The Steward Living in Covenant: A New Perspective in Old Testament Stories (Faith's Horizons Series)

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The Steward Living in Covenant discusses the theme of stewardship from a fruitful new perspective. Ronald Vallet explores Old Testament stories from creation to Isaiah, linking the life of the steward to the theme of covenant -- a first for books in this area. Written as an Old Testament parallel to Vallet's acclaimed Stepping Stones of the Steward, this book reclaims the Old Testament foundations of a fully biblical theology of stewardship. Vallet looks especially at the promise and command aspects of God's ...
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Overview

The Steward Living in Covenant discusses the theme of stewardship from a fruitful new perspective. Ronald Vallet explores Old Testament stories from creation to Isaiah, linking the life of the steward to the theme of covenant -- a first for books in this area. Written as an Old Testament parallel to Vallet's acclaimed Stepping Stones of the Steward, this book reclaims the Old Testament foundations of a fully biblical theology of stewardship. Vallet looks especially at the promise and command aspects of God's covenant with his people as a vital dimension of what it means to be a genuine steward.

An exciting feature of this volume is the inclusion of two choral readings and three dramas by Wanda Vassallo, each specifically designed to enliven worship and education programs.

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Editorial Reviews

From The Critics
Ronald Vallet serves American Baptist Churches of New York State as minister for stewardship and mission support. In The Steward Living In Covenant: A New Perspective On Old Testament Stories, Vallet presents the theme of stewardship from a new perspective as he explores Old Testament stories ranging from Genesis creature to the prophecies of Isaiah, linking the life of the steward to the theme of covenant. Here presented is a fully biblical theology of stewardship which focuses on the promise and command aspects of God's covenant with his people. The informative, inspiring, "reader friendly", highly recommended text is enhanced with two choral readings and three dramas by Wanda Vassallo specifically designed to enrich worship and educational programs.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802847270
  • Publisher: Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 2/28/2001
  • Series: Faith's Horizons Series
  • Pages: 251
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Read an Excerpt

The Steward Living in Covenant

A New Perspective on Old Testament Stories
By Ronald E. Vallet

Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Copyright © 2001 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8028-4727-7


Introduction

To Subvert or to Be Seduced? That Is the Question

The church in North America is called to subvert the culture around it, but too often it is instead entrapped, seduced by the comfort of a consumer society that erases the church's memory of what it is called to be and to do.

Putting Stewardship in Its Place

The church has talked much about stewardship, but not very often about stewards. The Christian who sees his or her primary identity as a steward living in covenant with the living God will not have to struggle too much with stewardship as an abstract concept. When we realize that to be a steward is far more than to wonder about how much money to give to the church, that is the beginning of our journey as stewards. The journey of faith of a steward living in covenant is wondrous, and sometimes terrifying.

During most of the twentieth century, the Christian church in North America used the word "stewardship" primarily to describe the means by which the church gathered together sufficient financial and human resources to carry out its mission and ministry. According to this understanding, stewardship was a slightly ignoble means to a noble end. In 1982, however, in a landmark work, Douglas John Hall set forth the biblical symbol of"steward" as a worthy end in itself, observing that this symbol has too often been reduced to techniques and devices to keep the church afloat. In a more recent article, Hall writes:

But this symbol has the potential to keep the world afloat-or at least to help do so. There is no greater challenge facing preachers, I think, than to overcome this unfortunate captivity of stewardship to ecclesiastical self-preservation and to open congregations to its capacities for helping to preserve God's beloved world.

Though Hall's writings and teachings had an impact on denominational and ecumenical stewardship offices, there is scant evidence that they have penetrated the pulpit or the pew to any significant degree. The Steward Living in Covenant, as well as earlier works in the Faith's Horizons series, is written with the hope that the biblical symbol of the steward will become a living reality for pastors and members of Christian congregations in North America in the twenty-first century, and that stewardship will in this way be "put in its place."

