Wenham Outlines Law in Psalms, Part 1

Gordon J. Wenham. 2012. Psalms as Torah: Reading Biblical Song Ethically. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

If you have ever thought of the Psalms as mysterious, you are not alone. The structure and the content of the Psalms can mystify. While no one would quibble over the majesty of passages like:

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.”(Ps 19:1-2 ESV)

But what do you make of:

“O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed, blessed shall he be who repays you with what you have done to us! Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!”(Ps 137:8-9)

Postmodern readers are unlikely to hear such passages advocating child smashing as anything less than praying for God to commit war crimes. So, the Psalms clearly mystify us.

Introduction

Gordon J. Wenham’s Psalms as Torah: Reading Biblical Song Ethically sets forth these objectives:

“It is the ethic taught by the liturgy of the Old Testament, the Psalter, that is the focus of this book. The psalms were sung in the first and second temples, and in the subsequent two millennia they have been reused in the prayers of the Jewish synagogue and the Christian church. As we will see, the psalms have much to say about behavior, about what actions please God and what he hates, so that anyone praying them is simultaneously being taught an ethic.”(1-2)

Wenham goes on to explain:

“This book, then, is an attempt to begin to deal with a blind spot in current biblical and theological thinking. I have called it Psalms as Torah out of my conviction that the psalms were and are vehicles not only of worship but also of instruction, which is the fundamental meaning of Torah, otherwise rendered ‘law’. From the very first psalm, the Psalter presents itself as a second Torah, divided into five books like the Pentateuch, and it invited its readers to meditate on them day and night, just as Joshua was told to meditate on the law of Moses (Ps 1.2; Josh 1:8).” (7)

This relationship between the Psalms and the Pentateuch proved interesting to me and motivated my purchase of this book.[1] 

Background and Organization

Gordon J. Wenham studied Old Testament (OT) at Cambridge University and has worked also at King’s College London, Harvard University, and in Jerusalem at the Ecole Biblique and the Hebrew University. He is the author of OT commentaries on Genesis, Leviticus, and numbers, and several other theology books.[2]

Wenham writes in ten chapters:

  1. Jewish and Christian Approaches to the Psalms
  2. Critical Approaches to the Psalms
  3. The Psalter as an Anthology to be Memorized
  4. The Unique Claims of Prayed Ethics
  5. The Concept of the Law in the Psalms
  6. Laws in the Psalter
  7. Narrative Law in the Psalter
  8. Virtues and vices in the Psalter
  9. Appeals for Divine Intervention
  10. The Ethic of the Psalms and the New Testament (vii)

These chapters are preceded by several prefaces and an introduction. They are followed by conclusions, a bibliography, and several indices.

Memorizing the Psalms

A key insight that Wenham offers is the effect of memorization and putting the Psalms to music on ethical teaching. In my own case, I can remember memorizing Psalm 23 and Psalm 100 many times through the years, even in different languages, and I prayed Psalm 8 daily as a centering prayer for about 10 years. I used to joke, be careful what songs you sing because once you get Alzheimer’s, they are the last thing that you forget—you don’t want to leave this world singing the Oscar Mayer Wiener jiggle!

Wenham notes that many Psalms are written in the first person. Repeating such psalms in prayer or song accordingly is like repeating a vow before God, yourself, and others. He writes:

“If we praise a certain type of behavior in our prayers, we are telling God that this is how we intend to behave. On the other hand, if in prayer we denounce certain acts and pray for God to punish them, we are in effect inviting God to judge us if we do the same. This makes the ethics of liturgy uniquely powerful. It makes a stronger claim on the believer than either law, wisdom, or story, which are simply subject to passive reception: one can listen to a proverb or a story and then take it or leave it, but if you pray ethically, you commit yourself to a path of action.”(57)

Because many of us grew up singing hymns and liturgy inspired by Psalms, this tradition helped insulate us from less reflective and negative influences that seem so pervasive today—it’s not just the Oscar Mayer Wiener commercials.

