Ritchie Peers into the Heart of Darkness

Ritchie_06282014Mark Andrew Richie [1]. 2000. Spirit of the Rainforest: A Yanomanö Shaman’s Story. Chicago: Island Lake Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

When I was elementary school, the curriculum emphasized repetition. If one paid attention and got it the first time, then boredom was the big challenge. At first, I spent the extra time acting out in class, but I later learned to keep a pile of library books in my desk and simply read during repetitious lessons. To keep the pilot light running in seminary, I read books from the recommended reading lists or recommended by trusted friends in Christ.  Mark Richie’s Spirit of the Rainforest was one such book.

Understanding why this book is interesting requires a bit of background.  In the early modern era, humanists questioned the divinity of Christ and especially the doctrine of the atonement.  The atonement suggested that Christ died for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3-6) and it implied that humans were inherently sinful (Genesis 3:6).  By contrast, the humanists believed that humanity was basically good (and was not in need of Christ’s atonement or absolute moral standards) and they sought to build a utopia without God. In this context, the idea of a noble savage arose—primitive human beings untainted by civilization who were inherently good, not evil [2].

Enter Jungleman, a Shaman [3] living among the Yanomanö people of the Amazon rainforests of Columbia who was untouched by the corrupted influence of civilization.  Spirit of the Rainforest is the narrative of his life told from his perspective (8).  Richie writes in his introduction:

The Yanomamö are one of the world’s most mysterious peoples.  Small, rarely over five feet tall, they have the speed, strength, and agility of a jungle cat.  Their woman can tote their own weight up and down a jungle trail that would challenge me even if I were empty handed.  Their men can call, track, and shoot anything that breathes in a jungle that is hostile enough to kill anyone but a trained survivalist (7).

As a young warrior, Jungleman invited demons from the spirit world into his heart and mind.  These demons offer him knowledge of far off events and strength in defeating his enemies. Jungleman knows these demons by animal names, such as Jaguar Spirit, Monkey Spirit, and so on.  For example, Ritchie writes about Jaguar Spirit, the dominant, warrior or hunting spirit:

“Don’t go in here.” [Referring to a Christian village] Jaguar Spirit told me.  “There’s too much danger here. We are afraid.” It was the first time I had ever heard fear coming from Jaguar Spirit, and it made me feel poor inside. My hands began to flutter and I held my bow tight to make them stop. (97)

But these spirits cannot be trusted and will abandon and turn on a Shaman when he shows weakness (like not following their advice to kill someone—especially children in a competing village) or for growing old.

Much of the violence among Yanomanö people historically arose in fights over women.  The Yanomanö traditionally practiced polygamy and raided other villages to procure young women.  Such raids were not easily forgotten because people would be killed and families broken up.  Consequently, longstanding blood vendettas existed among neighboring villages.

Jungleman eventually comes to know Christ.  His spirits abandoned him.  In turn, he abandoned his warrior ways and becomes an advocate for the right of Yanomanö women to marry men of their own choosing.

Those who want to believe the noble savage myth (or to disbelieve the existence of the spiritual world) will be disappointed with Ritchie’s Spirit of the Rainforest.  Critics question Ritchie’s claim that he simply wrote down what he was told (8).  I was not disappointed and found his accounts credible, in part, because his accounts of Yanomanö life are consistent with accounts of other native cultures.  For example, the purpose of head-hunting in pre-modern Taiwan was:

To gain a head, as noted earlier, was to qualify a young man to gain the young woman he wished to marry.  Revenge for the death of a loved one was also the occasion to take an enemy head [4].

There is also striking consistency in the influence of a Monkey Spirit (a spirit of lust acted out indiscriminately) in jungle culture and our own.

Ritchie’s Spirit of the Rainforest is a page turner and a great book to take along to the beach—reality is so much more interesting than fantasy.  As a narrative, this book lends itself to becoming a good screen play [5].

 

[1] http://markritchie.me/spirit-of-the-rainforest.

