Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Fictitious Evangelical Arguments Against Evolution That Aren't Helpful

Thoughts on Kevin DeYoung’s Restless Comments on the Historical Adam
by Peter Enns
February 13, 2012
When I read Kevin DeYoung’s post last week on 10 reasons to believe in a historical Adam, I was initially inclined to shrug [it off] and let it go. It’s a big world filled with all sorts of opinions, and there’s no need to reach for my laptop whenever I read something disagreeable. (See cartoon below.)
I also don’t want to be misunderstood as piling on a Christian brother, since biblical scholar and blogger James  had already offered a brief but devastating rebuttal only hours after the post went up.
1. DeYoung claims that “the Bible does not put an artificial wedge between history and theology,” meaning that the theology of Genesis rests on its historicity. But the entire issue turns on what is meant by “history and theology,” the relationship between them in Genesis, and just what an “artificial wedge” looks like as a result.
Those aware of that on-going discussion would want to ask DeYoung to defend his assertion that history and theology are closely aligned in Genesis, while also demanding that he give a credible account of the mountains of scientific and ANE evidence that brought the historical challenges to light in the first place–which is to ask whether DeYoung is tying history and theology together “artificially.”
To avoid further misunderstanding, let me say that no one I know in this discussion is saying that history doesn’t matter for theology. Rather, the historical and theological dimensions of the Adam story specifically are well-known to be problematic and cannot be sidestepped by making empty claims about artificial wedges.
Neither will this discussion be helped by appealing to the ultimate Evangelical conversation stopper, accusing one’s opponents of being influenced by the “Enlightenment.” The Enlightenment foundations of the type of fundamentalism DeYoung is advocating here are well known.
2. DeYoung’s understanding of the nature of ANE myth and the relationship of Old Testament to it seems to have some gaps.
To be sure, Old Testament origins stories (not limited to Genesis 1-3 but, e.g., psalms that pick up on the cosmic battle motif) were written to “supplant” for Israel the myths of the surrounding nations. That is crystal clear. But DeYoung takes this in a curious direction.
Israel’s stories do not supplant the other stories by being somehow “historical” by contrast–to show those Babylonians “what really happened.” Israel’s stories offer an alternate theological account of their God by employing mythic themes and imagery of other cultures–even if those themes and images are reframed and re-presented by the biblical writers, which they certainly were.
The polemic of Israel’s creation stories works because they share the same conceptual world of their neighbors. DeYoung seems to think the polemic works because it abandons that conceptual world.
If there is anything we have learned about the Old Testament over the last 150 years, it is the clear and pervasive influence of the ANE world on the biblical writers–which is to say, the Bible reflects the cultural contexts in which is was written.
DeYoung seems to have a problem with this, and so seeks to put an “artificial wedge” between Israel’s creation stories and those of the ANE world at large. That is a battle he simply cannot win.
3. McGrath corrected DeYoung by pointing out that Genesis 1 does have poetic elements, namely the poetic structure of the days, even if other poetic elements are missing. But I am not sure why DeYoung brings Genesis 1 into the picture in the first place, since the topic is Adam, who makes his appearance in Genesis 2.
Nevertheless, I agree with DeYoung that a poetic description does not necessarily mean something is non-historical. However, reading narrative (Genesis 2ff.) does not mean one is reading history, as DeYoung seems to imply. Narrative can certainly be used to describe historical events and highly stylized historical events (historical fiction), but it is also used to relay fictional accounts–in ancient and modern times.
Narrative does not guarantee historicity, in the Bible or any other literature. Historicity is determined by other factors.
4. Following upon #3, DeYoung’s assertion that there is a “seamless strand of history from Adam to Abraham” is a stock item of Evangelical apologetics, and one cannot blame him for calling upon it. As the reasoning goes, since the Abraham story is clearly straightforward history, and since the editor of the Pentateuch put the Abraham story immediately after the primeval history, that this pairing definitively settles the question of whether Genesis 1-11 is historical.
If one pauses to think about it, the logic of that argument is hardly self-evident. DeYoung also seems unaware or unconcerned that there are legitimate and widely discussed historical challenges surrounding the Patriarchal narratives themselves, the acknowledgment of which should at least should temper DeYoung’s assertion. Further, even if the Patriarchal narratives displayed the kind of history DeYoung sees there, the pressing historical issues of Genesis 1-11 would still remain.
