Realistic expectations of what the church is and will be

Realistic expectations of what the church is and will be

In a really well written article in Themelios by Uche Anizor that draws together various ecclesiological strands of Colin Gunton’s thought from multiple sources, we see some really practical outworkings of what the church is and should be and will be in the light of a robust doctrine of the Trinity.  Anizor writes, “Gunton’s relentless attempt to root the nature and calling of the church in the being and action of the triune God opens up a way for a more concrete and realistic perspective on the church than is common, while offering a potentially more fruitful starting point for ecumenical dialogue regarding the nature of the church.”

“a more concrete and realistic perspective on the church than is common.”

We all know things could and should be better; some are disillusioned to the point of desertion; others remain but function in a spiritual wilderness akin to the effects of Ritalin; whilst yet many more recognise a “concrete and realistic perspective” is the only way to live in reality and eschew fantasy.

Thus Anizor opens with these words,

“Conflict in relationships is often rooted in inappropriate or unmet expectations. This commonplace wisdom regarding everyday relationships is no less true of one’s relationship to the church. Our conduct and feelings toward the church are governed largely by our expectations of what the church should be. These expectations, furthermore, are rooted in our understanding of the church’s nature. Ministers who weekly find themselves disappointed with the failings of their congregations would do well to attend to their understanding of what the church is. Laypeople who find themselves regularly frustrated with their community’s shortcomings are advised to do likewise. Disappointment (among other negative feelings) often flows from unrealistic expectations, which sometimes betray an unbalanced view of the church. Therefore, a healthy understanding of the nature of the church is of utmost practical import. Is the church the kingdom? If not, what is it? In what ways, if at all, is the church (and actual churches) a sign of the new Jerusalem? How can we theologically describe this imperfect reality we call the “church”? Colin Gunton provides one helpful response.”

The way forward is offered positively thus,

“First, we examine three related areas that contribute to a fuller understanding of the trinitarian heart of his ecclesiology: (1) the ontology of the church, (2) the place of pneumatology, and (3) the role of a proper Christology.  Then we provide a constructive appraisal. The hope here is that Gunton’s contribution might help free pastors, teachers, and congregants to live and serve in the church with a love and compassion rooted in realistic expectations of what the church is and will be.”

The essay really weaves a fantastic theological tapestry integrating the Pneumatological, Christological and Ecclesiological threads.  We need to know who this God is before we build on ecclesial foundations.  That is why I enjoyed the comments right at the end just before the conclusion, aimed at those pastors and lay people who are tempted to disillusionment at the ontology of the Church:

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Chosen? Israel-Palestine and Theological Assumptions

Chosen? Israel-Palestine and Theological Assumptions

al_nakbaMay 15th is the commemoration of the Palestinian ‘Al-Nakba’ or Catastrophe that began (officially) in 1948, and in a perverse marriage of political and religious ideology, continues today!  This blog has several theological-historical accounts of this particular subject, and below is a book review by a respected New Testament theologian on a book by an esteemed Old Testament theologian.

Chosen? Reading the Bible amid the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

 

Today we are witnessing a sea change regarding evangelical attitudes toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In its cover story for its March 2015 issue, Sojourners Magazine illustrated this change with an article that went viral: “Pro-Israeli, Pro-Palestinian, and Pro-Jesus.” The article shows how many conservative North American evangelicals have always listened to and supported the Israeli narrative. But here’s the change: evangelicals are now discovering the Palestinian narrative. This has led them to go back to their Bibles and to rethink many theological first principles.

Chosen

This change has been quantified by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, which has conducted regular interviews among evangelicals for years (see G. M. Burge, “Are Evangelicals Abandoning Israel?,” Washington Report on Middle East Affairs 33.7 [October 2014]: 50–51; D. Brog, “The End of Evangelical Support for Israel,” Middle East Quarterly 21.2 [Spring 2014]; S. Bailey, “American Evangelicals’ Support For Israel Is Waning, Reports Say,” Huffington Post, April 9, 2014). The Pew Forum’s October 2010 survey conducted at the Third Lausanne Congress of World Evangelization in Cape Town, South Africa, made one thing clear: younger evangelicals who see social justice as an integral part of their discipleship now see the moral ambiguity of this conflict. While once evangelicals gave exclusive support to Israel, today that support is balanced in that younger evangelicals have sympathies with both sides in this struggle and are rejecting the unilateral commitments held by an older generation.

A number of authors and books have been contributing to these theological shifts. The esteemed OT scholar Walter Brueggemann has long had an interest in this conflict. His well-known book, The Land: Place as Gift, Promise and Challenge in Biblical Faith, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002) is the premier study of “land” (as in Holy Land) in biblical theology. And it inevitably drew him into the question of modern claims to possess the Holy Land based on theological commitments. Now Brueggemann has supplied a brief and poignant guide for churches that want to discuss further. Chosen? is his unrelenting Amos-like appeal to Christians to rethink their theological assumptions when looking at the Middle East. This book joins a host of recent volumes that do the same thing, from popular-level works (e.g., R. Dalrymple, These Brothers of Mine: A Biblical Theology of Land and Family [Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2015]) to heftier theological works (e.g., O. Martin, Bound for the Promised Land, NSBT 34 [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015]), and my own Jesus and the Land: The New Testament Challenge to “Holy Land” Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010). In a word, evangelicals are revisiting this topic and asking if their views are contributing to or rather undermining the peace process.

Brueggemann’s offering is a short, fifty-page study of theological assumptions followed by a Q&A section. The book concludes with an outline complete with questions showing how the book can be used in a study session. In four chapters, he summarizes in easy-to-read style what he thinks are the four essential problems we face:

  1. Reading the Bible. Brueggemann challenges how we use the Scriptures and draw simplistic connections between ancient Israel and the modern Israeli state. His specialty is the OT Prophets, and at moments throughout the book, the thunder of Jeremiah or Elijah leaps from the page.
  2. Chosenness. Brueggemann wants us to rethink what election means and how it can be exploited. He warns against any position that produces a theological exceptionalism or privilege due to lineage claims or promises (whose ethical component has been ignored). Above all, he challenges the so-called “unconditional” nature of this status.
  3. Land. In a handful of pages, he summarizes his major academic theses: the land is a gift and living in it brings enormous moral duties. Moreover, in the New Testament, the land experiences a transformation of identity and purpose.
  4. Zionism. Here he describes what happens when misdirected theological commitments evolve into political ideology. He illustrates how this happened in biblical times and quickly shows how it is happening today.

This is a passionate book. And readers should be warned: it will upend many of the things we’ve heard in churches most of our lives. Some readers will cheer, some will despair, and others will reject his views out of hand. But perhaps that is why this specialist in the Prophets sounds like a prophet himself. He writes to discomfort the comfortable. And reactions both negative and positive are inevitable.

When a major scholar like Brueggemann writes from the heart—when he writes for the church and its disciples—we would all do well to pause and listen carefully. This is not an amateur we are reading. This is a man so thoroughly steeped in the Hebrew prophets that his heart beats with their rhythm. And he has thought long and hard—a career’s worth—on this utterly timely subject.