The Power of Biblical Stories

Jesus' parables depict the faith journey of the Christian steward as a series of steps, a topic I explored in Stepping Stones of the Steward: A Faith Journey through Jesus' Parables. They provide graphic images and context for steps in the journey, and the power of story, as found in these parables, is essential in describing the stepping stones of the steward.

Compelling stories are also found in the Old Testament. These biblical narratives and concepts are powerful, and they are relevant to Christians and the church in North America. To ignore themis to deprive Christians and the church of significant inspiration and assistance in their quest to be stewards. It is my hope that this book will help Christians in North America remember Old Testament stories in a way that will bring power and imagination to the church in this new century.

The Theme of Covenant

The theme of covenant occurs prominently and powerfully throughout the Bible. In general, a covenant is defined as an agreement between two parties in which one or both make promises to do (or not to do) certain actions that are described in advance. In the Bible, the concept of covenant is the major metaphor used to describe the relationship between God and the people of God. George Mendenhall and Gary Herion write: "As such, covenant is the instrument constituting the rule (or kingdom) of God, and therefore it is a valuable lens through which one can recognize and appreciate the biblical ideal of religious community."

Walter Brueggemann has observed that some scholars have made a distinction between covenant of divine initiative (unconditional, as in the covenant Yahweh made with Abraham) and covenant of human obligation (conditional, as in the covenant made with Israel at Sinai). He argues, however, that this is a misleading distinction:

The attempt to factor out conditional and unconditional aspects of the covenant is an attempt to dissect and analyze the inscrutable mystery of an intimate, intense relation that, by definition, defies all such disclosure. Yahweh is all for Israel, and that includes both Yahweh's self-giving and Yahweh's intense self-regard.

The richness of the meaning of covenant will become clearer as we look at biblical stories that give flesh and substance to God's covenant relationship with individuals and nations. Furthermore, as we shall see, a covenant between God and humans always involves two elements: promise and command.

The Steward and Covenant

An apt metaphor for the one with whom God makes a covenant is that of steward. Though steward is a powerful word, it has been softened and diminished through its usage in the church. In actuality, a steward living in a covenant relationship with God can shake empires and transformcultures. To be such a steward does not require perfection, but it does require a trust that God will fulfill and keep God's own promises. It also requires the steward to obey the commands given by God as part of the covenant agreement. As we look at the stories of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and others, these points will be demonstrated. In the final chapter, we will summarize and reflect on the understandings of covenant that have emerged from the biblical stories.

The 1960 novel by Harper Lee and the subsequent 1962 film version of To Kill a Mockingbird are set in a small, racially segregated town in Alabama in 1935 and tell the story of a white lawyer defending an African American man. The defendant, though innocent, has been charged with raping a young white woman. The jury is all white, and all the spectators on the main floor are white also. African Americans observe from the balcony, along with the young son and daughter of Atticus Finch, the defending attorney. During the trial, Atticus mounts a vigorous and spirited defense, but to no avail. His words to the jury, "In the name of God, do your duty," fall on deaf ears, and the defendant is found guilty. The main floor of the courtroom clears as Atticus gathers his papers. In the balcony the people wait. As Atticus turns and leaves the courtroom, all the people in the balcony, except the young daughter of Atticus, rise in silent salute. The pastor, there with his people, says quietly to her: "Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father's passin'." Atticus's passion for justice commanded their respect even though, in this case, justice was not done.

I was born and grew up in Texas at a time when Jim Crow laws were in full effect. Department stores had two kinds of drinking fountains (one for "colored" and one for "white") and there were four kinds of rest rooms (male and female for each of the races). Seating on buses and streetcars was segregated, with a movable sign indicating that "colored" people were to sit in the rear. When I was fifteen years old, I would often board buses and streetcars in Dallas and intentionally sit in the back. My boyhood fantasy was that I would be arrested for violating the Jim Crow laws and would then challenge that unjust law all the way to the Supreme Court. I was never arrested, and no one ever said anything to me. Only later did I realize that the laws were not intended to keep a white person from sitting in the rear; they were targeted at "colored" persons sitting in the front.