If the matter were as simple as DeYoung puts it here, one would hardly need nine other reasons to believe in a historical Adam.
5. DeYoung’s brief comment on the reference to Adam in the genealogies of 1 Chronicles 1 and Luke 3 suggests an unfamiliarity with the nature and function of ancient genealogies.
DeYoung would also need to explain–not assume–why the presence of a name in an biblical genealogy, even if presumed to be historical by the writers, settles the historical question of human origins today. No doubt, he would respond that to say otherwise would violate the inerrancy of Scripture, but this simply begs the question: “what do you mean by inerrancy, and what makes you think you can apply it this way in this instance?”
It is rhetorically compelling to look at the genealogy in Luke, which has Jesus and Adam on either end of it, and conclude that both must be understood today as historical in every sense of the word. But does DeYoung really think that those who disagree are somehow missing this prooftext? Again, if things were as simple as DeYoung makes them out to be, we would not need another nine reasons.
6. The argument here is substantially the same as in #5. DeYoung claims that Paul believed in a historical Adam, and I agree with him (though not all Evangelicals do). He further implies that this observation should settle the matter, as we can see from his citation of Tim Keller at the end of the post: ” If you don’t believe what he [Paul] believes about Adam, you are denying the core of Paul’s teaching.”
This is an unfortunate quandary, for to take this admonition seriously, one has really little choice but to turn a blind eye to the scientific investigations of human origins. Perhaps DeYoung is prepared to do this and counsel others to follow his example. I am not sure.
Paul’s view on Adam is perhaps the central issue in this debate among Evangelicals. But the entire question turns on whether Paul’s comments on Adam are prepared to settle what can and cannot be concluded about human origin on the basis of scientific investigation.
Citing a few verses as transparent prooftexts does not relieve us of the necessary hermeneutical work of what to do with Paul’s words. Paul’s view of Adam does not end the discussion, as DeYoung thinks; it begins it.
7. “The weight of the history of interpretation points to the historicity of Adam.” This is false. It points to what those earlier interpreters had every right to assume about human origins on the basis what they understood at the time.
In his recent book, John Collins makes an analogous argument, that ancient Jewish views of Adam as first man should be considered “evidence” for the contemporary discussion of human origins, but surely this is a strange use of ancient sources. The entire point here is that much of the history of interpretation did not have to deal with evolution, so their perspective by definition does not help us.
DeYoung would need to explain how an appeal to assumptions of human origins in “pre-evolutionary” Christianity help us today in adjudicating a modern scientific issue, and how this same sort of reasoning would not also move us toward a flat earth and geocentric cosmos.
The “weight of the history of interpretation” is part of the problem we must think through today, not its solution.
8. Many have addressed the philosophical and theological issues concerning what it means to be human in view of evolution. I wholly concur that this is a very big issue, and one that needs to be thought through, which is certainly happening today. The fact that DeYoung does not see how humans can be “all part of the same family” if evolution is true, however, does not mean that others can’t.
9-10. These final two points are variations on and implications of #6. DeYoung begs several questions–again, which have been pondered long and hard by others–about what the Bible actually says about original sin and guilt, and how Paul’s use of the Adam story is not necessary for the “doctrine of the second Adam to hold together.” DeYoung’s points here continue to betray a disregard to wide-ranging discussions among theologians, philosophers, and biblicists.
I am sorrowfully aware that this post could be taken (and no doubt will be taken by some) as clear evidence of the hubris of an academic, wholly detached from or even hostile to the life of the church. I am deeply sorry if anything I said has come across as demeaning or unnecessarily harsh. That is not my intention, and my concern about being misunderstood is the main reason why I hesitated posting at all.
But I think the issue before us is worth the risk of such misunderstanding. It is precisely a desire to contribute to the life of the church that has led so many in recent years to want to bring this issue out into the open.
Posts like DeYoung’s do not defend the faith as much as they calcify particular doctrinal formulations in the face of very clear data to the contrary–to the harm of all concerned. What is needed in this discussion is not the airing of views by the young and the restless, but more efforts to “come and reason together” by the seasoned and centered.

