Politics of Scripture

Essays featuring a specific Book of the Bible.

Philippians

As we are prepared to empty ourselves, we can experience “the beginning of the other”, the Reign of God.

Matthew

Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount unsettles many biblicist ways of understanding Scripture. It may even be better to move from speaking of ‘the Scriptures’ as a noun, to speaking of ‘Scripturing’ as a verb.

Luke

Resurrection is at work among and recognized by those at the periphery long before those in the center.

The story of the sign given to the shepherds—the Child wrapped in swaddling clothes, laid in a manger—both recalls and anticipates other scriptural events in significant yet surprising ways. It also reminds us of our vocation, as those who must declare the good news of the sign of Christ to the shepherds of our age.

Book of Psalms

‘Under New Management’: The perfect way to describe people who are led by the Good Shepherd, rather than by the false shepherds of this age..

1 Peter

Christian political witness must be built around and declare Christ as the great eschatological stone laid by God. He must either be approached as the stubborn obstacle, arresting the development of all idolatrous political visions, or as the chief cornerstone, the sure and solid basis from all else can take its bearings.

Leviticus

The practice of gleaning, commanded in Leviticus and illustrated in the narrative of Ruth, disrupts the sort of connection we may suppose exists between the ownership and the use of property. The principles of economic justice it implies can guide us in our contemporary politics.

In YHWH’s instructions to Israel in Leviticus 19, we see a concern for social justice and the righteous treatment of the poor and weak which has continued relevance in our own day.

Numbers

In Numbers 11 the power of leadership that had formerly been concentrated in Moses was spread more widely among the people. This vision of the diffusion of leadership throughout the body politic is one with many challenging lessons for our current situation.

Deuteronomy

Deuteronomy 26 and Luke 4 both involve the navigating or enduring of pressures. The pressure of God’s liberating inbreaking overcomes and escapes those pressures that would exert themselves against it.

Moses taught Israel that its primary calling as a people before the nations was not conflict but witness through its showcasing of the goodness, wisdom, and righteousness of the divinely given law. Likewise, the chief political task of Christians is found in the cultivation of a quiet extraordinariness in the most ordinary affairs of life.

In Deuteronomy 34, Moses ceases to be the leader of Israel. He is brought to the top of Mount Nebo, to look over the Promised Land. Timothy Simpson highlights six relevant principles that we can learn from this account.

Fom the vantage point of those who would come after them, the Deuteronomist’s community realizes that, though there may appear to be a wide array of choices for the community to make about the direction it will take, in reality, there are still only two, and one is still unthinkable.

Joshua

The Israelites no longer needed God to provide manna for nourishment, but had their own land. The manna, in one sense, represents charity work. It is helpful and gives immediate attention to the person in need. Yet, if we are not advocating for the Promise Land where housing is affordable, jobs are of plenty, oppression is repressed, etc, then we need to have a reality check.

Micah

True worship has little to do with the ‘commodification’ of liturgy; it has everything to do with the performative embodiment of God’s redemptive narrative through justice, mercy and fidelity.

Psalm

God brings his judgment in and as the light, providing us with a pattern for human justice.

Genesis

All of humanity comes from the Source and all our journeys will lead us back to the Source. The story of Jacob’s Ladder reminds that God is not far away but right here in the ordinariness of our everyday struggles, the answer to our desire for oneness.

In the story of the rivalry between Esau and Jacob, we discover a typology that can shed an unflattering light on a number of the tensions that exist between people in the modern world.

There is perhaps no biblical virtue more foreign to the contemporary Western mind than hospitality. For us, the deeply ethical connotations of hospitality for the stranger—the resident alien or refugee—have been largely replaced with a call for general neighborliness and an often all-too-partisan welcome.

The call and blessing of Abram in Genesis 12 is the beginning of a thematic thread that is developed over the rest of the scriptural witness. As the heirs of Abram, we are both the recipients and the bearers of his promised blessing to the nations.

In taking of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve attempt to gain rule before they are ready to exercise it. Their example may be a cautionary one for a church that too precipitously throws itself into the political arena.

In the narrative of Abraham’s conversation with God concerning the destruction of Sodom we find an example of the faithful fulfilment of the calling of the people of God. We are to be those who seek to preserve the world from condemnation by our righteous and life-giving presence within it, tenaciously refusing to abandon it to its destruction.

The promise that Abraham will become a great nation is connected with the circumcision of his foreskin, forging a connection between sex and politics. This connection has controversial and unsettling resonances in a liberal society that would often separate the two.

God’s covenant with humanity and creation after the Flood is a universal one, a theme that is often revisited in later Scriptures. This is an important word in a world with wars fuelled by religious differences.

It is tempting to airbrush out the uncomfortable reference to the Canaanites living in the land promised by God to Abram. However, the questions raised by this text are worth tarrying with, presenting us with challenges that are deeply pertinent to our own situations.

