Beth's Blog Series: Scripture as International Development, Part I
Ralph Winter founded William Carey International University with the intention of guiding students to focus on development efforts that would glorify God and display God's will and character to the world. This "Scripture as International Development" blog series honors Ralph Winter's lifelong devotion to the Bible.
"To me there is nothing more spectacular or significant than getting to know the Bible better and better, and in a real sense it is that process which has been for me the most exciting thing in my entire lifetime"—"Getting to Know the Bible," in Frontiers in Mission, p. 248. Listen to an audio excerpt of Winter's seminar that explains his devotion to the Bible.
"We can take the Bible for what it is, a divinely inspired showcase of true heart faith and trust in a supreme, creator God, a faith that transcends, even while infusing, multiple cultural traditions"—"The Story of Our Planet, Part 2," in Frontiers in Mission, p. 264.
See Part II of this series here.
Blog 1. The Beatitudes and Social Justice
The Beatitudes in Matthew 5 give us Jesus’ inaugural address about the Kingdom of God and show us what international development and justice should look like.
One way to see the Beatitudes through the eyes of oppressed people in the first century is to read them in “chiastic” order, a common memory device in the Old and New Testaments. With chiasm, the second half of a passage reverses the order of words or thought patterns, e.g., ABCCBA.
In this chiastic reading, the first four Beatitudes represent the condition of the oppressed. The second four represent the resources of powerful or influential people who are the means through which God intends to bring blessing and justice to the oppressed. Those who are the means of blessing others, in turn, receive the same or similar blessing.
A. Oppressed: Blessed are the poor in spirit
For theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven (vs. 3)
B. Oppressed: Blessed are those who mourn
For they shall be comforted
C. Oppressed: Blessed are the meek
For they shall inherit the land
D. Oppressed: Blessed are those who are hungry and thirsty for justice
For they shall be filled (with justice) (Amos 5:24: Let justice roll on like a river)
D'. Powerful: Powerful: Blessed are the Merciful
For they shall obtain mercy
C'. Powerful: Blessed are the pure in heart
For they shall see God
B'. Powerful: Blessed are the peacemakers
For they shall be called the children of God
A'. Powerful: Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of justice [because they championed the poor. In the past the prophets were persecuted because they championed righteousness.]
For theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven (vs. 10)
The people of Jesus’ day were hungering and thirsting for political justice. Jesus showed how their felt need for social justice would be met by the righteousness and shalom of God.
Blog 2. Blessed Are the Peacemakers
God wants his children to be known as peacemakers. Jesus is the Prince of Peace.
Greg Boyd wrote in a Sept. 2010 ReKnew blog that “a number of scholars have argued that the whole point of the book of Revelation is to vindicate God’s sacrificial lamb-like way of overcoming evil. That is, God’s way of defeating evil by being willing to die, rather than conquer with violence, looks like it loses throughout history, but all will see that it triumphs in the end.”
One of these scholars is Sigve Tonstad, author of the book, Saving God’s Reputation. He points out that as a deceiver, “Satan wins support for his cause and programme by something other than what he truly represents. If this is the case, simple demolition of the deceiver will not suffice unless or until his true character has become manifest” (p. 129). If God were to simply demolish the devil, those who have lent their support toward the evil one by believing his lies would then continue to believe the lies about God’s character.
Erich Sauer (The King of the Earth, p. 73), writing after the violence of World War II, explained his view that Satan’s area of power had been granted to him legally before his fall. (“The whole world lies in the power of the evil one,” 1 John 5:19.) Sauer believes it is God’s plan to take back the rulership of the world from Satan in a way that is “legal” and that reflects God’s justice. This meant, according to Sauer, that God would have to take the rulership of the world back without force, through the free choices of human beings who have to decide for themselves which ruler to follow.
This was obviously a big risk for God, as Gregory Boyd points out in Satan and the Problem of Evil (p. 86). By creating humans and putting them in charge of the world, God was setting up a counter Kingdom and throwing out a challenge to Satan. The serpent’s insinuation to Eve was Satan’s initially successful response to that challenge. But God struck back with a long-term plan, first mentioned in Genesis 3:15, to defeat the dark prince of this world and restore the world to what it was originally intended to be, under the rule of the Creator-King.
Satan has to wait until humans give him an opportunity to act according to theologian Trevor Ling in The Significance of Satan p. 38). God likewise has chosen to limit himself to acting when intercessors and his obedient people pray (and act on their prayers), “let your kingdom come; let your will be done” (Matthew 6:10). In this way believers can bring shalom into their spheres of influence and receive the blessing of the Beatitude that says, "blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God" (Matthew 5:9).
Blog 3. Psalm 15, Leadership and International Development
Psalm 15 is one of the “Royal Psalms,” a ritual for installing a king, patterned after Ancient Near Eastern rituals. It serves as a template for leadership under the rule and reign of God. Those who demonstrate the conditions of godly leadership in Psalm 15 will lead societies and organizations that will flourish. The central climax of this Psalm shows that a godly leader recognizes evil and turns away from it. When this guideline is followed, those under that leader’s influence will be better able to experience transformation and development according to God’s will. Societies and organizations with leaders who are corrupt, undependable, untruthful, will demonstrate the opposite of the stability and righteous living described in Psalm 15.
1 Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?
Who may live on your holy mountain?
2 The one whose walk is blameless,
who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from their heart;
3 whose tongue utters no slander,
who does no wrong to a neighbor,
and casts no slur on others;
4 in whose eyes a vile person is despised,
but who honors those who fear the Lord;
who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind;
5a who does not put out his money at interest;
who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.
5b Whoever does these will never be shaken.