How Narrow or Broad is Your View of Jesus and Scripture?

The Future of Evangelicalism
I want to invite all my web site readers to follow along and contribute to a new electronic conversation that I will be hosting, starting on May 1, on the topic “American Evangelicalism: Present Conditions, Future Possibilities.” I am guessing that the views that will be expressed on this topic will range from “there is no viable future for Evangelicalism” to “Evangelicalism can have, and should have a vibrant future”. Allow me to conjecture as to why such a wide range of viewpoints may emerge.
It may depend on how one defines some key words and phrases. I will illustrate by reflecting on what are often taken to be three of the pillars of Evangelicalism (drawing on the work of Christian scholar David Bebbington).
The Centrality of the Biblical Record: Mark Noll has referred to this pillar as “a reliance on the Bible as ultimate religious authority.” But there are narrow and broad views as to what that means. The narrow view is a “Biblicism” that views the Bible as the only source of authority and understanding for the Christian. A broader view, which I embrace, is that whereas the Bible is the primary source and ultimate authority for my understanding of the Christian faith, it is not the only source and authority. Other sources include the Christian tradition, reason, and experience, and knowledge that is uncovered by study in the various academic disciplines.
The Centrality of Personal Commitment to the Christian Faith: Once again, this phrase can be interpreted narrowly or broadly. The narrow view can be called “conversionism;” the view that you aren’t a Christian unless you can point to a time and place when you made a decision to accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior (being “born again” at that time). A broader view, which I embrace, is that a Christian is one who aspires to be a “follower of Jesus” by personally appropriating the gift of grace made possible through the person and work of Jesus Christ, and that there is no one prescribed means for such personal appropriation (e,g., it can emerge gradually).
The Centrality of Evangelism: Christians are called to share the “gospel” (the “good news” of restoration made possible by Jesus Christ). A narrow view of such “evangelism” is that the only message we are called to share with all peoples is that God intends to restore individual persons to a right relationship with God. A broader view of evangelism, which I embrace, is that the “good news” applies to all of God’s creation, not only individuals. The person and work of Jesus Christ are decisive for the restoration of all aspects of the created order, including the natural world and societal structures.
So, whether you think that Evangelicalism can, and should have a vibrant future may depend on whether you embrace the narrow or broad views of the “pillars of Evangelicalism” that I have summarized above, or something in-between.
Of course, what I say above could be all wrong. Thankfully, I have recruited “primary contributors” for this upcoming conversation who have much more expertise on this topic than I do. I can hardly wait to read what they will have to say about present conditions and future possibilities for American Evangelicalism. I invite you to will follow this conversation and contribute your own reflections by submitting comments.
To give you a sneak preview of what is to come, the seven sub-topics that our primary contributors will address (one topic per month, from May through November 2013) are as follows (in the order presented)
  1. Evangelicalism and the Broader Christian Tradition
  1. Evangelicalism and the Exclusivity of Christianity
  1. Evangelicalism and the Modern Study of Scripture
  1. Evangelicalism and Morality
  1. Evangelicalism and Politics
  1. Evangelicalism and Scientific Models of Humanity and Cosmic and Human Origins
  1. Evangelicalism and Higher Education
I am pleased that over 20 Christian scholars have committed to being “primary contributors,” including Vincent Bacote (Wheaton College), Randall Balmer (Dartmouth College), Amy Black (Wheaton College), Jeannine Brown (Bethel Seminary). Peter Enns (Eastern University). John Franke (Yellowstone Theological Institute), Stanton Jones (Wheaton College), Richard Mouw (Fuller Theological Seminary), Soong-Chan Rah (North Park Theological Seminary), Sandy Richter (Wesley Seminary), Sarah Ruden (Wesleyan University), Corwin Smidt (Calvin College), Theodore Williams (City Colleges of Chicago), John Wilson (Books & Culture), and Amos Yong (Regent University). Anytime after May 1, you can contribute to the conversation in a moderated forum by submitting a comment on any posting.
[For an elaboration on the above reflections, including the citations for the scholarly works noted above, see my essay “What Can the Evangelical/Interdenominational Tradition Contribute to Christian Higher Education” under the “Publications” icon on this web site]

Continue to -


Book Review: "Legacy of Israel in Judah's Bible"

The Survivors Write the History: a brief book note on a new book on the Old Testament
I recently began reading The Legacy of Israel in Judah’s Bible: History, Politics, and the Reinscribing of Tradition by Daniel E. Fleming, professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University. I’m glad I did; it’s a great book.
Israel began as a unified people but split into northern and southern kingdoms in 930 BC after the death of King Solomon. The northern kingdom retained the name “Israel” and the smaller southern kingdom was known as Judah, and its capital was Jerusalem.
The northern kingdom was overrun by the Assyrians in 722 BC, much of its population was taken captive, and the nation never revived. Judah, however, remained survived until 587 BC when Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians. Only, unlike Israel, Judah returned in 539 BC to rebuild their temple and their nation.
The nation of Judah survived and the Old Testament is Judah’s story.
Even though their northern counterparts certainly had written traditions that the Judahites possessed, these traditions were edited and brought into Judah’s story to reflect the story these postexilic survivors wanted to tell. The Judahites were the ones who determined its final shape and content. The flow of the long narrative from Genesis to 2 Kings culminates in Judah’s story. The prophets and the Psalms focus on Judah and Jerusalem. The Old Testament is “Judah’s Bible.”
But the story that the Judahites tell includes Israel significantly. They present their own beginning as part of the unified nation called Israel under Saul, David, and then Solomon. It also tells the story of the northern kingdom’s rise and fall in some detail, though clearly with little positive to say about it.
The question Fleming address is this: Given that the story of Israel and Judah is told through Judahite eyes, what can we learn, through biblical and archaeological evidence, of the history of the northern kingdom Israel?
The book is about 320 pages long and is divided into 4 parts.
Part 1 Introduction: Israel and Judah. The divided nations had very different types of political organization, with Judah being more centralized and less diverse, and Israel being larger, decentralized, and more politically collaborative.
Part 2 Israelite Content in the Bible. Fleming looks at specific texts that preserve narrative content from Israel and indicate the contrasts between the two nations.
Part 3 Collaborative Politics. Fleming elaborates the collaborative politics of Israel, with the Amorites and Arameans as a backdrop.
Part 4 Israel in History. Fleming concludes with a lengthy discussion of what we can know historically of Israel, tracing Israel’s story from its 14th century antecedents through the divided monarchy.
This book is an academic volume, but not technical. It might be tough going for college students, but certainly not for seminarians or doctoral students.
I have long been keenly interested in that perennial problem of history in the Old Testament–what kind of “history” writing do we find there and how much of it? This is not simply a problem for book like Genesis, but for every part of the Old Testament, including the so-called “historical books” of the monarchy and divided monarchy. So far, I like this book a lot and I recommend it to those who have similar interests.
If anything, The Legacy of Judah’s Bible demonstrates not simply that the Old Testament tells a story from the perspective of one portion of that nation, late in time. That is assumed, for it is neither controversial or contested in scholarly circles. Rather, Fleming demonstrates–perhaps ironically for some–how much history can actually be uncovered once you recognize that the survivors told the story.

