Friday, August 13, 2010

Mandate to Witness

I picked up a cheap copy of Leander Keck's Studies in the Book of Acts over Christmas, and read it on Monday in preparation for teaching the Book of Acts this fall.

Keck's aim was 'to promote a fresh and vital study of Acts' (9) for a church after Christendom. I found myself least convinced by arguments based on a construal of ancient Judaism because the field has undergone a revolution since 1964, when the book was published. The contemporary issues Keck addresses--the American civil right movement and the cold war--are of course dated too. But the book is perhaps the best discussion I have read on the contemporary significance of Acts.

For example, the final chapter on church-state relations anticipates C. Kavin Rowe's "new" take on Acts, and reminds me of Michael Gorman's recent work on Revelation:

[T]he Christian's attitude toward his government is not determined by the government's attitude toward Christianity, but rather by his own faith in the lordship of Jesus. (146)
Because Jesus is next to God, faith in Jesus is really a commitment to him as an absolute authority, a supreme sovereign. ... Whoever holds this belief firmly enough to commit his life to the consequences, finds that every other allegiance must be secondary to this one....Christianity is a totalitarian faith. (147)
We must not always assume that the gospel is a pacifier for mankind to suck in times of distress. It is also a fire and a sword. We must not interpret Acts to mean that Christians are always politically quiet simply because the church is not a revolutionary party. Just the opposite is true: Because the church is not a political party, its impact is not restricted to the realignment of the government, but affects the economy as well. (150)

We Christians also face real danger if the West should win [the cold war], and we face it right now as we struggle to survive. This danger consists of being made into the state religion, of waking up to learn that, like the priests of pagan Rome, we are expected to perform the rituals of the church in order to preserve the state. (151) 

In short, we are in danger of thinking that we are living in times characterized by Romans 13, when actually we are slipping into the era marked by Revelation 13. Already the land is being filled with priests, pagan and Christian alike, who bid us worship the beast....All around us are forces that demand that the church shout "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!"--that is, that ministers go into the pulpits Sunday after Sunday to proclaim the American God and their hatred of communism. Such men are unwitting priests of the state who bid us put incense on Caesar's altar because Caesar is putting incense on ours through tax exemptions and slogans on dollar bills. (152-3)
John's Gospel reports that during Jesus' trial, the Jerusalem crowd bellowed its patriotism by shouting, "We have no king but Caesar." The Book of Acts shows the Christian alternative: "There is another king, Jesus." Here the Christian must take his stand, "come Hell or high water." In our time, he may face both. (153)

Prophetic words. Vintage Keck.


Isaac Gross said...

I like it. I especially like the first quote. I just wrote a post about gay marriage here in CA and had a line similar to it.

Have you read Gorman's treatment of Revelation? I read his Cruciformity for a class and really liked his writing.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this.


Karen said...

I know your last post was Friday, and this is Sunday, so Happy Birthday!