In this series of posts, I will focus on 1 Peter as reflective of a theology and a set of churches in an emerging situation. That is, I will examine 1 Peter from front to back as an attempt by Peter to make sense of the way of Jesus in a new setting — a setting that forced Peter to come to terms with the gospel and a gospel way of life in a world that was not Jewish and clearly not Christian. The question is this: In a world like this, how do we live?
First, let’s remind ourselves of what we are talking about today when we speak of emerging churches. This from Gibbs-Bolger’s decription of what makes up emerging churches today:
1. Identifying with Jesus.
2. Transforming secular space.
3. Living as community.
4. Welcoming the stranger.
5. Serving with generosity.
6. Participating as producers.
7. Creating as created beings.
8. Leading as a body.
9. Merging ancient and contemporary spiritualities.
Second, let’s not take the easy tack. Instead of finding evidence in 1 Peter for these nine features and then saying “see, we’ve got an emerging church!”, and it would not be that hard to do such a thing, I will examine the letter from the angle of how Peter tried to make sense of the churches and their life in light of their condition. But, we’ll keep coming back to this list when necessary.
So, here’s where I’ll begin. Peter says he is writing this letter to “the elect resident aliens of the diaspora” (1:1) and in 2:11-12 he calls them “aliens and strangers”. The Greek words are paroikos and parepidemos. The first means “resident aliens” and the second “temporary residents [as migrant workers]”. The entire letter shifts, more or less, by the meaning of these two terms.
There are two options: one is to see these terms as metaphors for Christian existence in this world, hence a pilgrimage theology [we are pilgrims, just passing through this world]; the other is to see these terms as social descriptions or class descriptions of Peter’s readers, hence a social class. The terms either mean a spiritual condition or a social condition.
The most recent major commentary on 1 Peter, that by J.H. Elliott in the Anchor Bible Commentary (1 Peter, only 950 pages!), argues just this point: these terms are social descriptions and not spiritual descriptions. The readers of 1 Peter are resident aliens and temporary resident workers in Asia Minor. Think migrant workers; think foreigners who live in a given location. Think social class. I argued this to a lesser extent in my own 1 Peter commentary.
Now, if this is right, then the whole letter is an address to a group of folk who need to learn how to relate to the Roman empire and power now that they are (1) Christians and (2) socially powerless.
So, our first post in this series puts a central issue on the table. Are these terms, found in 1:1 and 2:11-12, two places where Peter looks his readers straight in the eye with terms of description, spiritual or social?
Tomorrow’s post: a defense of the social interpretation of “aliens and strangers.”