The Grammar of Scripture

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Much can and should be said of the violent rhetoric surrounding this campaign season. Liberal and conservative, news media and social media, public and private conversations, have all been saturated with unfair caricatures, incendiary comments, half-truths, dismissive assertions and triumphant shaming of whichever camp one is set against. And the worst part is much is this is being done by Christians!

Let me begin with a gentle reminder: Christian, you have been crucified with Christ and you no longer live. You surrendered your rights at your baptism. Your religious liberty, political tribe, social cause, supreme court justice, and individual “rights” mean nothing here. You are a resident alien. A sojourner. An integral member of the colony of heaven in a country of death. A physical member of the body of Christ. A subject in the Kingdom of Heaven with sole allegiance to Lord, Jesus. As a wise friend of mine has said elsewhere… any other “promise”, “right”, “identity–American or otherwise” or “narrative” is a direct threat to your discipleship with Jesus. I couldn’t be more convinced of this after observing both radically “conservative” and “liberal” Christians this year.

This semester I have been steeped in translating scripture. I am finishing the final class in each of my Greek and Hebrew sequences. 2 1/2 years of each language! This means that every Monday and every Friday, I am working through sections of scripture in their original language and rendering them into English with my classmates.

What I enjoy most about this process is that I can’t just skim over the text. We do this so much when we read. We assume. We don’t pay attention. You’re probably not even reading every word of this post. We know what’s coming next so we miss what’s right in front of us. The author’s arguments, poetic beauty of a passage, or the scandalous other-worldly instruction in a imperative command, all these fall on deaf ears because our traditioned reading of the text makes us numb to its provocative and life giving rhetorical force! You can’t do this when you translate. When I translate, I need to pay close attention to the contours of the grammar–minding every preposition, adjective, verb, and participle. Chewing on every word and its relationship to the words around it. How do all these pieces make a whole?

This process has made scripture more than just a flat text with proofs, doctrines, instructions, or wise quips and life-hacks. It has shown me that there is a deeper logic at work in the grammar of scripture. The text contains a unique grammar. A distinctly Christian grammar. It contains an imagination. And the text demands that we be open to allowing our imagination to be shaped by submitting to its Kingdom-logic and other-worldly priorities. Scripture presents a way of viewing the world through the eyes of God and the new-creation activity He has inaugurated through the slaughtered lamb that sits on the throne (Rev 5:6). The grammar of scripture puts us into the middle of a story. And it isn’t the story our culture is telling. The more I pay attention to the rhetoric of scripture through close analysis of its grammar… the more I notice the corrupt grammars of the world. Worldly grammar is shaped by anti-Christian values of power, dominance, might-is-right, ambition, divisiveness, pride, and envy.

The news cycle wants to incite you to outrage in one form or another. The president-elect wants to tout his triumph of worldly power and desires to enlist you to join with him in his charge to “take America back” and “make it great again”. Your liberal friends want you to tear your cloths in sackcloth and ashes at all these atrocities.

But you cannot. You must not. You cannot get swept up in other grammars!

You are a citizen of a different kingdom. Your grammar is lifted from a scriptural-world that says, “love your neighbor” and “pray for those who persecute you”. Your vocabulary is taken from a text that says that your speech mimics the very creative act of a loving God that says, “it is good” and “I love the world”. Your words are slaves to the Word Made Flesh that dwelt among us in love and grace. That though being in the very nature God… humbled himself… taking on the nature of a slave… and was obedient to death… death on a cross. Jesus calls you to that same death. To meet him “outside the camp” as the writer of Hebrews says. Christians meet with Jesus outside of the places of cultural prominence and dominance. It isn’t our job to reclaim a lost American dream or to buy into the utopian dream of progressive ideals. Supreme Court Justices, megalomaniac real-estate moguls and corrupt Secretary of States have no jurisdiction here. They don’t concern themselves with the weak, meek, or lowly. Their grammar is different than ours. The way they see power and cultural dominance is different than ours.

They don’t love the poor, the immigrant, single mom, or the refugee. Those people are here to take our jobs or abuse our charity. They are people that are viewed as a political bargaining chips that make candidates look “charitable” and “compassionate” for the next election cycle.

They don’t recognize the power of humility, submission, suffering, and death. Their priorities are fundamentally different than ours. They think they win by domination and coercion. They wage war with backbiting, legislative power, and military might. We win by being dominated. By being crucified to the world. So why are we playing their game? Why is our grammar the same as theirs? Why are we giving ourselves over to demonic and destructive worldly ways of being and conceiving the world? Why do we sound just like everyone else?

The apostle Peter says, “being self-controlled, hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Christ-Jesus”. We are to be people dominated by the grammar of the Kingdom of Heaven and we behave in light of the future reality of Christ’s return. We demonstrate the “manifold wisdom of God” to the “powers, principalities and rulers” of this “present evil age” by refusing to live according to their grammar… but according to the grammar of the Kingdom of God. We anticipate the restoration of all things by acting like it right now. It is breaking forth from among us empowered by the Spirit. We restore. We love. We serve. We rehearse new-creation life for our coming King by being loyal to Him–and him alone– in the present. And in doing so, we pray, “come quickly, Lord Jesus”. And we do this with joy. This means we may not swear by any other creed or power structure. We cannot make anything great again or declare anything already great that isn’t the name of Jesus and him crucified.

Do not be fooled! Worldly grammar will destroy you. It will literally kill you. In Genesis 4, God responds to Cain’s anger (simple anger), “sin is crouching at the door… its desire is to have you, but you must master it”. Cain killed his brother in the next verse. This stuff is nothing to mess with or indulge in! These destructive modes of being lead to destroyed relationships, character assassination, and literal death.

So when you start your next post, tweet, comment, or dinner table discussion, think about what grammar you’re operating from. Where are the motives, postures, attitudes, and agendas you’re embodying coming from? Fox News? CNN? Huffpost? Drudge? Trump? Hillary? Or your crucified Lord?

I’ll close with Paul’s summary of Christ’s credentials of power and the author of Hebrews exhortation to follow Jesus into a similar fashion:

Philippians 2:1-11

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God ra thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Hebrews 12:12-16

So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.


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