Book Review: Politics in the Hebrew Bible, Parts 1-3


RTD: Walter Brueggemann on Michael Walzer’s “In God’s Shadow: Politics in the Hebrew Bible”

by Walter Brueggemann
March 25, 2013
The the first of three posts this week on Michael Walzer's In God's Shadow: Politics in the Hebrew Bible.

Post 1 of 3

Michael Walzer occupies a distinctive place in political interpretation. He is a distinguished political scientist who continues to have a significant investment in the Hebrew Bible. His writing thus permits a convergence of the agility of his Jewish perspective on the Bible and his engagement with contemporary questions of power. He has authored an important book on the Exodus narrative and the continuing influence of that narrative upon revolutionary thought and action. His paper, “The Prophets as Social Critics,” moreover, recognized the prophets of ancient Israel as serious social critics and analysts who exposited Israel’s “core values” of justice and righteousness and who were alert to oppressions that impeded social solidarity.
In the present book Walzer provides an overview of the political landscape of the Hebrew Bible, in turn reflecting on the old legal codes, and the role of kings and their counterpoint of prophecy. The latter part of his book reflects on the pluralism of emerging Judaism as concerns the role of priests, sages (the intellectuals), and elders, plus the articulation of messianism. The title of his book In God’s Shadow, however, indicates that his book is not simply a reflection on the human management of power, but on the interface, tension, or contraction (depending on one’s view) between human agency in politics and the rule of God. While he keeps that question alive throughout the book, he ends with the judgment that political claims for God lack any kind of substantive realism that could make a difference in the actual practice of political power. Thus at the end of the day, one may hear an irenic echo of Stalin’s question about how many divisions the Pope (or beyond the Pope, God) has. And if no divisions, then no pertinence!
Early in the book Walzer offers a distinction that is sure to be durable and helpful. As interpreters have long done, Walzer ponders the relationship between the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants. But his take on that relationship is quite fresh. He judges that the Abrahamic covenant is familial and based on kinship, so that one is born into the political/religious community. By contrast the covenant at Sinai is one of “adherence.” One can “join up” and so pledge participation in the expectations of the community by choice. He observes that as the tradition developed, the “birth model” comes to feed into “nativism and exclusion” with particular reference to the “holy seed” of Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra 9:2; Nehemiah 9:2; Esther 6:13), and comes to fruition in “the priestly covenant with Aaron” and the “royal covenant with David.”
By contrast one can see the decision for - and struggle with - “membership” at Sinai, as for example in the negotiations in Joshua 24. Walzer’s analysis fits nicely with the more common scholarly judgment that the Abrahamic covenant is “unconditional” and the Sinai covenant is “conditional,” turning on the decisive “if” of Exodus 19:5. Given Walzer’s analysis, one can see why the familial is unconditional, because one does not choose one’s birth. Walzer judges that the covenant at Sinai was “the most important of Israel’s covenants” that depended on “consent, not blood.”
But Walzer’s real concern is how to parse the “omnipotent God” in the midst of power politics. That is the central preoccupation of the book in which he concludes that the political must - and was - kept away from God-claims. I submit that Walzer operates with a modernist compartmentalization of “politics” and “religion” and lacks (or neglects) the particularity of the God of the Bible who does not fit with the abstract claims for religion with which he operates. He observes without knowing how to interpret, that,
The God of the Bible is omnipotent; yet, at the same time, is angry and frustrated (96). 
I submit that Walzer’s knowing perception about political power works much better than his assumptions about this theological tradition and the God of the narrative. Lacking agility about the way in which the agency of God works in the imagination of ancient Israel, he cannot very well engage the claims of the text. And no doubt, the beginning of the problem is his easy assumption of divine “omnipotence.”
As a result when Walzer comes to the prophets he cannot follow the logic of the rhetoric. Thus he partitions the prophets off from politics:
Politics lies just beyond the prophecy, but the biblical prophets, judging from their texts, did not go there (88).
He imagines that prophetic counsel is to “do nothing” and suggests that the prophets urge that a domestic policy of justice will lead to an international outcome of security. He judges, moreover, that in modern version such a connection of domestic and international policy is driven not only by leftist ideology but also by prudence and calculation” (108). He writes as though the prophets themselves were incapable of - or unwilling to engage in - prudence or calculation. His characterization of the prophets assures that his interpretation will be something of a misrepresentation.
On two counts I wonder, First to say that the prophets “did not go there” (into politics) is not unlike imagining that Jeremiah Wright specializes in religion and “does not go” into politics. But then, Jeremiah did not get put into a cistern for his religious imagination, but because he was the point person for a dangerous political opinion. And second, what Walzer dismisses about the interface of domestic and international policy has not yet been tried. It is hard to factor out how such a posture could be less of a failure than our current failures in what passes for “political realism.”
This book is filled with rich and suggestive insight. I have the impression, however, that Walzer is “modern” in his categories and so cannot take in the imaginative alternative that is at the center of the text. He acknowledges that Norman Gottwald insists that the prophets do not mean to “fold hands and wait.” But Walzer judges that Gottwald does not see what the text in fact says.
Walzer’s deep commitment is to the categories of Max Weber whom he cites often. While he cites Gottwald, he has little awareness of the alternative reading of Gottwald that is informed by a Marxian hermeneutic. Perhaps this is an important recognition that everything turns on one’s hermeneutical commitments. I submit that Walzer is better than his hermeneutical assumptions that preclude his engagement of the text on its own terms. There is much to unpack from Walzer’s deep learning. More nonetheless remains to be said concerning the “Shadow” that it not so easily explained away from power politics as given in these texts.
RTD 2: Mira Morgenstern on Michael Walzer’s “In God’s Shadow: Politics in the Hebrew Bible”

