Some preliminary thoughts…

This is now the third time I have started this blog thing. I keep getting bogged down with other things. But let’s try it again….

Originally, in part, this site was to honor Ray S Anderson, one of my Professors at Fuller Theological Seminary. I learned the concept of Theological Instincts from him. His writings, teaching, and life were steeped in the Incarnation of Jesus as God’s self in flesh. He believed that a “Jesus” foundation for ministry was essential as the grounds for pastoral and theological work. In fact, the life of ministry is based on the profound theological implications of the life of Jesus.

Within this website, I have created several pages in Ray’s honor. You will find a Bibliography of Ray’s works and a Listing of Sermons he preached as a young pastor in Azusa, California. The sermons were bequesthed to me my another man who shared my appreciation for pastor Ray’s thoughtfulness and insights into the scripture. Don Farrer was a member of the church in Azusa (an Evangelical Free Church) and was granted access to the “memeographs” of Ray’s sermons. Don gave the materials to me and ask that I pass them along. I have over the years begun to copy them into a more modern type and have provided some of them here for your edification. Some of these have also found their way into works by Chris Kettler whom I am aware has a keen interest in the thought, life and artifacts of Ray Anderson.

I would be happy to hear your reflections on this material by the “early” Ray Anderson as well as my own writing. Subscribe and Comment as you feel led.

Good Tree, Good Fruit — the motto of Washington University of Virginia

Judas, An Answer to Prayer

Title: Judas – An Answer to Prayer Text: Luke 6:12 – 16, Date: April 24, 1966 ( by Ray S Anderson)

It is a common occurrence to read of some person’s extremity and find that this pushed them to prayer.  In fact, the most indifferent and ungodly person will usually give testimony to the prayer of desperation when his life is in danger or when some affliction or tragedy strikes.  We should not thus feel surprised to find that Jesus also was driven to prayer in times of great crisis.

There are at least four crises in the life of Jesus that are especially related to prayer.  These can all be found in the Gospel of Luke.  In chapter 3, verse 21, at the baptism of Jesus we see that it was while he was praying that the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove, and in vs 22 a voice came from heaven saying, “Thou at my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.”

We have just read the account of the calling of the twelve apostles after a night of prayer; this would be the second crisis in the life of Jesus; especially related to prayer.  Luke also tells us in the 9th chapter, verse 28, that while Jesus was on the mountain with three of his apostles, during prayer he was transfigured before them; thus we call this the Mount of Transfiguration, but it could well have been called the Mount of Prayer.  It was while he was praying that he was transfigured, as if moving into proximity with the glory that he had had with the Father, this erupted almost spontaneously into this transfiguration experience.  Certainly this was a crisis in his life as he saw from that mount of transfiguration his own destiny, and it was on that mount that he talked with Elijah and Moses concerning his death.

The fourth crisis, of course. is the garden of Gethsemane.  Luke 22, verse 41, tells us that in the garden of Gethsemane he went a stone’s throw beyond those closest to him, and there he knelt down and prayed.  Thus we are discussing in the calling of the 12 apostles one of the four great crisis events of Jesus’ life.  He went out into the hills to pray, a solitary, seeking figure – a restless night, a wakeful night, a night of anxiety and conflict and spiritual struggle.  He prayed the entire night, and when it was day he immediately called the twelve disciples, whom he called apostles, and I think it is obvious to us that the critical hours spent in prayer were a preparation for this most critical decision involving the very foundation of his ministry – the calling of twelve men to be his disciples.

In our mind’s eye we can see him, this solitary figure out in the hills praying, and with the ear of the spirit we can hear him as he audibly names one by one his friends in prayer before the Father and discusses with God the Father their potential, their weaknesses, trying to form in his own mind these critical decisions.  We hear him discussing John and talking to the Father about what a great spirit John has, the son of thunder – what great passion, what noble character, and yet how love needs to soften this great passion of John, and will love be sufficient to soften John into an apostle – thus he prays.

