walter brueggemann on God’s unpredictability

From Walter Brueggemann’s Theology of the Old Testament:

The tension, oddness, incongruity, contradiction, and lack of settlement are to be understood, not in terms of literature or history, but as the central data of the character of Yahweh. This suggests that Yahweh, as evidenced in and by Israel, has available as a character a range of inclinations, a repertoire of possible responses, a conundrum of loyalties, commitments, and expectations that are being endlessly adjudicated. While certain tendencies, propensities, and inclinations have some stability, being more or less constant, Israel and Israel’s rhetoricians never know beforehand what will eventuate in the life of Yahweh. Thus it is not known whether:

• the judge will sentence or pardon,
• the warrior will fight for or against,
• the king will banish or invite to the table,
• the potter will work attentively or smash,
• the gardener will cultivate and protect or pluck up,
• the shepherd will lead and feed or judge between sheep and sheep,
• the doctor will heal or pronounce the patient terminally ill.

Such a conclusion is not contextless. We do not say these things concerning Yahweh as though every occasion of response were an arbitrary flip of the coin. No, of course not. Yahweh is deeply enmeshed in a tradition of textuality, is committed to what has been previously claimed, and is held accountable for the chance for life together (between Yahweh and Israel). Thus the offer of Yahweh is not sheer capriciousness. But even so, one may ask: Does life with this God not entail anxiety? Even if there is a tendency in a certain reliable direction, there is always a chance of a response in another direction, for Yahweh has a vast repertoire of possible responses. Yes, the faith of Israel is not without anxiety.

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walter brueggemann on genesis 18

From Walter Brueggemann’s Theology of the Old Testament:

Thus in Gen 18:16–19:29, Yahweh the judge is ready to act massively and decisively against Sodom and Gomorrah in response to their grave affront:

How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know. (18:20–21)

Abraham’s role in the narrative is to exercise restraint on Yahweh, to hold Yahweh to a higher standard of justice than Yahweh originally intended (v. 25). The narrative intends that the bargaining between Abraham and Yahweh (18:25–33) asserts a sovereign reasonableness in Yahweh’s attitude toward Sodom. That is, the massive judgment of 19:24–25 is appropriate to the massive affront of Sodom. And yet, the two large questions of 18:23–25 hint that Israel wondered about Yahweh’s potential for unmitigated rage. The exchange with Abraham leaves a residue of unsettlement and disquiet, a hint that at the edge of Yahweh’s judicial work, more than justice is possible.5 Wonderment about Yahweh’s lack of restraint is near the surface, even though it is not finally allowed in the narrative.

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perry disputes acts 2 dispensationalism

Acts 2 Dispensationalism is the view that a new ministry began in Acts 2 (following Jesus’ death). This new ministry included the gentiles, who were not included before that time.

Acts 2 Dispensationalism is not taken seriously by Biblical scholarship. It is interesting to note that critics of Christianity tell Christian history much like Acts 9 Dispensationalists (the gentiles given equal membership through the ministry of Paul and not before that time).

As I have noted, the Jews were active proselytizers even before Acts 2. Their proseletization included recruiting God-fearers in order to eventually get them to keep the entire Judiac Law, of which circumcision was an integral part. There is no indication the 12 apostles departed from this.

Greg Perry, of Disabling America fame, has a very good post critiquing Acts 2 dispensationalism. One key point Perry stresses is asking when the gentiles started showing up in the book of Acts. The entire post is worth reading:

Today’s Church Did Not Start in Acts 2 at Pentecost

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theological aversion to being made in the image of God

The starting chapters of the Bible always seem to make the classical theologians very uncomfortable. Not only is the text very incriminating to timelessness and omniscience (after all God creates and then observes in a repeating pattern), but it also contains an interesting statement that God made man in His own image:

Gen 1:26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
Gen 1:27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

Now the Calvinists like Norman Geisler will use this text in a mocking manner. One book he wrote is entitled “Creating God in the Image of Man?” The one glaring thing that Geisler does NOT do in this book is explain what it means to be made in the image of God, much less set up Biblical parameters for what would fit inside this and what would not. It is abundantly clear from Geisler’s work that he in no way thinks man is made in the image of God. He (and other Augustinians) treats the idea with contempt. Here is how he defines God:

God’s Attributes: Nontemporal, Simple, Pure Actuality, Unchangeable Will, Unqualified omniscience, Foreknowledge of freedom, Cannot learn anything, Unchangeable nature, Infinite, Omnipotent.

So Geisler must read a text like Genesis 1 and then think to himself that the text in no way depicts what happened: God is hanging out with the angels or the trinity (take your pick) and then decides to create man in “their” image and “their” likeness. And then gives man dominion over the animals.

That story destroys just about every one of Geisler’s attributes for God. When the classical theists come up with ways in which mankind is “created in the image of God” it is always through gross assumptions not present in the text of Genesis.

Gene Cook also attempts this “making God into the image of man” line. This is in his context of an Open Theism debate against Bob Enyart. Cook, like Geisler, is banking on the audience giving them a pass on the issue.

