Saturday, October 24, 2009

Reading Acts (again)

Had a challenging, yet fascinating, conversation the last few days, with some (powerful!)New Testament scholars, on the book of Acts. I still wonder why I was also 'hosted', but, being the humble person that I am, it felt like a safe space to offer my irreverent questions, from the sidelines, so to speak. I should congratulate those who thought of this. Maybe, like one of the retired missiology scholars said, we should take the conversation further and invite poets and artists next time, because perhaps they might be even closer to the questions that real people ask.

For me, I am reminded that we all read texts differently. By posing only one authorative reading, we might miss some of the richness of the messages, in and also behind the wonder-ful stories in the texts. Let me illustrate: for some the emphasis on the 'kingdom of God' (1:3 & 28:31), meant the letting go of our kingdoms, empires and power. This imply that we acknowledge that the church operate within a world where external authorities and powers claim absolute adherance and worship (idolatry). This new movement, within Judaism, following Jesus of Nasareth, however now claim that there is a new emperor, a new emerging, alternative authority, called the 'kingdom of God'. The heart of this new movement lies then in the cross and ressurection of Jesus Christ. It calls for a vulnerability and alternative lifestyle of affirming that God is the real authority and power, not the church.

I can live with that, but I also argued that the reality is that people want to experience the power of God. People want to experience the 'hidden powers' of the kingdom, otherwise they remain trapped and in bondage-they are raped again and again by the powerful of this world. For them verses of 1:8, 'you will recieve power, when the Holy Spirit...' becomes critical; they read of the miracles, driving out of demons, of how the apostles and leaders confronted the powers and overcame them. The kingdom of God means a literal liberation from bondage, from the shackles of poverty, injustice, racism, from sickness, which are defined as the curse. Here, the gospel of prosperity make sense and churches that preach this message are hailed as hopegiving, as successful. At least one has to affirm that they are more attractive then churches, that still calls for vulnerability and 'laying down our lives'.

This little conversation illustrates how we might read the same text diffently.

There are also other themes within the book namely essence of work of the Holy Spirit, Mission, the Unity of the church as she crossed cultural borders, the contest between Paul and the political and economic auhtorities

I wondered also about the question, why Luke only focussed on expansion of the church Westwards. This relates to a statement by RS Sugirtharajah, a biblical scholar, where he states, 'The story of the expansion of the Church as it is told through Paul's journeys in Acts is selective and partial...It celebrates and priviledges only the Hellinistic expansion of the church namely from Jerusalem to Rome, and the Jewish mission to Gentiles in the Roman Empire. What the author of Acts fails to record is that there was another history of the founding of the Church east of the Euphrates and throughout the Persian Empire, whose territorial control extended to the borders of India'(2003:25). For Sugirtharajah, these considerations has implications for the old idea (myth) that Christianity only grew westwards and the so-called closed lands and Africa only recieved the gospel, 'as a gift from a benevolent West to enlighten the heathen'. Anyway, I think this line of thinking is worth exploring, because the 'Spirit goes (blows) wherever it will'.
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