Jesus Culture NY/LA – NY Edition

Jesus Culture comes to New York City (OK, Long Island) starting tonight.  I’m here with a handful of friends and colleagues and really looking forward to it.

My first introduction to Jesus Culture was through a conference they put on in Valparaiso, IN, back in 2009.  I was blown away by the intensity of the people’s worship, the great expectation to meet with God, and the real desire to bring Jesus to the community.

Last year, Jesus Culture did their first major conference in Chicago.  I watched the final evening via web stream.  I was overwhelmed by the spontaneous eruption of worship:


What’s the Point of Adam and Eve?

A long while back, when the internets seemed to be all aflutter regarding human origins, I posted just a couple exploratory remarks about the historicity of the first couple.

In some personal reading, I’m revisiting some of those themes, so I picked up John H. Walton‘s Lost World of Genesis One.  (Actually, I ordered this book because I wanted to explore the concept of creation as a cosmic temple for the Creator.  I haven’t gotten there yet, though.)

But there I was in chapter 6 of Walton’s very concise, well written assessment of the biblical creation narratives, when I encounter this stunning bit that wandered away from Genesis 1 into the realm of Genesis 2.  You’ll have to excuse me for quoting at length.

The bulk of Walton’s argument is based on parallels between the biblical text and other ancient Near Eastern (ANE) origins texts.  It is not that Genesis had to be saying the same things as Egyptian or Mesopotamian texts, but the basic approach to the cosmos would have been similar.  It therefore makes more sense to approach the biblical text from an ANE perspective than a 21st century Western perspective.  It should be noted, then, that ANE texts concerning origins emphasized the proper functions that creation and creatures were to have, not necessarily how that creation or those creatures came to be.

So with regards to the creation of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2, Walton writes,

The materials or ingredients that are attested [in the creation of humans] in the ancient Near East are tears of a god (Egypt), blood of a god (Atrahasis), and the most common, clay (both Egypt and Mesopotamia).  These ingredients are offered as common to all humanity since the ancient Near Eastern texts only deal with the mass of humanity being created rather than an individual or a couple as in Genesis.  This is an important difference as Adam and Eve are treated as individuals in chapters 4 and 5.  This individual identity, however, does not change the significance of the reference to the materials in Genesis 2.  The fact that the ancient Near East uses the same sorts of materials to describe all of humanity indicates that the materials have archetypal significance.  Unlike a prototype (which is an original item that serves as a model for later production), an archetype serves as a representative for all others in the class and defines the class.  So when the ancient Near Eastern texts speak of people being created from clay or the blood of a slain deity, they are not talking about just one individual, but are addressing the nature of all humanity.

This archetypal understanding applies also the Genesis 2.  An individual named Adam is not the only human being made of the dust of the earth, for as Genesis 3:19 indicates, “Dust you are and to dust you will return.”  This is true of all humans, men and women.  It is an archetypal feature that describes us all.  It is not a statement of chemical composition nor is it describing a material process by which each and every human being is made.  The dust is an archetypal feature and therefore cannot be viewed as a material ingredient.  It is indicative of human destiny and mortality, and therefore is a functional comment, not a material one.

The situation is no different with the creation of woman.  Being drawn from the side of man has an archetypal significance, not an anatomical one.  This is the very aspect that the text draws out when it identifies the significance of the detail: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Gen 2:24).  This is true of all mankind and all womankind.  Womankind is archetypally made from the side of mankind.  Again we can see that this is a functional discussion, not a material one.  After chapter five of Genesis, Adam and Eve are never again mentioned in the Old Testament except in the opening genealogy in Chronicles.  In the New Testament, the authors regularly treat Adam and Eve in archetypal terms.

Given these observations, we might conclude that Genesis does not have the same level of interest in the material origins of the first humans as we do.  It focuses its attention on the archetypal origins of humanity, mankind and womankind.  This interest is part of functional origins.  Humankind is connected to the ground from which we are drawn.  Womankind is connected to the mankind from who she is drawn.  In both male and female forms, humankind is connected to God in whose image all are made.  As such they have the privilege of procreation, the role of subduing and ruling, and a status in the garden serving sacred space (Gen 2:15).  All of these, even the last, were designed to be true of all human beings.  Neither the materials nor the roles are descriptive only of the first individuals.  This creation account gives people their identity and specifies their connectivity to everything around them. [68-70]

If Walton is correct, then many of us Evangelicals need to revisit the way we view Adam and Eve and just what Genesis is trying to say about them.  Could it be that the original author’s intent in putting Genesis 1 together was not to say, “This is how creation came to be in existence,” but rather to say, “This is how God established the purpose of various aspects of creation?”  And, regarding Adam and Eve, could it be that the text was written to illustrate to the community the important role of humanity within the creation?

Cease with Your Platitudes!

I got my alumni magazine in the mail the other day and was pleased to find within a piece from Dr. Karen E. Mason on what to do and what not to do when seeking to console someone who has been stuck with tragedy in one form or another.

The article is in two halves.  In the first half, Dr. Mason lays out several platitudes that well-meaning Christians and even pastors trod out in an effort to help the grieving.  Though we often say these sorts of things in an attempt to be helpful, these sayings typically do even more damage.  Perhaps you’ve heard these before.

  • It must have been God’s will.  God is in control.
  • Don’t feel bad.  God will work it all out for good.
  • God wanted your stillborn baby more than you did.
  • I know how you feel.
  • You have to get over this and get on with your life.
  • Be strong.  God doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle.
  • It’s not so bad.
  • Take your troubles to God.  He will make it better.

While there may be some elements of truth in each of these, they rarely actually bring comfort to those in hardship.

