by Al Maxey

Issue #633 ------- September 12, 2014
Whoever obeys the gods,
to him they particularly listen.

Homer (c. 700 B.C.)
The Iliad

Deuteronomistic Theology
Human Obedience - Divine Obligation

A reader from the state of Kentucky recently sent me an email in which he disclosed that he has been attempting to demonstrate in his teaching of late how grace had devolved into works in the doctrine and practice of the church, especially after 300 A.D. In connection with his research on this topic he came across what has come to be known among biblical scholars as "Deuteronomistic Theology," and he asked if I had done any Reflections articles on this religious perspective. I had to admit to him that I had not, although I have dealt with it in principle repeatedly.

The basic tenets of this theology, for those persons who may not be familiar with it, can be reduced to a core principle: God blesses those who obey Him and punishes those who disobey Him. Thus, the acts or works performed by humanity generate a response (either good or bad) from deity. If your works please Him, you are rewarded; if your works do not please Him, or if you fail to do them, you suffer the consequences. It is a simple cause and effect theology: you reap what you sow. As one can see, it is a far cry from relationships based on grace (unmerited favor), and is based far more on legal requirements and wages earned. It is very much a performance based theology, as opposed to a theology based far more upon faith. It deals more with externals than internals.

There is also the concept of obligation inherent in this theology. In the OT law books, as well as in the historical books of the OT, the people of God are informed that if they expect to receive divine blessings they are obligated to be obedient. Indeed, the slightest infraction or deviation from this divine law could, and often did, result in severe retribution. On the other hand, if the people were obedient, then God was thereby obligated to reward and bless them. This could clearly be a very harsh theology in practice, and not a few individuals (as well as entire populations) were obliterated for their lack of obedience. It is a theology of prosperity and adversity, both of which are declared to be at the hand of God, and both of which are dependent upon either the obedience, or lack thereof, of mankind. The relationship of mankind (whether as individuals or communities) with God was perceived as a strict legal covenant. It was all about law: rules and regulations. Dot every "i" and cross every "t" and God would bless you; get even one such religious rite wrong, however, and it was "curtains" for you!

There is little disagreement among biblical scholars today that such a theology was evident during the early days of God's interaction with His creation (and specifically with mankind), just as one will find in the dealings of parents with infants and toddlers and even early adolescents. As the relationship changes, however, so do the precepts and principles pertaining to it. My relationship with my dad today is far different from what it was when I was two ... and when I was 10 ... and when I was 16. The "deuteronomistic" aspects of that relationship diminished, as indeed they must in any properly developing relationship, as love increasingly trumped law in practical daily living. Yes, there was a justified time and place for such unyielding rigidity in the early stages of that relationship, but there is NO place for either party to become fixated in those stages, for such dysfunctional demands upon the other party as such fixation will evoke will result in the inevitable destruction of the relationship. Thus, as we grow in covenant, we grow in those inner qualities and characteristics that are reflected in loving, gracious interpersonal interactions which require no rigid regulation.

Those who do not grasp this truth are those who attempt to carry over the deuteronomistic aspects of the old covenant into the Christian dispensation. We are now in a dispensation of grace, not law; freedom of relationship, not formality of religion. The time of rigidity under a system is past; we are now living in joyous union with God's beloved Son, and this reality has set us free. There is absolutely no place whatsoever in the church of our Lord Jesus Christ for deuteronomistic theology. We are not saved because God is somehow obligated to confer salvation upon us because of our obedience. We obey Him in our daily lives because we love Him. We reflect our gratitude for our salvation in our daily good works. Salvation isn't "wages earned" because of what WE DO. Far from it. We are saved because of what HE DID. He saved us because He loved us! GRACE. We serve Him because we love Him. FAITH. The only "works" that are redemptive are HIS; our works are merely reflective of our faith and love. They earn nothing; they evidence much! Such theology is not even remotely deuteronomistic. Praise God for that! Now, if we can just convince our legalistic, patternistic brethren to discard this deuteronomistic devolution intruding into this present dispensation, we may begin to see far more evidence in the One Body of the gospel of His grace and of our freedom in Jesus. May God hasten that day!

