People Are Good

I hi-jacked this article from Mike Bull’s Blog. It was too good to leave in only one place.


Why People are Good: or Why Idolatry is Adultery

“So [Abraham] lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground…” Genesis 18:2

“Then Abraham stood up and bowed himself to the people of the land, the sons of Heth.” Genesis 23:7

I’ve finally gotten around to doing the post that was to follow Stuff Is Good.

In his little torpedo of a book, The Liturgy Trap, James Jordan gives a definition of idolatry that is worth the price of the book. Firstly, it is natural that the de-eschatologised churches, (the ones that think they need no death-and-resurrections) contain icons. A church that has already arrived [1] must be able to present the unseen as already-seen:

…seeing God is a good thing, but it is not for now. God tells us not to try and do it until He is ready to let us. We find exactly the same thing in Genesis 1-3, where God said that every tree would be for Adam and Eve to eat, and every tree in the garden is said to be good for food. Thus, the prohibition on the Tree of Knowledge was temporary. [2] Adam and Eve were to develop patience by responding to God’s “NO.” By eating the fruit, they rejected God’s plan for growth and development, and became corrupt. Similarly, sex is good, but we are not to engage in it until we are married.

Now, seeing God face to face is a good thing, and if we are faithful, we shall enjoy the “beatific vision” in the resurrection. But God has clearly and unmistakably said that we are not to attempt to see Him in this world…

God strictly forbids any attempt to make a “form” that connects to Him visually. [3] God will let us see Him when He is ready, and when we are. To set up an icon and say that this gives us a visual revelation of God or of some dimension of God’s heavenly existence is to jump the gun…

We are to be satisfied with the Word because the Word is ultimate. God is Word, but He is not visible. What we shall see is God’s voluntary self-presentation, not God Himself. But God’s Word is not just His voluntary self-representation: it is God Himself. Thus, the visual is always secondary. To insist on the visual is to despise God’s Word, and thus to despise God. Accordingly, those who set up images are said to “hate” God, which means to treat Him practically as second behind something else…

…those who break the Second Word by indulging in visual worship have proven impatient. They have rejected personal maturity, and have destroyed their posterity. But the third and fourth generation, their seed will have become so corrupt that some kind of new Flood will be necessary. Thus, there can be little or no personal or cultural maturity apart from the strict keeping of the Second Word.

This is related to Peter Leithart’s observation that the Spirit brings the saints an awareness of new plunder—people are precious possessions instead of things. [4] The process of death and resurrection brings an awareness of what is truly valuable. Even godless Hollywood movies tell us that on a personal level: ie. some tragedy brings wisdom and a new appreciation of family. So, we should not be bowing to idols, but we should be bowing—to each other:

Jesus said: “It is to your advantage that I go away” (John 16:7). Jesus then explained that the Spirit would come, and verses 8-15 speak of the Spirit’s work in exclusively non-visual terms… At the ascension, we are expressly told that “a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). This removal from sight was followed by the coming of the Spirit. [5]

All of this makes it clear that there is nothing to look at and nothing to bow down to in worship. We are living in an eschatological tension. The real absence of Christ makes us yearn for Him, and gives us something to look forward to. It is a serious mistake to jump the gun by filling the Church with icons that supposedly give a philosophically-realistic look into heaven. It is a serious mistake to pervert the meal into something to look at. It is a serious mistake to say Jesus is as this or that point in the room and bow down to His invisible presence. It is very important that we refuse to bow toward anything in worship…

The content of our worship is only visual at one point: when we are visually aware of one another, aware of the gathered community. Worship in the particular sense only takes place when two or three at least are gathered together… Human beings might be called the visible words of God, though perhaps “fleshly words” might be better. We are words in the sentences of the Divine Book of the Kingdom… The Lord’s Supper is not a visible word but an edible one. Baptism is not a visible word but a tangible one. The only “visible words” are human beings, the images of God made after the likeness of the Word of God Himself. In other words, the only thing to look at in worship is other people.

It certainly is appropriate in worship for the pastor to greet the congregation by bowing to them and saying “The Lord be with you.” In this way, the pastor honours the image of God, the visible words of God, thos he is to serve. Then the congregation should bow to the pastor, saying “And also with you.” Nothing else should be bowed to, however, since nothing else is the visible word of God, the special image of God.