[2] The film, The Wild Child (1970) by Francois Truffaut chronicles the story of an abandoned child in 1798 who lived in the woods alone.  When he was discovered, he could not speak and was suspicious of other people.  A French scientist takes him in attempting to educate him and to learn from him as a potential validation of the noble savage hypothesis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wild_Child).

[3] A shaman is a term that replaced the politically incorrect term, witch doctor.

[4] Ralph Covell. 1998.  Pentecost of the Hills in Taiwan. Pasadena:  Hope Publishing House. Page 26.

[5] Another film about Amazon tribal life is:  End of a Spear (2006; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JeEF_3J0ZY0).  This film re-enacts the story of Mincayani, Waodani warrior, who leads the raid that kills Steve Saint’s father and four other missionaries in 1956.

 

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2 Corinthians: Lifting the Veil

The Crucifixion
The Crucifixion

…a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9 ESV)

How can one be strong in weakness?

At the core of the Apostle Paul’s Second Letter to the Church at Corinth is a paradox. Christ was crucified in weakness, but in his weakness displayed the power of God (13:4).  This same paradox was displayed in Paul’s private pain (12:7-9) and his very public humiliation as he writes:

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. (4:8-10)

This paradox manifests itself in that when we find ourselves at the end of our rope, we abandon our private idolatries and turn to the living God who is our only real hope.  Paul writes: to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over [our] hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. (3:15-17) Herein lies the paradox, that our own strength (for the Israelites, the law) veils the presence of God in our lives.

Second Corinthians is a very personal and complex letter. For example, Paul provides two separate lists (6:4-10 and 11:23-29) of own afflictions—who brags about being beaten and thrown in prison?  He is writing from Macedonia (9:2) around 56 AD just before his final journey to Jerusalem.  Theological topics addressed include:  the character of God, salvation, the Gospel, the church, the nature of apostleship, Christian ministry, the Christian life, suffering, stewardship, Satan, and eschatology (Harris 2005, 105, 114-125).

The importance of Second Corinthians in the life of the church is underscored by the attention given to even small portions of this letter.  For example, The Confession of 1967 [1] adopted by the Presbyterian Church (USA) emphasizes these verses:

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (5:18-20)

Paul’s emphasis is on reconciling the world to Christ; the Confession expands on this idea to speak about reconciling the church to divergent groups in society.

References

Garland, David E. 1999. 2 Corinthians: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture. New American Commentary.  Nashville:  Holman Publishing.

Hafemann, Scott J.  2000. The NIV Application Commentary:  2 Corinthians. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Harris, Murray J. 2005. The Second Epistle to the Corinthians:  A Commentary on the Greek Text.  NIGTC. Grand Rapids:  Eerdman.

[1] www.pcusa.org/resource/book-of-confessions

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2 Corintios: Levantando el Velo

The Crucifixion
The Crucifixion

Por Stephen W. Hiemstra

…una espina me fue clavada en el cuerpo, es decir, un mensajero de Satanás, para que me atormentara. Tres veces le rogué al Señor que me la quitara; pero él me dijo: “Te basta con mi gracia, pues mi poder se perfecciona en la debilidad.” Por lo tanto, gustosamente haré más bien alarde de mis debilidades, para que permanezca sobre mí el poder de Cristo.  (2 Corintios 12:7-9 NVI)

¿Cómo se puede ser fuerte en la debilidad?

En el núcleo de la segunda carta del apóstol Pablo a la iglesia en Corinto es una paradoja. Cristo fue crucificado en debilidad, pero en su debilidad muestran el poder de Dios (13:4). Esta misma paradoja se exhibió en el dolor de Pablo privada (12:7-9) y su humillación muy público cuando escribe:

Nos vemos atribulados en todo, pero no abatidos; perplejos, pero no desesperados; perseguidos, pero no abandonados; derribados, pero no destruidos. Dondequiera que vamos, siempre llevamos en nuestro cuerpo la muerte de Jesús, para que también su vida se manifieste en nuestro cuerpo. (4:8-10)

Esta paradoja se debe a que cuando estamos en el final de nuestra cuerda, abandonamos nuestra idolatría privado y volvemos al Dios vivo, que es nuestra única esperanza real. Pablo escribe: siempre que leen a Moisés, un velo les cubre el corazón.  Pero cada vez que alguien se vuelve al Señor, el velo es quitado. (3:15-17) En esto radica la paradoja, que nuestra propia fuerza (para los hijos de Israel, la ley) vela la presencia de Dios en nuestras vidas.

