A Prophetic-Redemptive Hermeneutic – Acts 15

In my last post, I began to outline what I’ve called a ‘prophetic-redemptive’ strategy for reading the Bible, focusing on an extraordinary passage in Isaiah 56.

Building on the work of various scholars, I began with the notion that, due to the contextual, ‘human’ input into the production of our sacred, divinely-inspired texts, there are some ideas recorded in the scriptures that are, shall we say, less-than-ideal. Without wanting (in any way) to write-off the scriptures completely, I instead sought to let the text deconstruct itself and to allow the prophetic voice within the text to begin to reconstruct a redemptive way forward.

In Isaiah 56, the prophet dramatically overturns the very Law, calling for the full inclusion of those who had formerly been explicitly excluded from God’s people. This prophetic over-ruling offered a liberating alternative to the so-called reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah, which sought rather to build up taller and wider physical and social walls of partition between the ‘elect’ and ‘everyone else.’

By this, I would suggest, we can hold together both the obvious ‘humanity’ and contextuality of our sacred scriptures, as well as seeking nevertheless to hear the divine voice of redemption and full human dignity through these same texts.

What I aim to do in this post, then, is to see if I can find this same prophetic voice of liberation/redemption at work in the stories of Jesus and the early Christians. I’ll do this specifically by opening up some passages from the book of Acts, in order to see how the first Christians seem to have understood the words and actions of Jesus, and how this shaped their understanding of who could be full members of the community of God centred around Jesus as Messiah.

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An observation on reading the New Testament

I’m a Christian pastor, so it makes sense that I think quite a bit about what the Bible says. But I also spend quite a lot of time thinking about how I/we read the biblical texts. That is, I’m very interested in hermeneutics.

I’ve been convinced for a long time now that most of the significant arguments (ostensibly) about what the Bible says are actually more about how the Bible is being read. It may be surprising to some, but there is not just one ‘correct’ way to read these sacred texts. I’m convinced that there are ‘better’ and ‘worse’ reading strategies, but I think it’s naive to suggest that there is only one ‘right’ approach.

I may have lost some readers already at this point but, if you’re willing to read on, hopefully I can make some sense of these initial statements (both in this post and those that follow).

I want to take a couple of posts to tease out some ideas on these issues, and would like to start in this post by addressing a phenomenon that I think is quite common — and quite mistaken — when it comes to reading the New Testament in particular.

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Can there be ‘space for grace’ in challenging conversations?

The Assembly Standing Committee for the Uniting Church in Australia has submitted a report (which will be taken to the next Assembly in July), recommending that the Uniting Church “offer the rites of marriage to opposite-gender and same-gender couples, while allowing Ministers and Uniting Church authorised celebrants freedom of conscience to perform marriages or not.” This is obviously closely linked with recent changes to marriage legislation in Australia to include same-sex couples, and is the first taste of similar conversations that will be happening across many Christian denominations over the next few years

In one sense this is a big deal (even though it hasn’t, at the time of writing, been discussed and voted on at Assembly). Having said that, it has not risen out of nowhere. The Uniting Church has been committed to having these sorts of conversations for a long time now, even though they are often not easy conversations to have.

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Necessary Rights & the Necessity of Laying Down Our Rights

It’s now 50 years since the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and his words and example are as relevant—and as challenging—as ever. Though there are constant (conscious and unconscious) attempts to water down Dr King’s powerful words into ‘nice’ sayings and safe and shareable memes, there are numerous voices reminding us how radical were his words and how uncomfortable they should make us if we were to take them seriously.

MLK

I’ve been thinking a lot about Dr King’s words these past few days (I try to read his Letter from a Birmingham Jail on a regular basis), and I’ve kept coming back to this quote of his from an address at Western Michigan University:

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Nick Jensen, Same-Sex Marriage, and Public Faith

I wasn’t going to say anything about the recent furore surrounding Canberra couple Nick and Sarah Jensen’s plans to divorce if same-sex marriage is introduced in Australia, but I think it’s worth noting a few points. (If you haven’t read the article yet, I encourage you to do so before reading on.)

I’ve written a number of times (on this blog and on social media) about how Christians might approach the issue of same-sex marriage (you can find a couple of my posts here and here), and I won’t bother rehashing those arguments here.

What I would note are the following two points:

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The ‘Energy’ of Violence

These days, it’s relatively common for me to get myself in conversations about the ‘effectiveness’ of nonviolence. The discussion usually goes something like this:

Someone: “Look, I like the idea of nonviolence, but in the same kind of way that university students like the idea of Communism: it’s nice on paper, I guess, but it just doesn’t work in the real world.”

Me: “Right. So we’re talking about whether or not nonviolence can be an effective strategy, yeah?”

Someone: “Correct. It might be fine in certain situations, but it’s just not going to work in the face of full-blown evil.”

Me: “Leaving off for a moment a couple of points that could be challenged from what you’ve just said, you might be surprised to learn that nonviolent movements have, historically, proven to be more ‘successful’ than violent ones.”

Someone: “Right. So what you’re saying is that you’re going to fly over to Iraq to have a cup of tea and biscuits and ‘discuss’ options with I.S.? Good luck with that! With the reality of I.S., or Boko Haram—or Hitler and the Nazis—we’re dealing with pure evil. That kind of evil cannot be reasoned with, and it won’t be stopped by everyone sitting around singing Kumbaya! There’s only one language that these monsters understand, and it’s one that’s communicated through the barrel of a gun.”

…and so on and so forth.

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Challenging the Individualistic (False?) Gospel

Last Sunday I had the incredible privilege of attending a combined church service in a small village in rural South Africa.

It was an amazing experience!

The whole service was very special, and the time we spent after the service listening to and praying with the local church leaders over lunch was beautiful, but the thing that stood out most significantly to me was the singing. Oh the singing!

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