Assessment

In part 1 of this review, I have given an overview of Wenham’s argument. In part 2, I will look more closely at some of his arguments, especially the innovative form that law takes when presented in the Psalter. I will also go over his view on the precatory psalms, such as Psalm 137 cited above.

Gordon Wenham’s Psalms as Torah: Reading Biblical Song Ethically is an unusually clear guide to reading and understanding the Psalms, which should be interesting to any serious believer wanting to deepen their faith. I suspect that scholars will be citing this work for a long time.


[1]In seminary I did word studies in seminary to track this very relationship and found relatively few direct citations of the Ten Commandments or of Moses because some liberal scholars have alleged that the Pentateuch was a later development contrived by Israelite kings, such as David, to invent an ancient history that did not exist. Why? If Moses did not exist, he could not have authored the Pentateuch and various provocative prohibitions. Likewise, the miracles surrounding the creation of Israel, which liberal dispute, could not have been real. 

[2]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Wenham.

Wenham Outlines Law in Psalms

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Ministerial Ethics. Monday Monologues, March 18, 2019 (podcast)

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In today’s podcast, I will offer a Prayer for Pastors and talk about the Ministerial Ethics.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on the link below:

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Ministerial Ethics. Monday Monologues, March 18, 2019 (podcast)

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Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

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Prayer for Pastors

Foot Washing
Foot washing

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty Father,

All praise and honor to you

for you have called faithful pastors

who point us to you,

the source of all joy and consolation

in whose image we are created.

In their care, may we be quick to confess our sins

and grow closer to you

where all mercy and grace may be quickly found

and our sins forgiven.

We thank you for their service, their insight, and

concern for your church.

In the power of your Holy Spirit,

guide their thoughts, protect their families,

and maintain their fidelity to you.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Prayer for Pastors

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Ministerial Ethics

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in Christ

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Pastors point people to God. Everything else they do is a means to that end.

Because God is ever-present in our lives, it takes special insight to become aware of God’s Shekinah cloud in everyday life:

“Shekinah is Hebrew word that refers to a collective vision that brings together dispersed fragments of divinity. It is usually understood as a light-disseminating presence bringing an awareness of God to a time and place where God is not expected to be—a place…God’s personal presence—and filled that humble, modest, makeshift, sorry excuse for a temple with glory.” (Peterson 2011, 100-101)

Without assistance, people are more likely to see Harvey, the six foot invisible rabbit,⁠1 which makes the pastor’s role unique. 

The insight required of pastors is ironically not unique to pastors is a Christian mindset where everything is evaluated relative to Christ. While the world around us thinks of this attitude as obsession, it is a Christian distinctive seldom tolerated even among pastors. Blamires (2005, 148) writes:

“For if the Christian faith is true, and the Christian church the authoritative vehicle of salvation in time, then it is the most urgent, inescapable need of the modern [and postmodern] world to adapt itself to the church [not the other way around].”

Elsewhere I have described this mindset this way: Jesus is my denominator—the measure of all things. Without this mindset, the Shekinah cloud becomes invisible like Harvey and salvation disappears and becomes illusive, out of reach. Pastors unable to bring it back to view morph into beggars, social workers, and purveyors of religious entertainment, depending on your default prejudices.

Pastoring by the Numbers

The bane of pastors is the paying of bills.

If you take the Jewish concept of a minion and combine it will the tithe, you get an interesting transition into the Old Testament answer to financing a Rabbi. In order to hold a worship service in the Jewish tradition, a Rabbi needed ten adult men—a minion. If each of these men paid the tithe (which was an obligatory ten percent of income), then the Rabbi would enjoy the same living standard as the average person in his minion.

In a typical American church, people given an average of about one person of their income. This implies that a pastor’s minion is about a hundred families, which is coincidently the size of a typical church. This source of mathematics then suggests why we have seen the growth of mega churches who host a large pastoral staff and can offer numerous programs and quality music in worship.

The problem with this arrangement is that pointing someone to God requires intimate knowledge of the person in question, acquired only through spend time with them. This was entirely likely for a Rabbi with this minion, but seems far fetched for a pastor with his minions. Intimate communication cannot be one-way communication.

