Friday, June 29, 2007

Baby photos...

Wade Burleson posted a picture of a big dog yesterday and it made me think of my "oldest son," Oliver. So, for a moment of levity, I thought I'd brag a little with my "baby photo." Ollie is a 95 lb boxer and the most obedient dog I've ever owned. Believe it or not, he sits on Ronnie's lap when we watch movies.

Grace and peace on Friday,

Emily

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Considering Hagar's story, Part 2

After her surprising encounter with God on the road to Shur, Hagar returns to Abraham and Sarah and gives birth to her child. Abraham names the boy Ishmael, as God instructed, and for the next 13 years Ishmael is the presumed child of promise. It isn't until God appears to Abraham and give him the covenant of circumcision that Abraham is told that Sarah will bear a son and his name will be Isaac. (Interestingly, while Sarah has the bad reputation for laughing at God, it is Abraham, the father of the faithful, who laughs at God first. Notice 17:17 where the narrator describes Abraham falling on the ground with laughter at the idea that Sarah would give birth. At least Sarah had the presence of mind to "laugh to herself" instead of in God's face [18:12].)

By the time Sarah gives birth to Isaac in Genesis 21, Ishmael is around 16 years old. Hagar hasn't been mentioned for five chapters and seems to have bowed out of the picture for good. But then a problem arises during a feast held to celebrate the weaning of Isaac. Genesis 21:9 says: "But Sarah saw the son mocking--the one Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham."

The word translated "mocking" in v. 9 is translated this way in almost every English translation of the Bible. I find this exceedingly interesting. In Hebrew the word is a form of the same word translated "laughter" or "laughing" earlier. It is clear that the narrator is playing off the word laughter throughout the story of Isaac's birth: Abraham and Sarah both laugh (17:17; 18:12); Sarah exclaims that God has made her laugh and all will laugh with her (21:6); and Isaac's name means "he laughs" (17:19). The translation of Ishmael's behavior as "mocking," I think, is indicative of our desire to see Ishmael as a "bad guy" and Sarah's actions toward Hagar and Ishmael as justified. Later rabbis even interpreted mocking to mean "hurting," as if Ishmael was trying to kill the young Isaac. I think this is preposterous. The most natural reading of the word in v. 9 is that Ishmael was "playing" with Isaac or perhaps even "teasing" Isaac. There is no reason to suspect that anything sinister is going on between them, although it is certain that Sarah saw what was going on as a threat.

It is also interesting that the narrator is careful to point out that "the son" in v. 9 is "the one Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham." Here the emphasis is on Hagar's foreigner status again, along with the foreign status of her son as a result. Moreover, the phraseology is exceedingly sad when you consider that for 16 years Ishmael has been considered the first born son of Abraham and Sarah. Remember, Sarah had Hagar give birth to Abraham's seed as a surrogate mother, so any child born to her would be Sarah's. Presumably, Sarah and Abraham have been raising Ishmael as their own child. Ishamel has become a young man under Abraham's care, even being circumcised into the covenant relationship with God. Now, however, Sarah sees Ishmael as a serious threat to Isaac and, in effect, turns against her adopted child.

Seeing the carrying on between Ishmael and Isaac, Sarah says to Abraham: "Drive out this slave with her son, for the son of this slave will not be a co-heir with my son Isaac!" Can you hear the infuriated Sarah spit out these words? Notice the emphasis on the fact that Ishmael is "her son" and Hagar is "this slave." In fact, Sarah never calls Hagar by her name. Not once in chapters 16 and 21 does Sarah refer to Hagar as anything but "my slave" or "this slave." At this point, I think Sarah's motivation becomes crystal clear: Seeing the young man with the baby boy, Sarah realized that even though Isaac is the child of promise, Ishmael will always be the oldest. In the ancient near east, the oldest son was the most important and I don't think she could stand the thought of Ishmael as Abraham's oldest son and a co-heir with Isaac.

Abraham's affection for Ishmael is apparent in his response to Sarah's fury. Verse 11 says, "Now this was a very difficult thing for Abraham because of his son." In Abraham's mind, Ishmael was "his son," not some foreign interloper. Sarah's demand that Abraham "drive out" the pair was essentially abandonment, something that would likely lead to their death. He knows the severity of this action and he is deeply troubled by the thought.

Thankfully, God intervenes again into the family troubles of Abraham. He instructs Abraham not to be worried, but to go ahead and do whatever Sarah says. Indeed, Isaac will be the one through whom Abraham's seed is traced and God promises to make a "great nation" out of Ishmael as well. This promise from God assures Abraham that at least Ishmael will not die and he submits to the will of Sarah.

Certainly it is a great thing that Abraham has confidence in God's preservation of Ishmael, but that makes the following situation no less perilous for Hagar and her teenage son. Rising early in the morning, Abraham takes bread and a waterskin and puts them on Hagar's shoulder. I doubt that the bread and waterskin were significant enough to last more than a few days, especially between an adult woman and a teenage boy. The narrator sums up the distressing scene in minimal language: "he sent her and the boy away." Can you imagine the sorrow and despair of Hagar and Ishmael in this moment? A father sending away his oldest son. A woman being cast off by the only family she's ever known. A mother and son being sent into almost certain death in the wilderness. The reader knows God's promise, but Ishmael and Hagar have no such assurance.

Hagar leads out the narration from this point forward and it says that she "left and wandered in the Wilderness of Beersheba." Who knows how long this wandering lasted, but very soon after their departure, the resources run out. When the water is gone, Hagar leaves Ishmael under a bush. (This phraseology has given the false impression to many that the boy was a baby, but the chronology of Genesis is such that it is certain Ishmael was a teenager.) Hagar leaves her son in the shade and finds a place to sit nearby. But, she is far enough away so that she cannot see him. Hagar knows that without water they are going to die in a few days and she cannot bear to watch it happen. The despair in Hagar's thoughts in palpable: "I can't bear to watch the boy die!" Can you imagine a mother knowing that her son is going to die of dehydration and that there is nothing she can do about it? The scene is terrifying in the extreme. With no recourse for help, Hagar weeps loudly.

(There is a textual variant in the LXX, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, which says that it is the boy who weeps loudly. The translators probably made this change because the next verse says that God hears the voice of the boy, not the voice of Hagar. Either way, though, the point is the same: both Hagar and Ishmael are in despair, near death.)