Instead, Dr. Mason offers several helpful tips for counseling the bereaved, like allowing someone to grieve, to enter someone’s mourning with them, to assist in practicals, to simply listen, and so on.

Finally, Dr. Mason writes, it is important to offer long-term hope for the grieving.  What can you offer someone in deep distress over their tragedy?  “As Christians, our hope is based in our faithful certainty of who God is.  And sometimes we in the community of faith need to hold onto hope in our God for the person who cannot hold onto hope” (21).

Alas, I fear Dr. Mason has not gone far enough in her conclusion.  Indeed, we do maintain the faithful hope that God is who He is.  But when we are struck with tragedy, which is a certainty for every person at some stage, our hope ought to be that God will actually do something about the terrible things that have happened to us, to our neighbors, to everyone around the world in all place and in all times.  The great Christian hope is that in Christ, God has once and for all pronounced the final verdict condemning all evil.  The great Christian hope is that all injustices will, in the end, be undone, on earth as it is in heaven.

Secondary Fulfillments in Our Future

Yesterday, I posted a piece on immediate and secondary fulfillments for biblical prophecy.  It’s a valid interpretive tool, in my estimation, and we highlighted the fact with the well known Isaiah 7.

Now, to something more difficult.

The reason the subject emerged was a few conversations on Matthew 24, and my preterist view on the subject.  (That is, I believe the future events Jesus was prophesying there have already occurred.)  In suggesting that Matthew 24 had already been fulfilled, the question arose: “Do you believe that prophecy can have two fulfillments?”

And, yes, my answer is “yes.”

But I will approach any still future fulfillment of such prophetic material with great caution.  And I will focus my energies not on trying to determine those future objects of the prophetic, but on understanding as best I can the historical elements of such prophetic material.  I take this approach because God’s prophetic words tend not to mean what I think they mean when I hear them first.

Personally, I cannot count the number of times I have received a prophetic word from someone I trust, been excited and encouraged by it, and yet found that the fulfillment had little to do with how I first interpreted it.  That’s not to say that the fulfillment was discouraging, just different than expected.

So then, with Matthew 24, do I believe Jesus was anticipating the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD?  Yes, absolutely.  Do I also believe he could have been referring to some other, greater and far-distant future event?  Yes, it’s possible.  Do I have any idea what that future event will really look like?  I think if I said “yes,” I’d be certain to discover myself mistaken whenever it might actually come about.

Secondary Fulfillments

I’ve run into a handful of conversations recently concerning secondary fulfillments of biblical prophecy.  The idea is that it is possible for a biblical prophecy to have an initial proximate fulfillment and then another distant future (and typically greater) fulfillment.

For example, Isaiah 7:14 is a favorite passage among Christians as a messianic prophecy anticipating Jesus.  The prophecy was spoken some 700 years before Christ.  Threatened by the kings of neighboring Aram and Remaliah, Ahaz frets over the security of his kingdom.  Into that situation Isaiah speaks the word of the Lord to the insolent Ahaz: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.  The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (NIV).

We’re so very familiar with the messianic fulfillment.  Matthew 1:23 quotes the passage and Luke 2:12 alludes to it.  But in its original context, Isaiah seems to point toward a more immediate fulfillment of his own prophecy.  “But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.  The Lord will bring on you and on your people and on the house of your father a time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah – he will bring the king of Assyria” (Isa 7:16-17, NIV).

Indeed, within a few years, both Aram and Remaliah are decimated by Assyria, from whom Ahaz sought rescue and to whom Ahaz made himself vassal (2 Kgs 16:7-9).  But of course, as J. Alec Motyer puts it, Ahaz had “taken a tiger by the tail” (The Prophecy of Isaiah, 87), and it would come back to haunt him.

So there it is.  Isaiah utters a prophecy that finds its initial fulfillment within a few years of its deliverance.  One could imagine Isaiah pointing to a young woman before Ahaz and saying, “Before this woman has a child and before that child is able to eat solid food, this problem will pass…”  Indeed, it does.

And yet, Christians are right to grab hold of Isaiah’s word as pointing towards the Christ, who would not come for another 700 years, a far greater secondary fulfillment.

More to come…

Vocation Envy

Over at the Refresh blog, a post of mine has gone up that originally appeared here a few months ago.  The question regards the idea of Christian vocation, that as believers we often sense that we are called by God to do specific works.  In the post at Refresh, I address the false notion that God is going to call me away to do something I’m going to despise.

There is another attendant falsehood that often sidles up alongside that one.  It is the notion that certain callings are “higher” than others.  Call it “vocation envy.”

I don’t know how often I’ve heard it, particularly as a student at a Christian college some years ago.  Many friends, all ardent in their faith, were studying for careers in engineering or education or nursing, say, but would at different times express a sense of inferiority because they were not pursuing some kind of pastoral career.

Since then, within the church itself, I’ve often heard a similar sentiment from folks in the pews.  They’ve got their jobs from Monday to Friday, but what they really want to do is to do ministry.  Their forty (or fifty or sixty) hours during the week just pay the bills so they can do God’s work on the weekends.

Just as our desires and dreams are not necessarily contrary to the Lord’s hopes for our lives, so it is false to rank professional church work above other types of good occupations, as if building homes or keeping the company’s books clean were inferior to saying the Mass or preaching on a Sunday morning.  There are ample opportunities to serve the Lord in all arenas.

I’ve heard it said (I forget where) that pastoral work is really like being a coach.  We pump people up and spur them on so that they can have impact in their lives in the community.  It is the people who sit in the pews who are actually playing the game.

Perhaps I should be jealous of them.