Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Emerging Peter: Emerging So Far

I thought it might be a good point to pause for a moment to see where we are in 1 Peter and why it is that we can call Peter’s letter “emerging.” Simply put, Peter is fashioning a way to live as followers of Jesus in Asia Minor; and he is doing so for a minority that is a minority not only because it is Christian but because it socially powerless. And, he is doing so in the context of suffering.
Someone has pointed out already this theme, and the comment (Ron I think) so impressed me that I thought it might be good to enter it into the conversation at this point.
In 1:8-9 Peter brings up suffering. It will be at the heart of many statements in 1 Peter, and it frames the entire letter as the context. Peter’s readers are suffering for a variety of reasons, no doubt, not the least of which is that they are followers of Jesus.
Here is how I see 1 Peter working: Peter is trying to figure out, and pass on to his readers, how to follow Jesus when the State has sufficient power to inflict suffering on folks just for believing and behaving as they do (as Christians).
Peter’s emerging response has to be seen for what it is: it the wisdom of the story of Israel and Jesus brought to bear on a new situation. Persecution; suffering; church; social powerlessness. How to live? is Peter’s question. His response is four-fold (one could find other points, but this is enough for now):
1. New birth establishes them as God’s people and grants them hope and eternity.
2. They are to devote their lives to holiness, which I defined as uncontaminated devotion to Jesus.
3. They are to devote their lives to loving others as a community of faith.
4. The above three is the way to transform society (more of this later in the book).
If you are not familiar with Peter, this might surprise you; but if you are, you will know that this is exactly what Peter brings up in his central thematic statement in 1 Peter 2:11-12: be holy, be good, love others.
It would not be hard to imagine other strategies that Peter finds unattractive. But, Peter eschews violence as a tactic; he avoids manipulating the system; he rejects appealing to rights; he never mentions meeting with the politicians; he doesn’t even bring up Roman law.
Peter’s strategy, as a response to the conditions emerges, is sectarian and communal: live as the people of God, completely devoted to what is right, and love one another.

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posted March 1, 2006 at 12:40 pm

In terms of hermenuetics, how would you negogiate the different social location of 1 Peter’s readers (powerless, persecution) with present-day, American Christians (powerful, not persecuted)? Does this disconnect make a difference in how the “strategy” of 1 Peter is appropiated today? Some would argue that “do what is right” in 1 Peter is a form of accomodation to the culture (honor emperor, household codes).

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Ron McK

posted March 1, 2006 at 1:09 pm

If American Christians were to challenge the American empire propheticly, they might be surprised by the the “fiery ordeal” that would follow.

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posted March 1, 2006 at 8:47 pm

To Ron #2:
But this (“challenge the American empire prophetically”) is not what 1 Peter advises. 1 Peter addresses a group of Christians who are suffering, not because of their prophetic challenge to the empire, but because of their non-engagement with society. As Christians, they no longer participate in the social and cultural life like they did pre-conversion. They are suffering because of the suspicion associated with such “sectarianism”. 1 Peter advises a certain re-engagment with society, which may have the result of less suffering. So, if we’re simply looking at 1 Peter, the answer is not “to challenge the American empire prophetically”; it is to “conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles” (2:12).

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posted March 1, 2006 at 11:19 pm

craig obrien blogs :: good news & emerging evangelism :: March :: 2006

[…] Just a note: I was fascinated to see this morning that Scot McKnight is camped out in the same book, exploring First Peter as a word to the emerging church. […]

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Craig OBrien

posted March 1, 2006 at 11:28 pm

Thanks for unpacking 1 Peter as a word to the emerging church. I ended up there late last night trying to understand what one so close to Jesus throughout His whole ministry understood the Gospel to be. I am asking, “What was Peter’s essential understanding of what a person needed to know, or hear, as the good news to enter into a relationship with Jesus?”

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meggan judge

posted March 2, 2006 at 1:49 am

I wonder if Peter is calling his people in Asia Minor to be an alternative politic in any way, ala Hauwerwas et al. Awhile back Scot you asserted that the emerging conversation was offering an anabaptist third way of christianity. Is the stance that Peter advises his people to take in anyway similar to what you see in the anabaptist movement either at the beginning of the movement or subsequently? Thanks for the series, 1 Peter is quite a profound book and an important but neglected part of the bible.

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Ron McK

posted March 2, 2006 at 2:24 pm

I agree with youyr comment on 1 Peter.
However, Peter did challenge Jewish authority and suffer as a consequence. That is probably a better parallel for American Christians.
How do you relate this theme in Peter to your fourth perspective on NT Wright and Paul’s challenge that Jesus is Lord, not Caesar. My feeling is that Paul is stating how things should be, whereas Peter is giving advice about life in a hostile society.

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Ron McK

posted March 2, 2006 at 4:59 pm

Further thoughts.
Peter does not come out directly and challenge the Caesar directly, but he does see to be making a veiled attack. Peter seems to be writing to Christians about practical living in a hostile world (1 Pet 2:11,12). He is being a realist, not teaching about God’s ideal. He says that Christians who are ruled by kings and dictators should submit to the political powers, so they can get on with their real work (The heading between 2:12 and 2:14 is misleading.) Christians should not attract unnecessary attention, by trying to overthrow the government, but should submit to it, so they can get on with preaching the gospel.
We do not need to start a revolution against emperors or parliaments, because our gospel is revolutionary. As more and more people at converted and give their allegiance to Jesus, the power of kings and rulers will gradually leak away. The gospel undermined and defeated the Roman Empire, so it can destroy any political power. Powerful preaching of the gospel supported by prayer will be more effective than any revolution.
Peter seemed to be quite clear that the rulers are the creation of man (1 Pet 2:13). He never says that the political rulers are instituted by God. We might have to submit to them to survive, but submitting to a king or a parliament is not the same as submitting to God. They are the creation of man, so their power has been stolen from God.
Peter is also very coy about honoring the emperor. We must honour the king, but surprise, surprise, we are required to honour everyone. The king is not worthy of special honour. (1 Pet 2:17). The hidden message is quite strong. We should love other Christians and we must fear God, but we are not required to love or fear the king. Peter puts the king below God and our Christian friends, but on the same level as other people.
Peter is not as blatant as Paul, but he does seem to be making a subtle attack on Caesar that his readers would have picked up.

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