Perhaps he mentions the names of some who were not included in the twelve; perhaps he prayed about Nicodemus – Father, Is Nicodemus the one?  An important man, a crucial man, – a strategic man, a disciple, and yet there is something uncertain about him; we talked about the things of the spirit, but only secretly.  So on through the night – and then somewhere in the night we would hear him take the name of Judas – Father, here’s Judas, certainly one of the most exciting men that I have found, a man of great potential.

And it is at this point that we would run and cry out a warning to him and interrupt him and say – Not Judas, no, please; Nicodemus, possibly, but not Judas!  Better a furtive disciple than a malicious betrayer!  Can we believe that God the Father knows as much as we do and will not interrupt?  Will He not send some intuitive thought of terror at the name of Judas?  Is it possible that after a night of prayer he can emerge in daylight and openly and freely choose Judas as an answer to prayer?  Rather difficult, is it not? We can draw some conclusions from this thought – Judas, an answer to prayer!  The first one is this, that no man can be excluded from the possibilities of love – not even Judas! You see, the problem of a betrayer included in the twelve is intellectual only, and it is only an intellectual problem for us because we know the ultimate destiny of Judas as worked out in the history of his life, and we read it back into that dynamic relationship that Jesus had with his Father through prayer.

The one thing that we cannot see is the Judas that Jesus knew before he became a betrayer, because you see Judas was first of all a man, and then a betrayer; and as a man he was not to be disqualified from the love of God, even by his destiny, for no man’s destiny is an irrevocable thing. No man’s destiny is a pre-disqualification from the possibilities of the love of God, and we are to understand here in Judas as an answer to prayer that every man has a place in the love of God no matter what his destiny, for no man’s destiny is fixed until he finally and unalterably fixes it himself in response to the love of God.

It is true that Jesus said of Judas in the 6th chapter of John, verse 70, “Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?”  It is true that the Scripture says of Judas that he had a demon from the beginning, and yet it is also true of Judas that Jesus treated him like a man, not a devil.  Up until the very end Judas was not slighted in the love of Jesus.  At the very end Jesus seemed to make a special appeal to the manhood of Judas despite the fact that there was a demon in him, almost as if Jesus with his love would reach past the demonic quality of Judas and appeal to that childlike heart that every man has.

You see, redemptive love is an investment in the potential of man, not a wager on his perfectibility, and the possibilities of love are human potentials.  The love of God can only bring to fruition that potential that is already in man by virtue of being created in the image of God – and Judas was a man, not an animal.  Judas was a man created in God’s image and had the full range of human potential when Jesus chose him after a night of prayer.  We are to learn from this that no man can be excluded from the possibilities of love, and though there seem to be disqualification written on the face of some men, love dare not recognize that disqualification.

I read recently a rather revealing and somewhat plaintive little episode concerning Charlie Brown and Lucy.  On this occasion Lucy was at her best; she was confronting Charlie Brown and saying, “Charlie Brown, you are the world’s worst failure; in fact, you have failure written all over your face; it’s there; I can see it – it’s failure written all over your face.”  In the last frame Charlie Brown looks at his dog Snoopy and says, “Just look at my face don’t write on it!”

And we have no right to write on the face of Judas prematurely.  We have no right to disqualify him ahead of time simply because we know his destiny.

There are disqualifications that love will not recognize.  There is the disqualification of race that love refuses to see, and if race becomes a stumbling block for us in our human relations, we ought to recognize that we are not walking in love.  There are disqualifications of indifference, so that many times we say of a person – he has apathy written all over his, face; he is useless; it is futile to love that person. Not true!  Even a person indifferent to the things of God or to human values is not excluded from the possibilities of love.

There is the disqualification of bitterness, and a bitter person seems to be the most intractable and unredeemable, but it could well be that the most bitter person, a bitter young person, a bitter adult, is not so much hopeless as desperate; and while we see large segments of humanity today caught up in bitterness and rebellion and anarchy, we in love dare not exclude them from the possibilities of redemption.

