This past Sunday, our congregation’s livestream of our morning worship was a failure due to technical difficulties. But ours was not an isolated event. The livestreams of worship services seemed to have problems all over if I hear my fellow pastors correctly. I thought that there was at least a little something saved when the recording of the sermon seemed to be intact. But then when I sampled it on line, the audio quality was atrocious, a drastic departure from what we normally have. So I thought, as an ironic extension of our series of failures (An inventory of victory? Really?!) this past Sunday, maybe I should post the manuscript of my sermon here. So here it is. At the very least, for anyone who tunes into the livestream this coming Sunday, we’ll at least all be at the same place in second Samuel.
In reading through Proverbs this time, I am, for some reason, struck by all of the assumptions these seemingly universally applicable texts have. Wisdom literature seems to always be trotted out as some kind of instruction that is non-religious and able to be used in even the most secular, non-religious person’s life. But this one verse (Proverbs 14:9) jumped out at me this morning as a blaring example of the inescapable covenantal context of Proverbs. Notice the parallel between “guilt offering” and “acceptance”. This proverb is implying that there is a need for a guilt offering in order to find acceptance. But this verse leaves us asking such questions as follows:
- What is a guilt offering?
- How can one be “upright” and still be in need of a guilt offering?
- Acceptance implies there has been a breach in a relationship, so “acceptance” with whom?
In order to answer any of these questions, we have to look to the rest of the Bible. It’s when we do that that we find that we are all in need of a guilt offering (Lev. 5.14ff; 2 Cor. 5.20-21), whether we are among the “upright” or not. Or to put it in other covenantal terms that place us within the new covenant with Christ, we all need the cleansing sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the once-for-all guilt offering. We all need Christ as our guilt offering in order to come to Him the first time (i.e. our conversion), and we all need that guilt offering for the whole course of our lives in Him (i.e. “the upright”). And we find this “guilt offering” in every worship service where we have confession of sin and an assurance of pardon. It is there where we renew our acceptance with God in Christ. It is there where there is a dying to ourselves (i.e. the right to stand up based on our own good deeds) and a rising to new life (i.e. the need to cling to Jesus for each step of every day). It is there where we are reckoned in a fresh and renewed way to be united to the crucified and resurrected king.
Imagine that. All this from a supposedly non-religious text. Whowouldafiggered.
(full disclosure: I was provided a free e-copy of this volume by the author for the purpose of writing an honest review. All page numbers will be from the electronic edition, epub format.)
I had graduated seminary and been involved in ministry in the local church for a few years when the book Word Pictures: Knowing God Through Story & Imagination (2009) was first published. I had been struggling to figure out how to communicate about the Christian faith and biblical content in better ways in our image-driven culture. I had wrestled with the question, “How do I excite people about a word-and-text-based way of viewing their world (i.e. Christianity) when everywhere else in their lives they are goaded and stimulated by images, videos, and little glowing screens. So Word Pictures‘ content was like a fresh breeze to me. Much of what was written I had already learned in various places, but Godawa was able to bring all the pieces together in such a way that it just clicked. So when this book was republished this year under the title The Imagination of God: Art, Creativity and Truth in the Bible (2016), I was very much pleased. And what follows is my attempt to help show how works like Godawa’s Imagination of God can help Christendom in the West bridge the gap from being captive to modernity over to a faithful and satisfying engagement with an image-driven culture without falling into the chasm of postmodernity.
After centering the reader in the personal dilemma out of which Godawa’s Imagination of God sprung, he moves on in chapter 2 (pp.19ff) where he lays out a very non-technical discussion of the nature of the Bible as a literary feast. And like any good diagnostician, Godawa pinpoints the problem that necessitates volumes like his, namely that the study of the Bible had been hamstrung by the 17th-18th century Enlightenment’s preoccupation with precision and empirically-verifiable data. In his words, “the biblical narrative became eclipsed by the pursuit of factual empirical verification of the text: a modern scientific obsession (pp.21-22).” This obsession of understanding the Bible in such a literal and mechanistic manner ironically led to a widespread inability to see the Bible’s text in all its rich fullness, robbing people of their ability to fully know the true and living God.
The next two chapters, “Word versus Image” and “Iconoclasm” take the readers into the battle of ideas and its corresponding history. Godawa demonstrates quite cogently how “…the structure and method of theology affects the content of theology…” and that any theology that neglects “…story, image, symbol, and metaphor… is not being strictly biblical in its method (p.57).”
But in this reviewer’s personal opinion, the real heart – the real meat and potatoes – of this book is found in the next three chapters titled, “Incarnation,” “Subversion” and “Cultural Captivity”. It is here where Godawa’s strength really shines through. Here is where he applies the previous chapters’ argumentation to our own cultural context and helps us see how it isn’t postmodernism that gives superior tools for communication but a fully biblical Christianity. In the chapter “Incarnation” he makes the point that the power of story and imagery are so potent because they embody truths that would otherwise be abstract and elusive. But when “[n}arrative imagery incarnates truth (p.70),” readers/viewers can see the truth dramatized, creating an openness and an ability to identity with the truth portrayed — an openness that would have otherwise remained distant if the truth had been communicated through propositions and/or logical argumentation. And Godawa rightly points out that at the center of all good Christian doctrine is the Truth Incarnate, the Word made flesh. Not a mere proposition, but a person. And it is this Person, this God-in-the-flesh Person, who enters the story of humanity and, with the drama of his life and teaching, punctures the pretensions and the feigned ignorance of humanity, subverting the truth claims of any and all-comers. And “Subversion” and “Cultural Captivity”, the titles of the next two chapters, is where Godawa shows how — following sound, biblical precedent — we can use the “narrative, images, and symbols (p.93)” of our cultural context and subtly appropriate and redefine them within the superior system of a Christian worldview. This is not a capitulation to the non-Christian mores and alternative worldviews of our day. This is, in fact, the conquest of them.
The remainder of the book and its appendix, though not of as crucial a nature as the preceding three chapters, are a valuable read for any Christian who feels hamstrung or without the cultural vocabulary to engage these issues that swirl around us. And any church leader who doesn’t have a firm handle on the use of story and image in the communication of the gospel today could do a lot worse than beginning with this volume by Brian Godawa.
In part 1 of this brief series, we have examined how the LGBT symbol of the rainbow flag is a sign of their community’s pride in their identity, whereas the primary symbol of the Christian community is a symbol of shame, depicting the death of Jesus, the necessary sacrifice given because of who Christians know themselves to be. In part 2, we learn that the Christian community also has the rainbow sign in its repertoire of symbols. And while the rainbow of Noah’s day was symbol of God’s faithfulness to keep His promises, it was also a symbol that God is a God of war who lays aside his war-bow in the sky to remind us of why the flood judgment had to fall. The rainbow reminds the Christian of his humble position of being saved by grace and that the judgment of God is inescapable except aboard the one vessel that has absorbed the wrath of God.
So in this final installment, we will look furthering the reality that God is not some soft, toothless, grandpa-in-the-sky and how it is reinforced when we look at the two places in the Bible where the rainbow appears again. Continue reading