A story of blessing

Clark Williamson’s systematic theology Way of Blessing, Way of Life is less focused on Jewish-Christian relations than his earlier work A Guest in the House of Israel (which I blogged about previously), but the project of re-connecting Christianity to its Jewish roots is still a major concern. One point Williamson makes is that the way Christians frequently tell their story tends to leave out the history of Israel. The arc of “creation-fall-redemption” that forms the backbone of much Christian theology, preaching, liturgy, and spirituality all too readily allows us to jump from the first three chapters of Genesis to the New Testament.

By contrast, Williamson argues, we need to attend more to the “Old” Testament (he recommends we just refer to “the Scriptures”) to discern the identity of God and God’s purpose for humanity and the rest of creation:

No story is more pivotal to Judaism than that of Exodus and Sinai. Nor should any book be more crucial to how Christians understand themselves. Exodus, says David Tracy, “provides a proper context for understanding the great Christian paradigm of the life-ministry-death-and-resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Christianity misunderstands itself whenever it wallows in a privatized, depoliticized, and de-historicized faith. Exodus requires “a resolutely this-worldly spirituality as it demands a historical and political, not a private or individualist, understanding of Christian salvation-as-total-liberation.” (p. 74)

Williamson thinks that the Exodus story can help correct the Christian tendency to think of salvation in a narrowly individualistic way that emphasizes an otherworldly heaven. Following Methodist theologian R. Kendall Soulen, Williamson suggests that, more basic and inclusive than the creation-fall-redemption story is one of “an economy of consummation based on the Lord’s blessing”:

God promises well-being that includes all of life (peace, economic sufficiency, health, safety, fertility, God’s loving presence) and makes for the fullness of human life. The fullness of human life is a gift from the fullness of God’s life. (p. 84)

Becuase God’s blessings are freely shared with us, we should freely share those blessings with the other, those who are different. This “blessing-in-difference” characterizes God’s blessing of creation, human beings’ mutual self-giving, and Israel’s mission to be a blessing to “the nations.” Clearly, God’s purpose of blessing all creation has not yet been realized in its fullness, but awaits God’s eschatological consummation. And part of that ultimate consummation is our learning to share more widely the blessings we have received with each other and the rest of God’s creation.

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