Saturday, November 12, 2005

Of other flocks and grafted vines

(Joh 10:16 NASB) "I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.

This verse has always captured my imagination. As a young Christian reading C.S. Lewis's fiction, I thought of other creations on other worlds, like Malacandra or Narnia. How exciting to have fellowship with other persons with substantially different histories and cultures, discovering the elements of truth vouchsafed to them and peculiarly brought forth in their own stories! What a sumptuous feast for the soul!

Later I came to understand that our Lord was most likely and most proximally speaking of the gentile nations. For a fan of fantasy and science fiction, this was at first a letdown. However, on deeper consideration I find it just as exciting. The cultures of the various Earth peoples and nations are strikingly different. They partake of vastly different cultural and intellectual histories. They have seen the work of God through different lenses. The feast will not be diminished even if all the fare comes only from the gardens of Earth.

Hence my aggravation as I continue to hear the currently popular teaching that, to properly understand God's word and world, we must return primarily, even solely, to the thought patterns and philosophical viewpoint of the ancient Hebrews. There is no doubt of the importance of God's initial self-revelation to this particular people in this particular language, just as there is no doubt that we must begin our study of the Messiah with God's word to Eve about her seed. But to begin at a place is not necessarily to end there, or to remain there. It seems particularly clear to me that God reveals himself progressively, and that He is and always was Lord of all the earth and all its history of all its peoples. He intended from the beginning to bring all the nations into his flock, and has therefore troubled himself all along to direct their particular cultural histories no less sovereignly than he did Israel's.

Not being vintners or nurserymen, we too easily misunderstand what grafting involves. A grafted branch indeed draws its life from the stem and root. But it bears fruit unique to its own nature, its own originating variety. Indeed, this is the purpose of grafting in the first place: To produce fruit with certain desirable characteristics that are not found in the native variety. A neighbor of mine used to graft walnut trees. He would begin with a locally native seedling, whose roots are suited to this soil and climate but whose nuts are unremarkable, even bitter. He would then graft the top of another seedling whose roots were weak or disease prone, but whose fruit was large and sweet. These branches would draw their life from the strong roots of the native stock, and the tree would grow tall and strong. The fruit, however, bore the flavor brought by the grafted-on branches.

I think we miss much of the intended richness of God's Kingdom by dismissing ideas brought into it by its grafted branches and conjoined flocks. God surely knew, for example, that Alexander would bring the richness of Greek thought into contact with Israel centuries before the coming of Messiah, so that the earliest branches grafted in would bear its flavor. Was it unintended by God that Augustine would imbibe of Plato through Plotinus prior to being grafted in and so, directly and indirectly through his influence on such giants as Aquinas, imparting that flavor through two centuries of Christian thought? I doubt it. Instead, I think God continues to shed light upon our understanding as each grafted branch brings its peculiar insights into the Kingdom. What else are the kings bringing into the Holy City?

Rev 21:23-24 NASB
(23) And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb.
(24) The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.

6 comments:

  1. Joe:

    I think your writing would be a lot more compelling if you just wrote what you thought instead of trying to connect it to a criticism which you think you hear.

    For instance, you wrote, “Hence my aggravation as I continue to hear the currently popular teaching that, to properly understand God's word and world, we must return primarily, even solely, to the thought patterns and philosophical viewpoint of the ancient Hebrews.” I don’t know anyone who thinks this which makes it (1) hard to believe that it is popular and (2) a bit confusing to why you are so “aggravated.” You seem upset about things that nobody thinks. And yet, your very good thoughts on “grafting”, thoughts that are helpful, even interesting, get lost because I have to first determine what it is that you are reacting against.

    So, I first have to think about who you are criticizing, determine where you are have erred in your criticism, and then decide if what you have said is helpful. It’s a lot of work! And most surprising, I think, is that the people I think you are criticizing (but often, I really have no idea) would agree with everything you just said.

    The only person that I can think of that maybe came close to thinking that we must return to the philosophical viewpoints of Ancient Hebrews, exclusively, would be Martin Luther. Do you feel that strongly against Luther and the reformation he is credited with starting?

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  2. Derek, Just the other week at the Fischer luncheon it was noted, as a matter of fact, that the idea of an immortal spirit, distinguishable from the mortal body, was a "Greek idea", and dismissed on that basis. It may have gone past you, as I believe you feel likewise. Centuries of Christian thought are dismissed because an analysis of the Hebrew word "nephesh" is thought to supercede or overrule some very coherent and compelling thought that is tainted as "Greek".