There is the disqualification of guilt, self-rejection; and if a man comes to us and says – leave me alone, I have no right or place in the kingdom of God – the uniqueness of redeeming love is that it just might be the prerogative of love to choose such a man for a disciple.  It might well be within the providence of God that just such a man is the answer to prayer.  No man can be excluded from the possibilities of love.

Secondly, we can draw this conclusion, that no love is free from the risk of failure. We need to learn this lesson, for here we have in the love o£ Jesus for a man the highest  capacity of love itself.  Who would question the quality of Jesus’ love – who would say of Jesus – another man could have saved Judas?  Thus in the inability of Jesus’ love to absolutely and completely prevent failure, we have a lesson to be learned that love does risk failure in order to redeem, and Judas represents the unknown quantity in life.  He was potentially both a disciple and a betrayer, but so were the other eleven, let us not forget that.  All twelve were only potential and had the potential of betrayal as well as the potential of discipleship.

You see, we stumble at the name of Judas in the list because he failed, and somehow we get our wires crossed and think that the all night in prayer by Jesus was a guaranteed infallibility in life, that there were no unknown factors left after he prayed. The fact is that there were unknown factors left after he prayed, and Judas is simply a reminder to us that there was in the heart of every man that Jesus chose an unknown factor.  Jesus grasped that unknown quality in man with love and risked betrayal and failure in doing so.

I suppose that we equate love with success and prayer with guaranteed protection many times.  Maybe this is our problem.  Maybe the reason we cannot put Judas into the framework of Jesus’ prayer is because we want prayer to be the answer at the end of the book.  When are we going to learn that prayer is not a peek at the answer, that prayer is not some supernatural insight that makes our life infallible?  Jesus could not control the heart of Judas; he could only embrace that unknown quantity with love. I have suggested this before, but I think one of the things we need to remember is that we have a tendency to share only the prayers that work.  Far too often we are guilty of giving the impression that true prayer is only the prayer that produces some obvious and of course favorable result.  How would Jesus give testimony concerning the value of prayer in his life concerning Judas? The quality of love was not invulnerable to betrayal.  Only genuine love can be betrayed, and Judas could only become a betrayer after he was loved.

A thought came to me as I studied this portion of Scripture this week that, having had one Judas, how would Jesus pray the next time?  Having spent a night of prayer and having trusted the Father to give wisdom and then ending up with the very man who betrayed him as part of his closest band, would he pray with the same confidence and courage next time?  How do you pray the second time when you got a Judas for the first? This is where we live. Is it not?

You know how Jesus prayed the second time?  He prayed for Peter and said – Peter, when you have been converted I have prayed that you will strengthen your brethren; I pray for you that your faith may not fail – and when Peter denied Jesus, what kind of answer to prayer was that?  Jesus said to Peter – I am going to pray that you do not fail and within hours perhaps Peter said – I do not know the man and Jesus walked out of inner room and looked full into the face of Peter with sorrowful eyes.

How, how do you pray after both a Judas and a Peter?  This is how you pray.  Jesus appeared to Peter after the resurrection and said – Simon, son of Jonas, do you love me – and when Peter was able to affirm this, Jesus said – feed my sheep.  That’s how you pray if you have faith; not allowing the hurt of betrayal to rob you of the power of love.  But how often do we not shrink back and refuse to love again, or if we love again we love with reservation because we do not want to be hurt again and we say – we have every right to be careful; we must not be rash; we must use prudence because we have been taken advantage of.

I ratter think that the majority of emotional sickness can be traced to a loss of capacity to risk love, so careful not to be hurt that the capacity to risk love is shut off, and that is a distortion of life.  There is a great lesson we can learn in Judas as an answer to prayer that no love is free from the risk of failure.  So love, dare to love!  You cannot protect yourself from failure, and only in love will you find the joy and peace and fulfillment that life brings.

