A colleague in Java, Indonesia, sent me the outline summary of a presentation he made to a school gathering where he is the chaplain and a teacher. He focused on Paul's focuses in the First Letter to the Corinthians. This was meditative and focus-renewing for me.
Those references, summaries and connections made me reflect again on how practical all Paulís teaching was to his churches. I was commenting just the night before to our home group Bible study leader before we left – the last to leave, as is so often the case – how I wish we had the missing letters to the Corinthians, and some documentation of the other side that Paul is usually answering in those letters.
The passages my chaplain friend cited in his meditation confirm me that I am on the right plane when I continue gently insisting that Paul was not giving us cosmic theories about God and the abstract structure of the universe, though he certainly had a cosmic view of Godís unified overarching relational plan for his people and creation. But Paul is dealing with very immediate, practical concerns of what it means to live NOW under Godís Living Rule (aka ďkingdomĒ). Just like Jesus' focus!
It is for Life (La Vita) as she was meant to be experienced! Lived now in the thrilling rush of the universal living Holy Spirit of God in us, over us, around us, through us, for us, before us!
The Defining Vision
High-flown abstract and rational theories of philosophical explanation are never the import, purpose or goal of what Paul wrote, but the immediate question of how peoples from such diverse and contradictory ethnic backgrounds, languages and prior practices and conventions of relationship, all get along together in this confusing and challenging, but oh so divinely rewarding, One New Humanity, as the discipleís dedicatory cosmic reflections so fluently express it in the thrilling oratory of Ephesians 2.
This heavenly chapter of inspiration in Ephesians 2 bored into my mind and heart as the defining vision of Godís Rule while I was a young, overworked, overwhelmed and Amazingly-Graced student pastor and disciple in my early ministry-study years in Conway, Arkansas. God is not bound and limited by his covenant with one ethnic group whom he created out of the descendants and gathered add-ons we knew as Israelites and their returned Remnant in the reduced Judah, which became the Jewish people at the time of Jesus. ("Jew" phonetically derives from Judea. See the biblical documents of Ezra and Nehemiah.)
Yahweh, Sovereign and Loving, Living Lord, the One Who Is and the One Who Will Be, was free and unhindered in how He wanted to relate to the other Nations (Tribes, Ethnicities, Peoples) and was sovereign in deciding how he wanted to relate to them and call them into covenant fellowship with Himself, despite the prior covenant limited to those descendant tribes in that tiny place in His huge world.
God's Free Choice
Paul makes sure his people know that even the chosen people, the Jews, the sole remnant now being Saved by their Messiah-Savior, had no prior claim that required the other ethnicities to come through the ceremonies and protocols of their covenant in the form that had developed by Jesusí time. This is what Romans 8-11 is about. And the whole letter of Galatians. That whole book is about God's choice of each and every ethnic group directly on his own grounds, just by His sovereign will, without regard to former covenants, like that with Israel at Sinai, invited as they are into the universal Covenant relationshp with God in Christ!
Paul, jealous for the Spiritual Freedom of these new believers from the Peoples of the Roman Empire to simply follow Godís Prophetic Command given by the Deuteronomist and affirmed by the Lord-Messiah Jesus to Love God and Love neighbour, gets angry when these newly liberated believers (the strong) in the Universal Lord Jesus Risen Christ are hit by the weak (Rom 14, 1 Cor 8) with limitations they would impose from their Jewish ceremonial perspectives.
He likewise fosters unity by admonishing the Strong who accept the Spiritual Liberation brought in Grace through Godís Liberating Spirit of New Oneness to exercise their freedom by abstaining from some of the liberties they are indeed allowed by the full Grace of Yahweh God, and consider their oneness with the tradition-bound new Jewish believer in Christ. Together he invites them to explore and enjoy their fascinating ne Unity, never before known in the world.
God's Universally Uniting Grace
So Paul challenges the Romans and the Corinthians who have accepted Jesus Christ to remember the overarching goal and remain faithful. Our hope is not in the traditions that we received, whether Jewish or Hellenic, or Kikuyu or Kipsigis, or Anglo or French, or Navajo or Salish.
So Paulís message is not a high philosophical theory of Godís cosmic structure -- though there is nothing mundane about Paulís perspective -- but a dynamic and practical celebration of Godís sovereign freedom that He now expresses in calling all of us, no matter how strange and irritating it is to be face to face with these weird Others who do things differently, all in the new Oneness He has called us to. Out of all lineages, tribes, peoples, ethnicities – he has called.
