Wednesday, June 22, 2011

they're the good guys, of course

So, back to McLaren's flavors of Bible reading...

2. Reading the Bible conversationally:

Which means...what, exactly.

If a culture is a community of people who converse (or argue) about the same things across many generations, it makes sense to learn the contours of the main players in the conversation.

Oh, yes, because, of course, the Bible is a conversation. Yeah, Right.

For example, in the gospels, Jesus enters ongoing conversations among Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, Herodians, priests, scribes, prophets, Roman authorities, excluded sinners, and the poor.

Really? Jesus just kind of threw out his thoughts about things, like your typical coffee house denizen at a jaw session, just kinda making a point, giving his opinion, let's have some feedback and maybe he wasn't really right or anything?

I rather think that Jesus was doing more than just entering into and joining some kind of antenicene form of the emergent conversation.

Across the Hebrew Bible, there is a persistent tension between priests (who are the institutional caretakers of what we might call “organized religion”) and prophets (movement leaders who critique the very status quo of ritual and sacrifice that the priests work so hard to defend from the forces of chaos and compromise).

Now, I think I know the Bible pretty well. Maybe not as much as scholars do, but fairly well. And I haven't noticed this "persistent tension" McLaren claims is there.

First, let's consider his characterizations of priests and prophets. Were priests the institutional caretakers of the organized religion of ancient Israel? Perhaps that's not a wrong description, though it is rather simplistic. Plus, given that it's McLaren saying it, it carries a certain slam with it. Priests were, first of all, established by God, and their function was very important.

McLaren's characterization of prophets is rather more problematic. They weren't "movement leaders". And their job wasn't some kind contra-priests thing, where they just went around being subversives of the things the priests did, and being OT anarchists who were only trying to cause trouble.

Perhaps someone else has a better definition for what the prophets did, but so far as I can tell, their messages were mostly to political leaders of Israel and Judah, sometimes to other nations, and on occasions to all the people of Israel or Judah as a whole. They primarily dealt with sins, personal and national, calling the people to repent of those sins, and at times telling them what judgment is coming if they don't repent. There is also a far future element to their prophecies, where God reveals things to them about what will happen at the end of days, both the horror and the final deliverance.

Finally, there just doesn't seem to be this "persistent tension" McLaren claims. Yes, sometimes the prophets spoke against the priests, but they did so because the priests weren't doing right. Samuel, for example, was given a prophecy concerning Eli because Eli was simply not being a very good priest--he was, for example, allowing his sons to abuse their positions, and they were sexually immoral. But the prophet Zechariah has a prophecy of good to the high priest Joshua, in Zechariah 3.

There's more that McLaren says, maybe I'll get back to it later, but for now, I'm content enough to put paid to the ways he's tried to revise history, to make the relationship between priests and prophets in ancient Israel into something similar to his take on the current emergent church movement, with of course the emergents being like the good-guy prophets who went around causing trouble and making outrageous statements and basically being anti-establishment for no better reason than being anti-establishment.

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