Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Covenant-Prophetic Faith

“The Old Testament work of scholars like Gerhard von Rad…(has) shown the deeply historical character of the biblical witness” (Jose Miguez Bonino).  Von Rad affirms that ancient Israel’s covenant-prophetic theology was dynamically historical: its world view was non-cyclical in contrast to that of the surrounding peoples of the Fertile Crescent.  It believed that the Israelite people was constituted by a series of canonical or definitive historical events and, particularly with the prophets, it was receptive and responsive to new historical movements, changes and chances.

The covenant-prophetic faith believes that divinity is actively involved in history.  YHWH is not primarily a god of the rich harvest or of fertility like Baal, who is susceptible to the death and renewal cycles of the natural environment.  Certainly, Yhwh is the creator of the physical world and the guarantor of the continuance of the natural cycles.  God favors these cycles not because he needs to but because he wants to.
In contrast to the gods of the Fertile Crescent, Yhwh’s will and power is revealed primarily in unrepeatable liberational events like the Exodus and the conquest of Canaan.  “What distinguishes the Holy Spirit from the magic ‘spirits’ is that it acts through historic mediations” (Miguez).

The biblical testimony to these liberational events is meant to help normatively believers in every age to obey the contemporary divine summons to help liberate and humanize people in their concrete situations.  The biblical message is meant to inspire a humanizing praxis rather than to express propositions about God’s being or essence.  Miguez writes:

“The Biblical message is a call, an announcement-proclamation (kerygma) which is given in order to put in motion certain actions and to produce certain situations…God is not the content of the message but the wherefrom and the whereto, the originator and the impulse of this course of action and these conditions…By defining an event as God’s action, the Bible is…pointing to the divinely wrought and revealed background and power of the human action demanded.” (“Marxist Critical Tools”).

Not even in the revelation of the divine name to Moses (Exodus 3:14) was an ontological statement intended; the divine name could be understood only in the light of liberational events that would still occur.  In this way, the holy name has done justice to divine freedom, which coincides with the gracious plan to save human beings through human intermediaries.  Miguez firmly believes in “the reality of a God who ever remains gratuitously ‘himself’ in the very process of being totally ‘for us’ and ‘in us’” (“Historical Praxis”).
Miguez’s biblical theology recognizes that the covenant-prophetic faith is not essentially an intellectual assent to revealed, supernatural and timeless truths.  Biblical faith is neither speculative knowledge nor a passive contemplation of abstract axioms.  Instead, “faith is always a concrete obedience” (Miguez), an obedient knowing, and an efficacious realization of the divine summons, which is actively involved in biblical and post-biblical history.

Authentic faith is an attentive knowledge of God’s historical summons, and requires a concrete engagement with history.  The biblical faith is a practising faith, a practical form of knowing the active Word.  “Faith is like the strength of a muscle: we are only aware of it when we use it.  The only faith is in the performance of the faith.” (Miguez)

Miguez’s understanding of faith affirms that it is both a divine gift and a human response.  God inaugurated history, and continues to be active in it.  God’s historical activity calls us to faithful practice, a concrete obedience to the living Word.  The pre-condition for every faithful practice is the reality of the prior divine commands and actions.

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