by Guest Post
March 27, 2013
The the second of three posts this week on Michael Walzer's In God's Shadow: Politics in the Hebrew Bible.
Post 2 of 3

It is deeply satisfying to read a new book by Michael Walzer on the Hebrew bible. Certainly this is not Walzer’s first book on the Hebrew bible: Walzer’s earlier Exodus and Revolution already gives us a unique way to re-imagine the revolutionary implications of the biblical text. With this new volume, Walzer’s writings on the bible continue to invigorate the way we can read this most ancient of texts.
Michael Walzer’s In God’s Shadow sets a difficult task for itself. It reads the wide-ranging Hebrew bible to get a sense of how political institutions actually functioned in biblical times. This enterprise is more difficult than it sounds. Mining a work that consciously centers on historical and legalistic narrative for structural and procedural understandings about how political life actually works can be a counter-intuitive project. It is a tribute to Walzer’s masterly sense of his craft and his nuanced readings of the biblical texts that he succeeds so well at his self-appointed task.
Deliberately eschewing a philosophical or reductive (morally or otherwise) reading of the Hebrew bible, Walzer approaches these much-commented texts with another set of questions in mind: what role is left for politics in a world that, according to the bible at least, is governed by God? The New Testament famously answers these questions by dividing the world into separate (albeit frustratingly interacting) spheres: “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). This insistence on separating the two areas allows for the claim of a well-organized life; at the very least, we may hope that readers of the text may avoid the experience of ambiguity. Walzer is aware that this answer does not suffice for the authors of the Hebrew bible: for them, the warp and woof of everyday life demands taking account of complicated inconveniences.
Given the primacy that Walzer places on the workings of political institutions within a textual culture that focuses on the individual apprehension of his/her own place within the moral and physical universe (Walzer highlights these as matters of ethics), it is understandable that Walzer is frustrated with the lack of attention paid to political process within narratives that themselves focus on political change and its accompanying tensions. In Walzer’s terms there is no (or very little) evidence of political deliberation within the various texts of the Hebrew bible. One might wonder why that is the case. For Walzer, this absence marks a deficiency in the political quality/self-awareness of the Hebrew biblical text. By the same token, this utilization and analysis of deliberation highlights the excellence of the ancient Greek writings on politics, which explore the human possibilities of politics. For the ancient Greeks, this self-awareness in the process of defining political goals and procedures characterizes the most elevated manifestation of human existence.
This leads to one of the questions that seem to haunt Walzer’s book: is Walzer searching the Hebrew bible for something that is not there? Is that why the penultimate (and historically, most wide-ranging) chapter of the book, “Where Were the Elders,” ends with this question unanswered? In that context, a book centered on the absence of what we have come to consider a primary legitimating quality of political procedure itself raises questions about the aesthetic, if not the philosophical, clarity of the enterprise.
In fact, however, Walzer writes this book with the assumption that there is indeed something more there; that the Hebrew bible does have some sense of politics even if it is in God’s shadow. Walzer’s evocative use of this particular biblical expression – well-known although perhaps not as well-understood – is worth some serious contemplation. What does it mean to be in God’s shadow; or in anyone’s shadow, for that matter? Conventional understanding of that phrase normally refers to a situation where the person or thing within the shadow is overwhelmed by the force of the shadow; itself fading into nothingness. Of course, that image raises its own questions: shadows are themselves ephemeral, with no restraining or restrictive power of their own. Is there, then, an element of (conscious or not) abnegation[1] on the part of the person who remains in the shadow? Does Walzer’s titular imagery imply that the Hebrew bible has little room for robust political action on the part of human beings who are caught in God’s shadow? We will see that this question is itself interrogated throughout the Hebrew bible.
It is worth noting that the precise nature of these questions does not always figure clearly in Walzer’s discussion of political institutions in this book. Still, these themes do (silently) continue to frame the kind of issues that this book broaches. Elucidating some of these themes may help clarify Walzer’s enterprise of reading the Hebrew bible with a view towards understanding that work’s approach to political life.
In that context, one might regard Walzer’s enterprise as it is set forth in this book – does the Hebrew bible speak about politics in the same way that the ancient Greek political theorists did? – as only a partial expression of what is really at stake for Walzer in this discussion of politics. As we realize, a negative answer (“no”) to that question is not the same thing as arguing that the expression of politics in the Hebrew bible is, at best, only partial. Certainly politics’ expression in the Hebrew bible is not in the same style as that valorized by the ancient Greeks in their political discourses, but it does not follow absolutely from that point that political deliberation is missing from the biblical text. Also, it is important to take into account a (natural?) tendency on the part of a contemporary reader to devalue the political content of a text that historically has not wielded the same amount of political influence as have the better-recognized ancient Greek political texts (although Walzer specifically excludes the “influence” question from his evaluation of the political quality of the Hebrew bible,[2] so that point should not be a major issue).
At the same time, it is important to note that the concept of “text” itself plays an important role in evaluating the Hebrew bible’s conception of its own politics; and that this sense of text differs significantly in the ancient Hebrew biblical and ancient Greek cultures respectively. Unlike the place of the text in the ancient Greek political arena, the text in the ancient world of the Hebrew bible is not the province of elites alone. In the Hebrew bible’s own recounting, its central text, the text of the Torah, including both legal and historical narratives that encompass depictions of individual personalities as well as group expressions, forms the background against which individuals think, dream, argue, and act. The Hebrew bible views the text as an active part of individual and national consciousness. Discourse about this text varies historically from generation to generation, enabling politics to be reimagined and newly enacted in a perennial stream of change and transformation.
Living in the 21st century, we are devastatingly aware of how the biblical text has revolutionized the lives of people all over the world, whether through the liberation narrative in Exodus[i] ((this is Walzer’s own seminal contribution to the modern analysis of political theory in the biblical text),[3] or through the discussions about equality, holiness, and the institution of a monarchy, along with the biblical narratives describing how this form of leadership operated. And so the question naturally presents itself: can we detach the narrative of the text from discourse about the text and the reimagination of its meaning? How can we separate the dancer from the dance?[4]
