Cultural Liturgies and Scriptural Imagination

As I continue to work through Barry Harvey’s Can These Bones Live?, I’m consistently reminded of Jamie Smith’s “Cultural Liturgies” project. Both Harvey and Smith argue that the church’s worship practices are formative for her people, both in their growth in Christ-likeness and in their witness to and mission in the world. The liturgical life of the congregation is thus vital for the believers’ ability to live in the world while not being of the world, especially since, as Smith in particular is at pains to demonstrate, every culture has its own liturgies that compete with the church’s. In the West, and particularly in the US, consumerism, materialism, and therapeutism are drilled into our brains through the repeated patterns in advertising, television and movies, and even the shape of our cities. The pull of the immediate, the pleasurable, and the stimulating is always on a screen, whether it be an electronic billboard or a TV or a smartphone.

The church’s practice of Word and table, of proclamation and participation, smacks in the face of our Western cultural liturgy. Instead of feeding on instant gratification, celebrity culture, self esteem, and visual stimulation, we feed on the Word of God as it is read, prayed, sung, preached, and tasted. Instead of seeking a city that is already here, which we have built, we are constantly reminded of a city that is to come, whose author and builder is Yahweh. We are not the products of the moment, YOLO-ing ad nauseum, but the heirs of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the new Adams and Eves bought by the second Adam, the new Israel, the new Temple of God, the bride of Christ. We stand in the long tradition of those called out by the Spirit of God, conversing with and learning from Athanasius and Augustine and Anselm and Thomas and Calvin and Wesley about how to speak about the Triune God and his work for us. As we read and pray and sing and preach the Scriptures, we are reminded of who we are in Christ, not who we are on social media. As we recite the creeds we are reminded that we are not products of the moment who finally arrive at the truth but heirs of the Great Tradition. As we partake of the Lord’s Table we are reminded that we are a purchased people who are put into fellowship together by our fellowship in Christ and who await his return in glory, not a social contract or a homogenous interest group or a political lobby with no real hope and no real foundation. And as we eat the bread and drink the cup we are reminded that our nourishment is God and God alone, not fast food or gourmet food or sex or power or self esteem. As we give, we are reminded that our money is not for own pleasure and gratification, and indeed is not even our own, but is given to us as stewards for the advancement of God’s kingdom through the proclamation of the gospel. And that task, that Great Commission, is something we are called to each week in the benediction, as we are sent out together to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with all who will listen, whether near or far, so that they too might sit with us and feast.

As both Harvey and Smith state, the effect of the church’s repeated worship practices is thus to form believers’ imaginations. How Christians perceive the world is impacted by how they worship. Further, as Harvey notes in chapter 4, as Christians hear the Word and see the Word in worship, their imaginations are formed primarily in scriptural terms. Their perception of the world is shaped by scriptural images and stories instead of by the culture’s images and stories.

A few implications come to mind as I think through both of these men’s work:

  1. Intentional, repeated worship practices are vital for the health and growth of any local church. (I’m grateful to be at a church where what we do in worship is intentional and repeated; more on how we incorporate some of these practices in a later post.)
  2. In Harvey’s explanation of shaping the Christian imagination, he says that we should look to scriptural types to understand our current situation (e.g. the African American civil rights activists looking to the Exodus narrative). He then also cautions against misappropriating types, such as Eusebius of Caesarea’s application of messianic OT language to Emperor Constantine. I’m unclear how he distinguishes a correct and incorrect application of scriptural types, so while I’m sympathetic to his discussion of shaping Christian imagination, I’m cautious about appropriating his call for a typological reading of current events in the church.
  3. I can’t help but think of the swath of mass shootings that have occurred over the last two decades, and their seemingly rapid increase in the last five, and of our culture’s attempt to explain them. In my mind part of the explanation lies in how we form and shape the next generation, and right now our culture forms people through a barrage of gratuity, whether violent or sexual, instant gratification, self worth, entitlement, consumerism, and therapeutism. That’s a bad mixture when someone with a gun isn’t feeling great about themselves or their peers.

Typology, TIS, and Biblical Theology

On Saturday Jim Hamilton contrasted the Theological Interpretation of Scripture movement’s and biblical theology’s understanding of typology. The gist of Hamilton’s argument is that TIS focuses on the divine author’s intent in understanding typological patterns and readings, whereas BT (or Hamilton’s approach to it, anyway) focuses on the human author’s intent.

Patrick Schreiner responded this morning with a post of his own, pointing out three ways in which he believes the divine author’s perspective is emphasized over the human author – the NT use of the OT, paratexts, and the idea of biblical authors “speaking better than they knew.”

I’ll throw my hat in the ring here, but before I do I’ll say that I appreciate both of these men’s spirit and writing. They both do a great service to the church in their thinking, and I’d imagine they are a blessing to their local churches as well. I’ve benefited greatly from both of their writings, whether it’s Patrick’s blog or Jim’s books.

