United Methodists are having an important and, at times, lively debate over the way we interpret and appropriate different parts of scripture, not least the Old Testament. The debate over how we approach scripture has emerged as part of conflict over differing understandings of human sexuality and has focused most recently around posts from Adam Hamilton and Bill Arnold. The questions under debate are important, and I want to draw attention to a new book from a Wesleyan scholar that has potential to guide us in learning how to read the Old Testament scriptures. The book is Christian Faith in the Old Testament: The Bible of the Apostles (Kindle) by Gareth Cockerill, Academic Dean and Professor of Biblical Interpretation and Theology at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi. He blogs at From Mangoes to Mechizidek. Dr. Cockerill is a friend and colleague, and I’m excited about this book because I think it has potential to significantly deepen Christian engagement with the Bible that Jesus and his first followers read, prayed, and lived. I conducted this interview before the posts from Hamilton and Arnold were published. So, you won’t see direct engagement in explicit language they use. Nevertheless, Cockerill’s book is dealing with the very same issue and will function as a reliable guide. I’ve divided the interview into two posts. Part 1 follows. Check back early next week for part 2.
“we end up with an anemic view of Christ, a superficial understanding of the atonement, and an individualistic view of the church. Our God shrinks because we no longer see the majesty of his creation, the grandeur of his work in history, or the glory of his salvation in Christ. We have little basis for social ethics. We live in rootless isolation because we no longer see ourselves as children of Abraham and part of the people of God, stretched out across history and on its way to glory. If we do not have The Bible of the Apostles, we will not have the true apostolic faith” (page 13).
“Now I was able to hand over the freedom of my birth for the benefit of others. And should I prove worthy, I am ready and willing to give up my own life, without hesitation for his name…There would I be glad to pour out my soul even to the point of death, if the Lord would so grant it me, because I am so much in God’s debt. For he gave me such great grace, that many people through me were reborn to God” (§§ 37-38).
At every forward step and movement,
at every going in and out
when we put on our clothes and shoes,
when we bathe,
when we sit at table,
when we light the lamps,
in all the ordinary actions of daily life,
we trace upon the forehead the sign [of the Cross]. -Tertullian, De Corona, chap. 3
Balcomb asserts that the Creeds were never intended for public worship. I find this somewhat misleading because the early Creeds developed as part of the baptismal liturgy used on Easter Sunday. Baptismal candidates were asked to profess faith using statements that later solidified into what we know as the Apostles’ Creed. My point, however, has to do with context not development. If the Creeds were originally intended as part of the baptismal liturgy for new believers, then Balcomb’s assertion cannot be maintained, unless he is willing to argue that the baptismal liturgy was not intended for use in public worship. Admittedly, the Creeds may not have been originally used as a profession of faith in the weekly worship of the Church, but their occasional use in baptism in public worship as early as the second and third centuries is certain (cf. Luke Timothy Johnson, The Creed, chap 1). Given the use of creedal formulations in worship settings that marked entrance into the Church, should it surprise us that believers came to find it helpful to remember and renew their baptismal profession on a more regular basis by weekly recitation of the Creeds? The Creed was intended for use in baptismal worship; it was a natural step that it should find its way into the regular pattern of the Church’s liturgy.
Too many questions?
Balcomb’s worry about the questions raised by the Creed leads him to look for something more clear, and he asserts that we should not use the historic Creeds because there are passages of scripture that do a better job of summarizing the Christian position. He cites as an example, “Our Lord’s Summary of the Law,” in Matthew 22:37. But why should we set Creed and scripture against one another? Two points should be made in response. First, creedal language is largely drawn from scripture. As Timothy Tennent notes in his book of meditations on the Apostles’ Creed, “One of the wonderful features of the Apostles’ Creed is that it only uses language taken directly from the Scriptures” (This We Believe!, 12). At the start of each chapter Tennent cites passages of scripture that substantiate the creedal language. Second, the Church’s liturgy has historically used “Our Lord’s Summary of the Law” alongside the historic creeds. Take a look at the Book of Common Prayer and you’ll find both. The Church has seen no reason to create a false either-or in this case; I see no reason to start now.
Behavior over Belief?