Icon worship replaces the true Bride for a false one:

…iconic worship tends against the development of the community. When we hear the Word of God, someone else must read it aloud to us. This creates a community of at least two people. Icon worship, however, is shrine worship. Thus, both the cathedrals and the lands of Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism are full of shrines (what the Bible calls “high places”) where people go and talk to saints, who of course never talk back. Such people can never move beyond their own preconceived notions, because their worship involves no confrontation with the challenges of the Word mediated through other living, speaking people.

“When they had twisted a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand. And they bowed the knee before Him and mocked Him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’” (Matthew 27:29)

“But what does the divine response say to him? ‘I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’” (Romans 11:4)

Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)

[1] See Revived, Not Arrived.
[2] See Touch Not, Taste Not, Handle Not.
[3] See Graven Words.
[4] Plunder is always Step 5 in the Bible Matrix. See Vile Bodies or Bright Young Things. See also The Glory Are We.
[5] On the parallel between Moses’ and Christ’s ascension from sight, and the idolatry that followed see We Don’t Know What’s Become of Him.

First Installment of Totus Christus Review

I have not gotten that far in my reading so my comments thus far will probably be answered later in my reading. But here it goes. Mike Bull has some real good insights into the Bible and in alot of cases makes a clear case and argument for his Bible Matrix structure of either his Dominion Theme (Creation, Division, Ascension, Testing, Maturity, Conquest, Glorification; in a Chiastic Structure, with Testing as the center piece), or his Creation theme (day 1, day 2, etc;) or his Feast Pattern (Sabbath, Passover, First-fruits, Pentecost, Trumpets, Atonement, Tabernacles; also in chiastic form with Pentecost being the center). It would look something like this:

Creation / Day 1/ Sabbath
Division / Day 2 / Passover
Ascension / Day 3 / Firstfruits
Testing / Day 4 / Pentecost
Maturity / Day 5 / Trumpets
Conquest / Day 6 / Atonement
Glorification / Day 7 / Tabernacles***

Bull finds one or more of these patterns through out the whole Bible, as the General Pattern of the Bible as a whole, and in the individual stories, like the Abraham narrative for example. While some of this can be seen, and Bull makes a good case for some of it, at times it feels like he is really straining to find this structure, either the creation, dominion, or feast structure in every single portion of Scripture. Now if it is there, it’s there. And in alot of cases, it is. But in some cases I don’t see it. And this I would say is my criticism thus far. What are the “identifiers” that let me know what I am dealing with? How do I know where in the text we begin our “Sabbath” section and where the “Passover” Section picks up? Or the most difficult one I am having trouble with is Ascension. What is Ascension? What does it mean, what does it look like? What are the signatures of it?

Essentially What I am saying is: I wish Mike Bull would  have done some better explaining rather than just stating his position with out actually explaining how he gets there. Which is exactly what he does. The Whole Book is essentially a continuation of the Dominion Theme, with some extra stuff thrown in for. At times it seems like he forces it and just arbitrarily breaks texts down into seven parts and then slaps a name on it and says, “See, this is the Day 2 / Division/ Passover theme because I numbered it that way.” And I am sure that HE SEES IT. I don’t, not all the time, and I just wish the book would have done more explaining, whether in the beginning, or as we go along, and explain to us and show us the territory markers in the text where we can say, “Oh, I see. In this section because it talks about….[insert key word(s)] we therefore know that we are in….section. Mike Bull seems to take this for granted, OR, he is doing it on purpose, hoping that by simply exposing ourselves to it over and over and over again, we will become familiar with it, see the key words that I am talking about, and then agree with him. If that is the case, then this post is premature, and essentially pointless. Though he does place certain words in bold seemingly to do that very thing that I am accusing him of not doing. But sometimes I don’t understand the connection of the bolded words with the certain part of the structure.

Another issue that I would have liked to see more of, is Scripture references. I know in the narratives in Genesis we are all pretty much familiar, but when Bull is breaking a text down into its seven fold structure he doesn’t use specific verses. I would have liked to see more of that.

That’s all for now. Thanks Mike, the book is really good, these are just a couple things I am still wrestling with.

*** For Some Reason WordPress would not let me make this a chiasm, so when you look at it, think “Chiasm”.  Thanks.