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Torah, Prophets, Wisdom

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Prophets: Self Critical Thinking

Torah, Prophets, Wisdom
Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Hebrew Scriptures are divided into three major sections: the Torah, the Prophets, and the Wisdom books. Walter Brueggemann says, and I think it’s pure genius, that these three sections represent the ordinary and healthy development of human consciousness in a sequential way. The Torah gave the Israelites the Law and a sense of their chosenness. For healthy development, any culture or family must follow this pattern of first providing structure, which develops identity, boundaries, and self-worth as beloved and special.

The second set of books is the Jewish Prophets, and they represent the birth of critical thinking. The Prophets have clearly been the most neglected part of Scripture for both Jews and Christians, because neither showed much capacity for healthy self-criticism. You can see the rise of critical thinking in young people, but it is mostly oriented toward others instead of themselves. Parents often feel their teenagers oppose them on everything! And yet it is a necessary stage, though it often doesn’t go far enough.

The Roman Catholic Church did not allow prophetic/critical thinking for almost 500 years after the Reformation, nor did America for most of its 200-year history. (Slavery and segregation are the most obvious examples.) When the floodgates opened in the 1960’s, there was no stopping critical thinking. Now many Evangelicals are going through the same process in the emerging church movement.

On the individual level, self-critical thinking is necessary to see one’s own shadow self and one’s own narcissism. This is a small, early death, which only a minority undergo. Yet only when I encounter my shadow do I realize that my biggest problem is me! We have to go through a great interior death to get to the third stage of wisdom. Then can we begin to learn to live with mystery and paradox. It is the birthplace of compassion and wisdom.

The Wisdom section of the Hebrew Scriptures includes the books of Job, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, and many of the Psalms. Such Wisdom literature reveals an ability to finally be patient with mystery and contradictions—and the soul itself. Wisdom people have passed through a major death to their ego. This is the core meaning of transformation. It opens you to what Marcus Borg (who sadly died recently) and others have rightly called alternative wisdom instead of the mere maintenance of social order (conventional wisdom). It is from this third stage of alternative wisdom that Jesus teaches. Yet most of Christian history tried to understand Jesus inside the first stage of law and the need for social order. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is anything but maintaining the status quo, and it goes far beyond mere negative or critical thinking!

Gateway to Silence:
Welcome, uncomfortable truth!

Adapted from Way of the Prophet (no longer available);
Prophets Then, Prophets Now (CD, MP3 download); and
Scripture as Liberation (MP3 download)

Image credit: The Way of the Prophet by Mike Van, concept by Vivienne Close.
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