Posted by: Dan | June 4, 2005

Bearing Witness

In his monolithic work, Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy, Walter Brueggemann continually argues that the Old Testament resembles a law court. Within the metaphor of a trial Brueggemann picks up on the role of a witness and says this:

The witness allegedly had access to [the] actual event, was there, saw it and experienced it, and so is qualified to give testimony.

Now if Christians seek to be witnesses [Gk: martyrion] to Jesus Christ they should have access to Jesus, they should have experience of (and with) Jesus. It is intimacy that qualifies Christians to give testimony about Jesus.

The contemporary lack of witnesses (exhibited especially in the lack of martyrs — martyrs understood in the more radical sense) suggests that there are relatively few who have actually encountered Jesus. The testimony of Christians today garners little credibility because it is generally a false testimony — it is people speaking of something they have not experienced and, therefore, something they know nothing about (for knowing God as a mental construct is quite different than knowing God as a person). Perhaps the largest way that this is exhibited is the fact that, as Brueggemann points out elsewhere in Theology of the Old Testament, the God in the Old Testament is primarily known for acting with transformative power in the midst of history. This God was known for his mighty deeds (cf. Gerhard von Rad). Yet most contemporary Western Christians live with little reliance upon God breaking into history. We have become much too engrossed in God's Being as opposed to God's doing. Which is why I am increasingly echoing the words that Karl Rahner used to say to his theology students: I do not know the God that you are speaking of.

All this brings me back, once again, to another Rahner quote: future Christians will either be mystics or they will cease to exist as Christians. By this he meant that Christians will have a genuine experience of (and with) God or they will (post-Christendom) have no reason to be Christians.

And, of course, the first step to knowing God is admitting how little we know God.

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Responses

  1. Gerhard von Rad —

    A dude with that name existed?

  2. Ha!

    Yes, believe it or not, that name is taken. G. von Rad was arguably the most influential OT scholar from 1950ish-1979ish. Of course he still remains highly influential but recent scholarship has been much more critical of his work.

  3. Hey Dan,

    It has been awhile since I’ve commented on your journal…I have been reading, and enjoying! You have a great way of clearly stating things. Once again, in this post you’ve helped me to articulate some things about my own experience that I’ve been struggling to put into words. I’d love to chat more about that…let’s talk soon.

    Question for you: Why do you say to people “I do not know the God you are speaking of”?

    cheers,
    jude

  4. Why do you say to people “I do not know the God you are speaking of”?

    I say that because we need to be clear that even though a lot of Christians (and other people in North America) talk about “god” they often are not talking about the same thing. To assume that all Christians are referring to the same thing when they talk about god is quite a false assumption. When Christians talk about god in a way where god is defined by certain characteristics of North American culture (power, immutability, and other classic philosophical formulations) I can quite simply say I don’t know that god. The god I know is defined by the cross, by vulnerability, and by resurrection. This god is known through history, through narrative, and through experience.

    Many Christians speak about god in such a way that I am not willing to say that I know the god they speak of.


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