Thursday, 24 January 2008

Consistent inconsistency

2 stories from recent days:

The government's latest plan to save Northern Rock is to convert the £25 billion loan into bonds which will be guaranteed by the government, and then to try to get Northern Rock sold to a private investor.

So, the government (sorry, the taxpayer; as if the government would do that with their own money!) takes all the risk if it fails, gets none of the benefit if it succeeds, and the private investor can't lose.

Second is capital gains tax. As I understand it, if you buy an asset (property etc.), keep it for a while and then sell it for a profit, you pay tax on the profit (the capital gain).

So, the individual or business takes the risk of investing (the asset could appreciate or depreciate), bearing all the downsides of any loss; but woe betide you if you make a profit, you wicked capitalist - the government takes its cut.

Oh well, at least the inconsistency swings both ways!

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Try these spectacles

Following my previous post, I also reflect how my own understanding of Malachi has changed as I have studied it.

This is a good example of how much your system affects your reading of a particular text.

As I have appreciated more postmillenialism, paedofaith, the Reformed view of the Law, so I see things in Malachi that I didn't see before:
  • the hope of 1:5, 1:11, 1:14 etc.
  • the expectation of godly offspring in marriage, 2:15
  • the contemporary relevance of the tithing challenge in 3:8-10
  • the possibility of material blessing in 3:10-12, without falling into a prosperity gospel.

The point of this post is not to argue for those things, but to emphasise how important it is to be aware of your own system. My current view of Malachi is the result of an interplay between my closer study of the text itself and my evolving systematic outlook. I must be cautious not to read my system into everything I see, in order that particular texts can still challenge my inconsistencies and errors.

The answer is not some supposed zone of neutrality or coming to the texts without preconceptions: that is dishonest and impossible. The more clearly I can articulate my system to myself and others, the more aware I will be of the danger points where system overrides text.

There's an argument for spending time on systematic theology.

God seeks godly offspring from marriage

Over the last few years, Malachi has been my book of choice to work on: a series of talks for a sixth-form houseparty, some undergraduate Bible studies on camp, and now all the home groups at Christ Church.

One of the things that has most struck me every time is Malachi 2:10-16. Aside from the very difficult Hebrew of vv. 15-16, it has a fascinating train of thought.

1. The people are criticised for marrying outside the covenant community (v. 11), and divorcing wives within the covenant community (v. 14).
[I think this is literal intermarriage, not a metaphor for unfaithfulness to God because:
a) In v. 14, Yahweh is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. He is a judicial third party, not one of the two parties in the marriage.
b) While marriage is a common OT picture of Yahweh’s relationship with Israel, he is (always?) the husband, Israel the wife. Here Judah is the husband.
c) There is no other indication in Malachi that formal idolatry is a problem, eg., Baal-worship in the monarchy. Rather the problem is empty formalism.
d) Pagan intermarriage is a major contemporary problem in Ezra 9-10 and Nehemiah 13:23ff.

2. Other than the biblical theology problem that divorce misrepresents Jesus' steadfast love for his church, the main problem with this intermarriage and divorce is that the purpose of marriage is to seek godly offspring (v. 15). So, at least in Malachi, it's not about companionship, or refraining from sexual immorality, but about populating the land with godly children. There is an implicit assumption here that the children of covenant members will themselves be godly.

3. The point of godly offspring, istm, is to contribute to God's program of 1:5, 1:11, 1:14, 3:12, 3:17-18. The hope of Malachi is that a repentant, godly, chosen people in the land will make the nations sit up and take notice, see how wonderful it is to serve Yahweh, and how awful it is to despise him, and so

"My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations ... For I am a great king ... and my name is to be feared among the nations." 1:11, 14.

Malachi too was postmill!