Other Duties as Assigned

The Book of Order 2007/2009 of the Presbyterian Church (USA) describes the duties of a pastor in these terms:

“The permanent pastoral officers of ministers of the Word and Sacrament are pastors and associate pastors. When a minister of the Word and Sacrament is called as a pastor or associate pastor of a particular church or churches, she or he is to be responsible for a quality of life and relationships that commend the Gospel to all persons and that communicate its joy and its justice. The pastor is responsible for studying, teaching, and preaching the Word, for administrating Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, for praying with and for the congregation. With the elders, the pastor is to encourage the people in the worship and service of God, to equip and enable them for their tasks within the church and their mission in the world; to exercise pastoral care, devoting special attention to the poor, the sick, the troubled, and the dying; to participate in governing responsibilities, including leadership of the congregation in implementing the principles of participation and inclusiveness in the decision making of the church, and its task of reaching out in concern and service to the life of the human community as a whole. With the deacons the pastor is to share in the ministries of sympathy, witness, and service. In addition to these pastoral duties, he or she is responsible for sharing in the ministry of the church in the governing bodies above the session and in ecumenical relationships.” (PCUSA 2007, G-6.0202b)

The responsibilities unique to pastors are in practice the administration of the sacraments. Other responsibilities, including preaching, teaching, leadership, and pastoral care, are shared with others in the church.⁠2 

Note the bureaucratic nature of the above pastoral definition. First, terms are defined. The office of pastor (and associate pastor) is defined as permanent. Assistant pastors are neither called nor permanent. Second, the call is focused on modeling a quality of life and relationships of the Gospel (not God). Third, responsibility include studying, teaching, and preaching the Word, administering the sacraments, and praying for the congregation. God himself is not mentioned until the fourth sentence where God appears in the phrase: “the worship and service of God.”

The point of discussing other duties as assigned is that the ethics of pastoring requires a clear focus on God in all that we do that can sometimes be hard to maintain within the institution of the church.

Case Studies in Ministry

While ministry is often treated as something of a mystery, it is a skill that can be learned and improved upon with practice. One way to improve on ministry practice is to work as team and to encourage the team to reflect on and discuss events that do not go as planned using a case study approach. 

In their book, Shared Wisdom, A Guide to Case Study Reflection, authors Jeffrey Mahan, Barbara Troxell, and Carol Allen (MTA; 1993, 12-19) see the goal of case studies is to equip a presenter of the case study to return to ministry with greater insight and confidence in themselves and in God’s provision and protection.

Case studies are most helpful when they assist participants in learning from their mistakes, but, of course, focusing on mistakes requires that one first admit to them. In a world in which politicians and celebrities daily lose their jobs over a single mistake, even in the church it is totally counter-cultural to admit to and talk about mistakes. The need for confidentially is accordingly multifaceted—both those studied and those bringing forth the study need to have the process treated confidentially.

MTA (1993, 116-117) recommend a case composed of five parts:

1. Background. Usually a case study focuses on a specific event that requires some context be provided.

2. Description. In describing the event, usual dialogue is given to illustrate what happened and how the presenter responded.

3. Analysis. “Identify issues and relationships, with special attention to changes and resistance to change.”

4. Evaluation. The presenter assesses their performance–what worked, what did not work, and why.

5. Theological Reflection. How does our faith inform this event?

A case is about two pages single-spaced and the presentation should run about an hour.

While the ideal setting for discussion of case studies is with a ministry team, a modified case study can also be useful in writing about ministry. Clearly, the choice of events to study is critical in revealing strengths and weaknesses in ministry. In writing about actual people, however, the case study may need to be recast as a study of a biblical or fictional character in such a way that identity of the persons involved is maintained. In preaching, this often ends up being an “I know a person who” story that frequently is a circumlocution for the pastor giving the talk (Savage 1996, 89-92).

