Friday, March 24, 2006

Building a Theology of the Land: Wrap-up and Take Away (or, "Who Cares about a Theology of the Land?!?")

Applying the Promise of the Land

If we are heirs to the Land in the sense that I have described, what do we do with this information? In my last post I suggested ways in which we use this information hermeneutically. I have previously investigated the political aspects, if only because my country (sadly, particularly the Christian, Evangelical community) is so horribly slanted against non-Jewish perspectives in present-day Palestine. I believe it is absolutely vital for American believers in particular to have the exegetical nous to renounce the traditional Zionist theology of the Land, which has been proven unjust and costly in its influence on American foreign policy and religion. For more on this see especially (from a North American evangelical perspective) Gary Burge, Whose Land? Whose Promise?

But for now a few brief comments on other applications:

(1) The promise of future inheritance should lead to a willingness to sacrifice in this present life for the kingdom, even to the point of sacrificing ancestral lands and all other possessions (Hebrews 11:8-10, 13-16) . The point here is not tit-for-tat reward, but gratitude for what all our present material and immaterial blessings, and expectation of future blessing. Note that faith is vital here: it’s something we cannot see that we are after, just as was the case with Abraham. Perhaps a lack of a vision for what God has for his people is a chief reason for the remarkable absence of generosity among wealthy Christians in America today; perhaps lack of faith in the God of promise is what leads us to ignore what is promised and focus on what has already been attained. Faithlessness inherently ascribes too much importance to our earthly possessions, or puts far too much emphasis on whether a particular race of people possess a particular strip of land in the eastern Mediterranean.

As an aside, as a response to literalist health and wealth types going on about Abraham and wealth and blessing and promises, have them read ">Calvin’s Institutes, 2.10.11, a brilliant paragraph that ends as follows: “Any one desirous to give a picture of a calamitous life could not find one more appropriate.” (HT to our research asst. Justin Borger on that one).

The NT never features the OT’s “blessed man gets the rich life,” at least not in this present age. The postponement of “Land” functions as a motive for postponement of everything or anything this life has to offer, though of course we also experience these things (feasts, houses, profit, etc) whenever--and provided that we--share them with others liberally and across socio-economic and racial boundaries (Luke 14:12-14; Gal 2:11-12; I think Mark 10:29-30 falls here as well), so that we in effect all receive “100 times” in this present age.

(2) The future inheritance can be imitated, and indeed must be imitated in this present life through the pursuit of sharing of possessions and equality in the community of God (Acts 2, 4; 2 Corinthians 8:13-15). Surely when the Son--whose nature is to love and give of himself even to the point of death, and whose Spirit proves him to be the giver of good gifts--finally reigns supreme there will be justice and radical sharing, so why should it not be so now? As I read it, Mark 10:29-30 incorporates this point and the previous point.

(3) The future inheritance prepares us to live as sojourners who practice the sacrifice of our rights, our possessions, our social allegiances and connections, and our agendas. “In the case of 1 Peter, the model readers presumed and sculpted by the text are those who hear their names in the letter’s opening, 'to the elect who are sojourners of the diaspora’ (1:1). Peter’s model readers are those who embrace and embody the status of persons whose identity as estranged sojourners in the world grows out of their experience of the new birth…membership in a community defined by their allegiance to Christ…whose forms of existence attract opposition from their neighbors.” Joel Green, "Practicing the Gospel in a Postcritical World: the Promise of Theological Exegesis," JETS 47.3 (2004), 387-397, a highly recommended article. See also Calvin's comments on Abraham linked above.

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