The Foremothers of the Messiah

I recently stumbled across an old audio recording of Tim Keller’s sermon, “Hannah’s Prayer for Family,” from October 2007. At minute 31:40, he makes an astonishing observation about the role of women of the Old Testament in the anticipation of the Messiah:

If you look at the forefathers of the Messiah, the penultimate forerunners of the Messiah—the forefathers of the Messiah were Samuel and Sampson and David and Gideon—they all brought salvation by being strong and getting glory. And so they [their descendants] looked at Jesus and said, “That can’t be the Messiah. The Messiah wouldn’t be weak. The Messiah wouldn’t be disgraced.”

Do you know what their problem was? They were looking at the forefathers of the Messiah but not the foremothers; they were looking at the men who were the forerunners of Jesus but not the women.

Because over and over again God gave a foretaste of the real gospel and the work of Jesus Christ in the fact that he continually brought his salvation of the world through the barren, through the rejected, through the unwanted women.
It’s old barren Sarah not beautiful fertile Hagar through whom God brings the royal messianic saving seed of Isaac.

It’s through Leah, the girl that nobody wanted, the wife that Jacob didn’t want, not Rachel the beautiful and the wanted; it’s through Leah that God brings the royal messianic saving seed of Judah.

Sampson is born to a barren woman who shouldn’t be able to have children.
Samuel is born to a suffering, disgraced woman, but through through the suffering and disgrace of Hannah salvation comes.

If you had looked at the foremothers, you would have known that Isaiah was talking about the Messiah when he said that the one who comes to save us will suffer disgrace and be crushed for our iniquities. Jesus experienced the reversal that Hannah was talking about. . . .

The women in the Old Testament show that Jesus Christ is not just a coming King but a suffering servant.

Interview with Richard B. Hays

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detail of Joseph von Führich’s Der Gang nach Emmaus

On June 4, 2016, Garrett Brown recorded an interview with Richard B. Hays, which was initially released as an hour-long podcast on the New Books Network. The transcript below, which includes 20 additional minutes of conversation, has been edited and revised by the authors. An abridged version of it first appeared in the November/December issue of Books and Culture.

The authors would like to thank Carey Newman of Baylor University Press for his comments on an early draft of this transcript and John Wilson of Books and Culture for his support and enthusiasm for the project.

About Richard B. Hays

Richard B. Hays, George Washington Ivey Professor of New Testament at Duke Divinity School, is internationally recognized for his work on the Gospels, the letters of Paul, and on New Testament ethics. His scholarly work has bridged the disciplines of biblical criticism and literary studies, exploring the innovative ways in which early Christian writers interpreted Israel’s Scripture. He has also consistently sought to demonstrate how close reading of the New Testament can inform the church’s theological reflection, proclamation, and ministry.

Hays’s book The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation (1996) was selected by Christianity Today as one of the 100 most important religious books of the twentieth century. His more recent books include The Art of Reading Scripture (2003, co-edited with Ellen Davis), The Conversion of the Imagination (2005), Seeking the Identity of Jesus: A Pilgrimage (2008, co-edited with Beverly Roberts Gaventa), Revelation and the Politics of Apocalyptic Interpretation (2012, co-edited with Stefan Alkier), Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness (2014), and Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels (2016).

Professor Hays has lectured widely in North America, Europe, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, and Japan. An ordained United Methodist minister, he has preached in settings ranging from rural Oklahoma churches to London’s Westminster Abbey. Professor Hays has chaired the Pauline Epistles Section of the Society of Biblical Literature, as well as the Seminar on New Testament Ethics in the Society for New Testament Studies, and has served on the editorial boards of several leading scholarly journals. Professor Hays received an honorary doctorate (Dr. theol. honoris causa) from the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, in 2009. He served as dean of Duke Divinity School from 2010 to 2015.

The Interview

Garrett Brown: Would you start by telling our readers a little bit about yourself and your background?

Richard B. Hays: I grew up in Oklahoma, went to an Episcopal day school as a high school student, and had a rich education there that included daily chapel. That had the effect of getting the Book of Common Prayer into my bones, although I was a Methodist by family upbringing.

