Sunday, December 28, 2008

Priests, prophets, poets, and philosophers

I'm reading the second in McLarens trilogy called 'The story we find ourselves in'. No matter what you may think about his worldview or theology, this book has a great premise—looking at the history of the universe as a whole, a story that we are a part of, and how the various parts interact with each other.
He makes some observations about the Old Testament that really resonate with something I have blogged about before—the diversity of our callings and gifts within God's Kingdom. (Here, and here, and here.)
As I mentioned before, I have often reflected on how we as humans have different strengths and direction to our lives, but this is all part of what God wants His kingdom to look like. We aren't all the same, we don't all see things in the same way, and that is a good thing.
McLaren outlines 4 different roles in the characters of the Old Testament. He doesn't go into depth, but it is easy to see these groupings of purpose and ability.
Priests: particularly called to serve God as intermediaries between God and man. They offered the sacrifices, they risked their lives by entering the presence of God, their lives were expended in worship of the Holy. Their direction was focused heavenward.
Prophets: They also were intermediaries between God and man, but in the opposite direction. They passed along the message from the heart of God to His people. Often this was a hard word. “Repent, turn from your sinful ways, stop the injustice.” By nature of their calling, they were black and white, good and evil, do this, don't do that.
Poets: They creatively put the thoughts and emotions of man into words. The Psalms are filled with the cries of the people—agony, joy, anger, worship, angst, peace. Often these were songs including music, dance, and other forms of creative expression.
Philosophers: They were the thinkers, theologians, contemplatives. In many ways they took the words of God, and the thoughts of man, and tried to make sense of it all. Nuggets of wisdom, finite expressions of the infinite God, asking questions trying to find answers.

We are probably familiar with the various examples of purpose and calling expressed in the New Testament, but this is the first time I ever thought about a similar kind of understanding from the OT. It only serves to strengthen my perception of the diversity we all have.
For me, it is a fresh way of seeing similar expressions of Paul's lists of gifts, but in the different setting of the OT.
Perhaps even deeper, it again helps me see how one person can have a different way of seeing things, and yet be on the same page as me. It gives me added reason to appreciate the person whose expression of their relationship with God comes out in intense prayer, another's is seen in a call for justice or repentance, and yet another's is expressed in music, art, or thought-provoking words.
I think I am OK with where I might belong, but not necessarily up against someone who is 'other gifted'. It really is easy to try to persuade (strongly, at times) others to see things my way, to want them to see life through the lens of my revelation. Or, equally difficult, to know how to respond to the call to see things as someone else does.
I expect this is a common situation. And we fight to be heard, to bring others to our side, to shape the world according to how we see it. In this fight it is so easy to undercut someone else, to poke holes in their theology, to denigrate what they (legitimately) consider of utmost importance.
(As an aside, look at some synonyms for this negative concept of putting down: bad mouth, besmirch, blacken, decry, defame, disparage, knock, revile, roast, run down, scandalize, slander, or tear down. Sounds way too much like what sometimes passes for Christianity.)
So, my dear friends, although I may not share your God-given priority for a certain activity, I dare not say it is inappropriate or wrong. At the same time, I need not feel guilty for not being as devoted to it as you are. As Paul said, we do not all have the same gifts, and the eye can't say to the hand “I can do just fine without you.” I guess the point is—we don't all have to see things the same way.
Yes, there is a place for the prophet to call the whole church to account. There is a place for the philosopher to help all of us regain a more accurate understanding of God's word to us. There is a place for the priest to lead all into the presence of the Almighty.
But there is also a time to run off on a tangent without immediately being jerked back into the straight jacket of “We've always done it this way”, or “But this is what the Bible means when it says...” If we don't allow room for exploration, we don't allow room for God to bring us on to where He wants us to be. (It's so easy to think that we have it all figured out, no correction or better understanding needed.)
As a couple final thoughts from McLaren's “priests, prophets, poets, and philosophers”--I can see where I can fit in as a poet and philosopher, and don't necessarily need to fit in as a priest or prophet. Also, I kind of like the term 'philosopher'. For me, it somehow implies that the whole process of thinking is indeed a process, not necessarily a completed task. What I think I think today, may not be how I will be thinking tomorrow.
And I am OK with that.


Peter said...

Al, I REALLY like your new site design. Cool and clean.

Great post too - I think I enjoyed book two of the NKOC books the most - found it very compelling and "freeing."

Isn't it WONDERFUL that we all have such different giftings, tendencies, passions and convictions! Someone recently said to me, "What's so GREAT about diversity?! No one really LIKES diversity. It's just something we have to put up with."

Hmmm... I have a hunch DIVERSITY is in the very DNA of the God who created all of THIS...

Bless you Al,

Al said...

Thanks Peter! re: new look--I had to do something!!!! I didn't think I had enough savvy to invent my own header, but I actually did.
re: other loyal reader--perhaps it was more faith than anything to assume I had more than one, except a couple people told me over Christmas that they do read it. Turns out one is my (much younger and much better looking) sister, and she actually posted a comment. As they say in Aussie land, Good on ya!


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