What answer would an Israelite would give to the question, “Are you saved?” Christopher Wright in The Mission of God says the ancient Jew would tell you the story of the exodus.
Wright is arguing that our mission has to align with the mission of God, has to be as big as God’s mission. So he tells us that the exodus is the model for God’s mission. The exodus has political, social, economic, and spiritual dimensions. So God’s mission in the world must be political, social, economic and spiritual. This is because Israel had needs matched to all these dimensions. God’s mission met Israel’s needs.
The exodus story tells us that God was motivated by two factors. First, God was aware of Israel’s oppression. Second, God remembered his covenant with his people. Wright argues that this tells us that God still operates this way. He still is aware of oppression. He still calls to mind his promises.
All these affirmations about God, made at the time of the exodus, are repeated elsewhere in universalizing contexts. So although the exodus stands as a unique and unrepeatable event in the history of Old Testament Israel, it also stands as a paradigmatic and highly repeatable model for the way God wishes to act in the world. . .(p. 275).
OK, I was afraid this was where Wright was going. It is a restatement of the position of liberation theology. If you have read much of what I have written you will expect me to have questions. Is oppression in the Bible the same as oppression in Marxist social conflict theory? Since ordinary Egyptians were as much oppressed as the Israelites, can you really universalize the exodus?
Oppression as an idea in the Bible seems to first occur in the Deborah story in Judges 4 and 5. Sisera was oppressing Israel. What this meant seems to be that he was attacking Israel’s caravans and forcing them to smuggle goods around the roads he controlled. In other words, Sisera was interfering with commerce. This is not the Marxist or liberation theology concept of oppression.
We have been conditioned to think of oppression in terms defined by ideas of class, gender, race and political privilege. Because of this, I refuse to use the word oppression in public prayers. People will misunderstand it. I substitute the word affliction. I think this is more what the Bible means.
Take the case of current events in Venezuela . There is what you would call a counter-revolution. From the liberation theology point of view, an exodus-like event took place with Hugo Chavez as Moses. Today there are truly afflicted people protesting and rebelling because Chavez’s revolution destroyed the country’s economic base. Who are the Israelites? Who are the Egyptians?
I do not think that Christopher Wright is going to go all the way to the far left, although that is what liberation theology actually does in practice. My problem is with universalizing the exodus in a political way in the first place. In the Christian Bible the resurrection is the event that replicates the exodus. There are lots of ways of interpreting this without using Marxist social conflict theory. Most Jewish theology also finds other ways of interpreting the exodus.
I think Wright will have many useful insights as I go through the rest of the book. And, as I have shown on this blog, I certainly do not discount the exodus. I just wanted to make clear here that I have a major problem with way he uses the exodus.