I went to Yale as an undergraduate and ended up being an English major. I was particularly immersed in poetry and drama of the 16th and 17th centuries. After that, I went to seminary, graduated from Yale Divinity School in 1977, and continued on to a PhD at Emory in New Testament Studies. Continue reading “Interview with Richard B. Hays”

Whither Subsidiarity?

Screen shot 2015-05-15 at 1.13.33 AMFor a long time, I’ve appreciated the role that churches, associations, and other nongovernmental institutions play in providing things that individuals and families need — outside markets and when markets fail — in civil society. Tocqueville wrote about them in Democracy in America. Edmund Burke called them “little platoons” (artfully rearticulated in Charles Murray’s In Pursuit).

From books such as Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, I also appreciated that these institutions, vital sources of social capital, were being worn down by various forces in modern life. However, I have only recently come to appreciate the fact that the size and scope of government is prone to expand in their absence.

Continue reading “Whither Subsidiarity?”

Tozer’s Rules

Lately I’ve heard a lot of dismissive comments about “checklist” Christianity. The people who usually fret about such things are concerned that an over-reliance on a set of rules or prescriptions turns Christian discipleship into an exercise in legalism, works-righteousness, or “Churchianity.” But, as Kevin DeYoung highlights in his excellent book The Whole in Our Holiness, Jesus himself exhorted his followers—in the great commission no less—to make disciples, “ teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28).

Continue reading “Tozer’s Rules”

Tolkien, Coleridge, and Subcreation

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Tolkien’s idea of subcreation has been much discussed by his fans and critics. Few, however, have located the source of that idea in the work of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The Biographia Literaria provides a clue. In chapter 13, on the imagination “or esemplastic power,” we read:

The imagination I consider either as primary, or secondary. The primary imagination I hold to be the living Power and prime Agent of all human Perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM. The secondary I consider as an echo of the former, co-existing with the conscious will, yet still as identical with the primary in the kind of its agency, and differing only in degree, and in the mode of its operation. It dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to re-create; or where this process is rendered impossible, yet still at all events it struggles to idealize and to unify. It is essentially vital, even as all objects (as objects) are essentially fixed and dead.

Fancy, on the contrary, has no other counters to play with, but fixities and definites. The Fancy is indeed no other than a mode of Memory emancipated from the order of time and space; and blended with, and modified by that empirical phenomenon of the will, which we express by the word Choice. But equally with the ordinary memory it must receive all its materials ready made from the law of association.

According to Adam Roberts’s new edition, Coleridge crossed out the line set in roman above. But it is precisely this phrase that Tolkien and others seize in making a firm distinction between creative acts of God and those of artists. As Robert explains, “God has created the cosmos as an act of primary imaginative power. When creative artists create their work, they are engaged in a finite imitation, in a kind of ratio inferior, of that primary act. . . . Such work is necessarily secondary to the divine creation, but only in degree, not in kind.”

While we readily recognize Tolkien’s anti-modern sensibilities, we can see here that he was also clearly operating within a Romantic framework, where the artist retained his status as myth-maker and his labors were not yet unmoored from religious significance. That side of Tolkien’s thought deserves greater recognition and appreciation.

The Literal Meaning of Genesis

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In his short work entitled The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Saint Augustine provides excellent advice for all Christians who are faced with the daunting task of interpreting Scripture in the light of scientific knowledge:

In matters that are obscure and far beyond our vision, even in such as we may find treated in Holy Scripture, different interpretations are sometimes possible without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such a case, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search of truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it. That would be to battle not for the teaching of Holy Scripture but for our own, wishing its teaching to conform to ours, whereas we ought to wish ours to conform to that of Sacred Scripture.

Continue reading “The Literal Meaning of Genesis”

The Wit of the Carpenter

In 1964, the Quaker theologian Elton Trueblood published a short book called The Humor of Christ (Harper and Row). In it he challenged “the conventional picture of a Christ who never laughed.” He rightly observed that there is far more laughter in the gospels than is generally recognized. Further, he makes the excellent point that “there are numerous passages in the recorded teaching which are practically incomprehensible when regarded as sober prose, but which are luminous once we become liberated from the gratuitous assumption that Christ never joked” (p. 10). Continue reading “The Wit of the Carpenter”