Josh j Smith

Sermon on the Mount Part III
October 21, 2006, 2:19 pm
Filed under: theology

[Matthew 6.19-24]

This passage from the Sermon on the Mount immediately raised several questions. These motivate some thoughts and interpretation. Therefore, the questions I had concerning this passage will help form a framework in which we can interpret and apply this passage.

First question, what are the treasures in heaven? I hate to admit this, but my first thought is that some think that storing up treasures in heaven means converting your unsaved friends so that they will be in heaven with you. This is probably not what Jesus was getting at. So, what was he getting at? Are the treasures in heaven peace, love, and joy? Are they tangible or abstract? It is possible that the mystery of the treasure is intentional, and the main message Jesus is communicating is that the treasures on earth do not compare. Do not waste time and energy with “earthly treasure.” Even further, it is possible that this is a play on word. Treasure only exists in the context of heaven; treasure anywhere else is a burden. Finally, it is Jesus’ ultimate hope that we long to have heaven on earth, that is where he wants our heart.

Second question, is storing up treasures directly related to what we look at? I think Jesus inserted this message about the eye being the source of light or dark in a person b/c that is where the battle starts. We are not to covet. We find what we look for, and what we find is a revelation of what is within us. Remember, the kingdom of God is something we cannot see or touch. It is within us.

Final Question, is it possible to love money and hate God? On the surface one might think this is not worth discussing. However, Jesus is alluding to the fact that people hate God. I know there are people who do not believe in God, who do not like God, and who choose not to follow God, but are there people who come out and say, “I hate God.” I have not met anyone, in the right state of mind, that admits to hating God. In today’s culture with several religions neighboring with each other, it is not politically correct to say that you hate God. While we may not say it, we express our true feelings to God all the time by serving that thing that our heart most desires. Jesus says we cannot serve two masters. We cannot have more than one desire of the heart. We cannot have both light and darkness occupy the same space.


Gospel ???
October 14, 2006, 7:44 pm
Filed under: theology

256593243 5254A7D14E

What are the Gospels? What are the Gospels to a certain group of people? Finally, what are the Gospels to the average (most likely Western) postmodern thinker? The questions continue to linger, but that does not stop the conversation. Therefore, the following will explore how postmodern people view the Gospels, interpret the Gospels, and what biases and presuppositions they/we bring to the Gospels when we interact with them as text.

For a typical postmodern the Gospels, as text, could be everything from history, to revelation, to absolute truth and moral instruction. However, even though they possess these virtuous qualities, the Gospels are nothing more than a religious tool that compliments the spiritual compartment of one’s life depending on which religion he/she prescribes to. “Fragmentation is, in fact, characteristic of our whole society, God is disengaged from society, at least in its public aspect, work from home, Church from society, the extended family from the nuclear by the mobility the modern economic order requires and, perhaps, by the divorce which modern life so often produces” (Wells, 2005, p, 78). For the average postmodern, religion/spirituality is a mere bullet point to life that does not involve itself in the narratives of government, academics, job, relationships, leisure, or health. Therefore, assuming that a particular postmodern person ascribes to Christianity or Catholicism the Gospels only have relevance within that religious context and nowhere else.

As far as the written message in the Gospels it is, as said before, history, revelation, absolute truth, and moral instruction, but only within a particular context because it was originated from a particular context. This means that the recorded life of Jesus by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John is merely their perspective of the events they witnessed. Therefore, it is only absolute truth to Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and to all who believe it. In the same way, the Gospels are revelation, but a local revelation that is not universal to all. Thus, what is revealed from the text is subject to the reader, and that revelation has no bearing on others. Even further, since it is understood that it was revelation that the Gospel writers recorded this inspired history, the Gospels, as text, do not have to be revelation to the reader.

From this the postmodern individual forms a hermeneutic. Her conscious or unconscious lens through which she interprets the Scriptures is understood through this fragmented worldview that “rejects totalizing ‘stories’ and beliefs, insisting that our focus can only be local and perhaps only individual” (Wells, 2005, p, 81). Therefore, could this mean that there is no hermeneutic that can be characterized postmodern? It is possible. The result of our beliefs being localized has to mean that the way one interprets Scripture is strictly her own, or localized to a small group (race, location, social class, etc.). There can be no unifying hermeneutic for postmodern thinkers.

The implications of this could be drastic or freeing depending on the presuppositions and biases that evolve before one approaches the Gospel text. The non-existent hermeneutic is not good because it allows for any interpretation to be the right one. This is not something new; people have been doing this for a long time. As soon as the Scriptures were written in common vernacular, and printed for all to have, it not only freed the message to be spread, but it freed the message to change. As the culture shift becomes more prevalent, this practice of reading the Gospels becomes more prevalent and popular. The negative result of this is decentralization. Is it possible that the message could become too fragmented to impact?

However, there is an upside to the non-existent hermeneutic. The decentralization could be a blessing like the God confusing the languages at the tower of Babel. A centralized hermeneutic does not necessarily mean a centralized message, but a restricted message. Imagine if one group or person devised a hermeneutic accepted by all. Man would not be able to control the power of this. With a decentralized hermeneutic it allows for different cultures and perspective to utilize their biases and presuppositions that, collectively, could bring a greater understanding of the Gospels. For the postmodern, this is central. Thus, the presuppositions and biases, for the postmodern, would seek to be non-existent because they are aware of their localized perspective. As a result, when a postmodern encounter the Gospels is this sense, it will be a new adventure every time. However, this is a very optimistic view that assumes a postmodern is aware of and would seek to disengage or criticize her own biases. Since all is not redeemed yet, the biases, which postmodern people bring to the reading of Gospels, are the attempts to prove wrong the biases for which another person has interpreted the text.