(NIV and ESV)
Blog 4. Servant Leaders as Change Agents
For this blog I did a word study on the Greek words used for “servant” in the New Testament. One of those words is used only once in the New Testament, applied to Moses, God's therapon. But this word is used several times in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), also speaking of Moses. Moses was called: • a servant-therapist (Greek: therapon, in Numbers 12:7, 8; Hebrews 3:5) • a nursing father (see Numbers 11:12) (but he didn’t like this role of being nurse to a new-born, fussy nation!) • meek beyond anyone else (Numbers 12:3) Moses illustrates the Beatitude, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the land” (Matthew 5:5).
Even as a meek servant, Moses became a political leader, guiding a new-born nation toward the land God promised to give them. In this leadership role he had to be a nursing father and a servant-therapist, dealing with a bunch of complaining, disorganized slaves to bring them up out of chaos and darkness. He was a change agent. He was faithful (Hebrews 3:5). These are the qualities I would look for in a servant leader today.
Blog 5. Genesis 1—Overcoming Chaos
In my book, Chaos Is Not God’s Will, I give the detailed rationale for the controversial claim that tohu wabohu (Gen. 1:2) describes the disastrous result, at some point following God’s original good creation, when a created being used the gift of free will to rebel against God’s will.
Intelligent evil was (and still is) at work, distorting God’s original good purposes. The author of Genesis shows in the rest of the first chapter how God goes about restoring his intentions for the earth, which are the exact opposite of the chaotic conditions. The author does this by emphasizing a definite pattern in the creation story ("Day One"; "God saw that it was good"), showing that God has evil under control and patiently counter-acts and replaces it with acts of creativity, including the creation of humans to join God in fighting back against forces that oppose God.
The condition of the earth prior to creation is described in Genesis 1:2 in the Hebrew as tohu wabohu, which can be translated “destroyed and desolate,” or “topsy turvey,” or, traditionally, “formless and void.” In each of the other 18 occurrences of the word tohu, the broad context is judgment for rebellion against God. It seems logical that the first occurrence of the term would also have been in the context of judgment, setting the tone for the remaining usages of the term in the Hebrew Bible.
As a description of the consequences of opposition to God’s ways, the figure of speech, tohu wabohu, also contains within itself the solution to addressing the root problem behind the chaos and desolation. Believers have the privilege of allowing God’s Spirit to work through them to demonstrate God’s glory, by bringing order out of chaos, and by overcoming evil with good (Hebrew, tob, a word play with the similar-sounding tohu). The rest of the Bible explains how to overcome and/or avoid tohu at various levels (physical, personal, family, social, political) or it shows what happens when tohu is not overcome. (The observable chaotic result can then be called tohu wabohu.) In Genesis 1, physical chaos is being overcome by God’s good creation.
Blog 6. Genesis 1—The Land, and International Development
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Hebrew: eretz). Now the earth (eretz) was ... (Gen. 1:1, 2a).
And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land” (eretz) and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good (Gen. 1: 9, 10).
To your descendants I give this land (eretz), from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— (Gen. 15:18).
If the hill country of Ephraim is too small for you, go up into the forest and clear land for yourselves there in the land (eretz) of the Perizzites and Rephaites (Josh. 17:15).
"This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Tell this to your masters: With my great power and outstretched arm I made the earth (eretz), and its people and the animals that are on it, and I give it to anyone I please’” (Jer. 27:4, 5).
General Overview The account in Genesis 1 of God’s making the land helped the people of Israel see themselves as a community of the people of God, about to inherit a land made for them by God. The author of the creation passage certainly knew how to get his readers’ and listeners’ attention. The grammar of Genesis 1:2 places a strong emphasis on “the land” by placing the noun before the verb, which is not usual in Hebrew: we’ha’eretz hayeta, “now the earth was ...”. Why did the new nation of Israel need to have this material and to have it written as it is?
In my book, Chaos Is Not God's Will, I explore three main possibilities: 1. The people needed to know why the land they were going to enter could legitimately be considered theirs. 2. The process of God’s making the uninhabitable “earth” or “land” into a place for people to live serves as metaphor for the creation of a society, the nation of Israel, out of the chaos of slavery. 3. The people could learn important lessons about God and their relationship to him from this creation account.
Blog 7. Genesis 1:1, 2 and International Development
Destruction and desolation are inherent in a mind and/or society rebelling against God. Evil choices are the evidence of a mind in opposition to God, and that mind (or society) can be characterized by the physical metaphor of tohu wabohu—destroyed and desolate. It is destroyed because it isn’t working the way God made it to work—it is twisted, turned to wrong purposes, therefore purposeless from God’s perspective. It is desolate because the Spirit has withdrawn from that life or society, as in Ezekiel’s vision of the Spirit in the wheels leaving the temple and the land.
Evil choices result in the Spirit leaving (“my Spirit will not always strive with man”) and the withdrawal of the Spirit of God leaves behind a desolate person/society that self-destructs.
However, this pessimistic picture isn’t the end of the story. In Gen 1:2, the Spirit is hovering or stirring over the deep in preparation for a new beginning that will overcome tohu with tob, or evil with good. Similarly, in the Gospel of John we see the tradition that healing would take place at the pool called Bethesda when an angel stirred up the waters, making them life-producing/healing.
The only hope for Spirit-abandoned individuals or societies is for those who have the Spirit dwelling in them to bring the Spirit to the desolate person or society. The key to addressing the roots of human problems is for individuals and societies to make right choices to overcome evil with good (see Romans 12:21). Jesus demonstrated the ultimate good choice by giving up his life. All his followers are called to die to self.