1 This is an allusion to a movie called Harvey about a man who sees a six-foot, invisible rabbit and is committed to an insane asylum until others start seeing the rabbit for themselves. Harvey is a 1950 American comedy-drama film based on Mary Chase’s play of the same name, directed by Henry Koster, and starring James Stewart and Josephine Hull (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harvey_(film)).

2 Note that because the Book of Order is frequently amended, the title includes a date and the terminology often changes, even for the title of pastor. I cite this polity document as an example primarily because I am familiar with it and not because it is a model for other denominations.

References

Blamires, Harry. 2005. The Christian Mind: How Should a Christian Think? (Orig Pub 1963) Vancouver: Regent College Publishing.

Mahan, Jeffrey H., Barbara B. Troxell, and Carol J. Allen (MTA). 1993. Shared Wisdom: A Guide to Case Study Reflection in Ministry. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

Peterson, Eugene H.  2011. The Pastor: A Memoir. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.

Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PC USA). 2007. The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)—Part II: Book of Order, 2007/2009. Louisville, KY: Office of the General Assembly.

Savage, John. 1996. Listening & Caring Skills: A Guide for Groups and Leaders. Nashville:  Abingdon Press.

Ministerial Ethics

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Kling Classifies and Raises Political Debate

Arnold Kling. 2017. The Three Languages of Politics: Talking Across the Political Divides. Washington, DC: Cato Institute.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

It is fair to say that zoology’s proclivity to classify has left an oversized mark on the social science over the past few decades. While writing about lists, like three ways to improve your XYZ or ten things you need to know about ABC, continue to be popular, classification schemes pitting variables in tension with one another provide unanticipated analytical insights. They also produce better charts!

Introduction

In his book, The Three Languages of Politics: Talking Across the Political Divides,libertarian writer Arnold Kling writes:

“My goal in this book is to encourage people to take the first step towards healthier political discussion. I believe that this first step is to recognize the language of coalition mobilization so that we can resist being seduced by that language.”(3)

Kling sees the dominant three political languages as progressives (P), conservatives (C), and libertarians (L). These three languages are articulated in terms of polarities P (oppressor-oppressed), C (civilization-barbarism), and L (liberty-coercion). 

Kling’s leanings are ironically obvious from his cover’s display of colors of the French flag (bleu, blanc et rouge), which to my mind brings the image of socialist leaning during the Cold War rather than the current red-blue dichotomy in recent U.S. elections. Back then, the chief alignments were capitalist, communist, and socialist, which implied a bit of both along with strident denial of any communist influence. Kling’s trichotomy developed after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 that eliminated the primary external threat and resulted in more energetic competition among internal groups for limited resources and influence.[1]

Group Cohesion

Characterizing the dominant political tribes today in terms of the language of their discussion is an interesting way to highlight their differences without choosing sides. Kling is careful to outline examples of commentators that utilize these preferred polarities to draw attention to how the language itself highlights group affinities, how prestige is earned within a group, and how boundaries among the groups are defended. One example that Kling cites is from the 2012 gaffe by Mitt Romney when he was secretly recorded saying:

“All right, there are 47 percent who are with him [Barack Obama], who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name-it.”(32)

Romney was speaking to republican donors who Kling classifies as conservatives trying to strengthen civilization and keep the barbarians at bay, but progressive pundits argued that he had no sympathy for the oppressed (33). This gaffe was widely perceived to be a turning point in the presidential race both because of the characterization of progressive pundits and the perception that Romney [widely perceived as having an Eagle Scout image] had not previously expressed his true and negative beliefs about his opponent.

More generally, King outlines the three dominate affinities in eight examples:

  1. Dealing with the Holocaust
  2. Tax reform
  3. Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
  4. A 1992 Fed study of mortgage lending to African Americans
  5. Abortion and Unwed Mothers
  6. War on Terror
  7. Baker refusal to serve a homosexual wedding
  8. Soda Taxes (14-20)

Kling writes:

“Consider the goals that a political pundit might have. One goal might be to open the minds of people on the other side. Another goal might be to open the minds of people on the pundit’s own side. A third goal might be to close the minds of people on the pundit’s own side.” (33-34)

In this context, political pundits serve as tribal whips in aligning votes with tribal objectives driving greater polarization of the electorate.

