The Cord and the Cross
When we read the story of Rahab in Joshua 2, we are meant to understand that story in light of the exodus backdrop. The scarlet thread recalls the blood of the unblemished lamb. The window in Rahab’s house recalls the doorposts and lintel of an Israelite home. Impending divine judgment was true for both Exodus 12 and Joshua 2. And in both stories, the designated sign meant deliverance for those inside.
Early in the book of Joshua, a Canaanite named Rahab confessed her faith in the God of Israel to some Israelite spies (Josh. 2:8-11). She then asked that she and her household be spared the coming judgment of the conquest (2:12-13).
The spies told her, “Behold, when we come into the land, you shall tie this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and you shall gather into your house your father and mother, your brothers, and all your father’s household” (Josh. 2:18).
So Rahab did. After the men left, she tied the scarlet cord in the window (Josh. 2:21), trusting and waiting.
This scarlet cord was consistently interpreted in the early centuries of Christian interpretation as signifying the cross of the Lord Jesus (see the writings of Justin Martyr, Origen, Augustine, Jerome, Clement, Irenaeus, and Ambrose).
Such an interpretation has caused no small amount of controversy for modern readers. First of all, there’s no clear prophecy in Joshua 2 to the future redemptive work of Jesus. Second, the color-connection of a “scarlet” cord and the red blood of Jesus is not a substantive correspondence. Third, no New Testament author connects the scarlet cord to the cross.
Those three points are valid but not decisive. I’m going to offer a cumulative case that argues for the scarlet cord of Rahab to be a type of Christ’s cross-work. Let’s notice how the episode with Rahab is meant to evoke the event of the exodus.
First, Rahab tells the spies, “For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt…” (Josh. 2:10).
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Reformed Parish Missions: “Gentil-Inclusión”By Michael Ives — 12 months ago
Let’s rescue the Gentiles together, Gentile to Gentile. Let’s assimilate them to the Kingdom, including them at the table as they repent and believe the Gospel. And then we can teach them English.
Years back, my heart got large for missions — especially urban missions to those on the ‘other side of the tracks.’ At about the same time, I became Reformed (a high octane, old school Presbyterian no less!), putting me in a a sub-subset of a subset. My life and ministry has ever since lived somewhat in the frontiers the unlikely and the implausible. A straightlaced, tall gringo Presbyterian goes out among immigrants, trying to evangelize in broken Spanish and recruit sinners to the “outward and ordinary means” in a humble, little Reformed church 15 minutes to the south. And to sing Psalms. Without musical accompaniment. In English.
I admit that there are all kinds of problems with this model, from a human perspective. But it is actually more plausible than one might think. Yet before I deal with the plausibles, let me first set forth some principles.
The first principle is principle! Principle precedes the practical. We must first determine whether something should be done before we decide whether or not we think it is practical. We ought to go out and bring the Gospel to all. None excluded. Politics quite aside, we may and must not discriminate based on sex, ethnicity, gender, or for that matter even sexual ‘preference.’ By the mandate of our King, we must go and tell them. Yes, as Calvinists, we know that not every “all” means “all.” But “every creature” does in fact mean “every creature.” Even if they don’t look like us, eat like us, or even use our language. It doesn’t matter whether they ‘have papers’ or not, vote Democrat or not. How they got here and whether they should by law be here, is a separate issue for a different discussion (and full disclosure: I lean quite “red” when it comes to immigration policy!). But that they are here means they are here for us to evangelize. And not just gripe about and avoid them as much as possible.
In this vein, we must evangelize our urban cities and their immigrant populations as we are Gospel debtors. Have we (or our ancestors) freely received? We must therefore freely give. All of us Gentile Christians owe it to Jewish fishermen, tax collectors, and especially one rock-ribbed “Hebrew of Hebrews,” that we are even at the Kingdom table, seated with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. My ancestors were Viking savages, raping and pillaging their way across the world. But someone left home, came, learned their language and brought them the Gospel. And now I believe, thanks to their heroism. Some of those who read this have Irish and Italian surnames, but now consider themselves generic, American evangelicals. Yet their great-grandparents lived and died under Romish superstition in their Italian- or Gaelic-speaking ghettos. I don’t know anything about Protestant urban missions to Federal Hill in Providence back in the 1920s. I hope my Swedish Lutheran ancestors did me proud and went into these “highways and hedges.” But it was their duty regardless. Or someone’s. Someone who had freely received and should have left their comfortable, upwardly mobile realization of the American dream to go to these “barbarian” huddled masses in need of the pure Gospel.