In the final surprise of Hagar's story, the angel of God appears to Hagar from heaven once again. His words reiterate God's provision for Ishmael and even play off the meaning of his name "God hears." The angel says, "God has heard the voice of the boy from the place where he is." Once again, God hears the cries of the outsider and the outcast. He instructs Hagar: "Get up, help the boy up, and sustain him, for I will make him a great nation." One wonders what Hagar can do to "sustain" the dehydrated boy, but the next verse answers this dilemma. God opens Hagar's eyes and she "sees" a "well of water." Notice that "The God Who Sees" (16:13) now allows Hagar to "see" and what she sees is the source of their physical salvation. Hagar goes, fills their waterskin, and gives Ishmael the needed refreshment.

The narrative seems to stop abruptly at this point. It is as if once Hagar encountered the Lord again and Ishmael was given into God's care that there is no need to detail the rest of what happens. The reader is given a summary of Ishmael's life: "God was with the boy, and he grew; he settled in the wilderness and became an archer. He settled in the Wilderness of Paran, and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt" (21:20-21).

I observe a source both for sadness and joy in this bare description of Ishmael's growth into manhood. It seems that from the time Abraham expelled Hagar and Ishmael that he never saw either of them again. The woman who bore Abraham's first son is never mentioned again and Abraham mourns and weeps only for Sarah when she dies. Hagar vanishes into the pages of history. Moreover, Ishmael never sees his father again and it is his mother who must get a wife for him (an act typically reserved for the father [see Genesis 21]). At his death, Isaac and Ishmael come together to bury their father (25:9), a fact often overlooked by those who want to see contentiousness between the two brothers, but the man who brought him into the covenant with God never encounters Ishmael again. It seems that father-less families are not only the problem of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Even with the sadness in this story, though, there are reasons for joy as well. Notice that the narrator says, "God was with the boy." We live in an age of tremendous hatred for the presumed descendents of Ishmael. Many would like to think that because Isaac was the child of promise that Ishmael was ignored by God. But, nothing could be further from the truth. God was with Ishmael. This is the same way the Bible speaks of God being with Joseph. God blessed Ishmael intentionally and he had twelve sons in a way parallel to Jacob, lived a long life, and upon his death "was gathered to his people" in the same way Abraham was. Apparently, the promise to Hagar that Ishmael would live in opposition to all his brothers (16:12) had more to do with geography than behavior, for Genesis 25:18 points out that Ishmael's family settled "from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite Egypt as you go toward Asshur." Ishmael, being part Egyptian, literally lived in opposition to all his brothers (25:19).

Moreover, I take great joy in the fact that the God who found the frightened, pregnant Hagar in Genesis 16 and offered her a promise of innumerable descendents is the same God who finds the dehydrated, dying Ishmael in Genesis 21 and reiterates his plan to make him a great nation. What looked like a serious blunder in the life of Sarah and Abraham, something that was indeed a source of serious suffering and trial for Hagar the slave woman, God turns into a way to further bless the world with the descendents of Abraham. The God of Hagar is a God of wondrous generosity and care for outsiders. Many surprises, twists, and turns cannot thwart God's plan to bless the nations and the slave woman Hagar and her son Ishmael are included in God's providence.

So, to go back to where I started, that's why I wish I could name my first daughter Hagar. She's one of my favorite women in the history of God's people. I know that Ronnie won't go for it, though. Perhaps I can convince Brad and Angelina that no greater namesake exists for their next adopted daughter than Hagar, the mistreated, abandoned Egyptian slave woman who became the matriarch of the descendents of Ishmael. We'll see...

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Five Things I Dig About Jesus

I've been tagged by my new blogging friend, Alyce Lee. From what I can tell, here's how its supposed to work:

1. Those tagged will share five things they dig about Jesus.
2. Those tagged will tag five other bloggers.
3. Those tagged will provide a link in the comments section here of their meme so that others can read them.

So, here are five things I dig about Jesus:

1. Jesus let Mary sit at his feet while he taught his disciples and then explained to Martha that such a position was the best she could have chosen. In so doing, he affirmed the place of women as his disciples and elevated their status in the Kingdom.
2. Jesus taught 5,000 men, not counting women and children, but also cared enough for their physical bodies that he provided bread and fish for them as well.
3. Jesus wept over the death of his good friend Lazarus.
4. Jesus experienced the despair of abandonment by his Father on the cross and yet remained obedient, believing that he would be raised from the dead.
5. Jesus rules over every inch of the universe. There is not one atom to which he cannot point and say, "That's mine."

Now then, I tag the following bloggers:

1. Josh Carney
2. Joel Patrick
3. Big Daddy Weave
4. Peter Lumpkins
5. David (volfan007)

Monday, June 25, 2007

Considering Hagar's story, Part 1

I want to name my first daughter Hagar. I won't, of course. Its not socially acceptable to name your child something so "foreign." Only members of Hollywood can get away with odd names like that. But, I wish I could give my daughter Hagar as her namesake because I find her story captivating in a number of ways.

I have been studying the story of Hagar for almost a month now with the ladies in my Sunday School class. Her tale is intertwined with the lives of Abraham and Sarah, which is why, so often, she receives little attention in our typical studies of Genesis. Its hard to compete with the father and mother of the faithful, whose descendents are now as numerous as the stars in the sky. But, Hagar has her own story, one that speaks of God's love for the outsider, his provision for the marginalized, and his generosity as the God of all nations.

Hagar first appears in Genesis 16. If you read the passage closely, you'll notice that Hagar is repeatedly described by the narrator as "the Egyptian" and/or "the slave woman" (some translations use "maid" or "maidservant," but I think we all realize what that really means). With the repetition, the narrator is purposefully emphasizing her foreign-ness, her status as an outsider to the family of Abraham, which hailed from Uz. No doubt, her darker skin and distinct language set her apart from Abraham's nomadic, Aramean family. (In Genesis 16, Abraham and Sarah are still known as Abram and Sarai. For the sake of clarity, I will call them Abraham and Sarah throughout.)

We should note that Hagar enters the scene by no choice of her own. In the first half of Genesis 16, Hagar is an object, a vessel, a baby-making machine to be used by Abraham to produce offspring. Truth be told, it turns out that she's a good one, for seemingly after one encounter, Hagar becomes pregnant with Abraham's child, certainly to the mortification of Sarah, who's barrenness is a humiliating burden to bear.

