the Crucible

Covenant Create’s Community

Covenant Creates Community
From a personal and cross-cultural perspective the relevance or framework of covenant and the potential for it to be acted out in relationship needs to embraced.  Think  “Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn”.  The relationship those two boys demonstrated through the writings of Mark Twain, coupled with the marketing of Disney, made the cinematographed demonstration of their “blood brothers” handshake and the covenant of their affection, a proclamation that set a standard for the entire70’s Disney generation.  Virtually every boy I know wants a friend they can call brother, perhaps this is a cosmically pre-programmed calling in our hearts that our Creator had the foresight to embed.  But recently countless epic tales have gone on to demonstrate “covenantal relationships”.   From the bind of the Jedi Knights to the Fellowship of the Rings, and now Chronicles of Narnia, our humanity has been programmed to long for a covenantal tie.  A “buy now” into something larger than self to be a co-conspirator in shaping the story we live in.   This is Gospel.  We need to give new biblical covenant language  to a generation that has never fathomed the idea of a covenant or a “blood brothers” friendship with a cosmic being. The notion of a bind and covenant with a Creator is cosmic.  As monastic pastor and blog icon implies:

“I’m thinking more along the lines of a cosmic shift that ripples through every page of history and touches every persons heart — not universalism per se but a universal awakening of some kind. The light has come. Once God nature mingled with flesh and blood there was no turning back.
+++ Lord, give me eyes to see and hands to do what you have already done and set in motion: the reconciliation of humankind to yourself and all creation restored.++ “ 

Gordon Fee describes the Greek word allelon  This is the starting point.  To be invited into a relationship that has no precepts with hierarchy, no impure motive of power and control, no agenda of anything but being and existing for “otherly” is radically inviting, mind blowing and perhaps more exciting; accurate and expected.  The implications of this are crushing.

“To say that God is a covenantal God is to suggest a divine interest in our cooperation, a divine commitment to partnership, a divine power that is empowering to us as spiritual beings living out a human experience.  A biblical theology of covenant relationships would suggest that God is not interested in performing solos. Instead, He invites our participation, our cooperation, in the tasks of creation and redemption.  Of course, God’s very act of creating the universe as other, and creating us as others from himself, is what makes covenant relationships possible.”-Michael Lodahl, The Story of God 

The potential for the application of covenantal relationship and a true return to the seriousness and reciprocity of a cosmic union or being “involved in redemptive history” is something that has been overlooked by modern evangelistic approaches.  Within our current culture few value systems are stronger than the value of relationship.  This is a crucial point that has at times become shrapnel in the explosion of programmatic evangelism.

In a lecture given at George Fox University in January, 2005 [exploring contexts of metaphors a chivalrous culture would understand] Dr. Larry Shelton made the comment:
If you challenge a knight you may be stuck with all the trappings of a formal dual, in the instance that you would not be able to adequately represent yourself, you may find another to fight in your place, or perhaps if your finances permitted you might even hire a champion, and in one model of economy perhaps go so far as to pay or hire someone to take on your battle’s.

Within the appropriate context the concept of a challenge, a dual, or joust made and still makes legitimate sense.  Historically Calvin and Luther recognized this and began to think of appropriate atonement metaphors and terms for their culture.  As they did this they began to find a means to relate the metaphor.  In doing this they embodied the essence of being missional.  They were revolutionizing a worldview that was embraced for a historical period perhaps longer than ever imagined or intended. Their worldview, culture and everyday experiences were far different than those of a 21st century world audience.

 As author Len Sweet has noted, “all metaphors break down”.  To the chivalric culture and world within which Calvin and Luther lived, the chivalric metaphors made sense and their message and understanding of atonement seemed to correlate.  Perhaps it was because of this culture that Calvin and Luther tooled the idea that Civil Law could and should be recovered from the barbaric ages.  Their theology, which was girded through the views of just such a notion, based in a “Chivalric paradigm” made sense.  As a result their views on atonement became understandably in vogue.  Essentially Luther and Calvin were being contextual in a missionary sense. (Perhaps within our culture an equivalent metaphor for civil law would be one involving litigation but again, that could only be relevant to a litigious society.) The irony of both Calvin and Luther’s debates need unpacked.  This is ironic because in a lending of a biblical interpretation of covenant, ultimately a true and accurate understanding of covenant would be trans-cultural, and not microcosmic, or historically specific.  To view covenant otherwise, and as mainstream Christianity has done, (viewed it) through a covenant of: “order”, “law”, “universal”, and/or “civil law” or business contract model which maintains a view of law, and atonement that is not as theologically enticing as a covenant model.

Covenantal Relationship and Atonement
Within the use of Covenant metaphor there are “divine expectations”.  The mere mention of Covenant with God, Jesus and Spirit, demands an essential relational model.  In essence it is a relational covenant and fusing of humanity to God.  A true covenant [not contract] so extending into the confines of relationship that it transcends natural laws and is not limited to our understanding of physics.  Literally it is a relationship that is collaborating with God’s continuance of creation.  An invitation to conspire and participate with God that comes with a generous and graceful caveat-the invitation is optional, and always open

In a relational paradigm a covenantal explanation of atonement is much more communal. Covenant explains the relationship of God and his people aligning themselves within the context of community.  Covenant is God resorting to a community of trust within his people. 

Atonement and Jesus: The “i Thou” covenant
To fully understand a biblical definition of atonement and some of the dilemmas with commonly held views in the mainstream Christian church surrounding atonement, perhaps it is most relevant to return to some important concepts that can help shape our context and paradigm.  Metaphorically it is difficult to describe the action that takes place from a breaking of trust, but from a relational perspective, the breaking of trust with a friend, spouse or business deal, warrants a severing of relationship.  Just as it is our duty to the aforementioned party’s to maintain a relationship of mutuality, so it is and even more so with Jesus the sin keeper of the Universe.  In one single act, of the cross, Jesus absorbed the penalty of death and extended grace.   After this Jesus’ covenant became: “i thou” .  Fathom this. Grasp it, wrap your head around it.  As a friend and grafted sister/brother/creator in the relationship of God, a breaking of relationship or a breaking of trust literally becomes an embracing of sin.  It is a literal attack on a personal relationship between the individual and Jesus.  Breaking of covenant  in this model “I thou” is breaking of relationship with Yahweh.

A subtle reality of the invitation metaphor exists; perhaps it is a relationship that has historically been over emphasized. Or maybe our own sin limits it in definition; but within this relationship, there seems to be a reality that this relationship has the potential for consequence, consequence with both negative and positive connotation.  Disobedience to the relationship isolates us from Jesus and hence isolates us from creation in terms of the continuance from the story humanity is still living out with Jesus. 

In disobedience we become instigators of a non-holy creativity.  Essentially creation becomes alienated because of disobedience. But, a problem therein lays Gods immune system He is allergic to sin, as computer anti-virus software is to a virus. God’s wrath cannot be tolerated in our universe; his wrath is an attack on sin. A word of warning: don’t operate in the context of virus’s, get virus protection or get corrupted.

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