Finally, speaking about politics in the Hebrew bible as enacted in “God’s shadow” and thus, as implicitly justifying political quietism, does not exhaust the additional possibilities of “God’s shadow” as the biblical text itself conceives those to be. And here, the further complexities of Walzer’s carefully-chosen title are made manifest. In the context of the biblical text, “God’s shadow” transcends the conventional image of the trapped follower. As noted by some early-modern biblical commentators who link the closely-related words for shadow (Tzel) and God’s image (Tzelem),[5] the targeted power implied by the creation of man in God’s image overlays the quiescent image of the “shadowed follower” by stipulating that human beings proactively follow God’s path (in the sense of “imitateo Dei”) by dynamically performing acts of developmental and moral creativity.
It is perhaps puzzling, in view of Walzer’s masterly choice of title, that the political implications of the human dual role, or doubled mission – with the concomitant obligations of the nuanced comprehension and action demanded of human beings within the biblical context – do not receive further exposure in this book. In certain areas, Walzer’s wonderfully nuanced understanding of the complexity of texts seems inexplicably, at times, to flatten the biblical text as promoting mutually exclusive dualities. For example, in speaking about politics in the Hebrew bible as reduced to following Divine instructions, Walzer omits consideration of those situations, described by the bible itself, in which Divine instruction is not clear, and in which (political) options range beyond the simplistically dualistic.
An obvious example of this type of circumstance occurs in the Book of Esther, when Mordecai attempts to persuade Esther, the (secret) Jewess married to King Ahaseuerus, to utilize her position at the royal court to plead for the lives of the other Jews in the Persian Empire, who themselves had been targeted by an ethnic-cleansing decree. promoted by the King’s Prime Minister, Haman. Nobody in the text suggests checking with what God might want them to do; the decision of how and when to act is left up to human deliberations.[6]
A parallel instance occurs in Walzer’s analysis of war in the Hebrew bible. Here, too, Walzer assumes that Divinely-approved battles are (largely, if not completely) styled as demands for total war, with the negative implications for the current reader that the idea of “ethnic cleansing” inevitably evokes in our newly-sensitized consciences. In Walzer’s view, small, self-contained military campaigns of primarily political significance are largely ignored by the Hebrew biblical text and, Walzer argues, do not receive the Divine imprimatur nearly as easily.[7] While this analysis makes for easy reading, this approach does not reflect the complications of the text of the Hebrew bible itself. With this heuristic device, Walzer reduces the range of military actions that fall under the category of the biblical “milhemet reshut,” or “voluntary battle” which include a variety of battles that a king may choose to fight, with or without explicit Divine sanction, that may or may not meet with either complete success or failure.[8]
Likewise, the military strategies employed by biblical protagonists throughout the biblical texts as they wage war, without either consulting God or incurring his wrath, are similarly ignored by casting the categorization of war-making in the Hebrew bible as “holy war or bust.” One example, worth citing here (although not mentioned in the book) for its human-centered notion of (partial) war that does not incur Divine wrath, concerns Jonathan’s successful deployment of a novel military strategy when fighting an unequal battle against overwhelming Philistine forces.[9] Even more interesting is the political context in which this military strategy is presented: as it turns out, King Saul’s senseless rage at the successful military outcome achieved on that day by his son, Jonathan, who unwittingly contravened a vow that his father had enjoined upon the entire Israelite army, is presented as additional textual evidence of Saul’s lack of fitness for the position of monarch. In this context, forgoing analysis of the Hebrew bible’s depiction of the political implications of warring strategies and of the political complexities of public relations on the battlefield represents a missed opportunity for a book that makes such magnificent strides in alerting us to the warp and woof of politics throughout the texts of the Hebrew bible.
Many other narratives, particularly in the “Historical” books of the Hebrew bible, abound with descriptions of military and political strategies that are followed by leaders without recourse to Divine (totalizing or other) advice (the niceties of Gideon’s military and political strategy, particularly in the aftermath of the war against the Midianites is just one instance of this).[10] Perhaps even more importantly, the central chapters of the biblical book of Judges highlight a series of wide-ranging deliberations on monarchy as a proposed form of government, as these are conducted in the aftermath of the Gideon episode, and in the Jotham narrative that follows.[11]
What Walzer is really asking with his questions about human politics in the shadow of the Divine is whether the Hebrew bible leaves room for a secular mindset within the religious sensibility. In other words, can a robust politics coexist with a dynamic conception of the Divine? Bemoaning the absence in the Hebrew bible of the central concerns of ancient Greek political theory is another way of asking the same question. Despite Walzer’s stated lack of interest in biblical precedents for contemporary politics, this question still forms the heart of his complex inquiries. Given the state of politics and the nature of political change in the world today, this is indeed a crucial issue. Must religion destroy political freedom? Does God stifle human enterprise? (Full disclosure: this essay was begun as the acknowledged winner of the Egyptian Presidential election, Mohammed Morsi [formerly] of the Muslim Brotherhood, reaffirmed his support for restricting officeholders of the Egyptian presidency to male Muslims, because “the head of state should promote the faith [Islam].”[12]
While current empirical evidence of the correlation between the evocation of the Divine and the achievement and implementation of political freedoms skews negatively, readers of this book may take comfort in the fact that the Hebrew bible implicitly demonstrates that this pessimistic result does not have to obtain.[13] For the Hebrew bible, politics represents the arena for human choice, and it is for that reason that there is relatively little detail about its procedural and institutional formalities (notably excluding the passage limiting the power of the typical executive head of civilian government at the time, which was, following the nomenclature of the time, styled as a “king).”[14] At the same time, affirming Walzer’s own imagery, it is possible to read the Hebrew bible as demonstrating that politics may begin within the space of God’s shadow, but its range extends as it challenges mankind to actualize God’s image in the world overall -– which is to say, to fill the world with (Divine) lovingkindess. In the end, one does not have to be completely satisfied with the procedural implications of this point to note with satisfaction the revolutionary implications of a text that continues to employ political discourse and thus to promote liberty for its readers and non-readers alike. 