Often, Sarah is shouldered with weight of "faithlessness" or "disobedience" or "meddling" or any number of negative traits because of her proposal to Abraham in Genesis 16. I would note, however, by this point, the only information either partner has from God is that the child will be from Abraham's own seed. They do not know until the following chapter that Sarah will provide the womb for the child as well. So, when Sarah offers Hagar as a surrogate mother for the child of promise, she is not acting inappropriately for her context (especially since she thinks that the Lord himself has closed her womb [v. 2a]). She is doing what would have been logical at the time, for the use of slaves as surrogate mothers was not uncommon. This is reinforced by the fact that in the ancient mind, women contributed nothing to the development of the baby except the womb. That is, women were the vessels that held and incubated the man's seed. In Sarah's mind, she was trading a bad vessel for a potentially good one. No harm, no foul.

Of course, the reality of what Sarah does to her slave woman is exceedingly foul if we are honest. A foreign woman, in a strange land, serving a wealthy Aramean woman, is taken by that woman and given to her husband for the sole purpose of sex. Hagar has no voice in the matter, of course. No one asks her if she would like to be the womb that bears the child of promise. She is simply "taken" and "given," in the way one would "take" and "give" a garment or a skin of water. In brisk Hebrew style, the narrator informs us that Abraham "came to" or "went into" Hagar and "she became pregnant" (v. 4). What takes up only a few words in Hebrew was surely a frightening night for this Egyptian slave woman in the bed of her mistress' husband.

When Hagar immediately conceives, presumably after only one night with Abraham, her response is to "look down on her mistress." This is the natural result of polygamous practices, no doubt, particularly in an ancient near eastern culture where child-bearing determines your status of blessedness by the gods. Naturally, Sarah is appalled at the disdain of her slave woman and is now powerless to do anything because she is the vessel of Abraham's child. So, she goes directly to her husband and upbraids him for her humiliation.

Ever the strong, dominant patriarch (said with sarcasm), Abraham tells Sarah, in effect, "Hagar is your problem. Do whatever you want." (Do I have to note how sad it is that Abraham would turn over the woman bearing his child to his angry, vengeful first wife?) Given freedom to do what she wishes, Sarah so humiliates and mistreats Hagar that she runs away. We should note that the Hebrew word translated "mistreat" (v. 6b) is the same word translated "rape" elsewhere. I am not suggesting Sarah raped Hagar, but that the kind of humiliation she imposed upon Hagar was such that the narrator chose the same word to describe both experiences.

By this time, you are probably wondering, why on earth would you find this story captivating? Hagar's life is exceedingly sad and pitiful, even by the most optimistic reading of Genesis 16. I affirm this, but find my reason to love Hagar's tale in v. 7: "The Angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur." Don't miss the wonder of this statement. The way the narrator words this verse is significant. The Lord "found her," which implies that he was looking for her. That is to say, while no one else was looking for her, while Sarah was glad to be rid of her and Abraham uncaringly ignorant of her plight, the Lord was looking for Hagar. And, he finds her, presumably while she refreshes herself with water from a spring on the way to Shur. It seems that Hagar was on her way back to Egypt, seeking to return home, empty-handed, pregnant, and alone.

The Lord speaks to Hagar in full knowledge of her situation, calling her "Hagar, slave of Sarai" and inquiring where it is she is going. Hagar, seemingly unperturbed by the fact that God is speaking to her, replies that she is running from her mistress. The Lord's answer to Hagar is that she must return to Sarah and submit to her hand.

Now, I must pause and recognize that the Lord's response to Hagar has been much abused as a source of support for some awful pastoral instruction. I have heard of a number of women told by their pastors to return to their abusive spouses because of God's instruction to Hagar in 16:9. Unfortunately such pastoral counselors participate in sloppy hermeneutics (not to mention horrific pastoral care), for there are a vast number of differences between the situation in Genesis 16 and the situation of abused women today. For the sake of space, though, I will refrain from making the case for these distinctions and simply state that Genesis 16 doesn't apply to the situation of abused women today.

I prefer to think that God sending Hagar back to Sarah had more to do with Hagar's survival and the survival of her child. A pregnant woman traveling to Egypt alone probably didn't have much chance of success, facing possible starvation, injury, or even further enslavement. So, in effect, God compels Hagar to "choose life." Although she would suffer under Sarah's wrath, by returning to her mistress, Hagar was ensuring a future for herself and her child.

The rest of God's interactions with Hagar present two delightful surprises. First, God promises Hagar that he will "greatly multiply" her "seed," so much so that "they will be too many to count" (v. 10). This sounds vaguely familiar doesn't it? Hagar is given a promise of innumerable offspring in a manner parallel, though not identical, to that of Abraham. Hagar, the Egyptian slave woman, will have offspring too numerous to count. (Do we have to note how odd it is that Hagar, a woman, is said to have "seed"?) Moreover, her son will be a tremendously strong and stubborn man, who will distinguish himself from his surrounding brothers with fierce independence. (We should note that the word often translated "wild ass" in v. 12, can also mean "wild stallion." Perhaps our preference for seeing the descendents of Ishmael as "wild asses" has informed our translation of this flexible Hebrew word.) Hagar's son is to be named Ishmael, a beautiful testimony of God's favor upon her, for it means "God hears."

The second surprise comes in v. 13, where Hagar literally "names" God. She is the only person in the entire Hebrew scripture who names God. She calls the Lord, "The God Who Sees." Does the innocence of this act touch you in the way it does me? Yahweh, the God who covenanted with Abraham, condescends to allow himself to be named by this Egyptian slave woman, whose knowledge of him is exceedingly limited. Indeed, all she knew of this God is that he is a God who sees and hears her. What an incredible revelation of God's generosity and love, that this marginalized and abused woman finds favor with the Lord of the Universe and is able to name him in childlike faith. Its as if Hagar is saying, "I know nothing else of this God except that he has seen me. When no one else saw me, this God saw me."

Now, strengthened with the promise of innumerable offspring and having encountered the God who sees her, Hagar returns to Sarah and gives birth to Abraham's son. Interestingly, v. 15 says that Abraham gave the name Ishmael to the baby, presumably at the insistence of Hagar who told her story upon returning to Abraham's tent. Hagar's son and Abraham's first son, forever represents in his name the truth that God is a God who hears the cries of the afflicted and marginalized. Hagar met the God who sees her at a spring in the wilderness and the world was radically changed because of it.