Let us tie in quickly a third conclusion.  We have said that no man can be excluded from the possibilities of love and that no love is free from the risk of failure.  Now we should conclude that no failure is a contradiction to the grace of faith.  Make no mistake about it – Judas, if he was an answer to prayer, was also a great failure.  What is Jesus’ attitude to his Father in heaven after Judas had betrayed him?  John 17 states an amazing thing concerning Jesus and his relationship to Judas and his relationship to the Father.  In John 17 when Judas already had made his transaction to betray Jesus, in verse 6 Jesus says to his Father in prayer, “I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou gave me out of the world; yours they were, and you gave them to me ..” At this stage Jesus can look at Judas, seeing what he has become, and say to the Father, you gave him to me.  There is no failure that contradicts the grace of faith, and he did not say that with rancor or bitterness.  He said that with the utmost of serenity – Father, you gave me Judas.  From this I gather that his night of prayer was not so much for a perfect choice, but for the power to receive, and that the results of his night of prayer show up in John 17.  Father, you gave these men to me, and even, Judas is within the providence of your grace and love and therefore does not cancel out my faith in you, my trust in your plans.

We marvel at Judas as an answer to prayer, but what of the cross?  What of the cup that Jesus must drink?  Our problem over Judas reveals again a vested interest in the outcome of prayer, revealing that we have used prayer and perhaps even a night of prayer to somehow turn the scales in our favor, to give us the advantage in life.  The implication is that the Christian, because he has access to God somehow has the scales of life tipped in his favor, that he never ends up with a Judas, that other men go bankrupt, other men’s plan fail because they don’t have the answer at the ‘end of the book’.

So what happens when a Judas turns up in our lives – the answer is obvious.  Far too many people shake their fist at God and say – God, I trusted you all this time, now what have you done to me.  God, what are you trying to do?  Not long ago I received a letter from a woman who was confessing the shame she felt because she had written to someone else accusing God of not answering her prayer concerning employment for her husband.  In the interim her husband found work, and suddenly her threats against God lost their validity, and she revealed in this the fact that this was really only a tantrum against God.

Who of you has not questioned God’s will?  Which one of you at one time or another has not challenged the integrity of God simply because life has not worked like you wanted it to work or needed it to work.  No, his prayer was to receive Judas, not merely to choose him.  Is it possible that when we enter into the valley of prayer that we emerge still with an unknown quantity in life which we must receive from the Father’s hand?  Yes, it is. Our need is to pray for the grace to receive life as given to us by God, to pray for the courage to risk love, to love a Judas who does not have betrayal written across his face.

There is an unknown quantity in our lives – and the name is Judas.  We are to learn from Judas as an answer to prayer that prayer is a far greater dimension of man’s experience than a tool to identify the Judases ahead.   It is far more important that God gives us through the spirit of prayer a capacity to embrace life for what it is and to accept it as the life that God has given us, to be able to say at the end – that life, God, which you have given me I have kept; only one is lost, Judas, the son of perdition. Learn to love without reservation; learn to pray without demanding; learn to receive without bitterness – this is the quality of Jesus’ love and faith. Jesus was a friend of God, and he said to us – I do not call you servants, but I call you friends – and in the friendship that we have with Jesus we are to learn again how to pray, how to receive, and how to love.

“Pray, we don’t get fooled again”​

Surely you know where this title comes from. Isn’t it just what we are all humming under our breath these days? We have had two years of absurdity which some of us hope will end soon with justice stepping in. We will be “liberated from the fold.” What we hope for, however, is that it will not be true that afterwards, “the world looks just the same.” Politics “as usual” is not what we want. We do need politics and the body politic to continue to provide the leadership and support that, as a complex national body, we need. We do have internal issues to deal with. Our domestic front is torn and tattered both physically and emotionally. We do have national polices which are necessary to further define us as a nation which stands for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” We also have international issues which when done appropriately provide a witness to the value of diversity, democracy and human rights around the world.