Segunda de Corintios es una carta muy personal y complejo. Por ejemplo, Pablo ofrece dos listas separadas (6:4-10 y 11:23-29), de los propios males—que se jacta de haber sido golpeado y arrojado en la cárcel? Él está escribiendo desde Macedonia (9:02) alrededor del año 56 DC justo antes de su último viaje a Jerusalén. Temas teológicos tratados incluyen: el carácter de Dios, la salvación, el Evangelio, la Iglesia, la naturaleza del apostolado, el ministerio cristiano, la vida cristiana, el sufrimiento, la mayordomía, Satanás, y la escatología (Harris 2005, 105, 114-125).

La importancia de Segunda de Corintios en la vida de la iglesia es subrayada por la atención prestada a incluso pequeñas porciones de esta carta. Por ejemplo, La Confesión de 1967, aprobada por la Iglesia Presbiteriana (EE.UU.) [1] hace hincapié en estos versos:

Todo esto proviene de Dios, quien por medio de Cristo nos reconcilió consigo mismo y nos dio el ministerio de la reconciliación; es decir, en Cristo, Dios estaba reconciliando al mundo consigo mismo, no imputándole sus pecados, y nos encargó a nosotros la palabra de la reconciliación. Por lo tanto, somos embajadores de Cristo, como si Dios exhortara por medio de nosotros. Nosotros os rogamos en nombre de Cristo: Reconciliaos con Dios. (5:18-20)

El énfasis de Pablo está en reconciliando al mundo a Cristo; la Confesión amplía esta idea para hablar de reconciliación de grupos divergentes en la sociedad.

Referencias

Garland, David E. 1999. 2 Corinthians: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture. New American Commentary.  Nashville:  Holman Publishing.

Hafemann, Scott J.  2000. The NIV Application Commentary:  2 Corinthians. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Harris, Murray J. 2005. The Second Epistle to the Corinthians:  A Commentary on the Greek Text.  NIGTC. Grand Rapids:  Eerdman.

[1] www.pcusa.org/resource/book-of-confessions

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Metaxas: Bonhoeffer’s Times and Ours

Bonhoeffer_06242014Eric Metaxas. 2010.  Bonhoeffer:  Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy—A Righteous Gentile versus the Third Reich.  Nashville:  Thomas Nelson.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

High school friends once accused me of being born 16 years old.  Having grown up with Vietnam in the 1960s, questions about war and peace were fought in the streets, on television, and in personal relationships. The day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated my third grade teacher began crying uncontrollably in front of the class. After the King assassination, I witnessed my hometown of Washington DC burning and tanks rolling through its streets.  In trying to understand it all, I turned to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s: The Cost of Discipleship.

When Eric Metaxas’ biography—Bonhoeffer—was published in 2010, I immediately bought a copy but working full-time and going to seminary I did not have time to read it.  Or, at least, that is what I told myself.  The truth is that I approached this biography with a bit of fear as to what I might learn about the hero of my youth—and about myself. I first learned a bit about Bonhoeffer’s life when a film by Eric Till appeared in 2000—Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace with Ulrich Tukur [1]—but that was before seminary opened the doors to explore so many forbidden topics in my own history.  Not the least of which was my year as a foreign exchange student in Göttingen, Germany.

Metaxas, a German-American, dedicates his book (in German) to his grandfather who was killed in 1944 fighting in reluctant service to his country.  His dedication cites the apostle John:

For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:40 ESV)

Metaxas looks to the day when he will get to meet his grandfather [2].  For Metaxas and for me, the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer was and is highly personal.