Still the questions of the Gospels linger in the abyss as to what the Gospels actually are to the postmodern person, how they interpret them, and what are the actual biases and presuppositions they bring when they interact with them. But, it is a mystery that still keeps us seeking, which is a good thing. Thus, the questioning should never stop lest we stop seeking.

Feel free to comment!

Further reading that discuss different perspectives on interpreting Scripture:

Return to Babel: Global Perspectives on the Bible


Sermon on the Mount Part II
October 10, 2006, 10:09 pm
Filed under: theology

266378204 3343522F01[Luke 6.20-26]

Luke’s perspective on the Sermon on the Mount has a more intentional look at the “already not yet” theology of the Kingdom of God. The “already not yet” theology emphasizes the present struggle between good and evil. Kingdom has come, but has not fully arrived, thus there is deep tension that exists in the lives of those who strive to bring to the Kingdom to earth as it is in heaven. In this teaching, Jesus is explaining to his disciples that the cost now is well worth the return later. And the things that Jesus emphasizes as the cost are things that bring status according to values the world has set up. Therefore, his message is for the proud to be humbled, and for the humble to be encouraged.

So what does it mean for the Church to live this out – two things. First, it means hearing and understanding, and this could be difficult depending on what kind of hearer we are. If we are the proud this message it is very difficult to let this message resonate into our hearts. Often our response is very defensive where we justify not weeping, being rich, and being popular with everyone. However, if we are the humble we might find ourselves becoming somewhat nauseous because we know we have a lot and frequently want more, we seek popularity and status in all our social circles, and our hearts are often hardened and calloused because we distance ourselves from the difficult things that come with life having no real emotional connection with ourselves, others, and God.

Second, it is being the seed that was thrown on the good soil. Therefore, not being the seed where we hear and not understand, get motivated but soon fade, or get choked by the distractions the world offers. Being the seed thrown on the good soil means the Church is one who “hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (Matthew 13). Therefore, the Kingdom that is already-not-yet is exactly that. We listen, take in, live, and produce. As a result we are then able to see a glimpse of the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven

Upside Down Kingdom
October 10, 2006, 9:47 pm
Filed under: theology

256593243 5254A7D14EThis is the first of several reflections I am having from Wells’ book Above all Earthly Powers.

I work in the door and window department of two Home Depot stores. The doors that I clean, shift, and mark are nothing but plain slabs of wood, steel, or fiberglass with an engraving or piece of glass to accent. Most of them are white or brown. It is just a door. Then I stare into the picture on the label and see this door in my dream house. I never saw my dream house before, but I did the other day, and it was all because of a door. Ironically, I have taken an interest in doors. Therefore, now I look at the door and not only see a slab of substance, but an entry way into my kingdom.

We look at pictures, television and movies and see flawed ideas of wholeness and piece them together to suite our own fantasies. We have a drive to make our present reality match our fabricated fantasy that is taken from the media and pictures, and in order to do this we consume those we have to have to get one step closer. At the same time this act of consuming is stimulating, but is short lived (Wells 2005,p, 42). Much like the anticipation of receiving that shiny gift on Christmas morning, only to be slightly disappointed moments later when our desire to consume resurfaces. We make ourselves think we need something to improve the present state of our bodies, cars, and houses.

This is the drive behind our consumption. Pretty soon our value becomes based on what we have, and we only can have when we produce. Wells said, “And yet what has not been shaken is the belief that consuming is essential to the nurture of the self” (Wells,2005,p,41). The result is a fragmented society. The desire to produce, consume, and be stimulated has driven us farther apart from each other and God and into our selves. We are in a deep, dark whole when human nature has become defined by what we can produce. “This is no coincidence. The death of God is always followed by the death of the human being” (Wells,2005,p,48).

I fantasize about the Church and how it could change the world everyday. The Kingdom of God is a righteous fantasy in that it is here already here, but not yet. There is potential for progression to bringing the kingdom of God nearer and nearer. However, this fantasy is not obtained by a selfish and flawed agenda of how we are going to consume. The Kingdom of God on earth is a selfless and divine way of life that is achieved not by consumption but by giving and seeking to satisfy the needs of others before ourselves.

Therefore, the Kingdom of God to the modernist is a similar concept to modern society – sojourning to make reality match an ideal. But, the way of life is drastically different. Jesus and the Gospels is a harsh contrast to our made up ideas of wholeness and the way of achieving wholeness. It is no wonder the Kingdom of God is sometimes referred to as “The Upside Down Kingdom.”

This upside down kingdom confronts right in the face of our individualism, consumerism, and struggle with authority. The ways of Jesus are drastically different from our society demands of us. So much so, that it might be a sin to be American. I heard some people say if you want to find God go to the poor and the oppressed people of the world and you will find him. At first, I disagreed with this. Then I began to think about what Jesus says, and what the Scripture say. It is the humble, the meek, the oppressed people that are seeking and in need searching for God’s redemption. When are into ourselves, our flawed fantasies of wholeness, and consuming whatever it takes to achieve that flawed fantasy – we don’t need God, we don’t have time for God, we don’t need others, and we don’t have time for others. This leads me to think deeper about the early church when it says “they devoted themselves to the apostles teachings and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers… And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” A community of faith in Jesus had gotten so committed to this kingdom living that they were able to put aside their own fantasies for the greatest one. I think the western church is too scared to release all their possessions because that is drastic and it might be uncomfortable.