Currently I’m putting the finishing touches on a scripture-study book, with an emphasis on prophetic ministry in the Old and New Testaments, as follow-up to What Was Paul Thinking? It examines the current situation of the church in North America and how to turn it around.
Speak to the Bones: How to Be a Prophetic People in a Time of Exile examines eight Hebrew and Jewish prophets who lived before, during, and after the Babylonian Exile. The event of the Exile radically changed the religious understandings and core sense of “peoplehood” for the descendants of Abraham and Sarah. It forced them to reassess their relationship with God, and at the same time they were forced to the margins of contemporary society.
I believe there are parallels for 21st-century Christians (and, in particular, for members of my own Christian denomination, the Community of Christ) in how we increasingly are called to live and minister from the margins of society rather than from its center. From that perspective we are called to engage in prophetic ministry.
The book’s title draws on the visionary experience of Ezekiel who was shown a vast valley of dry bones, which represented the remnant of Israel/Judah during the years of Babylonian Exile. God commanded Exekiel to “prophecy to the bones” to begin the process of bringing them back to life. The vision appears in chapter 37 of the Old Testament book that bears the prophet’s name.
The earliest Christians lived on the margins of their society, in a remote outpost of the Roman Empire. About three centuries later, however, from the time of Constantine on, Christianity moved from the margins of acceptable society to its center. That era became known as Christendom and extended for several centuries but eventually began to weaken during the Enlightenment. Our own 21st-century era has moved into what’s referred to as post-Christendom. My purpose in this book is to compare the time of the Hebrew prophets and pre-Christendom to today (as Christians are found increasingly on the margins of society rather than in its dominant center).
Some 2,000 years after the time of Jesus, Christianity has become, at least for many people, all about personal salvation and a way to escape the trials and tribulations of this world to enjoy an eternal existence in a heavenly kingdom. But that’s not what the Gospels or Paul’s letters are about! Rather, the Gospel writers proclaim the great, good news that God in Christ Jesus has come into our world to transform its kingdoms and empires into the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. Paul creatively broadened the boundaries of the family of God.
Of course, the concept of “empire” today is different from 2,000 years ago, yet there are commonalities between the political, social, and military dominance of the Romans with contemporary global capitalism, especially as it is supported by U.S. economic, social, and military influence. As you might expect, my book will have a strong emphasis on justice and peace issues.
My plan is to release Speak to the Bones in early 2017 in print, e-book, and audiobook editions.