I’ve spent the past 2 days with some 15-20 reverends from the Dutch Reformed Church, Smith, Reggie Nel, Gert Steyn, the lecturer that taught me exegesis (although maybe he don’t want to be linked to that), and Scot McKnight. We started a discussion on the theology of Acts and what that might mean in practice for the church in South Africa today. The final reports was done by myself and three others that also blog, so we’ll be giving some thoughts on our reports. I’ll add the links as the posts come in.

Reggie Nel on Acts 21-28

Our group worked on Acts 15-20. Between 11:00 and 12:00 today, we identified the following as the most important theological thread for South Africa today:

Looking at our text, but also at the whole of Acts, we notice that Acts tell the story of boundries that was crossed. Of course, we didn’t notice this first, the scholars that introduced he discussion also pointed us to this.  However, what we believe is important is that the boundry crossing always caused the Jerusalem church to change their theology. When Peter visit Cornelius, the theology change. At the meeting in Jerusalem, the fact that boundries have been crossed changes the theology.

That we need to cross boundries is commonly accepted in South Africa today. But crossing boundries need to change the theology of those on the inside. The Dutch Reformed Church need to cross the racial and economic boundries (among others) that form our context, and this need to deeply change the theology of our church.

Missiologists call this contextualization. Contextualization should not be misunderstood as mere translation. Bosch pointed to this in Transforming Mission. I’ve written some thoughts on this about 2 years ago (check page 4 about of this document). Translation would imply a rethinking of symbols and language. Contextualization would imply a rethinking of theology, a transformation of our reflection on God and what that would mean for this day and age, within a differing context.

The core question for our church today: How would our understanding of God and the gospel be transformed when we cross the borders of our community? How would this changing reflection on God impact the practice of congregational and church life today?



Creation and evolution. How these two ever got to become two opposing extremes within the church is a study which historians of the present and future really need to help us with. But now we have it. TGIF had one of it’s biggest meetings I’ve seen this morning, listening to Dr Hennie Mouton, creationist, enigineer, elder in the Dutch Reformed Church (last time I heard), and regular contributer to our church newspaper (in the form of letters of critique). The only other time I’ve seen such a large crowd was for the Christian/Atheist conversation between my two friends Roger and Kevin. The number of people attending says something of the hot topics in our society (western, white, post-apartheid, educated etc).

The questions afterwords mostly seemed to come from those who agree, either fully or to an extend, with a little bit of critique. So, this is some of my assumptions on creation and reading texts. Now, I’m not a scientists, so I’ll skip the science, there are others much more capable on those topics. I’ll stick to the theology and the text.

  • The authors of the Bible was very smart people. Don’t patronize them. They were at least as smart as you, maybe smarter.
  • The Bible  was written within time for it’s own time. It contains the science, theology, history and philosophy of it’s day. In short, it’s not a simple spiritual text, but addressed the whole worldview of it’s day, and challenges it with the story of the creator God to become part of the worldview.
  • The Bible has the potential of being important for our day. Challenging us in our time on some extremely needed issues.
  • It was not intended as a science book, or a history book. Both these genres appeared over the last couple of hundred years.
  • The Bible is in tension with itself, showing development and growth in the reflection on God (theology) over ages.
  • The “simple spiritual being, whom we call God” (Belgic Confession), that the people of the Old Testament called Jahweh, created.

There is a very important distinction between literalism and fundamentalism. Important for this discussion. See video below.

I haven’t really blogged on Easter this year, as I usually do (2007, 2008), but I’ll be preaching on the Easter events again this Sunday, since I know that most of the kids sitting in that service wouldn’t have been to church over Easter weekend. But my preparation is a struggle! I know the kids in this service: They know nearly nothing of the Bible. Many haven’t been to church for a number of years now. And they are very prone to fundamentalism. Their fundamentalism worries me. But broader than the fact that I need to preach to these kids, I also need to find a way of talking about the cross; for myself. This has obviously not started today, but I’ve been theologizing about the cross probably for at least 9 years now, since the first time I led a small group of 13 year olds at a camp.

