Winchester Diocesan Synod Conference 2013 – Session 5
Session 5 is the second session with Bishop Tom Wright. This is a live blog – apologies for any spelling mistakes and/or typos.
Change is a challenge of narrative – which script we live by, which story we live within. Syria, and the incompetence of the Western powers to talk about it, let alone do anything illustrates this. So many people in the West have a simplistic 18th century model of tyrants are bad, democracy good, get rid of tyrants, everything will work. That was the script in Iraq, and it is not that easy, or right. It comes across as a superior people acting as the world’s policeman who sees something bad and then drops bombs on people. These scripts demonstrate the bankruptcy in the West, it is over simplified, but our stories have not kept pace with reality. Technology has fed the myth that everything else we have is superior, the horse to bikes to cars, encourage us to feel a moral superiority – as though we are all signed up to an automatic narrative of progress.
We have lived on a parody of the story of God. It is a ghastly, horrible, parody of the genuine biblical idea of theocracy. Sounds like mad clergy with a hot line to heaven ready to kill anyone who gets in their way. Who is the God? A bully in the sky or the Jesus, crucified and risen, who we love. The debate of resurrection, e.g. The Jesus Seminar, included a local women who worked in a morgue who testified that dead bodies stay dead! Homer etc. all knew that. It isn’t shutting our eyes to science, but saying we believe in a creator and re-creator. Enlightenment shouldn’t focus on Voltaire etc. but Easter morning. We need to find the place where the narratives painfully do business with each other.
Since the 18th century the churches in the Western world have regularly colluded with the enlightened world, saying heaven means a pace where people go when they die, bedeviling all our attempts to think missionally. Some think mission is recruiting more souls to go to heaven, and others think producing better housing, drains, healthcare and more. They never meet and yet that split isn’t in scripture. We have backed off from the public square, and fail to attempt to think theocratically, leaving a vacuum which the media fill. It is part of the church’s mission to speak truth to power, e.g. Jesus to Pontius Pilot and commissioning the church. We reflect on Leveson and think the church does need to speak truth to power, the media don’t like it as we are claiming back the territory they have usurped. We need a fresh navigation of this within the larger biblical narrative. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John tell their story as part of the Biblical narrative. We tell it as God created us, we messed up, God sent Jesus to restore this. This is only a third. God created us to look after the garden, when we messed up, the garden went to ruin and we need to become gardeners.
Ephesians – prejudice is 19th century from liberal Anglicanism failing to see post-Enlightenment German understanding of what Paul should have said in Ephesians and Colossians. If the Reformers had made Ephesians their key text rather than Galatians the world looks very different. Ephesians 1:10, 2:10, and 3:10 to bring everything together under anew heaven and earth. Principalities and powers of Paul’s world tried to flatten everything, similar to the huge concrete blocks used for housing in communist world. God’s world is creative and beautiful. A vision for unity, chapter 4, for holiness and marriage, chapter 5, for spiritual warfare, chapter 6.
Could learn Ephesians by heart, adding a verse at a day, some of you here are young enough to do that.
Rescue of creation, not rescue from creation – that’s Gnosticism which the western world flirts with. Genesis 1 has complimentary pairings, humans working as God’s reflecting agents, reflecting his love to the world, and the moaning and pain back to God, cf. Revelation 4 and 5 – about what is happening as the church worships here on earth, all creation worshipping God, and humans summing up the word “because” you created, because you ransomed people for God. That is our task – the royal priesthood – ruling the word as God’s stewards, humbling bringing his power, healing and more to bear on it. If we’re not the Royal Priesthood we shouldn’t be here.
Genesis 3 it all goes horribly wrong. Humans reflect the world back to the world, worshipping the creature not the creator. We get the expulsion from the garden, as a Jew in exile or post-exile you know Genesis 3 is your story, having had a wonderful land and told to look after it, you messed up and sent to Babylon. As Genesis 11 and 12 you have Babel – Babylon. Cain the first murderer is the first ot build a city. He knows we are to build community, but the city creates anonymity, fear and more. The tower tries to reach up to heaven, and we are interrupted by God.
