Tag Archives: New Testament

Primitive Imagination and Early Christianity

African theologian Kwome Bediako makes the claim that African religious DNA more closely matches the worldview of the Early Christians.  I am attempting to weigh his six-fold claim.  Here I will deal with the first two: 1. kinship with nature, 2. a deep sense of humanity’s finitude.

Kinship with Nature: St. Francis writes about his brother sun and sister moon, but that is in the early 13th century.  We are exploring the Christianity of 11 hundred hears prior.  Parables with sparrows, a star to guide the magi, speaking donkeys, a Holy Spirit showing up as dove, the list could go on. But one passage sticks out among the rest (Romans 8): “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected in, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” Paul seems to think here that we exist with the whole of the cosmos in an interrelated kinship relationship.  When we are redeemed so will the creation.  Our destinies now and in the future are interdependent.

A Deep Sense of Humanity’s Finitude. Of course, we can look to the stories like the Rich man an Lazarus and know that the early Christians experienced vividly their mortality.  But one verse stands out among the rest (I Corinthians 15), “Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead?… If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.'” Now, the point is this: the Early Christians lived in a culture where some if not many knew well their fate.  Take note of the quote Paul uses.  They realized that the were not infinite in time or space.  Theirs was a posture of dependency, espeically on Christ’s resurrection.

Primitive Imagination and Early Christianity

In 1978 Walter Bruggemann gave us the Prophetic Imagination.  It is time in 2010 that we explore the Primitive Imagination.

In his book on African Indigenous Theology, Kwome Bediako affirms a six-layered description of what can also be called Indigenous Ways of Knowing or Primal Worldview: 1. kinship with nature, 2. a deep sense of humanity’s finitude, 3. a conviction that humanity is not alone in the universe, 4. a belief that humanity can enter into relationship with a benevolent spirit-world, 5. an acute sense of the afterworld, 6. and a mental structuring of a sacramental universe with no sharp dichotomy between the physical and the spiritual. This ‘primal imagination’, heralds Bediako, not only matches with the primal imagination of the early Christians, but as such, “Africans have found a principle of understanding and interpretation which is superior to any thing that a secular world-view is able to offer.”

My goal here is not to thrash the contributions of a secular world-view but to illustrate and affirm the primitive imagination of the Early Christians.  I use ‘primitive’ without an evolutionary framework and with keen sense that we have much to learn from the indigenous imagination.  And, like Bruggemann, I use the term “imagination” not to say “fictitious”.  Rather, I suggest that by the term “imagination” we account for and honor a multitude of metaphysical perspectives on reality written within the history of humanity.

Could it be true that our African brothers and sisters might have an angle on understaning the Early Christians than we European descendants?

Who is the Bride of Christ: Part 2

The early Christians, following the lead of Jesus’ parables and through his other teachings, began very early thinking of the church as the bride of Christ.

Take for example:

Revelation 21.9 “Then one of the angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”  And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City of Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.”

Like any relationship, like any marriage, intimacy is more than learning about one another. It is about cultivating a life of shared experiences and appreciation for one another in difficult times.   It is no different with God.

Fast-forward three years from my university chapel altar. Still wearing the grad ring, I had now been offered and accepted the wedding ring.   It was perhaps as I was changing a diaper or settling my bank account that reality hit.  I had a wife, a baby, and a real job.  I had taken on an occupation that confronted racism and poverty while preparing students to do just that. It all started to crush me really. The responsibilities of life outweighed a new realization: I could not solve local problems, let alone world issues, with my skills or cleverness. People were too complex.  The human heart was far more stubborn and habit ridden than I realized.  I was more broken that I had realized.  Now ten years out from that night at the university altar, I am saying that it will take my whole life to learn intimacy with God.

Who is the Bride of Christ: Part 1

I began a journey about ten years ago.  It was a spiritual journey that culminated in a quiet moment within my university’s chapel.  I had followed this deep calling in my life that led me to Jesus and to a life devoted to his way and ministry.  I was mastering the spiritual life at break-neck speed.  My devotional life rocked.  I had read through most of the Bible a few times.  And I kind of sneered when my pastor’s wife lamented in one Bible study that it would take her a whole life to learn intimacy with God.  I wondered why I was flying so high.  Perhaps God had greater things in store for me.

