Current mood: blah
The following is a homily I wrote for my Old Testament II course. The assignment was a hypothetical situation, so some of the oddity can be explained by that.
Old Testament II
“My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” (Prov. 3:11-12 ESV)
Discipline, correction, responsibility; these are not popular terms. We too often lack discipline, resent correction and avoid responsibility. In fact, we are always more eager to accuse another of failing than we are to be disciplined, corrected or called on our own lack of responsibility. I see some of you squirming now; I know I am. I do not enjoy being corrected or having my failings discussed, brought into the light of day–partly because they are so numerous. Yet, I know that this is necessary for me to grow as a person and as a Christian. Perfection cannot be improved upon; so if I deceive myself into believing or even acting as if I am, then I will stagnate. My life and my faith will no longer be dynamic or vibrant; I will truly be dead. (Throw some dirt on me, stick a fork in me, I’m done!)
Discipline, correction, responsibility; the Christian life demands discipline. Discipline not just from individuals, but also from communities. If we are to be the Body of Christ, then we must live the Christian life together, and that means discipline. As someone recently pointed out, Christ called his followers disciples, not believers. Grace is free, Salvation was purchased, but faith demands discipline. What are the disciplines of the Christian life? Well, we see one of them right now. You are all in Church, gathered together, hearing the word. That is part of the discipline of a Christian life. One of the oft quoted but seldom followed statements that exemplifies this idea is that of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great icon of the German Confessing Church who said: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Bonhoeffer, a one time pacifist, was not content–and perhaps was not able–to build an ivory tower for himself from which to preach, ignoring the evil in the world around him. Instead, his beliefs confronted the world and, in the end he was such a follower of Jesus, that he was prepared to embrace an action that he believed was sinful because he believed the alternative was worse. Some people have claimed that Bonhoeffer’s willingness to kill Hitler was a betrayal of his principles. I believe it was quite the opposite; it was their fulfillment. In doing as he did, and being prepared to die as a result, Bonhoeffer demonstrated a Christian’s love for his community.
Discipline, correction, responsibility: for the Lord reproves them whom he loves. Love has requirements; it is not all about the “warm fuzzies” that people tend to dwell on and emphasize. Ask any parent if this is not true. Our Old Testament lesson for today demonstrates this, as does the entirety of God’s relationship with Israel. God often reproves this “rebellious house” that he has called out and loves so well. Should the Church have different expectations?
Love requires correction; just as God reproves those he loves, so are we to correct our loved ones and invite such correction in return. For the Lord has commanded us “speak the truth to one another.”(Zech. 8:16) Christian love is tough love: we are stones placed together by God to be jostled about, breaking off one another’s rough edges, to be molded, shaped and finally made a part of God’s eternal Kingdom supported by the Corner Stone that is Christ. Love requires correction.
Responsibility; some of the responsibilities of the Christian are these: to be steadfast, humble and to always seek the truth because we know ultimately, there is one Truth. We must be steadfast in our lives of faith so that we might be true Disciples of Christ, humble so that we can accept our own failings and the correction of God and seekers of truth so that we might be brought closer, individually and corporately, to the one who is Truth.
Finally, all of these virtues are bound together, for as Christianity is a religion of humility that teaches us to accept correction and strive for discipline, we also are told that “whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.”(Prov. 12:1) So I ask you, do you hate knowledge; are you seekers of the Truth? Is your faith a strong faith, has it ever been questioned, challenged, examined and ultimately, strengthened? Are you living with an unexamined faith? I am asking you whether you have the faith to examine your beliefs. If you have faith that your beliefs are true, then surly only good can come from their examination. I would say there can be none, unless of course, you are reacting out of the fear of facing unbelief or doubt.
Many people are afraid to examine their beliefs and assumptions, to expose them to the light of day. One example of this could be the negative reaction of many Christians “particularly Americans” toward Biblical criticism. The historical-critical method of Biblical interpretation which dominates in todays academic settings, owes its origins to the growth of archaeology from an elite pastime into a profession.
One of the theories that came out of this early period of historical criticism is termed the “Documentary Hypothesis,” commonly called the “JEDP” theory, and was espoused in its standard form by the German Biblical scholar Julius Wellhausen in the late 19th century. Wellhausen’s work still serves as the beginning point for academic study of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible even as subsequent discoveries and research has resulted in its revision.
The contributions of this theory to modern biblical studies are hard to overstate, as even many of Wellhausen’s critics debate dating and other specifics rather than the generalities of his theory. The tools and ways of looking at ancient texts which Wellhausen pioneered have served not only the study of ancient Israel, but of other cultures as well. One point of caution needs to be mentioned when discussing Wellhausen’s work, namely his social context and what could be construed as a sort of latent antisemitism in the ways he classifies and ranks the various sources within his hypothesis. Despite this, his contribution to the study of ancient Israel and the other regions of the Ancient Near East has been tremendous. That being said, there are problems with Wellhausen’s theory, the most blatant of which stem not from the theory itself, but from the ways in which people perceive it.
In talking about the negatives consequences of Wellahsuen’s theory I would like to talk about three general movements with our society. The first of these is what some modern social critics have called “scientism” or a cult of the specialist which permeates our society, whereby people have come to simply take as fact the statements of credentialed “experts” no matter how qualified their statements and theories.
The proclivity of some archeological experts–called minimalists–to explain away even accepted evidence if it supports the Biblical narrative combined with various groups of neo-Gnostics and conspiracy theorists who will latch onto any theory–no matter how tenuous–that discredits “institutional” religion, and there are major problems to be dealt with.
Though a conspiratorial fixation is as unhealthy as pious ignorance, the Church is called to deal with the later more often than the former. If it demonstrates nothing else, the ignorance of scripture and history which so many Christians seem determined to hold onto, demonstrates that the Church has failed at a portion of its mission. Many people, particularly of a college age, are afraid of doing critical study. As troubling are the cases where they are not and their studies drive them away from the Church. Neither one of these alternatives is acceptable. In leaving her members to choose between ignorance and faithlessness the Church has failed in her responsibility.
As Christians, as I have said, we are called to speak the truth to one another, to correct one another and, as part of being a disciplined community–a community of disciples–we are called to seek knowledge together, particularly of God’s word. Do we, as modern Christians, think it was somehow a mistake that the Church ran the first schools and that the Holy Scriptures were the first texts our European forerunners studied? Of course it was not a mistake, the Saints who came before recognized that one of the fundamental requirements of the Christian life was the study of scripture, by all means available.
By abdicating her duty to teach her members, the Church is leaving people to feel angry, betrayed and lost as their faith is challenged by modern methods of Biblical interpretation, often administered by people who, if not anti-religious, aren’t believers. We have given our members no recourse; what are they to do when they question, if they’ve been taught to leave their questions at the church door? The Church, as the living people of God needs to teach her members to bring their questions out, to voice them in the community of the faithful so that we may collectively “speak the truth” to one another and fulfill part of the responsibility of the Church as we seek to become better disciples of Christ.