The task of writing a complete biography of Bonhoeffer was immense [3].  Bonhoeffer’s persona was complex; his theological writings profound; and his political views veiled and nuanced.  Let me touch on each challenge briefly.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer came from an aristocratic family and was himself extraordinarily talented.  His father was the leading psychiatrist in Germany at the time and his own brother was a noted physicist. Neither were professing Christians and the family did not attend church on a regular basis.  His mother was his most significant religious influence. Dietrich declared his intention to become a theologian at age 14 before he had even been confirmed; he received his doctorate at age 21.  Metaxas pictures Dietrich becoming a committed Christian, much like John Wesley, only after he was already working as a theologian. After Bonhoeffer had made a visit to New York in 1936, Metaxas asks:  What had happened that Bonhoeffer [the brilliant young theologian] should suddenly take attending church so seriously? (124)

Bonhoeffer is the author of a number of influential books [4] and, along with Swiss theologian Karl Barth (one of the authors of the Barmen Declaration [5]), is credited with starting the neo-orthodox school of thought.  Bonhoeffer laid out important principles of his thinking already in 1928 (age 22) in Barcelona in three points:

  1. …Christianity is not a religion at all, but about the person of Christ…religion was a dead, man-made thing, and at the heart of Christianity was something else entirely—God himself, alive (83).
  2. He differentiated between Christianity…which attempt but fail to make an ethical way for man to climb to heaven…and following Christ, who demands everything (84). and
  3. He identified ‘the Greek spirit’ or ‘humanism’ as ‘the most severe enemy that Christianity ever had…dualism, the idea that the body is at war with the soul (85).

In other words, Christians must only follow Christ; we cannot approach God, only God can reveal Himself to us; and heart and mind cannot be separated in our faith.

Bonhoeffer, the spy, worked with military intelligence (Abwehr) and was executed late in the war for assisting a plot to kill Hitler. Spies can trust almost no one and cannot reveal their true intentions. The offices of pastor and spy are in strong tension which is a theme in Bonhoeffer’s book, Ethics.

Resistance to the official German Church (Reichskirche) was weak because of state funding, pride, and weak theology.

State Funding.  How can a German pastor work against the German government when, in fact, the government pays the pastor’s salary?  It was only Bonhoeffer’s deep faith expressed in his theology allowed him to overcome the tendency to look the other way and to do nothing—martyrdom is obviously not a feel-good thing.  Only when heart and mind work together is faith strong enough to endure a winter of rainy days.  Obviously, many German pastors could not follow Bonhoeffer’s lead.

The role of finance in theology cannot be easily set aside.  American churches are not state funded, but are instead given tax breaks.  Private donors are, however, much more fully present in the lives of American pastors.  Metaxas notes, for example, that after John Emerson Fosdick began preaching views at variance with the Apostle’s Creed in the 1920s and was subject to Presbytery investigation, John D. Rockefeller build a church for him and made sure he are called to pastor it (101-102).  By this standard, state financing by a normally sleepy bureaucracy does not seem nearly so intrusive.

Pride.  In fact, a major theme in Metaxas’ narrative in 31 chapters is the German church’s almost total capitulation to Nazi rule.  Germans were deeply shamed by their treatment by the allies at the end of World War I.  When Hitler restored German pride in seizing France, he became a pseudo messianic figure.  It is probably not an accident, for example, that the Barmen Declaration was authored primarily by a Swiss theologian (Karl Barth), not a German one.

American pride is also a factor in its relationship with government.  Political parties and interest groups are not indifferent to the views represented from the pulpit. What better way to promote a political agenda than to have it endorsed by pastors claiming (unmitigated by an orthodox reading of the biblical text) that it is God’s will?  In turn, the pastors can claim that they influenced government policy.  The pastor of my home church resigned at one point to write a book about this very subject [6].

Weak theology.  Theologians who questioned the divinity of Christ, such as Schleiermacher and von Harnack, reduced German theological study to nothing more than careful exposition of ancient texts.  German worship descended into a litany of religious formalities and cultural tradition (59-61).  If faith is no more than half-hearted adherence to tradition, where is the power and authority to oppose evil?