In the American conversation I notice a lot of talk about atonement. I found the fact that I don’t share this love of talk about atonement a bit strange, untill I realized that the Afrikaans translation of this word wasn’t one I ever heard much in church. Rather, we talked about salvation. But similar issues seem to be at stake.

If I’d ask the question “Why was Jesus crucified?” to a group of informed church members in our church, I’d probably get something in the line of the following: “God intended it” and “For our sins“. But my change in talking about the crucifixion isn’t that much a critique against these answers, but rather a reading of the Bible which calls for something else. I try and find the answer to the question “Why was Jesus crucified?” in the gospels, especially the synoptics, and I use historical and social scientific research as a lense in reading this.

Piet Meiring always talk about chapted 13 of Transforming Mission as vintage Bosch. If you want to know what Bosch thought, read chapter 13, he says. There Bosch the theologian moves to the background, and Bosch the preacher emerge, so to speak. I was just reading the part on salvation in Transforming Mission, and here Bosch does something similar than in chapter 13. His argument in both these parts is that we need to understand salvation and mission within the comprehensive christological framework – “his incarnation, earthly life, death, resurrection, and parousia” (p399). He explains the need for doing this with saying that

  • the Greek patristic tradition was orientated to the incarnation (I’ll have to read on the Orthodox church again to be able to point to the implication of this)
  • Western mission was oriented towards the end of Jesus’ life, his death on the cross. That tend to get us into a purely early Pauline understanding of salvation which focus on an apocalyptic event in the future
  • a Third model focused on the eartly life and ministry of Jesus, it was an ethical interpretation of salvation. According the Bosch this made Christ redundant in the end.

I think there is value in this comprehensive approach Bosch propose. However I’m thinking more and more that we should reorder this comprehensive narrative.

I love the historical Jesus writers. I really do. I’ve been reading parts of Nolan and Crossan again over the past two days. Bosch also liked the historical Jesus research, as can be seen in his approach to Transforming Mission. In writing Transforming Mission, he started out with the historical research on Jesus and the early church, and then moved onto three paradigms of mission found in the early church, this he found in Matthew, Luke and Paul. The historical Jesus research  help us in understanding Jesus, the person who lived and walked and talked in Galilea and Judea roundabout 27-33 AD. Who was crucified. Historical research has difficulty talking about the resurrection, not because of unbelieve, but the sources really makes it difficult (please make sure you really understand this point before critiquing). Historical research can however help us in understanding what the early church believed about this event.

The reordering I propose is to start where the early disciples started, and work in the same order that the story developed for the early church theologians.

  1. Jesus lives, walks and preaches in Galilea and Judea.
  2. He gets crucified
  3. The disciples experience him as alive and develops a theology of the resurrection
  4. Parousia (Christ’s second coming)
  5. A high Christology develops which lead to thoughts on the incarnation

So I simply moved the incarnation towards the end of the story. I think a fairly good case can be made that of these 5 elements, that was the one that became important to the early church last. My reason for doing this, is that when putting it first, we tend to answer the quesion “Why was Jesus crucified?” from the intentionality of God, while reality is that Jesus was crucified because the Jews [UPDATE: meaning, certain Jewish leaders, certain members of the Sanhedrin.  Thanx to Hugo’s comment] were really reallymad at him, and probably some Romans weren’t that fond of him either. This is reality: Some people really didn’t like Jesus, they didn’t like what he said or did, he was a threat, so they killed him. And at least some of what he said would have given enough reason to label him a terrorist, whether rightly so or not, so they could give him the death of a terrorist, and not of a religious heretic, which was being stoned, as with Stephen.

OK, but if this is why Jesus was crucified, where do we go from here? Well, we can say quite a lot about what Jesus said and did, the resurrection must have at least had a first meaning that what he said didn’t end with his death. That crucifying Jesus couldn’t kill what he started! But obviously his resurrection also gave rise to thoughts on his divinity, which I think there is also good evidence for that his disciples didn’t consider him divine before the resurrection, and it even took a while afterwards for the idea to sink in.

