Vacuums & Values: Making Music (Or Noise?)
Stepping into human history, Jesus fulfilled the first covenant (Matthew 5:17, 18), a covenant that pointed to Him, and in doing so, established a new covenant described as “a better covenant … established on better promises” (Hebrews 8:6). Before we consider these better promises, it is important to acknowledge that the new covenant was not delivered in isolation or in a vacuum. This is vital information.
Jesus not only fulfilled the first covenant, He embodied God’s values imparted through the Holy Scriptures. “The Word became flesh and He dwelt among us” (John 1:14). These values serve as the essence of Jesus’ message, the worldview or framework Jesus modelled. Perhaps we could call it the melody to which Jesus’ words are written. Without grasping this worldview, we’ll miss the intent or spirit He imparted. We’ll sing His words to the wrong tune.
1336 words (c. 3 pages) = 15 minute read
Vacuums, Values & Melodies
We don’t hear (or read) words in a vacuum. We either hear words in the context the speaker intends them, or we immediately pull our own context into the void.
We superimpose our assumptions onto the speaker’s words, often distorting the speaker’s intent. Am I suggesting we’ve done this with Jesus’ words? Yes.
When I read Jesus’ words, I immediately interpret those words. Instantly. Unconsciously. I make assumptions about what He says. I may, for instance, superimpose modern-day idioms on colloquialisms that were contemporary to His day. Worse, I may decipher what He says from a framework that’s inconsistent with the context He spoke. To use our analogy, I may be singing out of tune.
The best way to take cognizance of our disharmony is to simply play the two against each other. Let’s compare the melody of Jesus’ message to the discordant din often sung throughout Christendom, and then explain why and how we’re so tone deaf.
Jesus’ melody was
concrete, practical, earthy, and “down here and right now.”
Christendom’s tune has largely been
abstract, theoretical, ethereal, and “up there and after life.”
For those who have fussed with worldview before, you’ll immediately recognise the dissonance. This is, of course, the classic clash between Hebrew worldview and Greek philosophy revisited.
Unfortunately, to unpack the nuts-and-bolts of this in detail would detract from our purpose here. However, it is definitely worth pausing to properly assimilate this contrast, if you haven’t yet done so. We cover this cogent subject in reasonable detail in What are Hebrew Values? To quickly list a few of the contrasts: Hebrew values cherish wisdom over knowledge, relationship over structure, practice (concrete) over theory (abstract), verbs over nouns, responsibilities over rights, poetry over prose, and much more.
Suffice to say here, thanks to the prevailing influence of Greek philosophy in the early church and sadly, centuries of ingrained anti-Semitism, Christendom has largely strapped Jesus’ message into an abstract, theoretical, ethereal, “up there and after life” strait-jacket. In other words, dismissive of Hebraic culture and enamored with Greek philosophy, Christendom has imbibed a Greek worldview, drawing a Greek context of thinking into the vacuum created by the dismissal of Hebrew values.
Think about that for a minute.
To use another analogy. If I wear red-tinted glasses, I’ll view everything with a tinge of red. Likewise, we tend to hear (and read) Jesus’ message through Greek-tinted lenses. We’re conditioned to prefer an abstract, theoretical, ethereal and “up there and after life” focus. In fact, when many believers are first encouraged to embrace Jesus’ message in a more concrete, practical, earthy, “down here and right now” context, it actually feels less spiritual to them. It did to me. Why is this?
A lot of Paul’s teaching confronted an early version of this problem, a nascent form of what we know as the first-century roots of Gnostism. Simply put, it was the veneration of knowledge in and of itself, and the separation of what was considered secular and spiritual (or dualism). You may recall, Paul warned: “Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies” (1 Corinthians 8:1). A big head begets a small heart. Sadly, even the concept of love today has become an abstraction—unlike Paul’s very concrete, practical, earthy explanation of it (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).
Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8).
Like our first-century Gentile brethren, we love (idolise) knowledge; it puffs up our ego, and leads us to believe we’re smarter than we are. However, James was at pains to point out that knowledge (of itself) has the potential to deceive us (James 1:22-25), and it often fortifies a stronghold of pride in our lives.
So, in Christendom today, we have buildings filled the world over with believers looking for fifth and sixth helpings of teaching, when very little of what they’ve already consumed has been properly digested.
Okay, possibly, a touch harsh.
Nevertheless, let me pinpoint an often misquoted passage of Scripture. Remember when Paul wrote: “So then faith comes by hearing and hearing the Word of God” (Romans 10:17)? Well, I’m pretty sure you’ve heard it quoted as an encouragement to receive more teaching. Paul’s context, however, was not about believers getting more teaching. He was motivating evangelism! He was saying that salvation comes when unbelievers hear the Gospel. Seriously? Yep. Read it for yourself: Romans 10:14-18. That’s not to say we shouldn’t treasure teaching. Of course not. This article is a teaching. I’m simply pointing out that our focus in Christendom tends to be on acquiring knowledge, and more of it, rather than application. (And how a passage that’s urging believers into missional action is often used to encourage the opposite.)
The reality is that despite drowning in ‘revelation’ overload, the ripples we leave once the revival meetings and the “Change the World” conferences and “Seize the Day” conventions end, are negligible … if not non-existent. (Of course, we have a rollicking good time, floating from one high to the next, until at some point, we start to feel that maybe Hans Christian Andersen wrote The Emperor’s New Clothes about us!)
And the reason for the “high volume, low impact” fruit is because so much of this info dissemination is abstract, theoretical, ethereal, “up there and after life” revelation.
A concrete, practical, earthy, “down here and right now” approach is not widely popular, and does at first, seem less spiritual (because it doesn’t tickle the intellect, tantalize the emotions or pander to the ego). However, there is nothing more spiritual than a holistic lifestyle of joyful obedience and service. The world needs a lot more followers of Jesus who have big, compassionate hearts … with wise heads that are anchored in earthy humility.
Can you offer some examples of this? I hear you ask. Yes, I will do so in the next few articles. In fact, throughout this entire series. For now, we’ve highlighted the contrast between Jesus’ melody and the tune we too easily sway to. Again, it may well be worth your while to review What are Hebrew Values?
What’s the key point to ponder?
How much of church as we know it, is obsessed with accumulating knowledge and seeking out new revelation? How much Bible teaching takes away from Scripture and leads us into the realms of the enlightened teacher’s experiences and his (or her) ‘revelations?’ How much of our worldview is seen through the lenses of Greek thinking rather than Hebrew values?
To what degree do I do this, and how can I develop a more Hebrew worldview? How can I learn to cherish wisdom over knowledge, relationship over structure, practice (concrete) over theory (abstract), verbs over nouns, responsibilities over rights, and poetry over prose.
Where we’re going next?
Granted these first two articles have been relatively brief. Consider them as an extended introduction. Importantly, we’ve made note of two important plumb-line settings from which we’ll be able to take further readings. First, Jesus’ message addressed the prevailing frame story, or big picture, of His day with society-affecting ramifications. Second, Jesus’ message was acutely concrete, practical, earthy, “down here and right now.” Next up? We’re going to roll up our sleeves and see what this means in investigating the Substance of Jesus’ Message.