In living by God we live for humanity

A Light to the Nations - Martin-AchardOne of the options available to final year students on Redcliffe’s applied theology degree is a module called ‘Missional Texts: Isaiah’. As well as getting into contemporary scholarship on the book I encourage them to consider how ‘Bible and Mission’ scholars have engaged with Isaiah over the years.

Here’s an interesting quote from Robert Martin-Achard’s 1962 book, A Light to the Nations (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd):

‘In preaching consolation to his brethren, Deutero-Isaiah is also declaring that their triumphant return testifies to the incomparable greatness of Yahweh. The miracle by which Israel lives extols its God’s greatness before the whole universe. The ultimate destiny of the world depends on the existence of Israel in the midst of the nations; in living by Yahweh the Chosen People lives for mankind. Such is the missionary outlook that emerges from the oracles of Deutero-Isaiah.‘ (his italics)

What struck me about this quote was the phrase, ‘in living by Yahweh the Chosen People lives for mankind‘. The issue of continuity and discontinuity between OT, NT and now is complex. But I think here we get a glimpse of the connection between the identity of God’s people in relation to the purpose of God’s people. We find our life in God so that we might serve the world by inviting them (implicitly or explicitly) to share in that life.

What do you think?

Isaiah, Eugene Peterson and turning down Bono

Eugene Peterson on Bono

If Bono asked you to come and spend a couple of days with him, what would you say?

Eugene Peterson is the author of The Message version of the Bible, as well as numerous brilliant books on spirituality, theology and ministry. In an interview at Point Loma Nazarene University he is asked about politely turning down an invitation to hang out with U2’s lead singer, who is a big fan of The Message.

His reason for saying, ‘no’?

EP: “I was pushing a deadline on The Message. I was finishing up the Old Testament at the time… I really couldn’t do it.”

Interviewer (Dean Nelson): “You may be the only person alive who would turn down the opportunity just to make a deadline. I mean, come on, it’s Bono for crying out loud!”

EP: “Dean, it was Isaiah!”

Peterson, of course, gets a rapturous round of applause, which betrays a few things. Our delight that someone like that would turn down a chance most of us would grab at, because he is unfazed by celebrity, for one. But I love the way he implicitly critiques how casually I take my Bible reading. When we engage with the Scriptures we are in the company of remarkable, momentous events and talk, about and of God, that draw us into something bigger than ourselves.

You can see the exchange at about 12:00 mins into the video. It’s worth watching the whole thing for various insights into pastoral ministry and Peterson’s life. But following the Bono conversation they also talk about the whole idea of Bible translation. Well worth a listen.

Here’s a the video and a link if it doesn’t come through on your browser.

A Conversation with Eugene Peterson 2007

Teaching Isaiah in a coffee shop

This morning my final year Isaiah class went on an outing to a local coffee shop. I wanted to see if meeting in that kind of environment helps or hinders learning and discussion. We were due to cover material on chs. 36-39 as well as talk about spirituality in Isaiah, using a chapter from Eugene Peterson’s book, The Jesus Way (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2007, ch.6 ‘Isaiah of Jerusalem: “The Holy”‘). The way the course works is that students come prepared to discuss a passage by reading John Goldingay’s NIBC commentary plus one other (Motyer, Brueggemann, Childs, Oswalt, Watts, etc.).

We managed to get a table all together (there were about a dozen of us) and started discussing some of the historical and literary issues surrounding the Hezekiah narratives. We also talked about the characterisation of Hezekiah and the rather ambiguous way the section finishes.

About half way through we had a break and discussed how we would live our lives if we were told we only had 15 years left to live.

Then we moved on to Peterson’s stuff on spirituality. Here are some quotes we found useful:

“Holy” is the best word we have for the all-encompassing, all-embracing life of God that transforms us into a uniquely formed and set-apart people. Holy is never pious abstraction. It is never a quality that can be understood apart from the bodies that we inhabit or the neighborhoods in which we live or apart from the God who made, saves, and blesses us. It is something lived. It is the life of God breathed into and invigorating our lives. (p.127)

the living God, is what we men and women hunger and thirst for most deeply, and The Holy, seeping (bursting!) through the containers in which we habitually confine and then label life, whets our appetite. (p.138)

Isaiah is the greatest preacher to be represented in our Scriptures. He is also our most conspicuous failure. For forty years he preached powerful, eloquent, bold sermons. Nobody listened. He preached repentance and the salvation of Jerusalem and Judah. The people did not repent and were taken into exile. (p.140)

We are after something – more life than we can get simply by eating three meals a day, getting a little exercise, and having a decent job. We’re after the God-originated and God-shaped life: a holy life. (p.147)

I’m glad we decided to go to the coffee shop the week we discussed spirituality and holiness; the more we talked, the more appropriate it seemed. I had envisaged us having a quiet, ‘civilised’ discussion, but instead the coffee machine was whirring and gurgling, other customers were coming and going, and a child behind me fell out of their chair – they were fine but very upset. So the session was messy and distracting. Sometimes it was difficult to hear each other. We were not in our tidy, quiet classroom; we were in the midst of the mess and noise of real life. What a perfect environment in which to discuss holiness, which is something we are called to live out amidst the chaos and mess of life.

So I wouldn’t hold my lectures in a coffee shop every week, but for this particular session, it was the messy ideal!