This post comes from my time in Dr. Sechrest's Paul class. We were required to attend the Fuller Forum. These are my reflections.
Throughout the Fuller Forum conference, police sirens repeatedly beset Walter Brueggemann’s plenary lectures as the persistent wailings echoed throughout the packed chapel. As Brueggemann spoke, the student body was repeatedly aware of the almost profane nature of the sirens resounding throughout a sacred space such as a church and this tragic reality forced us to consider how justice, grace, and law are to be reflected in the life of the church.
Having been made aware through my various readings in Paul and the Old Testament, I thought I was becoming more aware of empire and the economics of the day. Nothing prepared me for being this wrong. The challenge of economy is a persistent theme throughout the Old Testament and Brueggemann hammered this home with passion and unpredicted delicacy. My question is this: in light of the Old Testament’s emphasis on economic equality and it’s condemnation of financial exploitation, how do we as a church work within the confines of government without betraying or compromising our mission as a church?
In reflecting about Brueggemann’s plenaries and the multitude of speakers (a highlight being able to see my priest John Goldingay preach with his trademark green socks peeking out from some affluent trousers), I would like to challenge this conception of a “dynamic” relationship with God. While I’m very sympathetic to this portrayal of God in the Old Testament, I am reserved to consider Brueggemann’s statement (and I must paraphrase): “This relationship between YHWH and Israel is open, fractured, and on going. It is not settled.” I wonder if this is completely accurate. For example, YHWH always seems committed to Israel throughout the Old Testament, and even YHWH’s fierce denouncement of the Israelites in Exodus 32:7-11 seems to suggest that YHWH is still settled on Israel in some sense. It is said of Moses “of you I will make a great nation” (v.10). It could be that the Old Testament offers a myriad of pictures of YHWH, and so we are free to generalize and avoid being bogged down in details. However, YHWH almost always seems committed to Israel as a corporate body, even when all seems lost.
When Dr. Cleveland asked about segregated churches, Brueggemann stated a possible solution (and I again paraphrase): “Meet in the middle over certain issues…we need to keep repenting of our tribalism.” While this is entirely necessary, I wonder if Brueggemann’s statement does not go far enough. Of course it may depend upon the issue, but I wonder it may be more necessary to suggest that denominations as a concept are what the problem is—or at least contribute to the problem. The very logic of a denomination is that it places parameters around what function as identity markers within a specific people group that resides within a specific people group. I do not want to demonize denominations, as my denomination (American Baptist USA) has been incredibly faithful and gracious. I do wonder, however, if the church can gather around a specific creed (Nicaea, Athanasian) and allow our rougher edges to be sanded off by one another. To be one in Christ ought to imply deference to the other, and a desire for unity within diversity (1 Cor. 12).