk 1: Defining the issue: the geography, substance, and timing of the kingdom (three views/perspectives: Futurist, Amillennial, and Preterist)
  • Talk 2: Jesus’ ministry inaugurating the kingdom (the Amillennial view)
  • Talk 3: The Preterist view of the Kingdom: 70 A.D., the Baptist and Jesus’ calling judgment upon Israel, and the Coming of the Son of Man
  • Talk 4: Attempting the impossible: holding in tension all three perspectives

Each talk is approximately an hour and thirty minutes including Q&A. You can access each of them off the Gutenberg College website here.

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Capacity for Messiness

Children are messy (and amazing) in every sense of the word.

They are noisy when quiet is preferable, emotional when stoic pragmatism serves better, run when its more convenient to walk, and messy.

Did I mention messy?

In sum, the messiness of children learning to grow up into full-fledged human beings requires patience, acceptance, care, thoughtfulness, mercy, and ultimately love on the part of us parents. In short, it requires an acceptance by parents’ that this messiness is part of the normal process of growing up (and if my own adult life is any indication, a part of the whole of life).

**(The value of allowing for this messiness (emotional and otherwise), will not be rehashed now, but has been discussed previously here)

But therein lies the problem: I lack the full capacity to lovingly bring these qualities to the table of everyday life in the way my children require–in a way their healthy growth requires.

Tension exists in my life as a parent.

This reality is not surprising to me. I have understood for a while that my imperfection along these lines was a part of the program of life, part of what I was given to work with. I have understood that my children will be, in both good and problematic ways, affected by both my strengths and imperfections.

However, for the sake of a discussion about a parent’s capacity for children’s messiness, there are two types of parents:

  1. Parents who understand that children’s messiness is a part of normal growth.
  2. Parents who believe that their children’s messiness is problematic and unnatural.

Each parent-type is characterized broadly as follows:

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Who Stands Among the True Israelites?

A professor of mine, V. Phillips Long (along with Robert Alter and others), has helpfully concluded that biblical Hebrew narrative appears to have more than mere historiographic interests in mind. The authors of our biblical accounts were not simply interested in recording history for history sake for future generations of Israelites (as discussed here).

While the historical intention behind the writing is manifestly clear, it is also just as clear that the biblical authors viewed their historiographic task as inseparable from artful storytelling (not to be confused with fiction) that enabled the text to function didactically (as a tool for learning and gaining wisdom) in order to provide instruction and revelation to a later generation.

Given this, the book of Joshua’s narrative, as mentioned here, while an historiographical account of Israel’s emergence into the land of Canaan after their Exodus, also shows a strong penchant toward theological instruction.

If you read closely, you will note at the outset that Joshua’s tactical plans for spying out and entering the land of Canaan are interwoven with a lengthy section of text (chapter 2) devoted to describing the authentic belief of a Canaanite woman, a prostitute who was moved by reports of the God of Israel’s actions on behalf of His people. These reports led to her confession: “for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath” (2:11).

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Considering Literary Function: Joshua 5:13-15

Below I am posting a paper I wrote for my exegesis class in Joshua this past semester. Its focus is on the literary function that Joshua 5:13-15 plays within the historical narrative of the book of Joshua as a whole. This is the three-verse episode that records Joshua’s brief and enigmatic interaction with the “Commander of Yahweh’s Army” prior to the battle of Jericho.

What was interesting to me about this event was its seeming disjunction both from what precedes and follows it. Given the penchant within Christian circles to atomize the stories out of the bible and not pay attention to an event’s literary context (and place too much weight upon modern chapter divisions), I was intrigued by the recording of this event.  Assuming that authors have intention behind what and how they narrate events, I wanted to consider how this event was intended to function within the overall narrative of Joshua.

Some questions that were interesting to me that drove the thesis:

  1. Why does the author of Joshua choose to record this event?
  2. Has the author of Joshua included the entire interaction between Joshua and the Commander?
  3. How do these three verses function in relationship to what follows in the beginning of chapter six?
  4. Who really was this sword-wielding Commander confronting Joshua?

The paper follows below:

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Struggling with Evil

Truth telling.

Its easy to do when it suits me.  On the other hand…

Telling the truth is difficult when it costs me.  There is no more fundamental evil that I face into each day than the question of whether I will present reality as it is, both to myself and to those around me.

Some people find telling the truth to be pretty easy.  Those people are not as co-dependent upon others’ feelings as I am.  My wiring is mixed up.  I can become confused in a moment about how responsible, or not, I am for the feelings of others.  I want people to be happy.

In those moments of being mixed up, the truth can sometimes go out the window.

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Where have all the young people gone?

Why are they leaving the church?

I have recently seen a few articles published as well as heard some chatter about a current youth exodus from churches.  Whether this conversation represents a growing anxiety out there within the evangelical world regarding this issue or not, it has caused me to pause for consideration.

I myself know a number of adults who were brought up in the church and have since walked away–for a myriad of reasons.  So whatever this current iteration of anxiety is due to, the reality is that this kind of exodus is nothing new.

Ought we to be concerned that a large proportion of teenagers are leaving behind the church after they graduate from high school?

Two answers:

Yes.

And no.

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Wrestling with Biblical Narrative

One thing that I’m continuing to be increasingly aware of is that there is far more complexity to the biblical narratives of the Old Testament than I was made to believe when I was growing up, memorizing bible verses in Sunday school.  Then, as with most things, everything was neatly packaged for the young mind as black and white, good and bad, right and wrong.  David good, Saul bad, right?

But the Sunday school versions of these characters and their narratives, are not the same as the canonized Hebrew Bible versions.

I realize that this is nothing new for most of you, but sometimes the most elementary lessons are the hardest to unlearn.

Robert Alter is a literary critic and professor of Hebrew and Comparative literature at the University of California at Berkely.  I am currently reading a book of his titled The Art of Biblical Narrative, in which he attempts to provide his readers with an account of the literary artistry inherent in biblical Hebrew narrative.  While Alter can tend to skew the lines between narrative construct and historical referentiality at times, I believe that many of his insights are helpful for the readers of the Hebrew Bible (OT). Continue reading