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(how to tell the biblical story in a way that makes a difference)

Salvation By Allegiance Alone (3): pre-existence and the gospel of Jesus

I am in solid agreement with Matthew Bates that the central narrative of the New Testament—the narrative which makes sense of the “gospel”—has to do with the enthronement of Jesus as king by his resurrection from the dead and his ascension to the right hand of the Father.

Two areas of disagreement have surfaced so far:

  1. Bates is trying to read the New Testament at a cosmic level, guided by theological interests, whereas I think it needs to be read at a political level, from a more rigorously historical perspective.
  2. Bates is firmly of the opinion that the story begins with the pre-existence and incarnation of Jesus—this was already apparent from his discussion of Paul’s gospel. I don’t deny that these ideas are part of the New Testament witness, but I think they arise from an association of Jesus with divine wisdom rather than from the Jewish hope of kingdom.

Salvation By Allegiance Alone (2): Paul’s gospel and the sweeping plains of history

After an exciting afternoon with friends at Antalya Zoo—a pair of lions shamelessly and noisily copulating in the long grass, a family of grizzly bears brawling over some obscure breach of protocol—it’s back to part two of my review of Matthew Bates’ Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King.

Bates says that the gospel is “the power-releasing story of Jesus’ life, death for sins, resurrection, and installation as king, but that story only makes sense in the wider framework of the stories of Israel and creation” (30, his italics). In chapter two he gives the reasons for this proposition, drawing on three key passages in Paul (Rom. 1:1-5, 16-17; 1 Cor. 15:1-5).

Salvation By Allegiance Alone (1): a review on the basis of the Introduction alone

Matthew Bates’ book Salvation By Allegiance Alone is further evidence that evangelicalism is wrestling honestly and constructively with the biblical, theological and practical deficiencies of the traditional understanding of gospel, faith and salvation.

I haven’t got very far into it, but I’m going to hazard a critique on the strength of the summary provided in the Introduction (9). If it turns out I’m wrong, I’ll post a correction. And an apology.

He did not descend into hell… and what really did happen at Easter

I visited the excellent Michelangelo & Sebastiano exhibition at London’s National Gallery yesterday as a personal Good Friday ritual. One of the works on display is Sebastiano del Piombo’s Christ Descends into Limbo, which depicts the crucified Jesus reaching out to Adam and Eve in a highly architectural underworld.

A quiz on the atonement (in narrative-historical perspective)

The day before Good Friday seems a fitting time to launch a narrative-historical alternative to Tim Challies’ thoroughly Reformed Quiz on the Atonement. Well, not quite an alternative, more a commentary on the standard Reformed account of the significance of Jesus’ death. There are 33 questions in Tim’s quiz, so this is not for the faint-hearted. I only got two wrong, and one of those was attributable to fatigue.

You have to decide whether the statements are true or false. Click on the statement to see Tim’s “correct” answer, the biblical references provided, and my commentary, though you may want to take the proper quiz first and see how you get on.

Jesus’ parable of the wicked tenants: an exercise in narrative-historical hermeneutics

There is a struggle going on in the church—or at least in parts of the church—over how we should read the New Testament. Basically, as I see it, it comes down to this: do we read through the lens of later theological constructions (Patristic, Orthodox, Thomist, Reformed, Pentecostal, modern evangelical, etc.), or do we interpret according to a first-century Jewish framework of thought and historical perspective?

I am strongly in favour of the latter. I think we should base our “theology”—our self-understanding as the people of the creator God—as best we can on how the New Testament communities understood the texts, not on how the later church, under divergent intellectual and historical conditions, came to understand the texts. But it’s by no means a straightforward task.

Jesus and redemptive violence

At the heart of the critique of the traditional doctrine of (penal) substitutionary atonement is a moral revulsion against the idea that a good God would think it necessary to use violence to bring about the redemption of humanity. Chuck Queen, for example, whose argument against substitutionary atonement I reviewed last week, asks what kind of God would require the “death of an innocent victim” in order to satisfy his “offended sense of honor” or pay off a penalty that he himself had imposed in the first place. “Would a loving parent make forgiveness for the child conditioned upon a violent act?”

The problem with this line of thought is that in the Gospels Jesus appears, on the one hand, to predict future violent events which he regarded as direct, concrete expressions of the will of God, and on the other, to have thought of his own death as being entailed in them. In other words, he is not quite the out-and-out pacifist that we would like him to be.

Substitutionary versus anti-substitutionary theories: both lose, one more than the other

Having critiqued Owen Strachan’s defence of the atonement doctrine, it seems only fair to examine a thesis from the anti-substitutionary camp. My friend Scott pointed me to Chuck Queen’s combative essay on the Baptist News site: “It’s time to end the hands-off attitude to substitionary atonement”. It will do nicely.

Queen bundles together a number of related motifs under the heading of substitutionary atonement: bearing the penalty for sin, paying the debt of sin, ransoming the sinner, bearing the wrath of God, propitiating God, and the imputation of humanity’s sin to Christ on the cross.

Stories about Jesus: how they fit together, and what he means for us today

Theology has always had a “narrative” shape to it. The problem with propositional or systematic theologies is not that they are non-narrative but that they have reduced the dense historical narrative of scripture to a bare sequence of cosmic-level events: creation → fall → redemption → final judgment. Theology then systematically expounds those events.

In this crude “meta-narrative” the story about Jesus has two parts to it. There is the “Jesus is God” story about the eternally existent Second Person of the Trinity, who at a certain place and time in history became incarnate of the virgin Mary; and there is the “Jesus is man” story about the Saviour who died on the cross to redeem humanity from sin and death, before returning to heaven.

A commentary on Owen Strachan’s less than biblical defence of the atonement

It appears that famous people like Michael Gungor and William Paul Young, author of The Shack, have been causing a stir by questioning the morality of the doctrine of atonement for sin. Owen Strachan, who is described on the Gospel Coalition website somewhat vaguely as a “systematic professor”, has offered a robust defence of the traditional view: Scandalized by the Substitute: A Response to Young and Gungor. I do not disagree with everything he says, but I think his approach illustrates very well how and why systematic theology is such a poor guide to the meaning of scripture. I offer a brief commentary on several of his statements.

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