Social Justice in Ancient Israel 1

25 04 2008

Truett Seminary

Moshe Weinfeld’s Social Justice in Ancient Israel and in the Ancient Near East examines how the Old Testament and other ancient Near Eastern culture tackled the problem of social justice.

In the introduction of his book, Weinfeld points out that the concepts of justice and righteousness are “more associated with mercy and loving kindness or… are to be seen with the context of ameliorating the situation of the destitute.” The point of his book then, is to show that the practice of righteousness and justice in the OT and in ancient Israel is essentially acting on behalf of the poor and less fortunate classes of people.

He compares the practice of Israel with other Mesopotamian cultures: the Mesopotamian kings instituted liberty and freedom when they came into power. This proclamation of liberty appears to be a propaganda tool so as to win over the hearts of the people. For instance, King Cyrus sends the exiles home during the Persian Empire. In Israel’s case, on the other hand, the proclamation of justice and righteousness is done on the part of YHWH. Thus, the sabbatical and jubilee years (established periods of liberation) “were understood as divinely ordained institutions, in which human interests fulfilled no role whatever.”

In other words, the OT calls the people of Israel to consistently pursue justice and righteousness. This is not a negative command (that is, it is not a command not to do something), but a positive command. Justice and righteousness are positive actions, such as feeding the hungry or visiting the sick. Plus, there is a stronger call for the ruling classes to remember the plight of the disenfranchised.

The introduction is intriguing because it contrasts the divine inspiration and general goodwill of justice and righteousness of the OT with the often times oppressive nature of “justice and righteousness” in other ancient cultures.

More to come…


Salvation as Liberation 1

24 04 2008

One of the reasons that I get frustrated with the evangelical American church is the truncated view of salvation that we have.  Our view of salvation is generally limited to “admission into Heaven.”  A lot of people pay lip service to the fact that salvation is more than that, but the lip service doesn’t play out in real life.  We say, for instance, that coming to Jesus will make your life better.  What we mean by that is you go to church now, whereas before you weren’t going to church and you were miserable.  The trouble is, just as many people inside the church are as miserable as those outside of the church.

It seems to me that the problem stems from our selfish, individualistic view of salvation.

In the Old Testament, salvation is a term used to describe YHWH’s salvation for the community of Israel.  Salvation occurs when the people of covenant practice righteousness and justice.  And in the Old Testament, righteousness and justice are deeply connected with how the nation acts towards the hungry, the widow, the downtrodden, the alien.  If the rich neglect the needs of the poor, if the powerful do not seek justice for the weak, YHWH gets mad and it doesn’t go so well for Israel.

What would happen if the American evangelical church took on the notion of salvation as social justice?  How do we act out the principles of social responsibility that are so deeply rooted in the covenant of the Old Testament?  How do we rationalize the New Testament call to care for the “least of these” with American material wealth?

These are all things that I’m struggling through, and issues I want to see the church take up both on a large scale and in local congregations.  I wish the call to end poverty struck a chord with more Christians than the call to abolish homosexual marriage, for instance.

In short, salvation is a promise for the people of God.  Yes, it is a promise for the individual, but only insomuch as they are a part of the community of God.  That might strike some nerves in our individualistic, materialistic culture, but I think that it’s true.  Liberation from oppression is a task that the people of God must pursue if they are to experience the full nature of salvation.  Because, you see, salvation is not something that I get out of following Jesus.  Salvation is something that YHWH gives to his people.

Salvation is liberation, and liberation is salvation.

A Strange Trend for Seminary Students

16 04 2008

I find that more students in Seminary (at least at Truett) are finding themselves in a strange situation – we don’t really want to work in a church.  What is more, we don’t really know exactly what it is that we want to do.  And so the big question is: What in the world are we going to do with an MDiv degree?

The common theme is that we all feel called to do the work of God.  We want to participate in the ministry of the Kingdom, and we feel that Seminary is one of the best places to learn about that ministry.  And at the same time so many of us are frustrated with the traditional/institutional way of doing things – so much so that it leaves a bad taste in our mouths.  And so much so that it makes us dread working in a church.

But we certainly can’t support our families and make any kind of income with an MDiv degree outside of the church.  So what are we to do?  I feel that I would be doing a disservice to the church if I were to work in one right now, namely because my attitude would not be right.  At the same time, I need income, and I don’t want to work at Target.

It seems that there are a couple of possibilities to pursue.   Church plants are an appropriate option.  Establishing a community of believers who are committed to a similar purpose outside of the institution seems like a good option.  Another option might be volunteer ministry.  One might work full time for a business or teach at a public school and get involved in organizations like Mission Waco.  An MDiv would  certainly be an asset for this kind of ministry.  Then there’s the more difficult road of doing PhD work, which involves more school and more money spent.