What we don’t want is to be “fooled again” by the next swing in politics from a complicit GOP to a radical influx of Dems with a just-as-absurd out-of-balance and reactionary approach. One of the themes in the Who song is the recognition of an unfortunate repetition of behavior by politicians (and almost all leaders) who are granted the right to serve (read lead) and immediately become like those who were in power before. What is needed is a new type of leadership which understands the abuses of power and specifically works to ameliorate it. When you read our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, that is exactly what we find. The political balance of power was designed to allow no one branch to take charge. What we have been viewing on the national scene is what happens when one branch abdicates their responsibility for what benefit its ideological followers hope to gain. What they don’t see is their behavior as “the men who spurred us on, [and] Sit in judgment of all wrong, They decide and the shotgun sings the song” is not the way a democracy works. The prophetic reference to “shotguns” singing is all too well ingrained in us as a reference to the insane level of violence in American as a result of this current leaderships own violent rhetoric and alt-behavior.

A sad refrain in Pete Townsend’s song is the lack of hope of real change. His last verse picks up the imagery of the first verse where we are “out in the streets,” but the next time, there is no fighting, since all have already been “hypnotized” and now “There’s nothing [that] Looks any different to me And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye And the parting on the left Are now parting on the right….” How do we stop this repetition of that which does not work?

Prophets the likes of Jeremiah, Bob Dylan, Jesus, Martin Luther King, Jr, and Pete Townend, all are presenting us, in many and various ways, with alternatives to the repetition. The method and work to change life lies within us, those tempted to be hypnotized. Our Constitution calls us to be informed, positively critical, and realists about the complex dimension of a democracy. To take a phrase from my brother, we are challenged in our current environment to grow emotionally, to develop the emotional maturity to feel, think and act in ways which support our common growth as a country. It is not always about “me first.” We need to do the hard emotional work to not be blown about by every wind of ideology or purveyor in economic prowess. Life in a democracy is by its nature not easy. We are different, we are a collective, we are multi-lingual, of different faiths and cultures.

My prayer is that we can use this song as an anthem, not of cynicism, but of hope. We have seen the writing on the subway walls, as Paul Simon once said. Maybe, just maybe, this will spur us on to be our better angles, to seek first a better kingdom, and celebrate the diversity of the being the crown of creation and together, really and seriously together, children of God.

Some thoughts on Racism and the Church

I was recently included on an email thread related to a book on the subject of Racism, mostly related to Conservative Evangelical attitudes to it. The thread also was a response to a new banner hung in the building of the church I attend which reads “Be the Church, Fight Racism.” I was struck (still processing how), by the new banner in the church building. In a conversation, just after seeing the banner, I was told that “it is impossible for a white person NOT to see know they are a racist.” I was struck by that comment too. But blindness comes in many forms.

To be clear, I was raised in central Los Angeles, and watched as the school I went to, from elementary through high school, became more and more less integrated. When I graduated from high school I was the only WASP in my class. 95% blacks, some Asian and Hispanics, and me. I was raised in a home which was as socially liberal as it comes, all persons were treated with dignity and value no matter what their ethnic, social, economic, disability, color, might be. People are people.

I was also raised to think, read, have conversations, and ask questions about how things got to be the way they are whether this was scientific, sociological, historical, economic, or engineering in nature. The goal was to understand all “things” through critical engagement. I all too often go “too deep too fast!” (As some friends of mine can confirm).

What does this all have to do with this thread? While I agree that racisim is “alive and well,” the question is what is the “church’s” responsibility toward it? How do you separate an individual christian’s response from the church’s? What is the “christian” response over against a secular, social justice response? etc., etc., etc.