[1] The concept is taken from Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (1982 NY: Columbia U press; tr Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1980)
[2] “I am not trying to find biblical . . . . precedents for my own politics” (Preface, In God’s Shadow, p. x)
[3] Exodus and Revolution (NY:Basic 1986).
[4] A play on William Butler Yeats, “How can we know the dancer from the dance?” in Among School Children (1928), parg//canto VIII.

[5] Two major early-modern and modern commentators who emphasize the philological and philosophical connotations of the “shadow” of G0d, noting the close connection between the Hebrew word for shadow (Tzel) and the related word for Divine image (Tzelem) are Don Isaac Abarbanel (1437-1508) and Meir Leibush Malbim (1809-1879). Following their separate methodologies, each commentator notes that the targeted power implied by having been created in God’s image overlays the quiescent image of the “trapped follower” by demanding that human beings follow God’s path (in the sense of “imitation Dei”) in performing acts of developmental and moral creativity.
[6] To be sure, once could argue that the exact nature of these deliberations are withheld from the reader; we do not know exactly what Mordecai and Esther said to each other through what must have been a longer conversation than the several verses allotted to it in the biblical narrative. Nevertheless, even in abbreviated form, this conversation between Mordecai and Esther is an example of political deliberation: Esther makes specific mention of the procedures in place at the royal court for accessing the king. Furthermore, it is well to remember that the involvement of the reader in teasing out the considerations that enter into these terse evocations of discourse increases the life of the text in the political lives of its readers (in this connection, cf. Meir Sternberg, The Poetics of Biblical Narrative, Bloomington: Indiana University Press1987; esp. pp. 166; 173-75;; 227-29; 267; 326).
[7] In God’s Shadow, p. 36.
[8] In this connection, cf. the commentary of Nachmanides (1195-1270) on Deuteronomy 11:24, analyzing some of the individually- initiated military conquests of King David (among the questions raised in this analysis is whether these conquests, initiated by David without explicit and timely Divine approbation, can consequently be considered as enjoying the traditional concept of holiness attributed to the ancient Land of Israel in biblical times).
[9] I Samuel 14:28-30; 38-45.
[10] Judges 7:19-25; 8:1-21. (Gideon had received assurances from God that he would be victorious, but no particular guidance on which strategy to use, either during or after the main battle).
[11] Judges 8:22-24; Judges 9.
[12] “Named Egypt’s Winner, Islamist Makes History,” The New York Times June 25, 2012; pp. A1; A6.
[13] Indeed, the very topic that Walzer adduces for the either/or quality of Hebrew biblical decision-making – the religiously-backed war of total annihilation vs. limited battles – itself omits an important third option, and, indeed, another method of war-categorization, within the biblical canon: the war that is waged following the leader’s sense of political necessity. Such wars may or may not receive Divine approbation, and the leaders may or may not choose to request such Divine advice. In any case, those wars are not total wars (in fact, total wars form a relatively small percentage of wars fought in the Hebrew bible, and those wars demand Divine approbation before and during their execution).
[14] Deuteronomy, 17:14-20