(Part 2 of Remembering Hagar coming soon...)

Who needs theology?

I read Who Needs Theology? by Stanley Grenz and Roger Olson during my first theology class in my undergraduate program. At the time, I found it rather dry, but as I have advanced in my education I have returned to it again and again to help define the task of doing theology. As I ponder a future in theological education, I find that I need a refresher on the nature of the task every now and then. I know many who read this do not consider themselves theologians, so perhaps you may gain somthing as well from a brief overview of theology and the theological task as Grenz and Olson explain them.

Theology is the combination of two Greek words: theos (“God”) and logos (“word, speech, teaching”). In a very simplified form then, we could define theology as “God-talk,” “God-speech,” or “God-teaching”—the words, phrases, and concepts we use in order to describe and discuss the being and actions of God.

Another deeper and more time-honored definition of theology was given by the great medieval theologian, Anselm of Canterbury. He said that theology is “faith seeking understanding.” The Christian life begins when we are captured by God’s grace and we respond to Him in faith. After new birth into the Kingdom, we may begin a journey toward truly understanding God and loving Him with our minds.
Either of these definitions will suffice, but both make one point very clear: Everyone is a theologian. Yes, everyone. Everyone has thoughts, words, and concepts that they use to describe and characterize God. Not everyone is an accurate theologian, but everyone is a theologian nonetheless. As long as Christians are seeking answers to questions that naturally arise out of faith, they are already doing theology.

There are many different levels of theological reflection and they can be viewed along the following spectrum:

Folk Theology is unreflective belief based upon blind faith in a tradition of some kind. This is not merely simple or untrained faith, which is indeed honored by God. Folk theology rejects critical reflection and enthusiastically embraces simplistic acceptance of informal traditions and beliefs that tend to be composed mainly of clichés, legends, and very little, if any, biblical truth.

Lay Theology is a big step above folk theology, because it is when ordinary Christians begin to question folk theology and pursue deeper study into the resources of their faith. Lay theology may lack sophisticated tools of biblical languages, logic, and history, but it seeks with what means it has to bring Christian beliefs into a well-rounded, coherent whole.

Ministerial Theology is practiced by trained ministers and teachers in Christian churches. It is a step above lay theology in the level of reflection it involves because of greater access to education and other training. Ministerial theology will usually involve a working knowledge of biblical languages, a historical perspective on the development of theology throughout the ages, and keen systematic thinking that is able to bring doctrines and beliefs into coherence with one another.

Professional Theology is practiced by those whose vocation involves studying the tools mentioned previously and instructing lay people and pastors in their use. Professional theologians have the responsibility to raise their students above folk theology by showing them how to develop a critical consciousness that questions unfounded assumptions and beliefs.

Academic Theology is highly speculative and philosophical theology that is typically aimed at other theologians. It is often disconnected from the church and has little to do with concrete Christian living. Professional and ministerial theologians may benefit from reading academic theologians, but the church and individual Christians in the “real world” gain little from it. At its worst, academic theologians are more concerned with their ideas about God than God himself. Academic theologians are those “ivory tower” professors who tend to give theology a bad name!

For the effective study and practice of Christian theology, three basic tools are needed: (1) the biblical message; (2) the heritage of the church; (3) the thought-forms of contemporary culture. "Thought-forms of contemporary culture," means that we must do theology in a way that contemporary people understand; that speaks to the problems, longings, and thinkings of contemporary culture; and that takes seriously contemporary discoveries and insights of the various disciplines of human learning.

As we study and practice theology, it is vital to remember that no one does so in a vacuum. A Caucasian woman from rural Texas is going to understand and construct theology in a way very different than a Vietnamese man from New York City. Going even further, the Vietnamese man from New York City is going to understand and construct theology in a way very different than an African teenager from Johannesburg, South Africa.

We must learn to accept and embrace the fact that all of us use the three tools of theology in a way unique to our context. While God and his revelation in scripture do not change, the way various human beings understand God and the Bible and talk about both will always have variety and diversity.

We must also be willing to allow our theology to be impacted by the perspective of others. It is healthy for us to take off the particular “glasses” through which we see the world and try on someone else’s “glasses” for a time. In this way, understanding is fostered between people and, ultimately, our theology is better for it.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Spotlight on woman abuse

"So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go. At daybreak the woman went back to the house where her master was staying, fell down at the door and lay there until daylight. When her master got up in the morning and opened the door of the house and stepped out to continue on his way, there lay his concubine, fallen in the doorway of the house, with her hands on the threshold. He said to her, 'Get up; let's go.' But there was no answer. Then the man put her on his donkey and set out for home." (Judges 19:25-28)

Woman abuse is defined as treating a woman with cruelty or violence, especially regularly or repeatedly. The physical form of abuse includes behaviors such as pushing, slapping, punching, kicking, and biting. Sometimes objects are used to inflict harm, such as a knife or gun. Many times, rape and other forms of sexual assault are also involved. The psychological form of abuse is more difficult to document because it often goes unrecognized, even by the victims. It can include repeated verbal assault, sleep deprivation, threats of violence or abandonment, financial deprivation, coerced sexual relations, and public harassment. Almost all occurrences of physical abuse will include psychological abuse, but not all occurrences of psychological abuse will include physical abuse. All victimized women, no matter what the specifics of her abuse, experience tremendous physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual trauma. The details of such trauma have been documented in great depth by Lenore E. A. Walker, The Battered Woman Syndrome, Second Ed. (New York: Springer Publishing, 2000). See also Mary Susan Miller, No Visible Wounds: Identifying Nonphysical Abuse of Women by Their Men (New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1995).

While abuse has many appearances, occurs in many places, and affects women in divergent ways, one need only look at the frequency of its occurrence to understand the magnitude of the problem. Research has shown that a woman, whether living in the so-called First World or the developing world, is more likely to be injured, raped, or physically threatened by a current or former intimate male partner than by a stranger or any other person. On every continent, at least one in ten women report being physically abused by an intimate male partner. One in four women are sexually assaulted in their lifetime. This means that, of the approximately 4.5 billion women around the world, about 450 million have suffered physical abuse by an intimate male partner, and about 1.1 billion have been sexually assaulted.