Only now could thoughts on the Parousia and incarnation develop. Now we could go full circle, or work backwords, and sya that if Jesus was God, and God was crucified, and a few obvious links with Jewish sacrificial rites can be made, and Jesus was God incarnate, then God’s intention with becoming incarnate in Jesus was to be crucified. That wouldn’t even be theologically incorrect! But that definitely is not the only interpretation! And I’m sure that wasn’t the first interpretation made in an upper room somewhere in Jerusalem; maybe it was in the house of Marcus’ mother, who later wrote a gospel with no incarnation as part of the narrative.

So, how do I preach it? I think historically a good case can be made that Jesus expected his own death. He knew about the rizing tensions, and that the leaders wanted to kill him. But did Jesus have to die? Yes, because the message he brought was so at odds with the rulers of the world, that they couldn’t exist side by side. Either he had to kill his message, or be killed because of the message. But the resurrection tell the story of hope, what Jesus brought cannot be killed! If I now turn the narrative into it’s usual order, I’d say that this is so at odds with what God is bringing to the world, that it would even go so far as to try and kill it, but it cannot be killed! The world cannot stop what God is bringing about in it.

Maybe I’ll have some more thoughts on how to preach this before Sunday. If you’ve actually read all the way down to this point, thank you! Let me know, and please critique and add on.

It always amazes me how quick we are to critique that which we know nothing about. I catch myself doing it. Did it again a few days ago when one of the young people at church was reading a book which I read almost 10 years ago, and couldn’t really remember. I went into an elaborate critique of the book, and that evening was greeted by a message of facebook from the girl, with a quote from the book showing me that I was completely wrong in my critique:-) We tend to learn the hard way…

I told Maryke the other day that I guess my biggest problem with fundamentalist Christians is the fact that they really don’t listen, and make assumptions about others on things they know nothing about. When it comes to the quest for the historical Jesus, you’ll find lots of opinions from people who haven’t ever read anything in this line! I remember visiting one of my lecturers in my second year, when experiencing some severe struggles with my own faith (a story for another day), and how he told me that in his research he works with historical criticism! I was shocked! I had the utmost respect for this person, both as lecturer, but also as fellow believer. I later learned what historical criticism was, and just smiled.

Now, in really listening to anything, in really attempting to understand something (including ourselves) I believe that we should make more of history and narrative. The two aint so far apart in my view. We should understand the story of how things came to be. How it developed. If you pick up almost any good book on the historical Jesus, you’ll find a long introduction explaining the different stages of the introduction and how this work slots into this history, and thus why certain methodological choices was made.

In the coming posts I will use terms like first quest, second quest, third quest, no quest, and several names of people. I do this not to sound smart or show of (actually, I would much rather have you take up a book like NT Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God, but knowing that many of my readers would never do that, and also to get myself to rethink these things, I’ll continue this series). But to understand why we continue this search, we need to see why it started, why it stopped at certain points, which mistakes was made, and also how many different opinions exist.

I will use two questions throughout the series. And again I need to credit me professor in historical Jesus research for teaching me this way of looking at the quest.

  1. Is it theologically relevant?
  2. Is it methodologically possible?

Think about them. What would you say? Why?

Previous post: the historical Jesus 1: Introduction

the lens of Jesus?

October 21, 2008

Tony Jones says something over at Emergent Village which I’ve been hearing a number of times in the past years: “I’ll continue to put Jesus first, and to preach that we should read Paul through the lens of Jesus and not Jesus through the lens of Paul“. No, hear me out, I’m not a Paulophilic, with me the danger is rather to become a Paulophobic (again with reference to Tony’s post), but I’m always wondering how people tend to do this? Doesn’t this assume some perfect picture of Jesus? Don’t we always read Jesus through the lens of Matthew, Mark, Luke (and maybe using John, depending on your approach to the Jesus-question)? Where else do we find the “Jesus-lens”?

So, at most we could say that we read Paul through the lens of the gospels, not through the lens of Jesus. Except if you say that Paul knew nothing of Jesus, has nothing to say for the historical-Jesus question (yeah, some have said this). But from what I hear listening to scholars, that would be downright irresponsible, to look back from 2000 years in the future, and throw away the oldest Christian sources (Galatians or 1 Thessalonians) in our search for Jesus.