RTD 3: Michael Walzer Responds to Bruggemann and Morgenstern

by Guest Post
March 29, 2013
The the second of three posts this week on Michael Walzer's In God's Shadow: Politics in the Hebrew Bible.
Post 3 of 3

It was never my intention to try to figure out “how political institutions actually functioned in biblical times”—as Mira Morgenstern suggests I was trying to do. That is work for the historian, not the political theorist. I was trying to figure out what the different biblical writers thought about politics, which certainly includes what they thought about the functioning of political institutions. And my conclusion was that most of them didn’t think much about that subject. It isn’t right to say that I was “frustrated” by this discovery or that I saw the relative absence of engagement with political issues as a “deficiency” or that I “bemoan” that absence. I am critical, along with Avishai Margalit and Moshe Halbertal, of the way the prophets write about international politics; I celebrate the way they write about domestic society—their invention of social criticism. But mostly I just want to get at the views of these writers; I’ve even tried to be generous in my interpretations of those views, as in the chapter on the priests and on priestcraft.
I actually believe that it is a good thing for people like me, who are obsessed with politics, to study the works of writers who had other obsessions. Having other obsessions doesn’t mean that there is no engagement with politics. For example, as Morgenstern says, the histories are full of wars that aren’t holy wars commanded by God; the prophets disapproved of some of them for that very reason. But there is no discourse on war, no sustained interest in when they are fought or how they are fought—or with who makes the decision to fight them. One of Morgenstern’s strategies in addressing these questions is to look ahead to the rabbinic commentators on biblical texts—as when she invokes the idea of a milhemet reshut (an optional war), which is a rabbinic, not a biblical idea. The biblical writers did not produce categories of that sort.
Nor do I think that it is right to say that the book of Judges contains “a series of wide-ranging deliberations on monarchy.” There is Gideon’s refusal of the crown on his own and on his son’s behalf, but there is no response to his refusal, nothing that could be called a deliberation about whose rule is just or right. We can speculate about what the writers of the various stories in the book had in mind, and about what the editors of the book had in mind, but they certainly don’t tell us what they had in mind. “Deliberation” implies argument, discussion, the consideration of options, the weighing of goods and bads, and there is nothing like that in Judges. One can indeed construct a discussion of that sort out of the stories, but that would be a modern construction. The hard question is: Why is there no ancient construction?
Human choice certainly figures in the text—beginning with Eve’s choice in the Garden—and Morgenstern describes important political choices, like Saul’s and Esther’s. And I agree with her on the contemporary importance of the question: Does religion destroy political freedom, the possibility of collective choice? One could answer that question in very different ways, with supporting biblical citations. But I don’t think that the biblical writers ever actually address the question.
Walter Brueggemann suggests that I “lack agility about the way in which the agency of God works in the imagination of ancient Israel.” He may well be right; I have always thought of myself as theologically tone-deaf. But I don’t intend an “irenic echo” of Stalin’s question about the Pope’s divisions. I do recognize the central role of God in the biblical writings. He is the lawgiver, the covenant partner (that word isn’t quite right, but it will do for now), the voice that “calls” the prophets and mandates their call to all the other Israelites to act justly in the world. He is also “ish milhamah,” man of war, Lord of Hosts, in whose name the prophets criticize not only the military but also the diplomatic efforts of Israel’s kings. I take that message—stand still, be quiet, have faith—to be anti-political, a denial of the value of human foresight and sagacity. I am more sympathetic to the popular Protestant response to that position (from World War One): “Praise the Lord, and pass the ammunition.” But I can’t find anything like that attitude in the biblical texts.
Were the prophets capable of “prudence and calculation”? The answer must be yes, sometimes. Given the power of their poetry, the skillfulness of their rhetoric, they must have thought long and hard about the effect they wanted to have on their audience—when to talk softly, when harshly, when sweetly. But I can’t find evidence of explicitly political calculations. They demanded that every Israelite act justly in his or her place. But how that justice might be enforced, what kind of institutions it requires, how those institutions might be established, who is responsible for establishing them, what ought to be done right now—these just aren’t questions that engaged their attention. Are they peculiarly modern questions? I don’t think so. To assume that they can have only secular answers—that might be a modern position. But that isn’t my position in the book. Instead, I am trying to understand why religious Israelites were not engaged by them. Certainly, there was a practical engagement with these kinds of questions by the kings and their advisors. But this was a practice strangely devoid of doctrine.
Alternatively, there are many doctrines—two covenants, three law codes, many prophetic voices, wise men of different sorts, and competing groups of priestly writers. Yes, all that, and one could say that pluralism itself is a political statement. But how the plural parts stand vis-à-vis one another, how coherent policies are produced from their cacophony, and who participates in the production—again, these are not biblical questions. Why not? That is one of the questions, perhaps the central one, that motivates my book.