Further, the Visible Church is one. “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:4-5). Not only is the Jew-Gentile barrier dissolved under the Gospel, but all lesser, non-essential distinctions as well. “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:27-28). All functional divisions of privilege and prejudice must die at the cross, that all people who confess Christ may be one. And that, even one under the same roof when God in providence places people in the same locality (James 2:1-13). Even self-sorting is not in the spirit of the ‘Reformed catholic.’
Examining America’s Political PulpitBy admin — 2 years ago
Matthes argues for the power of the pulpit—or what she labels “sermonic influence” on political and cultural life. Such an influence, she demonstrates, has proven especially notable during times of national crisis: it is here that Protestant sermons have resonated with the greatest force.
In her new book, When Sorrow Comes: The Power of Sermons from Pearl Harbor to Black Lives Matter, Melissa M. Matthes argues for two claims. First and most fundamentally, that Protestant ministers should assume a more active public role addressing political and legal affairs, and that, in doing so, they should be met with greater acceptance as national and community leaders whose guidance truly matters. Second, that Protestant clergy espousing theological liberalism provide the greatest opportunity to enlighten public discourse and strengthen the common good.
Her work succeeds admirably on the first score, but is open to a more ambivalent assessment on the second.
The Public Power of the Pulpit
Matthes centers her work on American Protestantism and justifies her limited purview on the “cultural dominance” of Protestantism in the United States—a position of demographic preeminence still evidenced by how the majority of the religiously self-identified are some form of Protestant, and that over 80 percent of African Americans number themselves as Protestant Christians.
From this Protestant-centered perspective, Matthes argues for the power of the pulpit—or what she labels “sermonic influence” on political and cultural life. Such an influence, she demonstrates, has proven especially notable during times of national crisis: it is here that Protestant sermons have resonated with the greatest force. This is so because, despite the secularization of American culture, many Americans still look to the country’s most prominent confession, especially for consolation in moments of collective crisis and in the aftershocks of largescale national tragedies.
In defending the public role of Protestant ministers, Matthes makes her stand against the claims of some strict separationists like Andras Sajo, who argues that “social, political, and legal arrangement[s]” must “not allow considerations based on the transcendental or the sacred.” Matthes argues that when the nation wrestles with tragedy, ministers should be listened to by citizens and policymakers alike, with their messages taken as sources of politically relevant insight. This follows, she argues, from the first principles of democratic legitimacy. If the people wish religious inspiration to guide their personal and public response to collective tragedy, the people have every right to have just this; to deny it would be to reject in Richard Parker’s lofty words that “here, the people rule.”
We can add to her arguments the recognition that, in times of crisis and grieving, there would be something coldly indifferent about a strong separation of church and state in the way Sajo recommends. If people seek comfort and guidance from religion in times of tragedy, to demand that they have only an aesthetic comfort, without any cognitive guidance—to say that they may lose themselves in dirges and requiems but take no heed of the sermons accompanying them—is to give cold comfort, indeed.
Having shown that religion still plays a powerful role in the limited arena of collective sorrow, Matthes argues that an opening is forged for seeing Protestant religiosity in a more positive light outside times of national tragedy. This positive influence is disclosed, she maintains, in the way the faith engenders a concern for those in need and on the margins of social and economic life. Specifically, she says religion can promote the common good apart from crises because it can speak so helpfully to just what Sajo and others say must remain the province of secular political advocacy: human rights and human progress.
