Ministry precedes theology

In The Soul of Ministry: Forming Leaders for God's People, Ray Anderson notes that "ministry precedes theology" (p. 3). By this he means that God's actions in history (his ministry) precede our concepts about God (theology). "It is through God's ministry of redemption that we understand the meaning of God's work..." (p. 4). Through obedience and response to what God does by speaking and acting within the framework of human history, we come to understand God's nature and purpose.

To test our understanding of this, Anderson asks, "Who was the first theologian in the Bible?"  We might think to answer Abraham. But Anderson thinks otherwise:
"Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are storytellers and actors in the redemptive drama and they, too, in living and telling the story of God's acts, expound a theology of God's ministry. But it is Moses who ultimately tells their stories as part of his account of God' purpose from the beginning of human history. Moses is the first theologian in the Bible, because everything told of the Genesis account of creation is written from the perspective of the exodus event.
"Moses is not simply a storyteller, a recorder of events. Rather he received directly from God a commission that carried a new content of revelation as well as produced a new event in salvation history [the exodus]....
"Without the theological paradigm revealed through the exodus, one cannot read and understand the Genesis account of creation, nor can one follow the subsequent unfolding of God' redemptive history.
"When someone asks where they should begin reading in the Old Testament, I never tell them to begin with Genesis, but rather with Exodus. Exodus is the theological beginning point that serves as the exposition and explanation of all that precedes" (pp. 3-4).
Anderson points to the third chapter of Exodus as this beginning point of theology. Here God proclaims to Moses (out of the burning bush) his name Yahweh (the LORD) (Ex. 3:15, 6:2-3). With the revelation of this name of God came revelation of God's purpose to redeem Israel from Egypt. Through this mighty act (ministry) of Yahweh, the innermost being of God is revealed - he is the Great I-AM, the covenant God abounding in compassion, grace, patience, love, faithfulness and forgiveness (Ex. 34:6-7).

Indeed ministry precedes theology, and this theology helps us rightly understand all that we see God doing, for God always does what God is.


Mike Hale said…
Appreciate the post, Ted. As you say, we are blessed to have revealed to us that, “God always does what God is.”

A few weeks ago I read Act & Being (Eerdmans, 2003), by recently deceased British theologian Colin Gunton. The book is a helpful critique of our inherited traditional approaches to studying the attributes of God (Omnipresence, Omniscience, Omnipotence, and so forth), which Gunton says are vague, abstract, distant, impersonal, and which Gunton says tend to separate the Triune God’s being from actions that are revealed in the Biblical witness.

Ray Anderson’s point is also the thrust of The Great AMEN of the Great I-AM (2008, Wipf & Stock), by John McKenna. McKenna reminds us that the surprising Voice speaking to Moses from the Burning Bush defines both God and the People of God. Moses learns God is the self-existent Creator who shows compassion, mercy, favor, great grace, and who is true and faithful. Moses experiences these things and gives witness.

Similarly (and I feel, importantly) McKenna begins the book with his own fascinating personal story of being encountered and rescued by this same loving, faithful God to which Moses gives testimony.

Perhaps soon we can explore more of these two books on the blog as well. Thanks again.
Ted Johnston said…
Thanks for your comment Mike. I just finished Dr. McKenna'sg "The Great AMEN of the Great I-AM." I plan on including quotes in future posts.

Both Anderson and McKenna have been a great help to me in understanding many things, including the unity of God's being and doing (act) and how our understanding of God's being comes as we understand/experience his doing.

This has been of great help to me in reading the Old Testament through the lens of the person (being) and work (act) of God revealed to us in person and work of the Redeemer Jesus Christ, who is the incarnation of the LORD God of Israel who is the Creator.
Jerome Ellard said…
Thanks for highlighting Anderson's book, Ted. I read the following excerpt from the book and was moved to share it:

When the first humans turned away in disobedience from this divine word and grace they heard “the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze,” and they fled into the foliage of the garden as though to hide from God’s presence (Gen. 3:8). We are given reason to believe that this nocturnal visit of God was not unusual. Only this time it caused them to feel shame and they sought concealment amid the impersonal world of nature. If, however, it was a daily occurrence for God to meet them in the cool of the evening, does this not suggest that from the very beginning God’s ministry was one of communion and communication with humans? This means that there never was a time when humans were solely dependent on the impersonal, created order to expound the nature and purpose of God. This means that God’s revelation to humans was originally one of personal word and gracious presence. This means that God’s ministry is the primal word of creative love and grace for humanity. (from Ray Anderson's “The Soul of Ministry: Forming Leaders for God’s People”)

This quote reminded me of a friend of mine who does NOT share our Christological, Trinitarian understanding of God. He uses Romans 1:18-20 (the witness of creation) to support his contention that even people that have never even heard of Jesus should be "able to figure it out," and since they haven't, will be irredeemably and hopelessly lost in the flames of hell. How much more hope the God of Eden gives us! He is the Triune, relational God who communicates and shares himself, not leaving our salvation up to us or mere chance!
Ted Johnston said…
Amen Jerome!
Cammie Novara said…
"Through obedience and response to what God does by speaking and acting within the framework of human history, we come to understand God's nature and purpose." I am totally in agreement with that statement.