Fast and Slow Reasoning

 The need for closure is associated with our natural aversion to uncertainty, ambiguity, and general impatience, which is a source of cognitive dissonance (59-60). Studies of divisive issues tend to reinforce our dominant political affinity at the presuppositional level because we tend to accept information consistent with our affinities unconditionally and to discount information inconsistent with these affinities, a tendency that Kling describes as motivated reasoning(60-63).

Kling looks for strategies to move beyond our default political settings. The first and most important is to be aware of the three dominate political affinities and to understand their polarities. Listening for their political language will allow you to identify biases and their basic logic. An important second strategy is to slow down political discourse. Kling observes that quick responses to emerging issues are more likely than more deliberative responses to adhere to dominant affinities.

The Ideological Turing Test

Kling offers an interesting standard for improving political discourse that he calls the Ideological Turing Test. Turing invented one of the earliest computers and argued that artificial intelligence could be described as equal to human intelligence when in a blind test a human subject could no longer distinguish between a human and computer in email (or telephone) correspondence. Kling argues that we will finally understand our competitors in the political realm once we could successfully masqueradeas a member of an opposing tribe. 

This Ideological Turing Test, if applied, would help move beyond trading straw man characterizations of one another and promote real understanding.

Assessment

In his book, The Three Languages of Politics, Arnold Kling works to promote more enlightened political discourse through mutual understanding. This book is a quick read and readily accessible to anyone interested in more civilized political conversation.


[1]An echo of the previous alignments can be heard occasionally when progressives are characterized as cultural Marxists, a label that is typically rejected out of hand.

Kling Classifies and Raises Political Debate

Also see:

Thompson: Paul’s Ethics Forms Community

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Election, Judgment, and Reluctant Prophets. Monday Monologues, March 11, 2019 (podcast)

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In today’s podcast, I will offer a Judgment Prayer and talk about Election, Judgment, and Reluctant Prophets.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

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Election, Judgment, and Reluctant Prophets. Monday Monologues, March 11, 2019 (podcast)

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Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

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Judgment Prayer

Painting of the crucifixion
The Crucifixion

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty Father,

All glory and honor to you for you have blessed us to be a blessing to others (Gen 12:1-3) and turned a day of judgment into a day of celebration through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Forgive our forgetfulness, our sloth in sharing this good news with others, even those closest to us and have even given us new opportunities to share with the foreigner, the widow, and the orphans among us. Do not condemn us for failing to witness to the Ninevites in our lives, but show us a better way.

Thank you for the many blessings of family, good health, and prosperity and for turning our tight-fistedness into generosity for your name’s sake.

Thank you especially for the saints among us that model the Christian life for our enlightenment and salvation in spite of original sin.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, draw us to yourself:

open our hearts, illumine our minds, and strengthen our hands in your service that we may rest with you today and every day.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Judgment Prayer

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Election, Judgment, and Reluctant Prophets

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in Christ

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

No two doctrines of the church are further from the hearts of Americans than the doctrines of election and judgment, as Richard Niebuhr (1937, 137) characterized liberal Protestant theology: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministration of a Christ without a cross.” Without judgment there can be no election because the two doctrines are mirror images of one another. Still, election is misunderstood as a kind of holy huddle, when it is at the heart of salvation and the antithesis to judgment.

Blessed to be a Blessing

McDonald (2010, 190-191) observes that the holy huddle is a modern myth writing:  “…election is the expression of—and the chosen means to further—the triune God’s purpose of blessing.” The interpretative verse arises in the covenant of God with Abraham:

“Now the LORD said to Abram, Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen 12:1-3)

Notice how this covenant begins with a stipulation: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house.” In modern parlance, Abraham, grow up and stand on your own feet. If Abraham is willing to take the risk of becoming an independent adult by leaving his father’s protection, connections, and wealth, then God says he will bless him to become a blessing to others. Even before the establishment of the Nation of Israel, God has laid out his plan to evangelize the world, anticipating the Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20) . 