In taking this stand, Matthes responds to the counterargument that, once re-affirmed in the public square, public religion with its diversity of sects might exacerbate existing social tensions. Theological disagreement, she contends, does not negate the positive contributions of religion to the common good. A diversity of ministerial voices can actually serve to stimulate the American people to greater reflection. Her point seems to be that serious debate about the implications of the transcendent truths religion advances witnesses to the seriousness of truth and transcendence in a way that can provoke our increasingly “apatheistic” age—an age indifferent to the claims of religious transcendence—to concern itself with the truth of the matters these ministers debate. Even when expounding differing theologies, therefore, the Protestant pulpit proves its value by stimulating us to enter into a state of mind “where seeking the Truth is a lifelong project.”
A Genealogy of Political Religion
Notwithstanding this recognition of the value of pluralism, Matthes’s work argues that a particular kind of theology should exercise the greatest influence on public life. The liberal theology that underwrote the homilies delivered by mid-century liberal Protestants following the tragedy of the Pearl Harbor attack should be recovered, deepened, and deployed as a religious witness in the United States today.
Matthes develops this claim by providing a fascinating survey of American Protestant sermons delivered in the wake of nationally salient crises: not only the Pearl Harbor attack, but also the assassination of JFK, the assassination of MLK, the 9/11 attacks, and the Newtown massacre. She appears to present this review as a social science exercise, but that approach seems inconsistent with the logic of her project. The samples of sermons she reviews are far too few to serve the purpose of a positivist social science exercise. Instead, the project appears much more to be a selective culling of sermons that advance what she sees as distinct theological types—and an argument for the superiority of one such theological position.
Her work, if not fully described as such, is more akin to a genealogy in the Nietzschean sense. As Allan Parson remarks, for Nietzsche, genealogy is “arrived through processes of exclusion and inclusion” by which our pressing contemporary needs shape our conceptualizations of past events. Genealogy, for Nietzsche, is “not to be thought of as purely historical,” but as the construction of a stage on which values are placed in contention, even as we make use of selected specimens from the “long hieroglyphic record” to build our accounts.
Matthes’s genealogy starts in the Alpine heights of mid-century liberal theological promise. Protestant theology by the early 1940s had liberated itself from the Fundamentalists—a bruising battle quite truculently fought throughout the 1920s and 1930s, and from which liberalism clearly emerged triumphant, as large numbers of traditionalists were driven out of the mainline denominations. This triumphant theology still remained vigorously Christian in self-identification, but gone were notions of special divine providence, or of God working through the course of human events.
The Basics: The Deity of Jesus ChristBy Kim Riddlebarger — 4 months ago
The coming Messiah is repeatedly identified as the almighty God and eternal father, the wisdom of God, righteous, highly exalted, yet to be born of a lowly virgin. These prophetic verses can only be speaking of one person, Israel’s coming Redeemer, Jesus Christ, who is the God of Abraham (cf. John 8:58).
Like Jews and Muslims, Christians are monotheists. But unlike Jews and Muslims, Christians are also Trinitarians. We believe that the one God is triune, and is revealed as three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When it comes to the Son (Jesus Christ), the Bible everywhere affirms that Jesus is true and eternal God, uncreated, without beginning or end.
Given Jesus’s central place in Christian theology and his importance in the history of Western Civilization, non-Christian religions often attempt to co-opt Jesus and make him one of their own. But this is not easy to do since the doctrine of the deity of Jesus Christ differentiates Christianity from all other religions. If Jesus is true and eternal God as taught in Scripture, then the Christian doctrine of God is unique among world religions. The irony is that while virtually all religions honor Jesus as a prophet or teacher, nevertheless they all reject (implicitly or explicitly) the key points the New Testament makes about Jesus–that he is the second person of the Trinity, and that he is the eternal Son, and he possesses the same divine attributes as the Father and the Holy Spirit. Jesus is God in human flesh, something Jesus personally believed and proclaimed about himself (and a matter to which we will return in a subsequent essay in this series when we discuss Christ’s incarnation).
That the doctrine of the deity of Jesus Christ is not the invention of the early church as often claimed, can be seen by merely scanning the pages of Holy Scripture, with its substantial teaching regarding the deity of Jesus in both testaments. One of the most powerful lines of evidence for the deity of Jesus are those texts in the Old Testament, such as the well-known messianic prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 written hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth. “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” The Messiah will be miraculously conceived, and given the title “God with us.”