A more honest approach would be to acknowledge that we read Jesus through the lens of Paul, or Mark, of Matthew or Luke. Or that we read Paul through the lens of Matthew of Mark or some of the others (who had to have carried knowledge of Paul when writing, and surely Paul and his fights against the Judaizers should at least somewhere have crossed their minds while writing). Or a number of other combinations might exist, but you cannot jump over your sources, find your perfect Jesus, and use this as lens for reading everything else… but that’s my two cents… would love to hear what comes out of the reclaiming Paul conference!

on the primacy of mission:

October 20, 2008

Why is mission so central at this stage? Should it be? Is it possible that as missiologists we should “dethrone” mission from its current position of privilege in theological talk? Why the missional church? Why the missio Dei? And why am I even asking these questions?

I didn’t follow much why back with the Christology, Ecclesiology, Missiology argument raging on. But from what I gather many today seem to say something in the line of “Christology forms our Missiology forms our Ecclesiology”, right? But how do we come to this?

It was Andries van Aarde’s Fatherless in Galilee that pointed me in the direction of the idea of a “Christology from the side”. Where a “high Christology” tend to work out our Christology from the faith-language (read “dogma”, “theology” etc.) of the Bible and church and a low Christology tend to construct Christology from the historical reconstructions on the life of Jesus, a Christology from the side focus on how the contemporaries of Jesus would have seen Jesus (I’ve typed this from memory after reading the book almost a year ago, so I hope I got it somewhat right).

The relation Christology-Missiology-Ecclesiology seem to come from a high view of theology, I think. Where some worked out idea on Christology (whether high or low) should give rise to our understanding of mission (which if you read the work of David Bosch, is quite difficult to do without an idea about who is doing this mission, but I’ll leave that part for now), understood very broadly, which should then form our thinking on church. Looking from the side, tracing the narrative of the Jesus-movement and early church, I have some doubts whether we will come to the same conclusion:

From the side we see the this guy Jesus, a sort-off Rabbi who calls those who didn’t make the usual Rabbi cut to follow him. This group was formed by the words and actions of Jesus, the way in which Jesus interacted with the culture within which he found himself. The events surrounding Easter round-about 27AD or so happened, and we then find this already formed community of Jesus-followers remaining in community. If we follow the Acts-narrative, it is within this community that the implications of being a community living in the way of Jesus is then worked out. Acts 6 – If we are community, how do we care for those of other ethnic backgrounds? Acts 13 – How do we create similar communities in other places? And later in Acts the implication of being in this community in a time of famine is also worked out.

From the side I see a not-so-average-Rabbi calling not-so-average-disciples, teaching them his anything-but-average-ways. These not-so-average-disciples continue the community, not because the community should perform some strategic function within the strategic plan which the Rabbi (didn’t?) lay out for the world, but because this community continues to seek for the ways of this Rabbi, which was recognized as Jesus the Lord.

Looking from the side, I doubt whether we see an early Christian community getting together because this is seen as the implication of the message of Jesus. I doubt whether a number of scared disciples get together after the crucifixion because the preaching on the kingdom of God had as implication that communities should be formed. Rather, a shared experience surrounding Jesus bring these people together, and the words and actions of Jesus in relation to his culture force them to consider their own words and actions.

If our task is to write a systematic treatise on theology we might end up with mission being primary, forming a centerpiece of the puzzle. If we tell the story of how it came to be, then, looking from the side, mission could be almost missing, the centre pieces rather being occupied by Jesus and the community who gathered around him and because of him. Rather, what we consider as mission today then seems to ooze out everywhere.

Well, OK, late-night ramblings after some heavy theological discussions earlier… but such is the nature of a blog

Read this story over at Faith 2.0. Then read my post of a few days ago: and still we read the Bible…

We struggle with people being Christian but not engaging with the Bible (doesn’t seem to make much a differance whether they are Evangelical, Mainline, or whatever). The solutions we then seem to come up with is always to engage the Bible on behalf of Christians. Pastors read the Bible, and deliver it in well-communicated sermons with a nice message but little Bible (don’t do your exegesis on the pulpit remember).

To answer Turner’s question at the end, maybe we should give the work of interpretation back to Christians… wasn’t that what the Reformation asker?