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ford“At the heart of ordinary Christian life is recognition of the love of God. All creation is a work of God’s love. Jesus Christ is God’s giving of himself in love to restore and fulfill all creation. The Holy Spirit is the pouring out of this love in endless transformation and fresh creativity. Praise of God recognizes all this and first of all enjoys and celebrates it. Praise is therefore an attempt to cope with the abundance of God’s love.” (David F. Ford and Daniel W. Hardy, Living in Praise; Worshipping and Knowing God, p. 2)

bauckham“Claims to universal truth should not be advanced as settled and closed.  In the continuing openness of history, short of eschatological finality, claims to truth cannot but remain debatable.  In fact, it is not the relativists, who care nothing for truth, but those who recognize and claim truth who can be genuinely open to dialogue and the truth of the other.  But this also means…that assent to any claims to truth may not be coerced.  Coercion contradicts the nature of truth.  It opens the door to the distortion of truth into a vehicle of the will to power.  There certainly are few more oppressive regimes than those that believe they stand for a truth that must be enforced.  Because Christians have, sadly, in the past themselves treated Christianity as a truth to be enforced, we need to be very clear and resolute about this.  It is in the very nature of Christian truth that it cannot be enforced.  Coerce belief and you destroy belief and turn the truth believed into a lie.

Truth must be claimed in a way appropriate to the content of the truth.  Scientific truth, for example, has its own means of claim and methods of verification.  The image the Bible itself often suggests for the way its truth is to be claimed is that of witness.  This is an extremely valuable image with which to meet the postmodern suspicion of all metanarratives as oppressive.  Witness is non-coercisive.  It has not power but the convincingness of the truth to which it witnesses.  Witnesses are not expected, like lawyers, to persuade by the rhetorical power of their speeches, but simply to testify to the truth for which they are qualified to give evidence.  But to be adequate witness to the truth of God and the world, witness must be a lived witness involving the whole of life and even death.  And as such it can show itself to be not self-serving.  In our time witness is likely to be the main contender for truth against the various manifestations of the will to power.” (Richard Bauckham, Bible and Mission: Christian Witness in a Postmodern World, pp. 99-100)

ford“There is a wealth of other social benefits which can come from good praise too: the joy that can overflow mutually, confidence for new ventures and relationships, recognition of the need to face the devastating joyless consequences of sin and evil, enrichment of culture and personal expression through powerful language, music and gesture, achievement of a common framework for thinking, feeling, imagining and acting, and even an understanding of group dynamics. The supreme social benefit of praising God is, however, that it helps in discovering the strongest of objective bonds with others: the link through the reality of God. To praise God as Creator and Father giving himself for everyone through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit: that is to route all one’s relationships through God, and to open them up to God’s future for them. Praise actualizes the true relationship between people as well as with God, and it is no accident that in the symbols of heavenly bliss the leading pictures are of feasting and praising.” (David F. Ford and Daniel W. Hardy, Living in Praise; Worshipping and Knowing God, p. 14)

bauckham“The image of God’s people as exiles among the nations…originated in Old Testament Israel’s experience of deportation and exile.  Luke’s account [in Acts] of the movement of the gospel from Jerusalem outward depicts a literal diaspora of the Jerusalem church, driven by persecution from Jerusalem, some as far as Antioch, where the Gentile mission first began in earnest.  With the loss of a sense of a physical center of the Christian movement in Jerusalem, the way is clear for writers like the authors of Hebrews and 1 Peter to represent Christians anywhere as aliens and exiles among the nations, sojourning like the patriarchs in lands that are not their own, awaiting their homecoming to the heavenly Jerusalem that will come down to earth in the future.  In modern times this image has sometimes suffered from association with a  non-biblical kind of otherworldliness, but its positive significance for mission is its call to the church to be a counter-cultural movement, living for a different God in a different way and with a different future in view.

It may be that this image will come into its own again as the church in the postmodern west reconceptualizes its missionary relationship to a post-Christian society.  The church in the west may have to get used to the idea that its own center in God, from which it goes out to others in proclamation and compassion, is actually a position of social and cultural exile or marginality.  This may improve its witness to the Christ who was himself so often found at the margins.” (Richard Bauckham, Bible and Mission: Christian Witness in a Postmodern World, pp. 80-81)

Why God Chooses Nobodies

bauckham“At Corinth–and Paul certainly does not mean only at Corinth–God singled out the poor and the powerless [1 Cor. 1:26-31], choosing to begin his work with them, not because God’s love does not extend to the cultural and social elite, but actually for the sake of the wealthy and the powerful as well as for the poor and the humble.  God’s love has to reach the strong via the weak, because the strong can receive the love of God only by abandoning their pretensions to status above others.  Only when they see in God’s choice of those without status that status counts for nothing in God’s sight can they abandon the arrogance and the vested interests that prevent their right relationship both with God and with others.  God’s ‘shaming’ of the wise and the strong, in Paul’s words, is this redemptive contradiction of their values…By echoing the Old Testament, [Paul] identifies a consistent divine strategy, a characteristic way in which God works, to which the origins of the church at Corinth conform.  The God who chose the first Corinthian converts is the God who chose the least significant of all the peoples (Israel) for his own (Deuteronomy 7:7).  This is Hannah’s God, who exalts the lowly and humbles the exalted (1 Samuel 2:3-8), just as he is also Mary’s God, who fills the hungry and dismisses the rich (Luke 1:51-53).  This is the God who chose the youngest of Jesse’s sons, David, the one no one had even thought to summon (1 Samuel 16:6-13).  This is the God who habitually overturns status, not in order to make the non-elite a new elite, but in order to abolish status, to establish his kingdom in which none can claim privilege over others and all gladly surrender privilege for the good of others…Paul not only sees this as God’s usual strategy in human affairs; he also recognizes it paradigmatically in the cross.  The claim that God is to be encountered and salvation found in a crucified man–a man stripped of all status and honor, dehumanized, the lowest of the low–is the offense of the cross.” (Richard Bauckham, Bible and Mission: Christian Witness in a Postmodern World, pp. 50-52)