In the United States, where there is more reliable documentation and study of abuse, the evidence shows that women are being abused every day, in every socioeconomic class, in every religious group, in every ethnic category, all over the country. Every 15 seconds a woman is abused in the US. Abuse is the single largest cause of injury to women in the US, greater than the number of injuries sustained from car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined. Thirty-five percent of women who seek treatment at a hospital emergency room are there for symptoms of ongoing abuse. Thirty to forty percent of female homicide victims are killed by their male partners. Every day, ten women are murdered by their male partners. Every five years, more women are murdered by their intimate male partners than the number of all American lives lost in the Vietnam War (Betty Coble Lawther and Jenny Potzler, “The Church’s Role in the Healing Process of Abused Women,” Review and Expositor 98 [2001]: 228-230). These statistics do not include psychological abuse or threats of violence, factors that, if documented, would significantly increase the reported numbers of abused women worldwide.

Indeed, if woman abuse were avian influenza, it would be a pandemic. For a disease to qualify as a pandemic, it must be a widespread infectious epidemic that affects entire continents or even the world. By this definition, the Black Death in Europe and the spread of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa are pandemics. Although woman abuse is not “infectious,” per se, many sociologists have noted that it is a behavior arising from a predominant ideology of male superiority that maintains its power by being passed on to the next generation. In this sense, I think a case could be made for pandemic status for violence against women.

I know the people of God have something to say about woman abuse, for our God is one who fights for the oppressed and sets the captives free. I would urge you to educate yourself about this exceedingly important matter so that you are better prepared to be a source of hope and healing to the abused women all around you. If one in ten women worldwide are being abused by there intimate male partner, then its possible that 10% of your church's women have experienced or are currently experiencing abuse right now.

For more information on woman abuse, especially as it relates to pastoral counseling and Christian ministry, I would highly recommend the following volumes:

Catherine Clark Kroeger and James R. Beck. Healing the Hurting: Giving Hope and Help to Abused Women. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998.

Catherine Clark Kroeger and Nancy Nason-Clark. No Place for Abuse: Biblical and Practical Resources to Counteract Domestic Violence. Downers Grove: IVP, 2001.

Nancy Nason-Clark and Catherine Clark Kroeger. Refuge from Abuse: Healing and Hope for Abused Christian Women. Downers Grove: IVP, 2004.

Mary Susan Miller. No Visible Wounds: Nonphysical Abuse of Women by Their Men. New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1995.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Is heaven overrated?

Apparently, I have been missing out on a controversy in the religious community about the Starbucks campaign, "The Way I See It," which features quotes on various topics from a variety of people on every Starbucks cup. I have personally enjoyed many of these quotes, as they have provided fruitful conversation for Ronnie and me when we interact over our respective lattes.

One such quotation has been particularly contentious, however. No, I am not talking about the one that speaks of homosexuality. I'm not going to touch that one with a 10 foot venti white chocolate mocha. I am thinking of The Way I See It #230, which comes from LA Times columnist Joel Stein. Here's a picture of the cup:


If you can't read it, Mr. Stein says: "Heaven is totally overrated. It seems boring. Clouds, listening to people play the harp. It should be somewhere you can’t wait to go, like a luxury hotel. Maybe blue skies and soft music were enough to keep people in line in the 17th century, but Heaven has to step it up a bit. They're basically getting by because they only have to be better than Hell."

Many have found this quotation decidedly anti-Christian and I can sympathize with their concern. I cannot speak to the intentions of Mr. Stein but there is a sense in which his comment is a derisive swipe at the dearly held belief and significant source of hope for Christians all over the world.

Before we tar and feather Mr. Stein, however, we should consider what it is he is criticizing with derision. He thinks that heaven is typified by "clouds," "people play[ing] the harp," "blue skies," and "soft music." It is this version of heaven that he calls "totally overrated." So, this begs the question: Is this version of heaven the biblical version of heaven? Is this really what we're looking forward to?

As I see it, the answers are, no and no. Puffy clouds, soft music, and people playing harps is not how the Bible describes the eternal state. In fact, this bare depiction of heaven has more in common with folk tales and cartoons than the testimony of scripture.

In reality, the eternal state to which we are headed is the "new heavens and new earth" described in Revelation 21 (see also Isaiah 65-66), with the New Jerusalem, the city of God, at the center. Rather than float around the sky as disembodied souls playing music and sleeping on clouds, we will be living in our resurrected bodies upon the recreated earth, within the New Jerusalem. In this place, the powers of evil are no more and death, suffering, sorrow, and tears are banished. The glory of God will be our light and the presence of God will be constantly among us. People from all nations, tribes, and tongues will serve the Lord faithfully and we joyfully live as the community of God forever.

For this reason, I can agree with Mr. Stein's criticism. The cartoonish, mundane, folksy view of heaven as a sleepy tea party in the clouds is definitely overrated and boring. There is no comparison between this view of heaven and the true destiny of those who are in Christ--the new heavens and new earth. Let's not trade the marvelous promises of scripture for the commonplace cartoons that make an easy target for thoughtful people. God is at work to redeem all things--every inch of planet earth and the universe he loves. The New Jerusalem is our future home and God's service is our eternal destiny.

So, what do you think about this? Is Joel Stein right?

The purpose of marriage in light of the reign of God


"Is marriage worth it?"

A few months ago, a friend reached out to me with this question as she struggled with her approaching marriage. It seems that the wedding preparations and stresses of life caused conflict between her and her fiancĂ©, sending her on an emotional rollercoaster about the prospect of getting married. Her question was deceptively simple. Because of the true happiness and fulfillment I find in my own union, I could have answered very quickly, “Yes! Of course marriage is worth it!” But, I discerned that I needed to give this matter more thought. I would like to share my deliberations and conclusions with you and I invite your response.

In her exasperation, my friend asked if marriage was worth the trouble, but I think what my friend was really asking is “What is the purpose of marriage?” That is to say, what are we, the married persons, going to receive from it that makes the marriage covenant worth adopting and upholding for life? Or, perhaps even more pertinent, what is God, the author of marriage, receiving from the marriage relationship of two persons that makes it worth entering? There are many ways one could answer this question, for the Bible offers much wisdom about marriage and our Creator’s intention for it. Yet, I will argue that in the Kingdom of God, inaugurated and established by Jesus Christ, there is really only one primary purpose for marriage. Before getting into that, however, let’s consider the other options available to us.