My first exposure to this issue, other than the picture I painted above of my public educational years, was my first year in seminary. I needed to do an internship as part of my credits to graduate. I was accepted by an American Baptist church in central city Los Angeles. It was typical of many center city “white” churches, dying. Thriving Korean and Hispanic congregations shared the same historic and massive facilities called “Temple Baptist Church.” A primarily black homeless community “lived” in the neighborhood. The “white” congregation literally would not give up the sprawling spaciousness of its “sanctuary” to allow either of the other congregations to escape the cramped and limiting lessor rooms they were allotted. Any outreach to the homeless was seen as unbecoming of a privileged church. My New Testament Professor, George Ladd, had been a member of the English speaking congregation in the 60’s and had left when it became clear the “white” congregation was not willing to take a more christian attitude toward the changing multi-racial community of the central LA area.

I struggle with this issue of racism and the church for several reasons.  

1. The individualist view of salvation in the Protestant church has placed the assessment of ones values, ethics, and theology, too much on people who do not have the theological, let alone biblical understanding to make those assessments. The current conservative “evangelical” movement is a serious example of that. People need a stronger covenantal and ecclesial framework to understand the conflict between culture (any) and the “kingdom of God.” That is, the accommodation of the church to societal orientations is founded on an inability to understanding the biblical witness and the “calling out” of a people, called the “Church” to a new way of being human in the world.

2. The church’s view of transforming society along biblical lines is also problematic. The whole historical biblical witness of being “in” but not “of” the world, as demonstrated by God’s election of a people for God’s self, is too little understood. Hence, the attempt to “educate,” “program,” “protest for,” even “fight” for some value or ethic we view as biblical is almost putting your cart before the horse, or throwing your pearls before swine. The Gospel is hardly a fragrant aroma to those dead set on power, right, and privilege, of whatever color, ethnicity, or nationality.

Christians and the Church, or theologically more accurate, the Church and Christians should always act lovingly and with grace, without regard to anyone’s human attributes. All persons are “in Christ” and therefore “in us.” Our relationship with all persons is grounded in the relationship Jesus, in the flesh, has with all persons. He is the “true light who enlightens all humanity.” Jesus’ “way of life” is the form through which our light should also shine. Racism is not acceptable in the community of the One who has died for people of all races. And the redemptive path of showing that “acceptance” is a part of the Church’s calling. But it is a calling within the framework of what it means to “be the church” (as the banner suggests) but with the same approach which Jesus took, Love, not “fighting,” “dying” not winning. I get the nature of language and the attempt to be dramatic and intentional about the path forward. But form and substance are integral when it comes to the spread of Gospel truth. St Paul may call us to “fight the good fight” but that surely is a metaphor for being valiant, focused, and practicing perseverance. He is not recommending the violence of a crusade to “win souls for Christ,” or self-harm in order to manage sin. When the banner says “Fight Racism” what is intended? What actions will be taken? Does the sword imagery not beget a sword response? Is it that we have forgotten the power of Love so that “Be the Church, Love” sounds to trite? Or “Be the Church, lay down your life…” sounds to passive.

I write all of this to set a context to my disagreement with the tone of the banner. How the church responds to societal issues is not a “program.” A banner, whatever it says, is, in one sense, merely a banner. What is needed is a serious discussion of both the nature of all human societies’ inability to be humane, even democratic ones, and therefore equitable towards all, and the nature of the Church as the alternative “society” through which the power of the Gospel as lived by the community of the One “in whom there is no slave or free, Jew or Greek…” breaks down all social barriers. But first we need to get rid of the beam in our own eye before extracting a splinter from societies’.

Like the Barmen Confession in Germany, any societal dysfunction needs to be called out for what it is and what the Church says in response. And the form that that “call” takes must be consistent to invoke faith and transformation in some and alternatively further love of darkness in others. And finally, The Barmen Confession was as much a “call” to the churches (today’s “evangelicals”) as it was a call to those of the Third Reich. The “call” is always the power of the Gospel as expressed in love, mercy, grace and truth.