Bonhoeffer’s visits to America especially disappointed him because even the seminaries lacked theological rigor and the Gospel was rarely preached.  For example, Bonhoeffer wrote his friend Max Diestal from New York in 1930:  There is no theology here… they talk a blue streak without the slightest substantive foundation and no evidence of any criteria (101).  Bonhoeffer did, however, find solace in African American worship and Gospel singing (110).

Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer is both a page turner and a deep meditation.  It provides both the personal and the German historical context for reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s books.  The length of the book is necessary to accomplish the goal of being thorough and complete.  Metaxas is also helpful for reclaiming the historical Bonhoeffer from groups wanting to piggy-back on his popularity as an opponent to Adolf Hitler while spinning his story and theology to suit other agendas [7].  This biography is likely to remain the standard by which other biographies are measured.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulrich_Tukur

[2] http://harpers.org/blog/2010/12/dietrich-bonhoeffer-six-questions-for-eric-metaxas

[3] Metaxas appears to have written his biography in the encomium form which has 4 parts:  1. Origins and Birth, 2. Nurture and Training, 3. Accomplishments and Deeds, and 4. Comparison (Jerome H. Neyrey. 1998. Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press.  Page 79).

[4] I have personally read several—The Cost of Discipleship, Life Together, Creation and Fall, and Ethics.

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barmen_Declaration.

[6] Richard G. Hutcheson, Jr.  1988.  God in the White House:  How Religion Has Changed the Modern Presidency.  New York:  MacMillan Publishing Company. (http://wapo.st/1lbwu1h)

[7] The translation of Bonhoeffer’s Nachfolge as The Cost of Discipleship is a possible example of this spin.  Nachfolge literally means to “follow after” in German which points to God, consistent with Bonhoeffer’s first two Barcelona principles.  The Cost of Discipleship, which points more to us (a more humanistic interpretation) emphasizes Bonhoeffer’s doctrine of “cheap grace”.

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Schaeffer Checks the Pulse of Western Civilization

Shaffer_06172014Francis A. Schaeffer. 2005.  How Should We Then Live: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture (Orig Pub 1976).  Wheaton: Crossway Books.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

As a believer in the risen Christ, life sometimes resembles being stuck in a zombie invasion.  Zombies hate living people and desire their destruction.  Conversation with zombies can be challenging. Still, Christians are called to live sacrificially sharing their very lives with zombies on the hope that they too can live.  Jesus said:

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. (Luke 9:24 ESV)

While we were still zombies, Jesus died on the cross for us [1].

How should we then live?

This question taken from Ezekiel 33:10 where Ezekiel reviews his calling as prophet.  In the original call statement, Ezekiel writes:

Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand… (Ezekiel 3:17-18 ESV)

Ezekiel must prophesy exactly as God instructs or his own salvation is at risk.

This watchman motif motivated Francis Schaeffer to write his book—How should we then live? (257-258) He outlines this motif in the final chapter addressed specifically to Christians.  The chapter begins with a warning against dichotomous thinking:  separating values (non-reason) from reason (255) [2].  This dichotomy has its origins in Greek thought (Platonic dualism; Gnosticism) where the mind (reason) was elevated over the body (values).

This re-emergence of dichotomous thinking in the modern era is a Christian heresy, in part, because it rejects the divinity of Christ who was bodily resurrected from the grave. The risen Christ is no ghost (spirit only) and no zombie (body without spirit).  Dichotomous thinking (a kind of schizophrenia) leads one to believe that God can only be approached through emotional experiences or, alternatively, only through theology.  By contrast, the New Testament teaches unity of mind and body—faith and action [3].  For example, James writes:

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. (James 1:22-24 ESV)

The splitting of mind and body (or faith from action) robs the Gospel of its power to transform lives and of its moral teaching. By contrast, the resurrection of Christ accredits Jesus’ divinity (Acts 17:31) and lays claim to the whole of us—both our minds and bodies.  Schaeffer especially sees dichotomous thinking leaving us to accept authoritarian rule because it facilitates manipulation (256-257).