In the years since, I have wondered why I felt so strongly that justice was being violated by the Jim Crow laws. No pastor or Sunday School teacher had ever said a word in my hearing about the injustice of racial segregation, nor had any family member or friend. I can only conclude that somehow the biblical texts and stories I heard and learned in church had gotten through to me, despite the fact that their human messengers had not communicated the message of God's passion for racial justice.

In more recent years, I recalled an African American woman whom I met when I was about six or seven years of age. My mother's mother had died in 1913, when my mother was only ten years old. Her father, a poor farmer in rural Texas, was left with four young children to care for. The woman he had engaged as a housekeeper was the woman I later met, and she told me her story. She was born about 1850, a slave, and was about fifteen when the Civil War ended and the slaves were set free. She remembered her years as a slave and told me many of her experiences. I now believe that her story influenced me, primarily on a subconscious level, when I began to sit "behind the signs" on buses and streetcars several years later.

God's passion for justice runs throughout the fabric of Scripture. The Exodus event ("Let my people go"), for example, shows Yahweh's resolve to transform earthly power. Brueggemann explains:

In the context of Israel's completed testimony, it is difficult to overstate the pivotal importance of the rest of Israel's testimony of the Mosaic revolution and the commitment of Yahweh (and of Israel) to justice. If we consider in turn the prophetic, psalmic, sapiential, and apocalyptic texts, it seems evident that Israel, everywhere and without exhaustion, is preoccupied with the agenda of justice that is rooted in the character and resolve of Yahweh. This justice rooted in Yahweh, moreover, is to be enacted and implemented concretely in human practice.

But what is meant by the word "justice"? Often it is used abstractly, without specificity. Brueggemann reminds us of this problem, and sets forth a more specific definition:

It is important that we recognize with some precision the quality and intention of Mosaic, Yahwistic justice, for it is easily misunderstood, given the easy and careless use of the term justice. The intention of Mosaic justice is to redistribute social goods and social power; thus it is distributive justice. This justice recognizes that social goods and social power are unequally and destructively distributed in Israel's world (and derivatively in any social context), and that the well-being of the community requires that social goods and power to some extent be given up by those who have too much, for the sake of those who have not enough.

The implications of this statement for stewardship are enormous. Stewardship is not primarily to provide financial support and human resources for the church (or other religious institutions). Rather, to be a Christian steward is to be one who seeks to participate in God's plan and mission to distribute justice to all. Put another way, it is to seek to implement God's mission, to enable people to live out the meaning and implications of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And the church, the body of those who are "called out," is likewise called to faithful stewardship.

Covenant: A Quaint Relic?

The culture of modernity, rooted in the Enlightenment, has led the church to the mistaken notion that we as human beings are in control, or should be in control, of history and events on Earth. Under such a view, the idea of a covenant with God seems to be a quaint relic of a long-ago era. If human beings are in control, it is argued, who needs God? Such human arrogance leads us to forget that God is our creator and sustainer. We have a relationship with God through God's covenant relationship with us, a covenant based on promises and commands. The church itself is rooted in this covenant relationship through Jesus Christ. Implied in this covenant is that God calls the church to be continually renewing itself in order to be a faithful participant in the covenant with God.

Douglas John Hall describes God's covenant relationship with the church-the household of faith-in these words:

But our Protestant traditions of theology also insist that God's hand reaches out to the human counterpart, the covenant partner. History, including the history of the church, when it is Christianity understood, should never be conceived of as that which willy-nilly happens to human beings and societies. Even though Christians must reject the modern idea that humans are the autonomous makers of history, the covenantal basis of our faith places upon humankind a participatory responsibility for the unfolding of God's purposes. Christians understand themselves to be stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Cor. 4:1). Accordingly, we are called to participate in the judgment that begins at the household of faith (1 Pet. 4:17), and to participate also in the reforming of that household. The Reformation teaching concerning the continuous reformation of the disciple community (semper reformanda) assumes that God permits and commands the church to be involved in its own self-assessment and change, and that when this does not occur something of the very essence of the church has been forfeited.

