United Methodists are having an important and, at times, lively debate over the way we interpret and appropriate different parts of scripture, not least the Old Testament. The debate over how we approach scripture has emerged as part of conflict over differing understandings of human sexuality and has focused most recently around posts from Adam Hamilton and Bill Arnold. The questions under debate are important, and I want to draw attention to a new book from a Wesleyan scholar that has potential to guide us in learning how to read the Old Testament scriptures. The book is Christian Faith in the Old Testament: The Bible of the Apostles (Kindle) by Gareth Cockerill, Academic Dean and Professor of Biblical Interpretation and Theology at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi. He blogs at From Mangoes to Mechizidek. Dr. Cockerill is a friend and colleague, and I’m excited about this book because I think it has potential to significantly deepen Christian engagement with the Bible that Jesus and his first followers read, prayed, and lived. I conducted this interview before the posts from Hamilton and Arnold were published. So, you won’t see direct engagement in explicit language they use. Nevertheless, Cockerill’s book is dealing with the very same issue and will function as a reliable guide. I’ve divided the interview into two posts. Part 1 follows. Check back early next week for part 2.
“we end up with an anemic view of Christ, a superficial understanding of the atonement, and an individualistic view of the church. Our God shrinks because we no longer see the majesty of his creation, the grandeur of his work in history, or the glory of his salvation in Christ. We have little basis for social ethics. We live in rootless isolation because we no longer see ourselves as children of Abraham and part of the people of God, stretched out across history and on its way to glory. If we do not have The Bible of the Apostles, we will not have the true apostolic faith” (page 13).
We have seen that, when read in light of Jewish apocalyptic literature, the disappearance of the sea in Rev 21:1 paints a symbolic picture of a day to be longed for, a day when God will remove from the created order all that is evil and antithetical to his purposes and to his people, a day when creation will emerge from its sorrow into the bliss of God’s manifest presence. This is a day of hope, and in the Apocalypse of John, it is that day for which the faithful around the throne and upon the earth await with eagerness. And yet, we live in a day when much of the church is highly influenced by the anti-creational theology of the best-selling Left Behind series. Many Christians have been thrice duped by the triply-failed doomsday predictions of Harold Camping. Even more recently, Pat Robertson pointed to the August 23, 2011, earthquake in Washington, DC, as sign of God’s coming judgment. It would seem that bookstores and the airwaves are seldom short of end-times paranoia and pessimism. Such well-known and highly publicized eschatology is damaging to the Church in its poor handling of scripture and the unnecessary mockery that comes when Camping-like predictions fail to be realized. The remedy to this problem is for the Church to articulate a thoroughly biblical eschatology of hope with an optimistic view of the future that God will draw the nations to himself and one day bring full and final renewal to all that he has made. The question before us then is this: In light of the scriptural vision of new creation, how do we regain an eschatology of hope? In an effort to move toward such eschatological renewal, I propose three essential tasks. These three are certainly not intended as an exhaustive list but as key elements necessary for the stated goal.