Schaeffer’s point about the manipulative potential of dichotomous thinking is like a bad movie re-run.  During the Second World War, for example, economists of the Vienna School justified working for Adolf Hitler through the development of philosophical school called logical positivism.  In this paradigm, politicians set the goals and economists simply find the most efficient way to execute them.  The guard arguing that he was only following orders when gassing prisoners, for example, is applying logical positivism. In this manner, economists (and prison guards) tried to escape moral judgment by making no judgments at all [4].

Schaeffer’s book is a survey of key philosophical developments in history, politics, and art dating back to ancient Rome.  It is written in 13 chapters:

  1. Ancient Rome;
  2. The Middle Ages;
  3. The Renaissance;
  4. The Reformation;
  5. The Reformation—Continued;
  6. The Enlightenment;
  7. The Rise of Modern Science;
  8. The Breakdown in Philosophy and Science;
  9. Modern Philosophy and Modern Theology;
  10. Modern Art, Music, Literature, and Films;
  11. Our Society;
  12. Manipulation and the New Elite; and
  13. The Alternatives (7).

If you are one of those who think that this is a book written to justify positions of one generation over another, perhaps you should read with particular care.

For example, the Renaissance and the Reformation occurred at almost the same time—Renaissance thinkers accepted dichotomous thinking while Reformation thinkers refused to (79-81).  Reformation thinkers refused to accept dichotomous thinking and relied on the Bible to discern God’s truth—an absolute standard for ethics.  In some sense, the enlightenment simply revisited this same split.  Dichotomous thinking remains popular today because it supports humanism and relativism [5].

In all his writing, Schaeffer covers a lot of ground.  The details of his discussion are fascinating and provide context for understanding the vast changes occurring in our time.  Unless you are a student of Western Civilization, be prepared to be challenged.  How Should We Then Live? is a classic.  Thank you Crossway Books for keeping it in print.

 

[1] For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person– though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die–but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8 ESV)

[2] Schaeffer felt so strongly about this topic of dichotomous thinking that he wrote an entire book on the subject:  Francis Schaeffer.  2006.  Escape from Reason:  A Penetrating Analysis of Trends in Modern Thinking.  Downers Grove:  IVP Press.

[3] An interesting  example of this integrative principle arises in the biblical idea of beauty.  “Our modern images feature surface and finish; Old Testament images present structure and character.  Modern images are narrow and restrictive; theirs were broad and inclusive…For us beauty is primarily visual; their idea of beauty included sensations of light, color, sound, smell, and even taste” Dyrness, William A. 2001. Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, page 81.

[4] Hannah Arendt studied this problem at great length.  For example, read her book:   1987.  The Life of the Mind:  The Groundbreaking Investigation of How We Think.  New York:  Harcourt, Inc.

[5] In Paul’s Letter to the Galatians he confronts the problem of false teachers who added the Gospel of Christ other teaching.  Paul writes:   I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. (Galatians 1:6-7 ESV)  In the Galatian context, the added teaching was over-reliance on the Law of Moses.  In our context, the added teaching is primarily philosophical or social.

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1 Corinthians 16: Unity and Diversity in Christ

Winter Trees by Sharron Beg
Winter Trees by Sharron Beg

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love…If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! (1 Corinthians 16:13-14,22 ESV)

Many study groups fast forward through the final chapters in the Apostle Paul’s letters thinking that the names listed are difficult to pronounce and the overt lesson is over.  This is a mistake.

In Chapter 16 Paul deals with at least 3 very controversial issues in the church:

  • Mission giving and financial integrity;
  • Support and acceptance of church leaders; and
  • Boundaries on the Christian community.

Missions and Financial Integrity.  The Jerusalem council imposed 4 requirements on Gentile converts: …abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality (Acts15:29 ESV) [1].  Paul mentions only one requirement:  remember the poor (Galatians 2:10). By that, he particularly meant the poor saints in Jerusalem.  He reasoned: For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings (Romans 15:27 ESV).

It is interesting that Paul, who took no support from the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 9), was especially careful to request that they appoint their own trustees for the collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem (v 3).