Thanks for listening… 

Hebrews: A NT Overview

Much like other books of the Bible, Hebrews opens with a statement connecting its narrative to the big picture of God’s work in the world.  The assertion that “God has spoken already in many and various ways…” suggests that God now, in the time of the author, has more to say about the divine intentions for the world. And God is about to tell us what that is. It is also the author’s tacit acknowledgment that this message stands in continuity with what has already been “spoken.”

In one sentence, the book of Hebrews reveals the culmination in Jesus Christ of God’s unchanging love for the world shown in the design of creation, the nature of human life and worship, the character of faithful living and obedience as the means through which God through Jesus restores the world and how all this is foretold in the Old Testament.  This is a rich history of God’s covenant that never ends.

Much is uncertain and unknown about the author of Hebrews. The options have segued from St Paul to  Luke, to Barnabas, to Priscilla .  The Epistle to the Hebrews, as it is canonically known, was circulated as a part of the Pauline Letters during the early life of the church. Tertullian (c 155 – c 240 AD), in the second century, adopted the view that Barnabas was the author.  Others have suggested Clement of Rome.  No disagreement about authorship, however, has led to the removal of the Letter from the canonical collection which became the New Testament.  The strength of its internal message and the continuity with other biblical material, allowed its “inspired” nature to remain in spite of the uncertainty of authorship.  Origen, writing at the same time as Tertullian states, “But as to who wrote the epistle, only God knows the truth.”  Martin Luther, writing in 1522 states that though he once had held to the Pauline authorship, he did so no longer, stating, “in the first place, the fact that Hebrews is not an epistle of St Paul or any other apostle…who wrote it is not known, and will probably not be known for a while; it makes no difference.”  At a later point, while lecturing on Genesis, according to notes taken by students, Luther suggested that the early Christian evangelist Apollos may have authored Hebrews.

The association between the text of Hebrews and St Paul might be found in Tertullian’s view that Barnabas is the author. “For there is extant withal an Epistle to the Hebrews under the name of Barnabas—a man sufficiently accredited by God, as being one whom Paul has stationed next to himself…”  Tertullian knew of such a document.  The textual connection with St Paul could be based on the extensive and intimate friendship and on-going shared ministry between the two men.  It was the early Christian community in Jerusalem that sent Barnabas to look into the expanding church in Antioch and led to his enjoining Paul to be involved.

Like much modern study of the scriptures where many and various theories are presented as to the authorship of this or that book of the Bible, the ultimate authority of the texts lays elsewhere. While it may not be a satisfying answer to some, the language of “internal testimony of the Holy Spirit” as suggested by John Calvin may be useful. In the same way that the unknown author of Hebrews can site “many and various” events in past time where God has addressed Israel, without identifying them specifically, so an epistle, in this case, ultimately must rely on God’s stamp of authenticity as one reads it to be assured of its authority. God’s witness to God’s Word is the ultimate determination of its place as canon.  The anonymous Letters to the Hebrews is such a piece of literature.


Barnabas Lindars, writing in “The Theology of the Letter to the Hebrews” (1991) states, “The author of Hebrews ranks with Paul and the Fourth Evangelist as one of the three great theologians of the New Testament.” The challenge presented in this statement is the “popularity” of Hebrews.  It’s message and intricate argument for the ultimate superiority of Jesus as the promised and now fulfilled Savior of the World is a biblical book not regularly read.  It’s reading requires some background and understanding of the OT and the character profiles of significant biblical personalities.  The OT “cloud of witnesses” amount to a history lesson in God, God’s decisions, and God’s plans for the world through Israel.  That is a big theology.  The Book of Hebrews presents that theology from beginning to end from the “many and various” ways God has worked as the penultimate presentation of His ways to the ultimate means of the divine accomplishment in the person of Jesus. Unlike Paul’s focus on Justification by Faith and the work of Sanctification through the Spirit, or John’s cosmic and spiritual Jesus, Hebrews is about the Priestly legacy of Jesus, connecting him to the Priestly figure of Melchizedek and the history of the Atonement as the foundation for the writer’s Christology.  As Lindars points out, these are added dimensions to Paul’s and John’s Christology and development of the atoning work of Jesus. “In Hebrews, we have a glimpse into a segment of earliest Christianity unknown from other sources.” Reading Hebrews is an importation yet challenging addition to the Churches understanding of how faithfulness and worship before God are built into the very fabric of life.