Romans is a very practical book, like Corinthians, and definitely Galatians, which dealt with the same question as Romans, in the danger of immediate challenge to the simple true Gospel of direct Calling and Grace for a nation not descended from from Abraham, literally or conceptually. ďWhere they called ĎNot My People,í they will now be called ĎMy Peoples.íĒ (Hosea, centuries before the Messiah appeared.) The time was right, the People were ready, the Message was heard!
Pastoral and Practical
These pastoral letters were PASTORAL, not so much theological in our modern rationalist sense, but in the original and basic sense that they focus us on God. They are about the practicalities of God in his relationship with his peoples – ALL His peoples of His world Ė not just the Jews, but all the other Peoples (ethne, goy) of His world. It is about about Godís creation of Community we now experience, not about Godís lonely, solitary setup of mechanics of personal decisions and responses by his creatures.
But Torah, Gospel and Epistle proclaim Godís full, dynamic interaction. Itís about Relationships, not Analytical Facts organized to meet the expectations of modern metaphysical abstraction. Paul was not a Rationalist, not a philosophical theologian – no matter how much later western analytical streams or modern worldviews would like to recast him as such – he was a Rabbi-Missionary! What the word "apostle" means! apostolos – sent one!
The Sovereignty of Love
Sovereignty is not about Control, but about Divine freedom to decide how he wants to relate to whom. No individual understanding of covenant with one nation limits God in how he may establish Covenant with any or all other Peoples. His call and choice ("election" in old Latin-English) are free and sovereign. The governing motif of God's character and Covenant identity is Love – Faithful Love, Self-Giving Love.
Torah and Prophets tell us Yahweh is not like the gods of the other Peoples/Tribes/Ethnicities. He can be trusted. He fulfills his promises, he is trustworthy concerning his Covenant commitments. The relationship he offers in the Covenant call to a People -- and now to All Peoples -- in his own free gracious Choice. That is the Sovereignty of Love. We are called by God's free Grace. The Good News confirms it! A God we can trust!
Scriptures arise as testimony out of a Concrete-Relational thought worldview, not the linear-abstract worldview of Platoís Ideas and shadows below, nor the varied philosophical Western stream of explanatory abstract systems of philosophical Theology.
Despite the thrill some of us get from speculation, abstraction and explanation, Scriptures frustrate us with How, Who, Where type moral and relational questions, usually leaving out the Why that is so important to moderns.
If the text is not obviously trying to give you the abstract explanations and intellectual satisfaction your modern midset conditioning and school training makes you expect, don't torture the text for what is not there. The text is not there to fulfill our speculative curiosity. These texts are about real life. Fancy that.
There is nothing actually wrong with "Why." But the fact that our cultural worldview presses us to ask that question does not mean the Bible's perspective is focused on the answer we would like. We can enjoy the thrill of mystery and discovery, allowing the Bible to show us great insight beyond our received cultural concepts.
Honor the integrity of the Scriptures. See how they are speaking to you in their own way, out of their own context, on their own focuses. Scripture is not obligated to meet our expectations. I find it exciting to let Scripture's Concrete-Relational worldview challenge my own cultural expectations.
If we allow the Bible to challenge our assumptions we can discover the thrill of a while new way of seeing things! The Divine Covenant Plan! Like Jesus' teachings – Jesus often answered a question by informing his questioner of a better question to ask! A more "divine" perspective to take.
Relax into the Grace of the Covenant Relationship and enjoy the "Be" and "Do" of life with the Creator in the Creation he's placed us in!
Relational, not Analytical
Rather than Explanatory, like the Modernist Rational worldview wants and expects, the Scriptures are straightforwardly Declaratory, practical, about living interaction in interpersonal relationship with the living God of Life and Love. Not about Facts and Information and Explanations, but about Life and Character and Relationships with God and Under God with each other. Very practical. Dynamic, immediate.
Love God and Love your neighbour! Hallelujah!
Salaam, Shalom, Eirene
First written in an email 12 May 2016
Final article posted on the Jenkins Millennium Culture Centre 27 May 2016
Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2016 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Please give credit and link back. Other rights reserved.