    A related effect is seen in evangelicals' eagerness to hang on every word spoken by "Messianic Christians." Jews whose tradition 1) failed to recognize the Messiah at his first coming, and 2) have for 2000 years exposited the Bible with a view of completely discounting or contradicting Jesus' person and work, on becoming Christians, suddenly become authorities on the "deeper" understanding of Jesus. Why? Because they are Jews.

    Do you not hear people today saying, "Well, that's a Greek idea... that's a Roman idea that would be foreign to Jesus or Paul's hearers?" I do. How about, "That's a western idea?" Hasn't "the west" been doing some pretty good thinking over the past centuries?

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  3. No, actually I don't. I mean, I don't hear things being dismissed "wholesale" as you indicate because they have been influenced by the greeks. And, if you would actually read the book mentioned at the Fischer lunch, or listen more intently to what was being said, I think you would notice that no one is saying or doing what you claim to be "aggravated" by. That was the point of my comment, and why I think your writing it lacking.

    I know your investment in greek thought (a master's degree), your appreciation for history, your hesitation with things "modern," new, or "popular," but I think you take it too far because you assume you know what other people are actually saying. You hear "oh, that's a greek idea" and then fail to see that it is NOT being dismissed, it is just being evaluated with a critical, discerning eye.

    The Fischer lunch exlcuded (because he really didn't know what he was talking about), I think you would be surprised and excited by what theologians are actually saying when they criticize greek thought. I mean, just the other night I heard you say that we should read the Enuma Elish along side of the Genesis account and look for the major differences and implications of those differences. That is a GREAT idea and is what the so called "popular" teaching is suggesting we do.

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  4. Let's turn the question around. Have you ever heard a talk or read a book in which it is suggested that something the Greeks brought into the Kingdom is actually an improvement upon or enhancement to the Hebrew culture or Hebrew philosophy? If it were merely a matter of a "critical, discerning eye" I would expect that eye to sometimes acknowledge such a contribution. I would expect to hear, for example, that the Romans brought with them some pretty good ideas about government. Or that the Greek idea of "logos" might have some pretty deep things to say about Jesus' relationship to creation and to the very nature of reality. These things used to be said. Lately, however, in recently published articles or books, I find an idea's non-Hebrew origins used exclusively as a reason to discount it. Perhaps you can find me a contradicting example?

    Referring to your original comment, any work that is done determining whether my criticism is correct is simply one of the purposes of the blog. I often aim to critique not only our secular culture but also our "sacred" culture, especially its cows. I aim, to some extent, to cause the reader to be challenged. If, after considering my critique, you do not agree with it entirely, that is quite acceptable to me. I think the very process of such consideration and disagreement will at least alert you to a potential danger, just as exposure to a weakened virus will prepare you against an assault by its full-blown wild form.

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  5. Regarding "grafted in":

    I want to comment on that.
    A logical analysis (found in www.netzarim.co.il (Netzarim.co.il is the website of the only legitimate Netzarim-group)) (including the logical implications of the research by Ben-Gurion Univ. Prof. of Linguistics Elisha Qimron of Dead Sea Scroll 4Q MMT) of all extant source documents of “the gospel of Matthew” and archeology proves that the historical Ribi Yehosuha ha-Mashiakh (the Messiah) from Nazareth and his talmidim (apprentice-students), called the Netzarim, taught and lived Torah all of their lives; and that Netzarim and Christianity were always antithetical.

    The origins of the “Noakhide laws” are the Netzarim Jews. It was the beit din ha-Netzarim that decided about these. But those mitzwot wereonly a starting point not the end. The end point was non-selectively Torah-observance. Read more in the “Benei Noakh”-section in the “History Museum” in the above Netzarim-website.

    Thos whom believed that Ribi Yehoshua was the Mashiakh, and whom wanted to be grafted in to Israel was in the first century required to first practise some of the basic mitzwot (outlined in the above section I referred to), then come before the beit din ha-Netzarim and obligate themselves to do their utmost to learn and to keep all of the mitzwot for geirim (see “Glossaries” in the website I referred to) non-selectively; and the beit din ha-Netzarim would grant the title geir toshav. This was and still is the Halakhah established by the beit-din ha-Netzarim.

    Regards,
    Anders Branderud

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