old Bible Study for Natal West Synod 2015 – led by Rev Dr Scott Couper


Friday, 22 May 2015

Opening Remarks

Slide 2aMarcus J. Borg was an American New Testament scholar, theologian and author. He retired as Hundere Distinguished Professor of Religion and Culture at Oregon State University in 2007. Borg was among the most widely known and influential voices in progressive Christianity. As a fellow of the Jesus Seminar he was a major figure in historical Jesus scholarship. Borg published more than twenty-one books. He died at the age of 72 on January 21, 2015, of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

This Bible study I hope honors his memory. I present his scholarship.

I would like us to examine one chapter of only one of his twenty-one books.

The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith, 2003; ISBN 978-0060730680

The chapter is entitled “The Kingdom of God: The Heart of Justice”.

[Slide 3]

I understand the theme for this Synod is “Together a Healing Community” which fits into a larger theme, “Together a Transforming Discipleship Movement”. The Methodist Church of Southern Africa’s (MCSA) mission is to “proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ for healing and transformation”. MCSA’s vision is “a Christ-healed Africa for the healing of nations”. And, last but not least, one of the MCSA’s five mission pillars is “Justice and Service”.

[Slide 4]

I propose the mission, the vision, the themes of this Synod as well as the Justice and Service pillar all have the ‘Kingdom of God’ as a common denominator. Hence, I have selected Borg’s chapter on the Kingdom of God as our focus. Half of Borg’s chapter relates his teachings on the Kingdom of God to the North American context. We will instead relate Borg’s teachings to the southern Africa context, and specifically the Methodist context in kwaZulu-Natal.

We will break our study into two sections, each examining one scripture. Today, the Lord’s Prayer. Tomorrow, the Beatitudes. We will study each as it relates to the Kingdom of God and the Methodist vision for healing and transformation.

Opening Prayer

Bible Study

The Christian life is about the ‘Kingdom of God’, central metaphor of the gospels.

[Slide 5]              

Not just personal, but political.

The Christian concept of ‘justice’ is unfamiliar to most in and out of the church.

Why? 1. Church has been wedded to dominant culture for so many centuries.

[Slide 6]

Why? 2. Confused the opposite of ‘God’s justice’ as ‘God’s mercy’ when it is actually ‘humans’ injustice’.

Why? 3. Individualism as a core cultural value.

We are not a product of our own entire making – chance and social web play parts.

[Slide 7]               The social web can be oppressive. ‘Systemic injustice’: Political, economic and cultural.

The political passion of the Bible is about fighting systemic injustice.

Injustice in the Hebrew Testament

Egypt exodus

Monarchies of Israel and Judah

Powerful and wealthy

Pre-modern “domination systems”

Politically oppressive

Economically exploitive

Religiously legitimated

Injustice in the Christian Testament

Kingdom of God, βασιλϵία τον ϴϵον

John the Baptist’s proclamation in Mark 1:1-14

There are many meanings of ‘the Kingdom of God’.

Borg focuses on the political meaning.

Why? ‘Kingdom’ is a political term.

So, the ‘Kingdom of God’ is an ‘associated contrast’ in the hearers’ ears.

Also a religious metaphor. The Kingdom of God. So, it is a ‘theo-political’ term.

Therefore, the Kingdom of God is what life would be like if God were king and the rulers of this world were not. “It is about God’s justice in contrast to the systemic injustice of the kingdoms and domination systems of this world”.

Matthew (from Mark) changes it to ‘Kingdom of Heaven’, βασιλϵία των ούρανων, Matthew 3:2. But the kingdom of heaven is not about ‘heaven’, but rather about ‘Earth’. The Lord’s Prayer testifies to this fact.

Jesus primarily spoke to the peasants. He avoided city life, except Jerusalem.

Are their implications, in terms of theological formulation, for training ministers for rural ministry, as opposed to urban (where most ministers wish to serve).

[Slide 8]

The Lord’s Prayer

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom [βασιλϵία] come, your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven. Give us our daily bread [άρτον]. Forgive us our debts [όφειλήματα], as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:9b-13, NIV).

“Give us our daily bread”, άρτον. Matthew 6:11

“Forgive us our debts”. όφειλήματα, Matthew 6:12. Not ‘sins’ or ‘trespasses’.

Indebtedness can lead to one’s loss of land.

Debt can lead to indentured labour (slavery).

[Slide 9]

Application: Issues of Today in South Africa

Land Reform

Urban / Rural divide

Environment / Climate change / Pollution / Water shortage / Renewable energy sources



Unrestrained capitalism

[Slide 10]

Discussion (‘Find a Friend’)

With an emphasis on the MCSA’s Five Mission Pillars, relate if, and if so, how, our Synod fosters “the Kingdom of God on Earth, just as it is in heaven”.

Report Back

Closing, Prayer and Benediction


Saturday, 23 May 2015

[Slide 11]

The Beatitudes

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh” (Luke 6:20b-21, NIV).

Unlike Matthew (5:3-12), who spiritualises the beatitudes (blessed are the poor in spirit).

Yet we know, in Luke, Jesus meant ‘the poor’, not ‘the poor in sprit’.

How? We read further: “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep” (Luke 6:24-25, NIV).

I worry about the above. To what extent do I only advocate for justice, yet participate in systems of injustice? To what extent do I preach, but to not implement the gospel that I preach? To what extent do I fail to sacrifice my privilege for the furtherance of the Kingdom of God on Earth?

We need our ministers to also be attorneys. We need our ministers to also be economists. We need our ministers to also be ecologists. We need our ministers to have the intellectual, professional and vocational skills to be able to operate with authority within the systems of injustice so as to advocate for another ‘kingdom’.

[Slide 12]

“Jesus is Lord”

Political as well as spiritual meaning.

Caesar was lord. Again, ‘associative contrast’ is being made as with “Kingdom of God”.

Jesus, not Caesar is, saviour, lord, son of God, king of kings and lord of lords.

‘Jesus is my Fuhrer’. ‘Jesus is my commander in chief’.

The Roman Empire was despised by the oppressed and would ultimately be destroyed.

The Beast

The Great Harlot

Rome is the embodiment of avarice and thus evil.

Radix     Omnium              Malorum             Avaritia

                Root      All                           Evil                         Avarice (Greed)

“The root of all evil is greed” = ROMA (Rome)

[Slide 13]

Image of Albert Luthuli, painted by Ronald Harrison, “The Black Christ”

The Political Meaning of the Crucifixion

Jesus was the only major religious tradition’s founder who was killed by the established authority.

Good Friday has a political point (as well as spiritual).

Good Friday is the world’s “no” to Jesus. Easter is God’s “yes” to Jesus.

Politics includes the systems of government, economics, law and society.

The single biggest cause of suffering of the world is unjust social systems. And God, and thus the Bible, cares about social systems – thus the Bible is political. The cross is political.

 [Slide 14]            

Are we able to forfeit privilege in order to engender the Kingdom of God on Earth? Image of the

President of Uruguay, waiting (voluntarily) in a queue to receive medical care in a public hospital.

[Slide 15]

Application: Issues of Today in South Africa





Gender and sex discrimination

[Slide 16]

Discussion (“Find a Friend”)

With an emphasis on the MCSA’s Five Mission Pillars, relate if, and if so, how, our Synod proclaims the political meaning of the crucifixion.

Report Back

Closing, Prayer and Benediction