Wednesday, 28 October 2015
The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission and Reception of Faith,
Andrew F. Walls, T&T Clark, 2002, page 73
I'm grateful to one of my interviewees for bringing the Andrew Wall's "Ephesian Moment" to my attention. They assumed that I would, of course, be familiar with this piece of writing; I knew that I was not, but having looked it up and obtained the necessary copy, we can consider what Professor Walls - a well-known Scottish missiologist - might have meant.
In a chapter titled "The Ephesian Moment" and the subtitle "At a Crossroads in Christian History", Walls is looking back at the early church and the way they handled (or mishandled) the potential merger of the Jewish and Hellenistic cultures to make the church. He then looks forward, suggesting that the church is once again at an "Ephesian Moment" and asks how the church will handle it this time.
He starts in the book of Hebrews:
What a record all of these have won by their faith! Yet they did not receive what G-d had promised, because G-d had decided on an even better plan for us. His purpose was that only in company with us would they be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:39-40)
and then comments:
The significance of Abraham's faith, and the promised reward of that faith, were not clear in Abraham's lifetime. They were not even made clea inthe incarnation, when G-d "spoke" by a Son. They were delayed until they could be shared with "us". By "us" the writer means, of course, that miscellaneous group of early believers in Christ, Jewish and Gentile, to whom he was writing. They were tied into Abraham's story, and Abraham into theirs. Abraham was waiting for them. The point about the long catalogue of the saints of Israel that makes up Hebrews 11 is that it tells a story that had not finished.The greatest of the heroes of faith would not be "made perfect" until certain events had taken place long after their death. The history of salvation is not completed in any of its exemplary figures, even the greatest of them. The story of Abraham and Moses is incomplete in itself; even such great figures cannot be made complete, "made perfect", without those who follow them.
Extrapolating, Walls suggests that we too, in our day and others yet to come, are part of the "us" and that Abraham is still waiting for us.
We can see, readily enough, the incompleteness of those who went before, yet we are not the final stage of Christian formation. Others will look at us and see, perhaps with wonder, our incompleteness. The work of salvation is a historical process that stretches out to the end of the age.