“Exegesis is always a combination of taking and giving, of reading out and reading in. Thus exegesis, without which the norm cannot assert itself as the norm, entails the constant danger that the Bible will be taken prisoner by the Church, that its own life will be absorbed into the life of the Church, that its free power will be transformed into the authority of the Church, in short, that it will lose its character as the norm magisterially confronting the Church” (Barth, CD, I.1).
It is, for some, too late, carried away as they are in the river spewing forth into this world from the spring of better word than the seemingly rigid and unaccommodating word ‘Canon’, referring of course to that antiquated and seemingly shameful collection of books bound up into one bizarre corpus called “The Holy Bible.” Love is the new word; in fact, for so many (following, e.g., Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Peter Enns, etc.) love is the new Canon, the new criterion, that is, the new correcting norm of the book that is otherwise the Church’s only external and concrete authority, which then functions to strain out the of all the harsh words that are found in the Old (a la Enns) and in the End (a la Bell), while the Church enjoys this historically fleeting and privileged moment of idealism. The result is, at least, two-fold.
1.In the first case, love is no longer defined by the Word of God, quite the obverse. In fact, the Word of God, that evasive and uncapturable authority, becomes Clay, love its potter, and as such is able to take on whatever form its culture demands. Romans 5, then, the text that most explicitly and decisively states the form of God’s love and therefore the only legitimate quality of human love, the text which draws an infinite chasm between God and humankind as the necessary precondition for humankind to receive what is then called God’s love, becomes a text that is unintelligible, because for any man, woman or child to receive this particular love, every man woman and child must first be gathered up under the particular category ‘enemy.’ According to this text, God’s love is only understood when Jesus is understood behind enemy lines. The object of love is first the object of wrath, the reconciled first the rebel. Any lesser form of love cannot explain the bloody hands of a righteous God, nor can it command the clean hands of a self-righteous Church.
The new judgment, indeed the only judgment as such, is the judgment against un-love, which, whatever un-love actually is, it is usually identified when the Church calls sin what it is, because to use the word sin in the way the Bible uses the word sin would imply that the sinner is an enemy of God…and that-would be unloving. Thus, the confessional lines of the Church are dissolved and redrawn according to this new judgment, so that this new ‘church’ demands repentance only from those who have demanded repentance from all, and the Jesus of this church is necessary only for his example, albeit with great irony, not for his salvation. And a great division will continue to crystallize roughly along lines described as liberal and conservative, as the debate over what love actually is serves to self-preserve politicized, sectarian groups that call themselves “The” church and define themselves by what they are not, because what they are not is that damnable, unloving other group, which either cares nothing about the poor or nothing about the unborn, both of which would find salvation if they were willing to admit that both poor and unborn are included in that category of enemy.
2. What happens when we approach the Bible is now endearingly called a “conversation,” because it is something that happens between equals–coffee-talk with a friend, or self-talk with ‘my’ potential, not a confrontation first with a more powerful Enemy, which can only be heard as an address and responded to by surrender, and second with an Authority called Lord. Indeed, when the Bible is approached for conversation, it can no longer be heard at all, since there is None to stand opposite of me either to crush me or raise me up. There is only an inner-dialogue as I imagine the single line of footprints in the sand being His—the imaginary friend of Jesus whom I imagine carrying me, not giving me marching orders, who plans to give me harmless prosperity, not a self-denying cross. Besides, doesn’t the Lord invite us in this way: “Come let us reason together, says the Lord,” which is followed with such pleasant and accommodating images: “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be white like wool” (Isa. 1:18). Indeed, but for Israel, and therefore for us all, the images are neither of a scenic winter nor a tranquil pasture. The red and white contrasted in this verse is the stark contrast that marked the ground with the truth of the human condition in the winter pastures surrounding Stalingrad on Christmas day, 1942. It is a blazing white and the darkest red. To “reason together” with one’s Creator does not mean to work together toward a synthesis that leaves both parties happy, both parties compromised, and therefore both parties changed. It means what the following verse says: “If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isa. 1:19).
It is not surprising that the world such as it is, a world that has insisted to be godless since the day it determined itself to name what is good and what is evil (Gen. 3), would find itself being swallowed up by the sword of its Maker, that the Creator would choose to un-create what in his creation had become un-creative, that is, self-destructive. The only thing that is surprising is that since the sword proved not to be a decisive enough means of achieving purification, not a persuasive enough means of inciting repentance; since condemning sinners did not eliminate sin; since destruction did not produce restoration; what is surprising is that God swallowed his own sword; that he “sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh as a sin offering to condemn sin—not the sinner—in the flesh” (Rom. 8:3). What is surprising is that the white and red became the divine flow of Holy Love. What is surprising is grace. And what grace means is that God allowed for the universal truth of human history—hate wins—to become a moment of truth from all eternity, so that the Lamb that was slain became the Lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8), and that this truth could become for all time what the John the Seer saw when he ‘heard’ the Word of God as the Word of God from all eternity, which finds good news only in judgment, divine love only in human hatred, reconciliation only in rebellion, beloved child only in depraved enemy, risen Lord only on a cross, the universal truth whose corollary is the universal command: Repent.
“Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
Another angel, a second, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.”
And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”
Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.
And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”