For me, though, I wonder if both of these posts are articulating a false dichotomy between the human author’s and divine author’s intent. While Hamilton wants to emphasize the human author, Schreiner wants to emphasize the divine, at least in some places. And yet, don’t the two work together? As Tyler Wittman put it in a comment on Hamilton’s post,

I think since Holy Scripture is at once something written 100% by God and 100% by human authors, we simply have to deal with the text as it stands. Asking whether or not the human author intended this or that type may be the wrong question of Scripture, as if understanding the literal sense must be either/or.

The problem is that such a question seems to presuppose a competitive relationship between the divine and human authors.

This is, for me, exactly right. On the one hand with Hamilton I want to say yes, we need to understand the human author. But on the other hand I want to say with Schreiner that yes, we need to understand the divine author. And in contrast (I think) to both, I’d say that the two must be understood together. It is not as if I am seeking one author’s intent to the exclusion or downplaying of the other in the text; rather, it is in the text that we see both authors’ intent at the same time. Further, intent is a primarily textual phenomenon; it originates with the author but is known predominately through the text. To distinguish between what the divine author was thinking and what the human author understood seems to me to be impossible.

I’d also say, contra Patrick, that the NT uses the OT far better and far more faithfully to the human authors’ intents than I think we sometimes give credit. Intertextuality, sometimes quite complicated intertextuality, helps explain many of the passages Patrick cites, as well as others. G. K. Beale and John Sailhamer have dealt extensively with Matthew 2 and Hosea 11, and I have attempted to provide a thorough textual explanation for Paul’s use of the Sarah and Hagar story. The other examples he mentioned can be solved, in my opinion, through discussion of context (e.g. Rachel and Ramah – the Jeremiah passage is in the middle of ch. 31, about the new covenant).

So with Hamilton, I want to affirm the human author’s typological abilities. But with Schreiner I want to affirm the importance of considering the divine author’s intent. Contra to both, though, I want to affirm that these two work in concert, not in contrast or even in focusing on one and downplaying the other.

Typology in Chronicles

Image via Amazon.com

Image via Amazon.com

I’m currently reading Scott Hahn’s masterful work on Chronicles, The Kingdom of God as Liturgical Empire: A Theological Commentary on 1-2 Chronicles (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012). Hahn so far has exhibited exegetical acumen (working both the MT and LXX), historical awareness, and theological brilliance. I realize this glowing description may seem to be so positive that it loses it’s value, but in my opinion it’s just that good. It’s worth its weight in whatever currency you currently carry.

One interpretive tool that Hahn uses par excellence is typology. Although the quotes below are lengthy, I think that his descriptions here may be the best descriptions of typology I’ve read. They take into account not only the historical pattern of events divinely orchestrated by YHWH, but also the conscious intertextual links between the OT authors’ descriptions of these events throughout the biblical canon.

The Chronicler’s history represents a deep reading of the canon of Israel’s scripture. Beginning in the Torah and continuing through the historical and prophetic books of the Nevi’im, as well as the liturgical and Wisdom literature of the Ketuvim, the Hebrew canon is filled with examples of inner-biblical exegesis. Later texts rewrite, comment upon, or reinterpret earlier ones; new situations and people are understood and characterized by analogy to earlier texts.

. . . Like any good historian, the Chronicler provides a record of past figures, places, and events; but his accounting is written in such a way that these figures, places, and events often appear as types – signs, patterns,and precursors – intended to show his readers not only the past but also their present reality from God’s perspective (6).

And again, reflecting on Paul’s note in 1 Cor. 10:11 that OT history “was written down for our instruction”:

“. . . the entire tradition of scripture was written for the instruction of [the Chronicler’s] audience. Indeed, the Chronicler’s patterns of inner-biblical interpretation made perfect sense to Jesus and the apostolic church; Chronicles might even be read as a workshop in biblical theology for the New Testament writers: we find operative in Chronicles many of the interpretive principles that become normative for the New Testament writer’s use of the Old Testament (64).

Hahn seems to me to be exactly right. Typology correctly understood is not an a-textual phenomenon, but instead a (the?) method the OT writers used to interpret contemporary events in light of previous Scripture. This method was used again by the NT authors, and it is especially seen in the Gospels, where Jesus is presented as a new Moses, David, Elijah, and Adam (among others). Thus, as Hahn continues to note throughout his commentary, the Chronicler uses Adam, Melchizedek, Abraham, Moriah, Sinai, the ark, Moses, and other OT people and events to help his readers understand his subject, namely David and God’s covenant with him. And, as he points out through continually demonstrating inner-biblical allusions, this is a textually warranted approach.