bauckham“We have noted the singularity of God’s choice as he singles out the one person Abraham, the one nation Israel, the one king David and the one place Zion. We have also seen how God’s purposes always begins with such singling out but never ends there. It was never God’s intention to bless Abraham purely for his and his descendants’ sake. It was never God’s intention to reveal himself to Israel only for Israel’s sake. It was never God’s intention to base his kingdom in Zion only so that he might rule the immediate locality. God’s purpose in each of these singular choices was universal: that the blessing of Abraham might overflow to all the families of the earth, that God’s self-revelation to Israel might make God known to all the nations, that from Zion his rule might extend to the ends of the earth. None of these forms of biblical movement from the particular to the universal is, strictly speaking, mission. Abraham, Israel and David are not sent out to evangelize the world. But these three major trends of the biblical story are what make the church’s mission intelligible as a necessary and coherent part of the whole biblical metanarrative…The concept of mission itself is scarcely to be found in the Old Testament, but it is also essential to add that this does not diminish the importance of the Old Testament for the theme of Christian mission. Without these thematic trajectories from the Old Testament we could not understand the universal direction and goal that are everywhere apparent in the New Testament writings. It is not at all the case that the early Christians had to break out of the narrow particularism of their Jewish heritage in order to make Christianity a universal religion, as many people still seem to think. For in Old Testament theology the particular and the universal are not mutually exclusive or contradictory. The movement of God’s purpose always starts from the particular on its way to the universal. God always singles out some for the sake of all. The early Christians, embarking on their mission to Gentiles as well as Jews, were carrying forward the universal purpose God established precisely when he chose Abraham, Israel, David and Zion.” (Richard Bauckham, Bible and Mission: Christian Witness in a Postmodern World, pp. 46-47)

Chosen for Blessing

bauckham“Blessing is the key word in God’s promises to Abraham [Gen. 12:1-3]…The promise that all the nations will be blessed is repeated four more times in Genesis (18:18; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14). On the last two of these occasions it is given to Abraham’s son Isaac and grandson Jacob. Moreover, even within the stories of Jacob and his sons, the blessing of the nations begins—or at least is foreshadowed—when Jacob brings blessing to Laban (30:27) and Joseph to Potiphar (39:5). Then there is the peculiarly significant scene when the aged patriarch Jacob on his arrival in Egypt gives no less than the Egyptian Pharaoh his blessing (47:7). For the canonical reader Genesis creates a strong expectation that the blessing of the nations through Abraham’s descendants is to be the goal of the rest of the biblical story. But in fact for the rest of the Old Testament story it remains no more than a promise and even as promise drops largely out of view. Only three or four passages in the rest of the Hebrew Bible echo this Abrahamic promise of blessing for the nations (Psalm 72:17; Isaiah 19:24-25; Jeremiah 4:2; Zechariah 8:13)…

Blessing is a rich biblical notion that has been rather neglected in Christian theology. Blessing in the Bible refers to God’s characteristically generous and abundant giving of all good to his creatures and his continual renewal of the abundance of created life. Blessing is God’s provision for human flourishing. But it is also relational: to be blessed by God is not only to know God’s good gifts but to know God himself in his generous giving. Because it is relational the movement of blessing is a movement that goes out from God and returns to him. God’s blessing of people overflows in their blessing of others and those who experience blessing from God in turn bless God, which means that they give all that creatures really can give to God: thanksgiving and praise.

Blessing highlights the relationship between creation and salvation in a different way from other ways of characterizing God’s activity in the world. Already on the fifth day of the creation God blesses (Genesis 1:22). Blessing is the way God enables his creation to be fertile and fruitful, to grow and to flourish. It is in the most comprehensive sense God’s purpose for his creation. Wherever human life enjoys the good things of creation and produces the good fruits of human activity, God is pouring out his blessing. Wherever people bless God for his blessings, to that extent God is known as the good Creator who provides for human flourishing. God’s blessing is universal. But it is not the case that blessing is God’s goodness in creation as distinct from his goodness in salvation, as has sometimes been proposed. We could not then make sense of the movement of blessing from Abraham to the nations that we have traced. Salvation too is God’s blessing, since salvation is the fulfillment of God’s good purposes for his creation, purposes already expressed in creation. But salvation is the fulfillment of God’s purposes in spite of the damage evil does to God’s creation. The Abrahamic blessing is more than the blessing of creation because it is designed to contend with and overcome its opposite: God’s curse…It is clearly blessing, not curse, that is the goal of God’s calling of Abraham…The secret of the promise is the bearing of the curse so that the blessing may prevail. The gospel is that in Jesus Christ the curse has been set aside and God’s creative purpose for the blessing of his creation is established beyond any possibility of reversal. God’s last and effective word is his blessing. It is a particular word, spoken in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, broadcast by those who like Paul cannot but pass it on, so powerful is its effect, overflowing with blessing from those who, blessed by it, become a blessing to others.” (Richard Bauckham, Bible and Mission: Christian Witness in a Postmodern World, pp. 28-36)

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