It is interesting that the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-15) depicts the son that “took a journey into a far country” as the son who eventually comes to love and appreciate his father. Thus, the inward looking church—the “holy huddle”—appears more like the spiteful, older son who stayed home and, in terms of the covenant, refused to be a blessing to others.

Sodom and Gomorrah

It is interesting that in our generation, the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is interpreted primarily in terms of the judgment of God on these two cities for their sexual sin, including homosexual sin. Yet, the context of the story is a dialogue between God and Abraham that begins with: 

“The LORD said, Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?” (Gen 18:17-18)

While the judgment of the cities is certainly topical, the focus of the story is on Abraham’s handling of God’s disclosure. What does Abraham do? Abraham immediately begins to intercede for Sodom and Gomorrah knowing that his self-absorbed nephew, Lot, lives near Sodom. 

The key phrase in Abraham’s intercession is: “Will you [God] indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” (Gen 18:23) God does not spare the cities, but he does send his angel to rescue Lot and his family.

What is interesting about this passage is that God reveals his judgment to Abraham, a stand in for the rest of us, to see how Abraham will react. In this example, Abraham passes the test when he exhibits compassion for the cities and engages God in intercessory prayer. 

The Reluctant Prophet

How many of us would pass Abraham’s test? In scripture the counter-example to Abraham arises in the story of the Prophet Jonah. In this short story, we read:

“Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:1-2)

God’s disclosure to Jonah is similar to that of Abraham. Nineveh is another evil city that God that God has basically hinted to Jonah will soon be destroyed. But unlike Sodom and Gomorrah, God offers the city an alternative by means of Jonah who is sent to “call out against it.” 

Knowing that Nineveh was the hometown of Sennacherib king of Assyria who had seized all of Judea, except for Jerusalem (Isa,. 36:1), Jonah hated the Ninevites and, instead of going to preach God’s mercy to them, he got on a ship to escape from God and his mission. Then, as every Sunday school kid knows, a storm came up, the sailors tossed Jonah overboard, and he is swallowed by a whale who, after three days, spits him up on a beach. God then repeats his request for Jonah to go to Nineveh. Listen to why Jonah refused to go:

“And he prayed to the LORD and said, O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” (Jon 4:2)

In this response, Jonah recites Exodus 34:6, which recounts God’s character traits. Knowing God is merciful, Jonah refused to preach repentance to the Ninevites, but later does so reluctantly and they do repent, averting God’s wrath, much to Jonah’s consternation.

Judgment and End Times

Knowing that we are blessed to be a blessing and that God shares his plans for judgment with us through scripture and revelation, our attitude about those under judgment has to change. Judgment of those outside the community faith comes as a test of the hearts for those inside the community. Think about John’s prophecy about the end times:

“The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.” (Rev 11:18)

Do we cheer on the destruction of sinners, like Jonah, or intercede in prayer, like Abraham? Scripture is clear that God’s heart runs to mercy quicker than ours.

References

McDonald, Suzanne. 2010. Re-Imaging Election: Divine Election as Representing God to Others & Others to God. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Niebuhr, H. Richard. 1937. The Kingdom of God in America. New York: Harper Torchbooks. 

Election, Judgment, and Reluctant Prophets

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MacIntyre Chronicles Ethics Story

Alasdair MacIntyre. 2002. A Short History of Ethics: A History of Moral Philosophy from the Homeric Age to the Twentieth Century (Orig Pub 1966). Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

I used to joke that any mathematics text with the words, like simple or elementary in the title, was neither simple or elementary—at least on first reading. The truth of such titles can only be known to those who persist with multiple readings. Ethics is similarly a field much like mathematics that gets easier with repetition.