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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Your article "The Hand-Under-Thigh Oath" (Reflections #632) was very enlightening! I've read those passages in Genesis before, yet I had never heard this perspective. In our over-sexualized culture today it can be really easy to feel squeamish about things like that, but in light of the time it was written, and with the view toward the lineage of the Messiah, it makes perfect sense. Thanks for this insight!

From an Author in Texas:

Excellent Reflections ("The Hand-Under-Thigh Oath")!! Very interesting! I especially liked what "The Reader in Texas" had to say. Thank you for sharing this.

From a Reader in Texas:

Your last article ("The Hand-Under-Thigh Oath") was well-written, so I really have no input on that, but I do have a biblical question for you: Where in Scripture do we get the idea that time will end? I find no reference to this except in Rev. 10:6, where the King James Version has: "there should be time no longer." Most Greek scholars concur that this is better rendered: "there should be no more delay." If there is no biblical evidence for time ending it would put a completely different spin on many of our concepts about the end times.

From an Elder in New Mexico:

In your last readers' section, a reader from Ohio wrote: "Be honest, Al Maxey -- you're not a Restorationist, you're a Reformed Baptist in your teaching. You are trying to lead people into false doctrine. You probably even accept the use of instruments in worship. If you do, then you are not 'Church of Christ.' You are not even 'Restoration Movement.' Your views are just like those of the denominations." The person who wrote this doesn't know much about the real church of Jesus Christ (the catholic/universal body of all disciples of/believers in Christ Jesus). Nor does he know much about the intent of those who led the so-called Restoration Movement: a movement focused on unity and the removal of all man-made barriers erected by men between followers of Christ. The misguided heirs of this movement are too often misled by traditions that divide God's people. Please keep on researching, discovering and proclaiming what Christians need to understand in their quest to find the Savior.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Just read your "hand-under-thigh" article. Brother, just so you know, if the need for an oath ever arises between you and me, a simple handshake will suffice!! (LOL) As for the letter from the guy in Ohio, I know it's probably not right, but I belly-laughed when he accused you of liking instruments in worship!! You Baptist you!! (LOL) Al, do you know, or have you ever spoken to, Danny Corbitt? He's a young man who wrote the book: Missing More Than Music. It is an excellent book. Blessings to you, my brother. Hugs to all the family.

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Al Maxey is a "Reformed Baptist"?! Who would have known?! (LOL) It seems to me that some among "us" are making an art of labeling those with whom they disagree. Al, I have said it before, and I repeat it again: you are squarely on the "cutting edge" of relevance and adherence to the Gospel of Jesus Christ! The freshness of salvation by grace through faith is permeating the minds of so many believers these days. And Al, your writings have been such a great catalyst in bringing this about in Churches of Christ. May God give many more years of opportunity for your excellent writings to spread throughout the world the sweet smelling savor of salvation by grace!

From a Reader in Washington:

Another well done Reflections, Al. I'm sure there are several people who have fretted over that passage about the "hand under the thigh" oath. My main reason for writing, however, is that disgusting person from Ohio. He (along with others like him) reads the Word with blinders over his eyes and no pathway to his heart, believing only what he has been told to believe, having no mind of his own. I know these people well, because I was one! Instruments in worship? God liked instrumental music; so did Jesus (the Bible never says otherwise). But, musical instruments aren't really the issue; God has always wanted only one thing from His creation: the heart. So many people never seem to grasp this! I marvel at those people who criticize you. They, for the most part, only demonstrate their ignorance when they upbraid your work. I'm quite sure the apostles experienced much the same. I love you, Al. You are the new "John the Baptist" -- you just don't wear the same clothes. I still remember our visit a few years ago when I heard you speak at The Tulsa Workshop, and I pray you and I will have a chance to meet again before the trumpet sounds!!

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