One might argue that we should derive the purpose for marriage from Genesis 1-2. Certainly, it is wise to start at the beginning of the story. In Genesis 1, the order and rhythm of creation is displayed for the reader and the “crown jewel” of creation is saved for last. God creates human beings in his image, according to his likeness, for the purpose of “ruling” the fish, birds, animals, all the earth, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth (Gen. 1:26). After creating human beings “male and female,” God blesses them and commands them to “be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it” (1:28). These commands are similar to those given to the birds and sea creatures in 1:22, where he tells them to “be fruitful, multiply, and fill the waters of the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth.” The major difference, of course, is that human beings alone are given the command to “subdue” the earth.

Those who use Genesis as the basis for the purpose of marriage usually suggest that 1:28, with the command to “be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it,” is the underlying reason for the marriage relationship. In this point of view, bearing children and ruling over the earth is the primary reason for marriage. (One can understand, therefore, why the matter of birth control can be so contentious when the primary purpose of the marriage relationship is seen as bearing and raising children. Yet, this is not the time or the place to get into this tertiary issue.)

Without denying the importance of these commands to the marriage relationship, I would like to point out that a close reading of Genesis 1 reveals that the institution of marriage is not mentioned at all. Instead, the focus is upon the order of creation, with human beings coming last. There is continuity between animals and humans as created beings (both are to “be fruitful, multiply,” and “fill the earth”), but also discontinuity between them (humans are to “subdue” the earth). Moreover, God makes a point to instruct human beings in what things are given to them and every animal for food: “every green plant.” Yet, one must admit, marriage as an institution is not considered in a recognizable way at all. Instead, the focus is upon the human race as a whole and the purpose of the human race upon the earth in God’s good created order. I would like to suggest that Genesis 1:28, although not irrelevant or unimportant to the matter, is not an appropriate basis for the purpose of marriage.

What about Genesis 2? Here we get a little closer to our topic, for the author provides details of God’s interactions with the first man and the woman God formed for him. We are told that God understood that it is not good for the man to be alone and that he needed a helper who corresponded to him in the way that all the other animals have corresponding mates. So, God formed a woman from the man’s body and presented her to the man. The poetic exclamation of the man at the sight of the woman is beautiful: “This one, at last, is bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh; this one will be called woman, for she was taken from man” (Gen. 2:23). This statement is modified by the narrator, who informs the reader, “This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh” (2:24).

From this description of woman’s creation for man, what would the purpose of marriage seem to be? Perhaps the intention is that the two would have intimate relationship, not simply in the sexual sense, but in the emotional closeness of two beings in perfect harmony. This coincides with our belief about the Godhead, which exists in perfect Triune relationship as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The emphasis on intimate relationship is supported by the commentary of the narrator that begins “This is why…” as if to say, “This is why men and women marry, for God created woman to be with man in intimate partnership.” With this in mind, it is even more tragic that after sin enters God’s good world, the perfect couple is expelled from Eden following the reception of their respective judgments, and from that point forward marriages are a mess in the story of Israel. (Say what you want about the patriarchs, certainly they were not the models of loving relationship, fidelity, and loyalty to their spouses.)

Again, I do not deny the truths of Genesis 2:23-24, for there is much here to recommend. I think it is clear that Genesis 2 provides more insight for the purpose of marriage as an institution than Genesis 1, where the purpose of human beings as a whole is in the spotlight. Even so, I am not satisfied with building our foundation for marriage chiefly on Genesis 2:23-24. There are a number of reasons for this, but the most important is that as Christians, we should read and interpret the Old Testament in light of the New Covenant and the teachings of Jesus. Since we proclaim and live under a New Covenant, I think it is important to ask whether Jesus reaffirmed Genesis 2 as the primary purpose of marriage or did he revolutionize this institution as he did so many other aspects of the Old Testament (“You have heard it said…but I tell you…”). As we consider marriage through the lens of the New Covenant and the coming Kingdom of God, what do we find?

A New Testament option for deriving the purpose of marriage is increasingly popular in American Christianity today: Ephesians 5. Here, following his instructions on being “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18), which concludes with the description of “submitting to one another in the fear of Christ” (5:21), Paul provides corollary exhortation to wives and husbands. In the instructions for husbands, Paul uses the Christ’s love for the Church, as the illustration for the kind of love husbands should exercise for their wives. This kind of love is self-sacrificing, cleansing, honoring, and sanctifying, for that is how Christ loved his Church. Many teachers and preachers adopt this profound imagery as the main purpose of marriage: to model and reflect the love of Christ for the Church to the watching world. This sounds very good and, indeed, I do not deny the significance of Paul’s illustration in Ephesians 5. Yet, I am wary of elevating a metaphor—one that Paul himself calls “a profound mystery” (5:32)—to the status of rule. That is to say, while it is legitimate to use Paul’s illustration to describe the marriage relationship, I’m not sure it is appropriate to conclude that it is also the purpose of the marriage relationship.

I know that I am stepping on toes with this line of reasoning, but please stay with me. Notice what Paul does NOT say in this passage: “You should get married because it is a mysterious picture of the love of Christ for the Church.” He doesn’t say anything like this. Instead, Paul is addressing those already married and instructing them on how they can live within their marriage bonds as ones “filled with the Spirit” and “submitting to one another in the fear of Christ.” So, while the image of Christ and the Church is to be a source of inspiration and a model for married persons, it is not an appropriate foundation for the overall purpose of marriage.

Before I go any further, let me reiterate that I do not believe the above options to be completely off the mark. It is not my intention to disqualify the viewpoints discussed above, for they contain relevant instruction for Christians on the purpose and outworking of marriage. Instead, I have come to the conclusion that, in light of the New Covenant and the Kingdom of God, there is a higher purpose for marriage that both Paul and Jesus understood and advocated. Before you jump out of your seats and holler, “Heretic!” please follow my thinking very closely.

If you have read my previous post on the Gospel, you would know that my understanding of the Gospel is as follows: The Gospel of the reign of God is the power of God through which the exalted Christ, on the basis of his death and resurrection, restores all of life by his Spirit to be subject to his authority and word. I believe this was the content of Jesus’ preaching, Paul’s preaching, and the preaching of all the Apostles and the early church. Moreover, it was the lens through which they viewed and understood all matters of life: social structures, politics, economic concerns, ethics, etc. Everything, EVERYTHING, was about the proclamation and expansion of the Kingdom of God.