Introduction

In his historical narrative, A Short History of Ethics: A History of Moral Philosophy from the Homeric Age to the Twentieth Century, Alasdair MacIntyre repeats the premise: “Moral concepts change as social life changes.” (1) After writing about a third of his book on ancient Greek philosophical and moral thought, MacIntyre observes:

“The Division of labor and the differentiation of function in early societies produces a vocabulary in which men are described in terms of the roles they fulfill.”(84)

History of Good

An example that he works out in great detail is the notion of the word, good, writing:

“The word αγαθός, ancestor of our good, is originally a predicate specifically attached to the role of a Homeric nobleman. ‘To be αγαθός,’ says W. H. Adkins, ‘one must be brave, skillful and successful in war and in peace; and one must possess the wealth and (in peace) the leisure which are at once the necessary conditions for the development of these skills and the natural reward of their successful enjoyment.” (5-6)

Not just everyone could be good and we would immediate judge a “good” Greek tribal warlord harshly for behaviors not commensurate with our own standards of goodness. In fact, MacIntyre argues that even later Greek literature after the development of city-states would find such behavior reprehensible. In this new Greek social context, αγαθός loses its original meaning predicated on the role of a Greek tribal warlord (a presupposition) and takes on a new meaning—a general sense of approbation not tied to any particular role.

Moral Context Matters

 More is at stake here than a lesson in ethnolinguistics. Fast forwarding past a long narrative history of philosophical ethics MacIntyre opines:

“In discussing Greek society, I suggested what might happen when such a well-integrated form of moral life broke down. In our society, the acids of individualism have for four centuries eaten into our moral structures for both good and ill. But not only this: we live with the inheritance of not only one, but a number of well-integrated moralities. Aristotelianism, primitive Christianity simplicity, the puritan ethic, the aristocratic ethic of consumption, and the traditions of democracy and socialism have all left their mark upon our moral vocabulary. Within each of these moralities there is a proposed end or ends, a set of rules, a list of virtues. But the ends, the rules, the virtues differ… It follows that we are liable to find two kinds of people in our society: those who speak within one of these surviving moralities, and those who stand outside all of them”(266)

Given this moral dilemma, Kierkegard’s admonition that we must chose to adhere to a particular morality speaks directly to our moral circumstance (215).

Background and Organization

Alasdair Chalmers MacIntyre (1929- ) is an Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame educated at Queen Mary, University of London, University of Manchester, and University of Oxford. He is the author of numerous publications, including: Edith Stein: A Philosophical Prologue, 1913-22(2006), Dependent Rational Animals(1999), Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry(1990), Whose Justice? Which Rationality?(1988), and After Virtue(1981)[1]

MacIntyre writes in 18 chapters preceded by two prefaces, corresponding to the two editions of the book, and followed by notes and an index.

Observations of a Keen Mind

While the narrative flow of an historical treatise is central to its development and reading, such books are often remembered more for particular insights shared along the way. MacIntyre’s insights go beyond a brilliant statement of the obvious.

MacIntyre writes: “The Bible is a story about God in which human beings appear as incidental characters”(110) The divine theme may seem obvious but today many authors offer lengthy critiques of the cultural context of the Bible seldom posing to note that God appears at all. Surprisingly, he goes on to write: “the whole problem of Christian morality is to discover just what it is.” (111) In developing this theme, he is not disrespectful at all, but notes how Christian morality has evolved to speak to the particular contexts in which it is found. He contextualizes Christian ethics without suggesting that it is arbitrary or relativistic. How else could the Holy Spirit serve to guide us in our daily walk?

Assessment

Alasdair MacIntyre’s A Short History of Ethics: A History of Moral Philosophy from the Homeric Age to the Twentieth Century provides aperceptive and assessible overview of the history of philosophical ethics. Seminary students and pastors will benefit from taking the time to absorb this work.

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alasdair_MacIntyre. https://philosophy.nd.edu/people/emeritus/alasdair-macintyre.

MacIntyre Chronicles Ethics Story

Also see:

Thompson: Paul’s Ethics Forms Community

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Lent_2019

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The Spiritual Discipline of Work. Monday Monologues, March 4, 2019 (podcast)

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In today’s podcast, I will share a sermon entitled: The Spiritual Discipline of Work. (Spanish)

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on the link below:

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

The Spiritual Discipline of Work. Monday Monologues, March 4, 2019 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Lent_2019

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