Monday, September 22, 2008

Which way to go with The Song of Songs? The Peasant Princess ?

So, basically I think Mark Driscoll is outstanding. I love that his church services are regularly packed with people who aren't Christians. And I love that he gets the whole Tim Keller gospel to Christians and non-Christians thing (which Keller got from Dick Lucas... which is interesting in the light of Driscoll's recent 'run in' with the Sydney Anglicans but that's another subject!) I love that Driscoll loves the Bible and fight for doctrine.. I love that his first expository series were on Ecclesiastes and The Song of Songs. I love his clarity about mission and his activity in doing it. I love that he's a reformed charismatic. I love that he came and served us in newfrontiers this summer and learned from us. I love that that's beginning to impact the ethos of our church.

But, I'm not sure that I agree with his take on The Song of Songs. Driscoll runs with the primary meaning being sex:
"As we study the Song of Songs, our primary focus will be how the Peasant Princess became an exemplary wife; our secondary focus will be the intimate marital relationship she shares with her husband. Through her example, God has much to teach us regarding his plan for sex and marriage. While the Song of Songs is not entirely about sex, the book does contain some very important lessons on the subject. In fact, this 3,000-year-old collection of love letters is extraordinary in its timeliness. In our day, people devote an extraordinary amount of time, money, and energy in pursuit of sex, making it the most popular religion in the world."
I'm not saying that's not an implication but that perhaps it's first about Christ and his bride the church. Driscoll himself notes:
The Song of Songs is a series of poetic love songs that not only describe the relationship between a husband and wife, but also serve as an illustration of the eternal heart of God, for those who are married to Christ, our beloved. And as the book title suggests, the Song of Songs is perhaps the greatest lyric ever composed—a warm dialogue between two lovers, a conversation of the heart that crescendos into a beautiful duet. This poetic exchange reflects the very heart of our Trinitarian God from whom love, intimacy, and musical expression flow.
Experience tells me that Driscoll will preach the gospel as he preaches this book - and he'll preach gospel to Christians and gospel to those who aren't Christians. I just wonder if we can be stronger on the Christological focus on this greatest of all songs - and suggest that this might have even more to show us of the gospel - and it's Creation implications for us. I'm taking my lead from Matthew Henry and others. And from the clarity of Matthew Mason, Ros Clarke and Daniel Newman.

The Song of Songs is about Yahweh's marriage to Israel. It casts that marriage in terms of a return to the Garden of Eden, picturing the land as an idyllic sanctuary-garden. However, in terms of the big plotline of Scripture, Christ's marriage to the Church is presented as a move from the Garden-sanctuary of the first Adam and his bride, to a glorious city, the New Jerusalem.
And then a sample from Daniel Newman on 1v1-1v8:
Long for Christ! (1.1-8) The bride, the church, longs to experience Christ’s love, which she esteems far more than wine; it gladdens her more than anything this world can offer (v. 2). All our senses are meant to be engaged as we let this poetry sink into us: the fragrance of anointing oils, oil poured out evokes the environment of the temple where God meets with his people. That’s further emphasised when she later describes herself as ‘like the curtains of Solomon’ (v. 5).

God is the king whom she loves (v. 3). She longs to be with him, and Christ brings her into his chamber, the place where love is to be fully experienced. This love spills over to others as they, in turn, recognize the greatness of Christ’s love, that he is worthy to be praised and they rejoice in him (v. 4).

The bride, however, recognises her own intrinsic undesirability. Her skin is sun-damaged and she has rather let herself go in her experiences of life. Kedar was a people beyond the borders of Israel. Perhaps by comparing herself to them she feels like she doesn’t belong in this relationship, that she doesn’t deserve it (vv. 5-6). Nevertheless she is confident of her own standing before her beloved, that she is ‘lovely’, and so she diverts attention away from her appearance. The church knows itself to be intrinsically undesirable - sullied, scarred, decaying and far from God because of sin - and yet in Christ’s eyes she is lovely, and so can be confident, as is the bride in the Song, to come into the presence of her beloved. He is the one whom her soul loves (’You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might’).

The king is also a shepherd. See Ezekiel 34.11-24 - the shepherd is the Lord God who is also of the line of David, the one whom we meet in the Word incarnate. The bride is not content with second-best. She doesn’t want to be with his companions, veiled. She wants full, unhindered relationship with him (v. 7)

And he wants her, describing her as the ‘most beautiful amongst women’, directing her how she may find him and welcoming her presence with him (v. 8). This all makes sense when we realise that the love Christ has for his people is a love that meant he ‘gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish’ (Ephesians 5.25-27).

O that as a church we would recognize the greatness of the Lord Jesus Christ and long for him ardently! O that we would remember how Christ sees us and welcomes us when we doubt his love for his people, and in our insecurities.