PoetryPurpose“Can we therefore conclude that the Hebrew term ‘meditation’ suggests something like romantic self-consciousness—a self-consciousness that expresses itself essentially in monologue?  The answer is that the Psalms are not monologues, but insistently and at all times dialogue, poems of the self but of the self in the mutuality of relationship with the other…

To speak of relationality pure and simple is, however, misleading.  The Psalms are not exercises in existential philosophy; we are not speaking of an encounter for the sake of merely discovering the existence of the other and of the self in relation to the other.  The ‘Thou’ answers the plea of the ‘I’ and that answer signals a change in the opening situation.  The Psalms are in this sense dynamic, they involve action, purpose.  W. H. Auden said in his elegy on the death of Yeats, ‘For poetry makes nothing happen.’  This is not true of the Psalms.  In nearly every psalms something does happen.  The encounter between the ‘I’ and the ‘Thou’ is the signal for a change not merely in the inner realm of consciousness but in the realm of outer events.” (Harold Fisch, Poetry with a Purpose: Biblical Poetics and Interpretation, pp. 108-09, cited in Walter Brueggemann and Tod Linafelt, An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination, 2nd ed., p. 317)

“What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:4)

“He who avenges blood is mindful of them; he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.” (Psalm 9:12)

DeathOfASalesman“I don’t say he’s a great man.  Willy Loman never made a lot of money.  His name was never in the paper.  He’s not the finest character that ever lived.  But he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him.  So attention must be paid.  He’s not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog.  Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person.” (Linda to Biff concerning her husband Willy, in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Act 1)

Yandell“Historically, the identity of the church has been constituted in good part by its being that community which takes the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as canonical under interpretation…What goes into taking as canonical is rich and complex; but a rather good metaphor for expressing that complexity is that one inhabits the biblical text and its world…If the church no longer inhabits the biblical story, or inhabits it only so far as such habitation is compatible with inhabiting some other more fundamental story, then its identity, at least as traditionally secured, is threatened.  The church’s identity has been a story-constituted identity

All of us, when children, inhabited the worlds of stories we read or were told in such a way that our perceptions, our imaginations, our emotions, our actions, our descriptions, were shaped thereby…The same is true, though perhaps less obviously so, for us as adults: we all live story-shaped lives.  The issue is not whether we will do so; the issue is rather, which are the stories that will shape our lives?…Recovering the authority of Scripture in the life of the Christian community must include recovering the practice of inhabiting  the world of the biblical narrative…More than that: the story that most decisively shapes our lives must be the biblical story…If the church no longer feels obligated to conform its life to, and guide its narrative interpretations by, the biblical story, the authority of the Bible in the life of the church is seriously impaired, the church’s identity is endangered.” (Nicholas Wolterstorff, “Living Within a Text,” in Faith and Narrative, ed. Keith E. Yandell, pp. 205, 211-12)

Frei“Western Christian reading of the Bible in the days before the rise of historical criticism in the eighteenth century was usually strongly realistic, i.e. at once literal and historical, and not only doctrinal or edifying.  The words and sentences meant what they said, and because they did so they accurately described real events and real truths that were rightly put only in those terms and no others…All those stories [in the Bible] together went into the making of a single storied or historical sequence…[Christians] envisioned the real world as formed by the sequence told by the biblical stories…

Since the world truly rendered by combining biblical narratives into one was indeed the one and only real world, it must in principle embrace the experience of any present age and reader.  Not only was it possible for him, it was also his duty to fit himself into that world in which he was in any case a member, and he too did so in part by figural interpretation and in part of course by his mode of life.  He was to see his disposition, his actions and passions, the shape of his own life as well as that of his era’s events as figures of that storied world.

A story such as that of man’s creation and ‘fall’ (Genesis 1-3) made sense in its own right and as part of the larger story into which it was incorporated by Christian interpreters, beginning with St. Paul.  But in addition, figuration made sense of the general extra-biblical structure of human experience, and of one’s own experience…Biblical interpretation became an imperative need, but its direction was that of incorporating extra-biblical thought, experience, and reality into the one real world detailed and made accessible by the biblical story–not the reverse.  As Auerbach suggests, in a striking contrast of Homer’s Odyssey and Old Testament narrative:

‘Far from seeking, like Homer, merely to make us forget our own reality for a few hours, it seeks to overcome our reality: we are to fit our own life into its world, feel ourselves to be elements in its structure of universal history…Everything else that happens in the world can only be conceived as an element in this sequence; into it everything that is known about the world…must be fitted as an ingredient of the divine plan.’

In the process of interpretation the story itself, constantly adapted to new situations and new ways of thinking, underwent ceaseless revision; but in steadily revised form it still remained the adequate depiction of the common and inclusive world until the coming of modernity.  As the eighteenth century went on, this mode of interpretation and the outlook it represented broke down with increasing rapidity…

The direction of interpretation now became the reverse of earlier days.  Do the stories and whatever concepts may be drawn from them describe what we apprehend as the real world?  Do they fit a more general framework of meaning than that of a single story?…In effect, the realistic or history-like quality of biblical narratives, acknowledged by all, instead of being examined for the bearing it had in its own right on meaning and interpretation was immediately transposed into the quite different issue of whether or not the realistic narrative was historical.