In the matter of marriage, I think this is best illustrated by Paul’s discussion in 1 Corinthians 7. Far from a mystical or creative discussion of the merits of marriage, Paul presents what is really a very pragmatic approach to marriage, all based upon two major suppositions: (1) the End is near and (2) the Gospel of the Kingdom must not be hindered. It is with these two concerns that Paul dispenses Spirit-inspired instructions on marriage.

Paul’s basic conclusions are these: because of the threat of fornication, married persons should have sexual relations (1 Cor. 7:2-5); persons married to unbelievers should remain married unless the union is broken by the unbelieving spouse (7:10-16); each person should remain in the situation they were in when called of God (7:17-24); virgins and unmarried men are better off remaining unmarried if their passions allow it, because the End is near (7:25-31); because unmarried people are able to focus solely on the things of God, they are better off remaining unmarried (7:32-35); in case of impropriety, people can be married if they must, though they are better off unmarried (7:36-38).

(I feel constrained to offer one parenthetical observation. How many sermons or lessons have you heard lately on the virtue of singleness for the cause of the Kingdom of God? I venture to guess, not many. This is curious indeed since Paul was so adamant that it is “better” for people to remain unmarried. The perspective of Paul is crystal clear: “each person should remain with God in whatever situation he was called” [7:24] and only be married in situations where fornication is a threat. How curious that we have made marriage and family the focus of most church efforts [Focus on the Family?], whereas Paul viewed even the institution of marriage in light of the End Times and the coming Kingdom of God. It is interesting to me that Paul’s preference that women not instruct men in Timothy’s congregation has been elevated to the level of dogma [1 Tim. 2:12], but Paul’s preference for singleness among the people of God has not been given the same honor.)

Jesus viewed marriage through the lens of the Kingdom of God as well. He remained unmarried throughout his life. Also, he affirmed the calling of those who remain unmarried, even recommending the state of the “eunuch” as something to be “accepted” by anyone who can (Matt. 19:11-12). Perhaps most alarming to many Christians today, Jesus affirmed a reward for those who “left houses, brothers or sisters, father or mother, children, or fields” because of the Gospel, especially having in mind the sacrifices of his twelve closest disciples (Matt. 19:29; Luke 18:29-30). Moreover, he taught that in the fullness of the Kingdom of God, there will be no marriage (Matt. 22:30).

Perhaps the most powerful statements of Jesus related to the institution of marriage are in his so-called “cost of discipleship” exhortations. Here, Jesus makes it very clear that his calling trumps every other position or responsibility of life: “If anyone comes to me as does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, and even his own life—he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26; cf. 9:57-62; 12:51-53; 18:24-30). In other instances, Jesus affirms that the preaching of Kingdom of God will put families at odds with one another (12:49-53; Mark 13:12-13).

Am I suggesting that Jesus was against marriage? No. What I am suggesting, however, is that Jesus understood marriage only in conjunction with his overarching mission to proclaim and embody the Kingdom of God. In light of Paul’s views on marriage, overviewed above, I suggest that Paul had a similar perspective. While neither Jesus nor Paul advocated divorce, or anything that could be seen as a denigration of the marriage institution, neither advocated marriage as such either. Instead, they taught that everything one does should be viewed in light of the Kingdom of God and what will forward God’s reign on the earth.

I propose that we use this line of thinking as the basis for the purpose of marriage in the New Covenant of Jesus Christ. Rightly understood, therefore, marriage is a holy institution, inaugurated by God in the beginning of history as a means to populate the earth, but now to be seen primarily as a means for the propagation of the Gospel and the advancement of the Kingdom of God. Where the person in question is able to live without a spouse and fulfill these purposes (in their own personal discipleship and their outward service), the person should do so, for singleness provides ultimate freedom for missional living, particular in places of the world where danger is imminent for preachers of the Gospel.

So, what did I say to my friend regarding the purpose and perceived benefits of marriage? My response was three-fold: (1) You should get married if you have become convinced that the Kingdom of God is best served by your union. That is to say, the reign of God is advanced more by your doing life together rather than apart. (2) You should get married if you have become convinced that the person you are marrying is the best person to be your partner in discipleship to the Lord Jesus Christ and participation in the Kingdom of God. (3) You should get married if you have determined that God desires for you both to live missionally in a context wherein marriage and family is significant for the propagation of the Gospel and the advancement of the Kingdom of God.

Let me acknowledge a few things before I close. First, this initial foray into a “theology of marriage” is a first word on the matter and not a last word. I do not pretend to have researched and studied in enough depth to declare that the issue is closed. I have not even interacted with any other scholars on the matter and what I have written contains the fruit of my personal study only. As a result, I am open to learn more and modify my ideas.

Second, if my explanation of the purpose of marriage seems “off the mark” to you (perhaps overly pragmatic), I assure you that it feels strange to me as well. Yet, my study of the scripture has convinced me that I’m headed in the right direction toward the best understanding of marriage. I remind myself that the Kingdom of Jesus Christ is “not of this world” (John 18:36), so I should not be surprised when God’s ways look different from my own.

Finally, as we interact about this issue, please do not insinuate that I am against marriage or seeking to denigrate the institution of marriage. May it never be! From my perspective, viewing marriage in light of the reign of God serves instead to elevate the institution to a high calling, something to be entered into with “fear and trembling” only when convinced that it is the best course of action in order to better fulfill the purposes of God.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Enjoy a good laugh after a tense week

For all of the theology lovers like me, who take themselves too seriously, here's something funny I read in Christian Ethics Today:

John (Calvin) 3:16-21

For God so loved the elect, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever of the elect believeth in him shall not perish in the fire God created for those he hath predestined to burneth for all eternity, but have everlasting life.

For God sent his Son into the world to condemn the heathen to hell and save only those who acknowledge they have no choice but to repent and do exactly as God says.

Whosoever be amongeth the elect is not condemned, but whosoever is among the damned stands condemned already because God's sovereignty wills it.

This is the verdict: Light has come unto the elect, but all the other men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were predestined to be evil.

For everyone who doeth evil must hateth the light, and shall not come into the light because they have no choice but to doeth evil.

So he that doeth truth cometh to the light by the TULIP, that his deeds may be made manifest through reformed theology, that they are all forced by God.

(David D. Flowers, The Wittenburg Door, April 2007)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Since faces are rarely matched with bloggers...

...I thought some might appreciate a recent picture of me just in case we run into each other at the convention this week. Our good friend Joel Patrick took this of me as we enjoyed dinner with him and his wife, Gabby, recently. Its artsy and different, but its what I look like!