But the problem is that the Bible actually uses the terminology, and not in the context of Cook and Geisler:

Rom 1:22 Professing to be wise, they became fools,
Rom 1:23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.

The subject matter is very familiar to anyone who studies the Bible. This is just one of countless references to idols. Idols share one very familiar theme with God (as God is described by Cook and Geisler). Idols are immutable. God rifts on this fact in various mockings of idols (1Sa 5, Psa 115, Isa 46). God contrasts this heavily with Himself, describing Himself as living. Living is the polar opposite of timeless and immutable. One has to wonder if Paul would use his statement in Romans 1:23 against classical theists.

When classical theists just dismiss the statement in Genesis about being “made in the image of God” or if they give a wildly improbable interpretation in the context of the statement, their ploys should be brought to light.

NT Wright actually gives the most contextually sound understanding of the purpose of being created in the image of God: the world was created as God’s temple, and temples have in them an image of the god. In God’s creation, that image was man. (NT Wright @23:00 mark)

The author of Genesis was not implying that God only made man related to Himself in obscure and hard to define ways. The author was saying that when we look at man, we can see God.

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God yields instantly

In Ezekiel 4, God is enlisting Ezekiel into proclaiming His message of destruction to Jerusalem. God begins telling Ezekiel the horrifying things that Ezekiel will have to do to proclaim this message. At a certain point God informs Ezekiel to cook his food with human waste, fecal matter. To this Ezekiel finally objects. Ezekiel’s objection is about being defiled:

Eze 4:12 And you shall eat it as barley cakes; and bake it using fuel of human waste in their sight.”
Eze 4:13 Then the LORD said, “So shall the children of Israel eat their defiled bread among the Gentiles, where I will drive them.”
Eze 4:14 So I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Indeed I have never defiled myself from my youth till now; I have never eaten what died of itself or was torn by beasts, nor has abominable flesh ever come into my mouth.”
Eze 4:15 Then He said to me, “See, I am giving you cow dung instead of human waste, and you shall prepare your bread over it.”

The text reads like two individuals in normal conversation:

God: You will cook with human waste.
Ezekiel: God, that will defile me!
God: Ok, how about instead we use cow dung?

There is no indication that God thought Ezekiel would object. God changes His plans on the fly to accommodate His prophet’s objection. The Bible is written just like this throughout the text. Ancient Jews had no inclination of the classical attributes such as omnipresence and omniscience.

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the development of predestination in augustine

From Augustine, Manichaeism and the Good by Kam-lun E. Lee (dissertation for the Saint Paul University, 1996):

Augustine’s development of the idea of predestination reveals the Manichaean concept of the Good [the Summum Bonum] at work in three ways: on the framework of that development, in the implication of determinism, and on the context of the doctrine. To respond to the Manichaean view of the universe as a mixture of good and evil, Augustine suggests an alternative theory of cosmic ordering. Despite the presence of evil, he believes that the while cosmos is in harmonious beauty so long as evil is assigned to its proper place. God is to preserve this order in both the physical and the spiritual (moral) creations, an order portrayable with a two-tiered frame. Initially (around 388), Augustine thought that an individual person, as a spiritual creature, should have self-determination by the exercise of the will. But gradually, due to his conviction that personal evil is inevitable (a view shared by the Manichees and demonstrated in his conceptions of the consuetudo [the nature of humanity’s evil] and concupiscentia [desire or longing]), Augustine assigned determination of one’s destiny to the jurisdiction of God. As he neared the maturation of his predestinarian idea (around 396), therefore, Augustine increasingly subsumed the individual’s election or condemnation, which belongs to the moral order in the spiritual cosmos. Determinism, however, is not the only characteristic feature of Augustine’s version of predestination. The cosmological and eschatological contexts of his doctrine demand the notion of summum bonum to warrant the beauty of the cosmic order as well as to assure the elect’s eternal tranquil beatitude.

My notes are in brackets.

It is important to note that Augustine’s Platonism (specifically Augustine’s concept of the Summum Bonum) led to predestination as Calvinism knows it today. Augustine’s developments in theology were in contrast to and supplementing platonic and Manichean thought of his day. As noted before, Augustine had little patience with people who took the Bible seriously.

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nt wright on romans 8

From Surprised by Hope:

This brings us to Romans 8, where we find a further image deeply embedded within the created order itself: that of new birth. This passage has routinely been marginalized for centuries by exegetes and theologians who have tried to turn Romans into a book simply about how individual sinners get individually saved. But it is in fact one of the great climaxes of the letter and indeed of all Paul’s thought.

…Creation, he says (verse 21) is in slavery at the moment, like the children of Israel. God’s design was to rule creation in life-giving wisdom through his image-bearing human creatures. But this was always a promise for the future, a promise that one day the true human being, the image of God himself, God’s incarnate son, would come to lead the human race into their true identity. Meanwhile, the creation was subjected to futility, to transience and decay, until the time when God’s children are glorified, when what happened to Jesus at Easter happens to all Jesus’s people.

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