But that’s all the ideas I have for now as far as long term plans.  I know that there are more of you out there with this problem – I’ve talked to you.  Any other ideas?  How can we use our MDiv outside of the institutional church?


15 04 2008

Jonathan Cruz is now a contestant on the CW’s “Beauty and the Geek.”  I hope he wins.

First Shots

14 04 2008

Sammy got his first shots today.

Daddy did not like seeing his little boy in pain.  He cried like he never has before, and his eyes were filled with tears, and his whole body got red from the stress.  And it was hard on me?

He’s out like log now.  It was a hard day for my little man.


7 04 2008

I am losing faith.

Not faith in God. Not faith in Christ. I have as much faith in the way of Jesus as I ever have. It’s probably safe to say that I have more faith in the way of Jesus than ever.

I am losing faith in church. I am losing faith in Christians.

I know, I know: Christians are imperfect people. They’re no better than anyone. But Jesus said that the way that the world knows who we are is by our love for one another.

And churches split. Christians kill. Christians advocate for war. Christians ignore poverty. Christians ignore the environmental crisis. Christians lead the way in hatred of homosexuals… You get the picture.

At the same time I know that this isn’t the whole picture. I know that there are wonderful people doing the work of God in the world.

So what are we to make of the church?

My experience with the church is a mixed bag.  On the one hand, I have developed life long relationships based on truth, forgiveness, love, and hope.  My wife and I have enriched our relationship through the church.  We have seen many examples of what it looks like to live in a loving, self-sacrificial kind of marriage.  Many people in the church have invested in my life – from my youth minister, to my high school buddies, to my college minister, to people who volunteered with me in the youth ministry at WHBC.

But then there’s that other hand.   One of the basic problems in my experience is that church is entirely focused on the sustainment of the institution.  From tithing to programs – everything rests on “growing” our particular “family of faith.”  There has been little to no focus on impacting the surrounding community.  Sure, we want people to come, only so long as they come to our church and “get saved” in our church so we can grow.  And I have met the meanest people in church.  There are people in the church who hate.  You know, the ones who never have anything good to say.  Everything is negative criticism.  Not to mention the deep political divides within the church.  The church is more divided in terms of right and left than the American political sphere – you have fundamentalists, mainline liberals, emergent, reformed, catholicism, etc., and virtually none of them work together.  Blah.

I could keep going, but you get the idea.

In all of this, I have been struggling over the past few months about what it looks like to actually be the people of God, to actually participate in the life of the Kingdom.  And I can’t get over the feeling that the Kingdom of God does not exist in the traditional, institutional church of America.  Maybe I’m wrong.  I hope that I am wrong.  It’s just a feeling that I have.  And I certainly don’t have any answers.  I just have questions (and sometimes I don’t even have questions, just illegible inward emotions that drive me crazy).

And in all of this, I have been struggling with my place in the church.  I used to think that I was going to be a youth minister for 10 years or so, and then possibly do something else in the ministry.  I can’t go back to that.  I can’t bring myself to work for a system that is so fundamentally flawed.  But I’m still called.  I know that God has called me to “ministry,” as cliche as that sounds.  So I have no idea where to go from here.

I have a feeling of disgust towards church.  I can’t put my finger on it.  I don’t have any answers.  I just know that I can no longer live in the status quo.

Maybe terrorism isn’t so bad…

3 04 2008

Sally Kern, a representative in Oklahoma, said that homosexuality is a bigger threat than terrorism.

Yes.  People strapping bombs to themselves and blowing up large numbers of people.  Not quite as scary as some man I don’t know who happens to be sexually attracted to another man.

God is going to punish us to be sure.  Who knows?  Maybe his punishment for homosexuality is terrorism.  Perhaps Rep. Kern should have made that connection.

This is the kind of thing that makes me hate conservatism.  I mean really, what good does that kind of a statement do?  And it’s not just the statement; it’s the whole way of thinking that just doesn’t make a lick of sense to me.  Do you honestly think that if we were able to outlaw homosexual lifestyles it would get us somewhere?  Do you honestly think that homosexuality is a bigger problem than terrorism, a bigger problem than drug abuse, than violence, than poverty?  Really?  What it would really solve if we were able to pass legislation that outlawed gay marriage?

Oh wait… we have passed such legislation, and our problems remain.  Good job, fundies.

Over-arching question:  Why is it that Christians feel the need to enforce their morals/beliefs on others?  This isn’t a new concept (think Spanish Inquisitions).

Why can’t the church just be the church?  Why do we have to be hateful bigots?

Final question: which is more immoral – to live a lifestyle of homosexuality, or to live a lifestyle that is characterized by demeaning others who you don’t agree with?