A further challenge with Hebrews is captured by Lindars in a striking set of paragraphs that are worth quoting in full:

“Unfortunately, the argument of Hebrews is not easily grasped.  Many readers are baffled by it. It is constantly interrupted by digressions and moral exhortations. These sometimes display an appalling rigorism, which has caused misery to readers of a tender conscience all through the centuries.  When the main argument is resumed, the reader hopes to follow it better, but soon gets lost once more.

A more serious difficulty is that the whole argument has an alien character from a modern point of view.  There are constant quotations from Scripture, but the method of using it is difficult for modern people to appreciate.  The preoccupation with the details of ancient laws of sacrifice is liable to make the reader feel out of sympathy with the author.  In any case, it belongs to a world view, which is very different from our own.  The connection with the death of Jesus often seems artificial.  In general, the argument seems to belong to an enclosed world of meaning, which is archaic and not immediately accessible to us today.” (ibid, 2f)

We will have to face this difficulty directly as we move through Hebrews. The focus on the OT is the two fold themes of Covenant and Law.  The Covenant between God and Israel came first and the Law came as a means of reminding Israel that the Covenant was first.  St Paul uses the books of Romans and Galatians to remind his readers of this relationship and the primacy of the graciousness of the covenant through faith.  But for many Christians the history of Israel has been maligned as a “wrong direction” and now over and to be forgotten.  Even set aside.  St Paul however broadens the meaning of the Law to show that all forms of religious behavior can be used to provide a false security in people.  “Having the form of godliness” Paul says to Timothy, can make people think they also have its power.  The fact is that the form of religion is always an escape from the presence of God through faith and obedience.  For the writer of Hebrews, and his arguments against the sacrificial logic of the OT, the efficacious work of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and the atonement for all human sin is a powerful corrective to the workings of the OT sacrifices.  Lindars suggests the writer of Hebrews “thinks of the saving act of God in Christ as the decisive event which starts the new era of everlasting life, the transition from the era of the old covenant to the new.” (ibid 24)  We are not called back to religious behavior but forward in faith and trust in the work of Jesus our Lord.

The focus on the OT satisfies another critical argument shared by both St Paul and the author of Hebrews.  The OT is a sign-post to the true purpose of the Law and the intent of God’s work with the people of Israel.  This “sign-post” has to do with the role of Israel in history and the means of discerning the hand of God upon Israel as propaedeutic for the coming of the Messiah as God’s anointed (selected and elected) ruler over the people God has created.  The book of Hebrews acts then as a lexicon of OT themes and metaphors to bear this out and provides the deep grammar of the OT as opposed to the thin ritual adherence which is used to demonstrate “godliness” without understand the true “power” and wisdom of God’s ways.  From the function of angels to the role of the priesthood, from the prophetic voice to the faithfulness of “a cloud of witnesses,” Hebrews draws constant parallels to the person of Christ and His faithful execution of God’s intent of obedience and faithfulness.  In Christ there is the paradigm of the faithful witness.  Israel was proleptically the “elect of God” which is finally realized in the incarnate, priestly, and risen Christ.  The law and the saccrifices of the OT were also indicators of a more faithful and ultimate atonement for the sins of the people, in that they pointed to their limitations and to the ultimate realization of forgiveness through God’s messiah.  It is that constant reminder of the limitations of the OT yet their pointing and witness function to God’s Messiah, “now in these days,” that is the burden of the rhetorical work of Hebrews.