Genesis 12 God calls Abraham an nomad, not a city person. That is the primary missionary mandate in the Bible. In the 2008 Lambeth conference someone asked Rabbi Sacks how do you see the mission of the world? He said how many Jews are there in China, there are 8 Jews, two things – first there will be 9 synagogues, and pretty soon someone will think they are running the country, how many Christians are in the country, you have done what we were meant to do. You have taken the news of a covenant God to the ends of the earth. Extraordinary humility but that is the Biblical vision and he knows it, do we.
It is one of the foundational insights in Genesis, the promises to Abraham mirror Adam. The land was always an advance metaphor for the creators promise for the whole world. Right from the start Abraham messes up, saying Sarah is his sister, then tries Hagar when having trouble having a child, then Ishmael mess, and so he has to learn in Genesis 22 the pain can only be resolved through death and resurrection in the sacrifice of Isaac. They can’t be the promise bearers in a triumphant bossiness. It was easy to take Israel out of Egypt, the hard thing is taking Egypt out of Israel. They are given the Torah and the presence of God in the Tabernacle so they can learn to be the Royal Priesthood.
The people who are called to be the bearers of the solution are also bearers of the problem. The entire problems of the OT, and Paul’s theology, is concerned with Israel being promise-bearers but also being in Adam. The tension of that double identity is only resolved on calvary when the representative of Israel bears on himself the paradoxes, the sin, the pain of humanity as a whole.
In the middle of all that, cutting lots very short, there is one figure who is deeply ambiguous, and has to learn the hard way what it is all about. Walter Brugemman’s work on the Psalms have held aloof from the Royal Psalms as they struggle with a tyrannous monarchy. They get rid of George III in 1770 and don’t want him back – they’ve had many George’s since so heaven help them.
Psalm 2 shows this: the nations are in uproar but the king will solve – a direct link to Ephesians 3:10. Psalm 72 shows a wonderful vision as God’s king is in charge. The only people who object to a king like that are the oppressors. God will one day raise up a son of David through whom the promise of Abraham will be delivered, the entail of Genesis 3 and 11 is dealt with.
Isaiah 11:1-9 – this is the creator’s dream, to bring all things together in the Messiah, straight line from heaven to earth, cf. Ephesians 1:10. Don’t read the Bible in little bits, some just read it in 10 verse chunks, it’s like listening to a symphony and only hearing the 10 bars, you don’t need to remember it all, to whistle it all on the way home, be overwhelmed by it, enjoy it. Read Isaiah 52, 53, 54. The kingdom of God through the death of the servant leads to the renewal of the covenant and creation. At the heart of it Isaiah 55:3 the democratization of the Davidic promise.
Our missionary narrative must be bigger than either of the visions we spoke of before. It must include the complete renewal of humans.
The New Testament
A lot of Biblical theology lands in the letter to the Romans, lands in many other places too. In Romans 1:18 we have a Genesis 3 moment and in the rest of Romans 1 we can watch the humanness of Genesis 1 and 2 deconstruct. In Roman 4 Paul expounds Genesis 15 – a worldwide family – cf. Romans 4:13 – not just the land but the world – Sermon on the Mount – the meek inheriting the world.
Romans 8 – the groundwork of so much of our missional thinking – the new Exodus story, the people labouring under the law in Romans 7 are being led to their inheritance. Christians think our inheritance is heaven. But Romans 8 says the whole renewed creation. The whole world is God’s holy land. We are led by the pillar of cloud by day and the fire in night, the Spirit is a tabernacling of God himself. What does it mean to be glorified? Christians link it to heaven and going to glory. But Psalm 8, linked to Psalm 2 and 110 is the glory which God shares with his human beings.
If Jesus is heaven, he is in charge, we are supposed to be under God and over the world, a cruciform theocracy. This draws the sting of the normal objections – Christians have been in charge of the world too long with problems – but we’ve had a Western parody that we can run the world – we’ve done a tower of Babel.
The cross shaped mission of Jesus is to be lived out in humble, costly living. The Church knows that suffering is part of God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven. Somehow God uses the suffering of now in strange and beautiful ways.
Romans is about justification. Justification is part of the creator’s plan to put the world right. God put humans right (justification) to bring justice into the world – putting right people for the world. It is trusting in the grace of God alone – you are my children, I love you, my son died for your sins, you are my people – recommissioned as the royal priesthood.
We read Romans 8 as the assurance of salvation, not only God’s gift to the church, but God’s gift through the church.