So there I was at our university’s chapel altar.  I was kneeling alone late one night. The stained glass windows were dancing with shadows of flickering candles. I was deep in prayer.  On the floor in front of me lay my graduation ring.  A few minutes prior, I had taken it off my finger and set it before the Lord.  Internally I prayed this prayer: Lord let me be married to you.” Somehow over the course of a few years, I had intuited a long-standing Christian image.  Intimacy with the Father was something like a great marriage. It was the height of my early devotional life.  I was on fire.  I loved God and wanted to know him more.

The early Christians, following the lead of Jesus’ parables and through his other teachings, began very early thinking of the church as the bride of Christ.

2 Corinthians 11.1 “I hope you will put up with me in a little foolishness.  Yes, please put up with me!  I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him”

The Place of our Glory Days in our New Global Future

Isaiah 43
18 “Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the desert
and streams in the wasteland.

When I think of the importance of the New Testament for God’s global church today, I think also of Isaiah.  It really is the fifth gospel.   And in this tiny passage we can see why.   I especially love the imagery of a stream in the wasteland (think: urban jungle, suburban sprawl, or natural disaster).  We all need a cool drink of water and some hopeful guidance for a better future.

Well, there is no doubt that a new thing cannot be understood apart from reference to the old, but Israel is told here to get her mind off the old and on to the new—because it pertains to a new reality and not to an ancient memory of failure, and because the new thing God had in store was more dazzling, more overwhelming, more massive than any old memory. Biblical faith is geared toward the future.

So as we think about the future, should we forget the past?  New things are part of our DNA in the West. Our culture is fueled by new things, innovation, and the next generation of technology-x.   So,  it is not hard to get along with God’s word here for Israel.  Hey, if someone came along and said: Keith, forget your past, all the ugly and dark pieces, I would say: wow, done.  I like that message. But on the other hand, my past is important to me, and let’s not forget that in Genesis, God in the end “Turned everything that was meant for evil into good…into the salvation for many.”

So, what do we do when we are heading toward a future that looks painfully like the past?I think about our American story.  I especially think of the rhetoric these days that wants us to go back to the past.  In response,  it’s easy to look ahead and say, “forget what was in the past, and look ahead.”  In the end that’s fine, but we can’t forget historical lessons that warn us of human capacity for evil, American capacity for evil.  And we cannot forget that even after this message in Isaiah, some in Israel still killed the Landowner’s son.

God did a new thing in Jesus, but many in Israel rejected him.  God’s new thing is always massively good. Our future is bright.  But we must learn to join God in transforming historical injustice into future good.  God’s point in Isaiah is this: we simply can not let our past failures prevent us from His future.   We must get on board with God’s new thing for the 21st century, whatever it is, knowing that it will likely mean redemptive suffering for the past, the present, and the days to come.

Early Christianity

I study Early Christianity, because the story inspires me. Amidst the drama of the Roman Empire, how did a small Jewish sect plant the seed for, arguably, the world’s greatest movement? And as the nightmares born in modern Europe unravel, the church like then is being born anew. We had never dreamed of Africa, China, and Chile as the new land of Christianity. An era passes while we live, and it is a great time to study her early days when she struggled as one small religion among the great nature religions of the world.

Some suggest that we can know little of the early Christian genius, given how it has been enshrined in the myths and legends of religious history; but on the contrary, a tempered look at its development can reach some firm conclusions. For the best angle to view the emergence of Christianity, one must combine five areas of study: (1) A reading of the New Testament along side of various related and contemporary literature: the Old Testament, the texts of Second Temple Judaism, the multitude of classical writings including early business records, and the early Christian literature including the church fathers and New Testament Apocrypha, (2) The social history of the movement, (3) The Historical Jesus and the History of Christians in the Roman Empire, (4) Greco-Roman Philosophy and Rhetoric, and (5) the local histories of the great variety of early Christianities (adapted from Margaret’s Mitchell’s brilliant essay in the revised edition of Grant’s From Augustus to Constantine.

For those interested in Christianity and the mysterious yet epiphanic person of Jesus, you never dreamed how interesting her ancient past could be. Not only does the New Testament provide us with a window into the most sublime of human thoughts, but the whole story of the early days sweeps us into the lives of fascinating humans living in fascinating times. I feel lucky to get to write about it here!