One of the principal ways that the church can be renewed and reformed is to remember and to live out the reality that the church is a steward of the gospel in a covenant relationship with God.

Contemporary Stewardship in the North American Church

Many people have concluded that stewardship, as it is usually thought of today, is next to impossible in the church. Increasingly, it is clear that change is needed in the way congregations approach their stewardship ministry, financial and other. Congregations and their members need to be called to discover, explore, and carry out new means of stewardship.

Why is the current mode of stewardship such an uninviting model for the church and, especially, for its pastoral leadership? For decades, the church in North America has tried to persuade people to give a portion of their leftovers (discretionary income) to support the church and its programs and ministries. Their appeal has been for money for institutions and their budgets. Numerous studies, however, including one this author conducted, have shown that members of mainline denominations in North America give, on average, only two and one-half percent of their income to the church. Though lip service is given to stewardship programs and the practice of tithing, the reality is that many, if not most, pastors and congregations are reluctant and in some cases unwilling to take seriously the challenges of financial stewardship. Pastors generally do not like trying to persuade people to give a portion of their leftovers. In addition, most North American Christians live by an assumption of scarcity instead of living by an assumption of God's abundance. This assumption impacts our willingness to be God's stewards. We forget the reality-we forget that at God's table, there is room for everyone. "Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God" (Luke 13:29).

Change is called for, but resistance in the church is strong-sometimes coming even from those who seem to be advocates of change. In the midst of a changing society, people want an institution that doesn't change-the church. The life of the congregation is a point of refuge in a shifting and troubled world. Lay members often do not welcome changes that would turn the congregation into something unfamiliar to them, and many pastors do not welcome changes that would affect the roles for which they were trained and in which they have come to feel comfortable.

In an earlier work I noted that, almost by default, most pastors have taken on one of two tasks: either chief executive officer (CEO) and institutional manager of the congregation or manager of the therapeutic or inner life of the congregation's members. This truncation of the role of the pastor has had serious consequences-especially in the area of stewardship. These two paradigms of the pastoral role have been a disaster for stewardship, that is, stewardship as it should be practiced in the household of Jesus Christ-the homemaking empowered by the triune community of God.

Douglas Hall has expressed the need for pastors to resist catering "so exclusively to what are usually described as 'pastoral needs' (though the term often cloaks institutional busywork)." His hope for pastors is that they be called back to the teaching office, a role I describe as "theologian in residence." Hall continues: "If the minister of the congregation is not herself or himself in some genuine sense a theologian, we cannot expect lay persons to reflect some measure of the sort of informed thoughtfulness that is needed if we, as a church, are to find a way into the future."

(Continues...)



Excerpted from The Steward Living in Covenant by Ronald E. Vallet Copyright © 2001 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Table of Contents

An Overview of the Faith's Horizons Series
Foreword
Preface
Introduction: To Subvert or to Be Seduced? That Is the Question 1
Pt. I Creation and its Aftermath 19
1 God's Purpose-Filled Creation 21
Choral Reading 32
2 God's Covenant with Noah and All Creation 36
Pt. II Ancestors in the Faith 47
3 Look to Abraham and to Sarah 49
4 Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac: The Covenant Is Tested 62
5 Jacob's Journeys and His Love for Rachel 74
Drama 89
6 Joseph: What Kind of Steward? 99
Pt. III From Slavery to Freedom and Wilderness 113
7 Moses at the Burning Bush 115
8 The Three Miracles of the Manna 126
9 The Ten Commandments 137
Drama 150
Pt. IV The Failings of Royalty 159
10 From Joshua to David: Is God Free or Fixed in a Box? 161
11 Elijah: Three Crises 171
Pt. V The Prophets and a New Covenant 181
12 Jeremiah: A New Covenant 183
Drama 190
13 Ezekiel: Singing the Lord's Song 202
14 Isaiah: A Light to the Nations 209
Pt. VI Implications for the Christian Church 221
15 The Christian Steward Living in Covenant 223
Choral Reading 233
Selected Bibliography 241
Index of Subjects 245
Index of Scripture References 248
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