Church Leaders.  In the middle of church divisions, Paul sends in a turnaround team and highlights the work of theologically sound, local leaders.  In commending the household of Stephanas, he highlights their spirituality (first converts) and conduct:  they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints—be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer (vv 15-16)

Boundaries on the Church.  While the church is open to everyone, the church does not consist of everyone.  Paul states:  If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! (v 22) [2]  The mark of a Christian is love for the Lord, not affiliation or family ties.  Given this presupposition, Paul advises:  Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like adults, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love (vv 13-14).

The mention of the household of Stephanas (v 15) as well as Aquila and Prisca (v 19) [3] underscores the importance of family ministries, especially husband-wife teams, in the early church.

 

[1] This list contains 3 food requirements and behavioral requirement.  Each requirement focuses on sins of the body.

[2] “Our Lord come” is written in Aramic (μαράνα θά; Marantha) suggesting again that the earliest confessions included statements of Christ’s divinity and expectations of the second coming.

[3] Also:  Acts 18:2,18, 26;  Romans 16:3, and 2 Timothy 4:19.

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1 Corintios 16: Unidad y Diversidad en Cristo

Winter Trees by Sharron Beg
Winter Trees by Sharron Beg

Por Stephen W. Hiemstra

Manténganse alerta; permanezcan firmes en la fe; sean valientes y fuertes. Hagan todo con amor…Si alguno no ama al Señor, quede bajo maldición. ¡Marana ta! (1 Corintios 16:13-22 NVI)

Muchos grupos de estudio avance rápido a través de los capítulos finales en las cartas del apóstol Pablo piensan que los nombres que son difíciles de pronunciar y la lección abierta ha terminado. Esto es un error.

En el capítulo 16 Pablo trata con al menos 3 temas muy controvertidos en la iglesia:

  • Misión de dar y la integridad financiera;
  • Apoyo y aceptación de los líderes de la iglesia; y
  • Las fronteras de la comunidad cristiana.

Misiones y Integridad Financiera. El concilio de Jerusalén impuso 4 requisitos sobre los conversos gentiles: …abstenerse de lo sacrificado a los ídolos, de sangre, de la carne de animales estrangulados y de la inmoralidad sexual (Hechos 15:29 NVI) [1]. Pablo menciona sólo un requisito: nos acordáramos de los pobres (Gálatas 2:10). Por eso, se refería en particular a los santos pobres de Jerusalén. Razonó: Porque si los gentiles han participado de las bendiciones espirituales de los judíos, están en deuda con ellos para servirles con las bendiciones materiales (Romanos 15:27 NVI).

Es interesante que Pablo, quien no tuvo el apoyo de la iglesia en Corinto (1 Corintios 9), fue especialmente cuidadoso para solicitar que se designan a sus propios administradores de la ofrenda para los santos pobres de Jerusalén (v 3).

Líderes de la Iglesia. En medio de las divisiones de la iglesia, Pablo envía a un equipo de respuesta y destaca el trabajo de los líderes locales, teológicamente sólidos. Al recomendar la casa de Estéfanas, destaca su espiritualidad (primero convierte) y la conducta: se han dedicado a servir a los creyentes. Les recomiendo, hermanos, que se pongan a disposición de aquéllos y de todo el que colabore en este arduo trabajo (vv 15-16).

Las fronteras de la Iglesia. Mientras que la iglesia está abierta a todo el mundo, la Iglesia no consiste en todo el mundo. Pablo dice: Si alguno no ama al Señor, quede bajo maldición. ¡Marana ta! (V 22) [2] La marca de un cristiano es el amor por el Señor, no afiliación o vínculo familiar. Teniendo en cuenta esta premisa, Pablo aconseja: Manténganse alerta; permanezcan firmes en la fe; sean valientes y fuertes. Hagan todo con amor (vv 13-14).

La mención de la familia de Estéfanas (v 15), así como Aquila y Prisca (v 19) [3] pone de relieve la importancia de los ministerios de la familia, especialmente los equipos de marido y mujer, en la iglesia primitiva.

 

[1] Esta lista contiene 3 necesidades alimentarias y los requisitos de comportamiento. Cada requisito se centra en los pecados del cuerpo.