The Old Testament account of Jacob’s sojourn with Laban can expose some contemporary Christian blindspots, not least in assumptions concerning the ‘biblical’ meaning of marriage. However, we must also reckon with the limitations of the text’s own perspective, giving voice to the silent female characters within it.

Marx on Genesis 3

In the first volume of Capital, Marx writes: ‘Englishmen, always well up in the Bible, knew well enough that man, unless by elective grace a capitalist, or landlord, or sinecurist, is commanded to eat his bread in the sweat of his brow, but they did not know that he had to eat daily in his bread a certain quantity of human perspiration mixed with the discharge of abscesses, cobwebs, dead black-beetles, and putrid German yeast, without counting alum, sand, and other agreeable mineral ingredients’.

The first reaction of the reader to Abram’s calling, “That’s supposed to be me,” gives way to the second realization, which is “That COULD be me.” And it is in imagining the fear and anxiety normally attendant to leaving everyone and everything behind that the seed is planted in the reader’s heart for concern for real-life strangers.

Exodus

The divine violence of the drowning of the Egyptians in the deliverance of the Israelites through the Red Sea raises challenging questions about the character of liberation and the foundation of nations.

In maintaining a faithful Christian presence in the political realities of this age, few things are more important than living and acting in God’s good time, being people who find their life in the living memory of a sustaining past, who patiently wait in hope for a promised future, and who are kept in the present through faith in the daily mercies of One who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Christ’s institution of a memorial helps us to do just this.

Luke’s account of Pentecost frames it as the installation of a prophet. As we reflect upon the shape of the prophetic vocation and the content and shape that Luke’s narrative gives to the Church’s calling we will be empowered for our political vocation in the twenty-first century.

The familiarity of the 23rd Psalm can blind us to the striking political dimensions of its message: YHWH is the shepherd of the king, protecting him from enemies and granting his kingdom prosperity. Close reflection upon this psalm may also suggest some significant applications within the contemporary world.

The narratives of the crucifixion are narratives within which we are implicated as sinful human beings. However, many Christian readers of the gospels have read these texts in a manner that demonizes the Jews while absolving themselves.

The first commandment—that Israel should have no other gods beside YHWH—is the foundation for our liberation, as it was for Israel. It delivers us from all other ideas or powers that might claim our absolute loyalty and obedience.

At moments of crisis, it can be the responsibility of committed individuals to secure and represent the self-understanding of the community or nation to which they belong, to provide the seed from which the entire social body can be renewed. Within easily neglected political dimensions of the baptism of John we may be recalled to our potential and vocation as political individuals in this regard.

In Deuteronomy 34, Moses ceases to be the leader of Israel. He is brought to the top of Mount Nebo, to look over the Promised Land. Timothy Simpson highlights six relevant principles that we can learn from this account.

Our discomfort with the notion of God visiting the sins of parents upon their children may lead us to avoid wrestling with Exodus 20:5-6. This would be a mistake. This reference occurs in the context of the prohibition upon idolatry and challenges both our attempts to sanitize God and our idolization of our children.

Israel’s experience of thirst in the wilderness should draw our attention to the experience of those for whom thirst and lack of water is a reality of life in our own day. We must identify and address some of the ways in which we are complicit in the forms of injustice that produce such a situation.

In the Passover we find a myth of the foundation of a nation that differs markedly from the contractarian myths of the Western liberal tradition. It disclosure of the sacrificial basis of the political order offers us a hermeneutical key for understanding the roots of our own nations and helps us to understand how we might be established as communities of faithful witness to them.

Having experienced the Ten Commandments through the lens of moralism and legalism as a child, they can appear oppressive and controlling. Re-reading them with fresh eyes in adulthood, however, we can discover previously unexpected anti-authoritarian and egalitarian contours.

Jeremiah

Jeremiah dared to proclaim a covenant renewed, a world revived, a future resurrected. In the midst of a broken world, Jeremiah declared God’s endless fidelity, which brings forth life in the midst of death and despair.

Mark

At Easter we should remember that anger and fear cannot win, but that joy can.

It is the crucified Christ who sends us out to his sisters and brothers who are being crucified by the powers-that-be every day. Are we willing to do what Jesus requires and die in the process? Or will we deny Jesus in order to save ourselves?

One of the most striking features of Jesus’s teaching and practice was its authority, which both liberated and bound his hearers. Does the Church dare to speak with authority today?

John

In the first beginning, the Word gave form to that which was formless; in this new beginning, the same Word speaks a word and brings peace to men who are afraid.

To understand the meaning of John 3:16, we must reject the popular image of a docetic Jesus.

When Jesus clears out the Temple in John 2, he presents a vision for the reformation of God’s house. As questions about guns in churches are raised once again in America, this vision is one to which we must attend.