This simple transposition and logical confusion between two categories or contexts of meaning and interpretation constitutes a story that has remained unresolved in the history of biblical interpretation ever since.” (Hans FreiThe Eclipse of Biblical Narrative: A Study in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Hermeneutics, pp. 1-16)

The Great Reversal

“The late Hans Frei of Yale University described the development of early modernity as a ‘great reversal,’ whereby the biblical narrative was gradually displaced from its centrality.  No longer was the Bible regarded as the ‘story-encompassing story’ within which the communities of Western culture located themselves.  Instead of the Genesis-to-Revelation narrative, secular humanity located itself within another narrative centered on humanity’s conquest of the natural world, its growing self-mastery, and advancing freedom.  Hegel wrote that ‘the history of the world is nothing but the development of the idea of freedom.’  The great reversal occurred when the world of the biblical narrative was accepted as valid only to the extent that it fit into a secular narrative of human advancement.  If Frei’s analysis of early modernity is correct, then Edwards’s lifework might be seen as a massive attempt to reverse the great reversal and reestablish a theocentric perspective within a culture increasingly alienated from God.  Rather than striking a deal with secularity by limiting God’s activity to special, supernatural occurrences (Paley), or abandoning the attempt to prove God’s presence and activity in the world by rational arguments (Schleiermacher), Edwards set for himself the prodigious task of rethinking the entire intellectual culture of his day and turning it to the advantage of God.” (Michael J. McClymond, Encounters With God, p. 112)

Harvey“To follow the example of Christ, that is to say, you need to read the story as a whole, to look at the pattern of his life and death, and find there a paradigm of sacrificial self-giving.  No Christian doubted what the motivation of this pattern, this paradigm, had been.  It was, quite simply, love…

By this route we come to the very heart of the Christian ethic.  The story of Christ—his coming into the world, his death and resurrection ‘for us’—was seen by his followers to be of profound ethical significance.  It was the definitive expression of God’s love for his human creatures, it laid upon them the obligation to respond with a similar love, indeed it gave to the ‘old commandment’ (love of God and love of neighbor) a depth of meaning that made it seem ‘new’ (1 John 2:7f.).  The essence of the Christian ethic was response to and imitation of God’s love as manifested in Jesus Christ…

It was, and has remained, the single distinctive factor which the Christian religion has added to the general moral analysis of human conduct; it is the point at which the cold discipline of law and precept is totally transcended by the warmth of a divinely-enhanced human motivation.  Yet its inspiration was not any new system of moral demands or a new example of consistently loving behavior given by Jesus, but the theological perception that the very fact of Jesus’ appearance on earth as Son of God and his carrying out of his destiny through suffering, death and resurrection revealed a love of God for his creatures such that only an answering love towards God and neighbor could be the response of those who took the story of Jesus seriously.” (A. E. Harvey, Strenuous Commands: The Ethic of Jesus, pp. 182-83)

Election.jpg“This approach to the doctrine [of election] seeks to follow the implications of the scriptural witness, both in maintaining election’s exclusivity in denoting one clearly defined community set apart to be and to do what no other can be and do, and also in the suggestion that this very ‘being and doing’ of the elect is radically and intrinsically for the sake of the other, as the chosen means by which God’s purpose of wider blessing unfolds in human history…

In turn, this points to the possibilities for a positive re-appropriation of the doctrine in the wider life of the church…Outside the sphere of academics there seems to be an unspoken agreement that it is not necessary to revisit the doctrine [after endless conflicts and disputes over it throughout church history], and indeed, that to mention it at all would be a fearful breach of etiquette in polite church company…It seems, then, that the doctrine of election has often been either an all-too-powerful and profoundly damaging force, scarring the ecclesial landscape, or that the subject is rarely mentioned, as one too arcane and divisive to be allowed to deflect attention from the task of being the people of God in the world.  The irony, of course, is that here we have a central doctrine for that very purpose, and every time the church attempts to reflect on such matters it is already working with an implicit understanding of the concept.  As has been clear throughout this undertaking, election is an inescapable and supremely important scriptural category for shaping the self-understanding of the people of God, and for discussing the nature of God’s dealings with the created order as a whole.  Therefore while the reality that the church at times uses the doctrine to wreak havoc is a scandal, it is also a scandal if the alternative is a conspiracy of silence.  Driving my undertaking has been a refusal to allow this doctrine to be relegated to a theological optional extra, and instead to set election in its rightful place at the heart of an attempt to speak of the purposes of God in and for the world…

On the one hand, as we have seen, election to representation entails a strong affirmation of the church’s singular particularity, in its unique identity as the elect people of God in Christ…On the other: the representational dynamic of election is the means through which God’s wider purpose of blessing unfolds in the face of human sin.  To be elect therefore means to be set apart to be for the rest of humanity, as the elect one set apart for the sake of the alienated many…Election to representation insists that the elect are those through whom God’s purpose of blessing unfolds, partially and proleptically, in the sphere of human history…The representational shape of the church’s election, following that of Christ and Israel, means that it exists as the community through whom that which God has made known and accomplished in Christ is to be worked out in the world.  God’s purpose in electing a people for himself is that God’s loving justice and salvation might reach to the ends of the earth…Moreover, as N. T. Wright reminds us, Paul insists that we cannot think only of the human sphere when we consider the church’s election.  The wider creation awaits its own liberation in the consummation of the redemption of the people of God [Romans 8:18-25, Ephesians 3:7-11].” (Suzanne McDonald, Re-Imaging Election: Divine Election as Representing God to Others and Others to God, pp. 195-201)


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