[2] “Nuestro Señor viene” está escrito en arameo (μαράνα θά; Maran tha) que sugiere una vez más que las primeras confesiones incluían declaraciones de la divinidad de Cristo y las expectativas de la Segunda Venida.

[3] También: Hechos 18:2,18, 26; Romanos 16:3 y 2 Timoteo 4:19.

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Vaughn: Experiencing, Managing, and Cherishing Time God’s Way

Time_06132014Ellen Vaughn.  2007.  Time Peace: Living Here and Now with a Timeless God.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra [1]

Ellen Vaughn starts her book, Time Peace, with a question:  How can an earth-bound person really connect with an eternal God? Does God’s Shalom rub off on the people we meet every day or are we afflicted with hurry sickness? (16-17)  If our lives are deprived of Shalom and dominated by hurry sickness, what can be done about it?

Ellen segments the time problem into 4 parts:

  1. Experiencing Time;
  2. Managing Time;
  3. Re-viewing Time:  A New Paradigm; and
  4. Enjoying Time.

God’s perspective on time is different than ours. God manages time; time manages us.  For us, a wristwatch serves as a kind of virtual handcuff (61).  God is eternal and the stars serve as his wrist-watch (Job 9:3-9; 19).

The biblical notion of stewardship: doesn’t really strike a cord with many 21-century Americans (74). Ellen asks: whether we live to the age of of 34 or 104, how do we use the time we are given? (77)  The biblical view of time (stewardship) is in strong tension with our everyday experience of time (the wristwatch)?

Reviewing many details of quantum physics, Ellen notes that science does not seem to explain the created universe as neatly as we learned in high school.  She remarks:

I do find it interesting that in the Bible…that is thousands of years old…[it] casually makes claims that seem to jibe with what is intimated in the weird world of 21st century quantum physics (187).

When we experience the eternal God, God must deliberately break into our time-bound world to touch our lives.  We experience God’s intrusion as a kairos momenta Greek word describing a moment of crisis and decision [2].  Our usual experience of timechronos time as measure by our watchesis not nearly so threatening.

In evaluating how to enjoy time, Ellen asks:  How do we seize the moment and invest time to extend God’s kingdom? (206)

In her book, Time Peace, Ellen’s writing craft is displayed in at least 4 dimensions:

  1. She does her homework. In researching time as a topic, she reviewed film, time management books, scripture, and scientific literature. I suspect that she also did a number of interviews.
  2. She paints wonderful mental pictures and tells numerous stories. I will never forget her lesson on the six deadly sins and how they relate to Gilligan’s Island (8) [3].
  3. She is willing to take theological and intellectual risks. Most Luke commentaries do not offer alternative readings of the Mary and Martha story. Likewise, I suspect that most English majors do not write extensively on Einstein’s theory of relativity and string theory.
  4. She throws curve balls in her prose. I doubt, for example, that she really sits much on the beach throwing alka seltzer tablets in the air to the sea gulls, but the thought is interesting.

Time Peace is perceptive, theologically engaging, and witty. Small groups will want to look at it for study and discussion.

 

[1]  Ellen Vaughn (www.EllenVaughn.com) is a local author who I met in 2007 at a meeting of the Capital Christian Writers Club (www.CapitalChristianWriters.org).

[2] I was personally touched by her story about Vicky Armel, a police officer gunned down for no apparent reason within walking distance of my home in Centreville, Virginia.  Only 2 years prior to her death, Vicky unexpectedly committed her life to Christa kairos moment. Her testimony was recorded on Easter Sunday.  Vicky accordingly had the rare privilege of addressing her own funeral via video tape (183-185).

[3] Ellen writes:  Students of the show advance the theory that the Professor exhibits the deadly sin of pride…Ginger, the lascivious movie star, represents lust.  Envy goes to Maryann who wanted to be Ginger. Thurston Howell the Third, who took a large trunck full of money on a three-hour cruise, is greed.  Since Mrs Howell never did much of anything at all, she is sloth…We are left with the sins of anger and gluttony, and the mad and corpulent Skipper personifies them both (88).

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