Storied Typology

Over at Euangelion, Joel Willitts has written a couple of posts on doing Biblical Theology. I think Joel’s intuitions are correct that a typological approach tends to exalt “fulfilment” to the neglect of the “type.” Willitts wants to show the meaning and the significance of the “new” is profoundly shaped by understanding the “old.” He writes:

The new event is in the shape of the archetype and thereby embodying its importance. The idea is that the new event’s significance is dependent on the significance of the old event. The new event is “another manifestation of the basic archetype”. The new derives significance in relation to the old.

Be sure to read his whole post here.

Where in the NT are Joseph and Joshua?

Image from Wikipedia

A few weeks ago at Near Emmaus, Brian LePort asked an intriguing question: Why didn’t the Apostle Paul cite the Book of Jonah? The question fueled some conversation but I’m not sure there was ever a definitive answer. Although I didn’t weigh in on the discussion, I’ve been turning the question over in my mind for the last two or three weeks, not so much in relation to why Paul doesn’t cite Jonah but more broadly on why the NT doesn’t use a number of books as sources or figures as types. Jonah is at least cited and used in the Gospels, if not by Paul. Other rich OT imagery isn’t even mentioned by the NT.

For instance, Joseph and Joshua, two figures replete with Second Adam and New Moses imagery, are never cited, mentioned, or alluded to in the NT as types of Christ. They are referenced in Heb 11:21-22 and 4:8 respectively, but as moral examples and not as figures who point to or tell us anything about Christ (thanks to David Stark for clarifying my language here). These men give, at least in my opinion, a strong typological picture of Christ. Of course, some scholars would say that to recognize anything as a type in the OT that is not recognized as such in the NT is illegitimate. But, as G. P. Hupenberger points out in his essay “Introductory Notes in Typology” in G.K. Beale’s The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts?,

“Perhaps as a safeguard against interpretive excess, some scholars have suggested that ‘types’ should be limited to those examples which are explicitly identified as such within the New Testament. … While attractive for its restraint, this approach would fail to recognize several…examples for which there is impressive literary evidence of deliberate parallelism” (339).

The literary parallels between Adam and Joseph are particularly striking. Here are several:

  • He is dependent upon God for wisdom and power (Gen 41:16)
  • He discerns between good and evil (41:19)

    1. The word for “thin” is the same word used for “evil” in Hebrew
    2. V. 22 – “good” corn
    3. These should remind us of Gen. 2 and 3 and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil
    4. Joseph can discern between them, unlike Adam
  • He is full of the Spirit of God (41:38)
  • He has dominion and authority over the land under the direction of the Pharaoh (41:40, 44)
  • He is given the land (41:41, 43)
  • He is clothed in the image of the Pharaoh (41:42)
  • He is given a bride by the Pharaoh (41:45)
  • He is fruitful and multiplies (41: 50)
  • Ephraim means “root of fruitfulness
  • He is able to provide for those in need (41:53-56)
  • The nations come to Joseph (41:57)

There are also of course the parallels between Joseph’s relationship to his brothers in Gen 37 and Christ’s relationship with Israel in the Gospels, but these are not directly related to Joseph as a New Adam.

We could say the same thing about Joshua and his connection to Moses. And since the New Adam and New Moses images are used in the NT (or at least in parts of it) to explain who Christ is and what he has done, the question can be asked as to why Joshua and Joseph are never used in those explanations. I wonder particularly about Matthew’s use of the New Moses theme and Paul’s contrast of Adam and Christ in Romans 1-8.

For me, though, there is a rather simple explanation to this question. Other than the easy answer of the Spirit’s inspiration of the biblical authors (and I’m not saying we should ignore that answer, just that we need to add to it), we have the functional answer of the fact that the NT authors were writing occasional books and letters to a specific group of individuals within a certain time frame. I propose that they certainly could have included this material in their books, and that it would have fit nicely in certain places. But they didn’t, and for the above two reasons – the Holy Spirit didn’t inspire them to do so and their own theological reflection was constrained by the practical factors of time, occasion, and purpose.

For those of us who want to reflect on the OT in the 21st century, the point, then, is that the NT should not be considered by us as the end of Christian reflection on it. It is of course the final apostolic and Spirit-inspired reflection (i.e. Scriptural) reflection on it, but in my mind the NT authors never intended for their books and letters to be the end of Christian engagement with the OT. What they have given us, beyond the inspired interpretation of the events of Jesus and the early church and their relation to the OT, is a model for Christian theological reflection on the Hebrew Bible. This is what the Church Fathers and Medieval theologians set about to do – to continue the Christian reading of the OT that had been modeled for them by the NT authors – and is what we can and should be about doing in our reading of the OT today.

One final comment: I’m not writing this to critique Brian’s question – his was slightly different than mine. I was using his post more as a starting point than as a focal point.

(NOTE: I owe the Adam/Joseph parallels to my PhD mentor, Dr. David Hogg. He may have found them elsewhere, but the ones I noted are from a course with him.)