Professor Robert W. Wall, Paul T. Walls Professor of Scripture and Wesleyan Studies at Seattle Pacific University, Seattle, WA
Almost every year I introduce a class of undergraduates to Scripture. It’s an impossible course to teach, not because of hostile students but because of the complexity of the biblical materials taught! One of my goals is to study texts in order to create a range of impressions that will shape how my students think about not only the Bible, but the manner of holy life it envisions. Among the stories we study is one that plots the rise and fall of national Israel. It concludes in 2 Kings 22-23 with the haunting story of king Josiah’s reformation project of Judah—the southern kingdom of a divided people. Tentative and short-lived, Josiah’s attempt to revive the people’s interest in Israel’s God, the only God, establishes for Scripture’s faithful readers a biblical typology of spiritual revival. Here, then, is a catalogue of revival practices, set out in 2 Kings 23, which believers might appropriate and embody as a community, if we should expect God’s word to take root within us and so forge a scripture way of salvation among us and between us.
- There must be a public reading of Scripture and daily prayers (2 Kgs 23:1-3). Ideally, this practice should be led by the community’s leaders who then enjoin the entire community to obey the words read aloud.
- The worship of God must become the community’s galvanizing practice (2 Kgs 23:4-20). Every other practice that takes place within the community must be interpreted and purified by worship practices. Whatever our activities, academic or ecclesial, that do not serve a holy purpose should be removed from the premises. And any idol, whether cultural or religious, that subverts our singular loyalty to God’s ways should be set aside as work without spiritual profit.
- The celebration of Passover (2 Kgs 23:21-23; cf. Deut. 16:1-8) is a sacred way of counting time (see Ex 12:2). Our church calendars should be calibrated by the Bible’s story of salvation, so that we are constantly reminded that our work as communicants, as scholars, as teachers, as clergy and staff serve God’s interests and are marked out by an experience of God’s grace. To frame our learning by Advent and Christmas (rather than “the fall colors”), Epiphany and Lent (rather than “the long winter months”), Easter and Pentecost (rather than “spring flowers”) is a way of participating in the sacred, in a liturgy of salvation.
- The exorcism of evil media is another element of the story (2 Kgs 23:24). I’m not sure what to make of this scary practice, but it is something that persists in the Bible’s narrative of God’s salvation, OT and NT. Jesus engages in it as do his apostles. May I suggest that the reference to the teraphim in this narrative might be a clue to the importance of this renewal practice? These are the pint-size idols that often were found in households of antiquity to guide a family’s or individual’s private worship. Single-minded devotion to the Lord begins with the spiritual renewal of one person at a time, to reclaim those private practices for God’s end. Jesus commends this in the Sermon when he instructs his disciples to tithe, pray and fast in a manner that only God knows. There is a sense in which even our public worship has eyes for only God.
This is one of many typologies of renewal found in the Bible. But the strategic placement of this story within the biblical canon, immediately prior to the story of Judah’s undoing and its exile to pagan Babylon, may well function to alert its faithful readers of its importance. Church renewal, if framed by this sacred text, suggests that the various practices that cooperate with God’s transforming grace to produce change within a covenant community are broadly conceived to interpenetrate almost every nook and cranny of the community’s life. Renewal happens if it happens in a lot of different ways, in a lot of different people, in a lot of different places of the congregation’s common life.