Grace and peace for tonight,

Emily

Monday, June 11, 2007

Considering women as "disciple-makers" and "witnesses"

I am reading a number of books on the matters of femininity, women's roles, and women in ministry. One of them poses a question that I find worthy of further consideration. I do not have a thoughtful response to it right now, but I hope to come to some conclusion as I ponder the issue this week. Please do not take this question as an invitation to argument, for that is not my intention. It is simply something I have never seriously considered before. I hope it is "food for thought" to you as well.

There was a time before the modern missions movement (spear-headed by William Carey), when interpreters of the Bible believed that the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20) was given only to the Apostles. That is to say, the directive to "make disciples of all nations" by "baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" and "teaching to obey all that Jesus commanded" was limited to the first followers of Jesus. It would not be an exaggeration to say that most eighteenth century churchmen in the West believed that the Great Commission did not apply to them, therefore converting the "heathen" was not their concern.

Today, of course, that position is almost universally rejected. It is acknowledged and trumpeted that the Great Commission is for all Christians. Yet, in practice, is the Great Commission really for all Christians? Or, are women left out--at least partially--in the way we have traditionally intepreted women's roles? It is true that women are strongly encouraged to "make disciples of all nations" (and it is well-known that they outnumber their male counterparts as missionaries), but can they oversee in the dual responsibility to "baptize" and "teach" the new disciples? In traditional churches, the answer is "no." In this sense, it seems that in practice, the Great Commission is viewed as not applying equally to women and men.

Moreover, the same line of reasoning could be extended to the restated Great Commission in Acts 1:8: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Here again, the implication is that all followers of Jesus will be empowered by the Holy Spirit and all will be his witnesses. But, is the truth of this verse applied equally to women and men? Again, it seems that women are encouraged to witness "to the ends of the earth," but the same welcome is not given for them to witness in "Jerusalem," "Judea," or "Samaria." It seems that the promise of Acts 1:8 is viewed as not applying equally to women and men.

Some may say that these verses are to be understood in conjunction with the limitations laid out in the rest of the New Testament. This is reasonable, for scripture must be read as a unity. Yet, it is a well-known principle of hermeneutics that the less clear passages of scripture should be interpreted with the aid of the more clear passages of scripture. (And surely you can't get much clearer than Matt. 28:18-20 or Acts 1:8!)

In the end, I wonder how much of the conclusions of egalitarians and complementarians, respectively, are the result of the disparate decisions of which passage will be used to interpret the others. Complementarians turn to 1 Tim. 2:12 and 1 Cor. 14:34 (among others) as controlling passages for their understanding of women's roles. Egalitarians turn to Gal. 3:28 and 1 Cor. 12 (among others) as controlling passages for their understanding of women's roles.

So, I must ask, which passages should take priority in the understanding of women's roles in the New Testament? Are Matt. 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8 meant to apply completely to women and men? Is the Great Commission meant to be carried out by all disciples of Jesus, regardless of gender? Or, do the later directions of Paul refine and define how these passages are applied to women and men, thereby limiting the fulfillment of the Great Commission in the lives of female disciples?

I look forward to your thoughtful and courteous responses to these questions. As I said, I have not formulated my thoughts yet, but hope to do so soon.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Headed to San Antonio


Ronnie and I are back from a long, difficult, and extraordinary week of camp. Thank you for your prayers. I will be sharing my reflections on the experience later this week, but for now Ronnie and I are preparing to leave for the Southern Baptist Convention in San Antonio. Perhaps I will have a chance to meet some of you there.

Grace and peace,

Emily

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Away to summer camp


I will be at summer camp in Falls Creek, OK from Monday, June 4, to Saturday, June 9. Since I will be in the middle of nowhere and consumed with shepherding and loving eighth grade girls, I will be unable to access the internet until I return on Saturday evening. Please feel free to comment on my posts and I will respond when I am home again. If you think of us, please say a prayer for the 150 students and their leaders from FBC Fairfield.

Grace and peace,

Emily

Jesus came preaching the Gospel...


The Gospel of the reign of God was not only the focus of the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth (Mark 1:14; Matt 4:17; Luke 4:43), but also the message entrusted to his followers at his ascension (Acts 1:6-8). Most evangelicals today assume that the Gospel is limited to the sacrificial death and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, for the atonement of sins and guarantee of heaven. I affirm that the Gospel is at least these things. Yet, I do not think it is only these things. (An indicator that there is more to the Gospel is the fact that Jesus preached the Gospel before his death and resurrection. What Gospel was he preaching?)

Several authors have influenced me in my thinking about the Gospel, including Dallas Willard, George Eldon Ladd, and G.R. Beasley-Murray. But, one book has been especially influential: Creation Regained by Albert Walters and Michael Goheen. Based upon their discussion of the Gospel, I offer my summary of the Gospel of the reign of God and invite your response.

When Jesus of Nazareth emerged on the stage of world history he announced that the healing power of God’s reign had now decisively broken into creation. His proclamation of this good news came at the climactic moment of the story of God’s redemptive work as told in the Hebrew scriptures, a story extending back to God’s original promise in Adam and Eve, and arising from God’s intention in his covenant with Israel. The gospel announced that in Jesus, by the Holy Spirit, the power of God to renew the entire creation was now present.

Jesus explained this liberating power by his teaching and demonstrated it in his life and deeds. He battled the powers of sin and evil through his death on the cross and gained the ultimate victory. In his resurrection Jesus entered as “the firstborn among many” into the resurrection life of the new creation. Before his ascension he commissioned his followers to continue his mission until he returned, making the Gospel known and initiating people from all nations into the reign of God. With the power of Jesus’ presence, the initiation into the reign of God takes place by submerging disciples in the Trinitarian reality and teaching them to obey everything Jesus taught.

Jesus now reigns in power at the right hand of God over all creation and by his Spirit, is revealing his restorative and comprehensive rule through his people as they embody and proclaim the good news. One day God’s reign will be fully realized through the new heavens and new earth. At that time, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Creator, Redeemer, and Lord. Until then the church is called to participate in the Spirit’s work of making known the good news as a witness to, and sign of the reign of God.

Based upon this understanding, in summary, the Gospel of the reign of God is the power of God through which the exalted Christ, on the basis of his death and resurrection, restores all of life by his Spirit to be subject to his authority and word.