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

Could you please help me understand the practical consequences…?

“Could you please help me understand the practical consequences of the narrative-historical approach?” The question was put to me by a student at a conservative theological college. I realise that most of what I write here is of a “theoretical” nature, but I have tried occasionally at least to outline the practical implications—a few such attempts are listed below. I’ll have another go here.

The doctrine of the Second Coming and the restoration of the kingdom to Israel

According to Luke, when Jesus is taken up with the clouds into heaven, two men in white robes are watching on. They ask the disciples why they are still gazing into the empty sky. “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the way that (or simply ‘as’: hon tropon) you saw him going into heaven” (Acts 1:11). I didn’t discuss this in my post on the doctrine of the Second Coming, but it’s the sort of text that might be cited in defence of the Evangelical Alliance’s affirmation of belief in the “personal and visible return of Jesus Christ”.

Should we “water down” the doctrine of the Second Coming?

The Second Coming of Jesus is a classic Christian doctrine. The Nicene Creed says that Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father and “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead”. The Basis of faith of the Evangelical Alliance in the UK affirms belief in the “personal and visible return of Jesus Christ to fulfil the purposes of God, who will raise all people to judgement, bring eternal life to the redeemed and eternal condemnation to the lost, and establish a new heaven and new earth”.

New year, new attempt to explain what this blog is all about

The argument runs something like this….

The church began as a movement within first century Judaism. Like any other historical movement, its character and purpose were shaped by its historical circumstances. It was a product of its time and place. It was part of an ancient story.

The church presented itself, in the first place, as the solution to a concrete Jewish problem: how would the covenant people survive the foreseen disaster of the war against Rome and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple? It then discovered that the solution to this problem—the way of Jesus—opened up a further quite stunning horizon. The judgment and salvation of Israel would lead eventually to the judgment and salvation of the Greek-Roman world.

This two-stage argument about the future of God and his people was explained by reference to the Jewish scriptures, as the climax to a complex but persistent narrative that could be traced back through the historical experience of foreign oppression and exile to the promise of YHWH to David that his throne would be established forever (2 Sam. 7:16).

What Christmas teaches us about the gospel

Jonathan Leeman has weighed into the debate about whether the gospel has to do with personal salvation or social and cosmic justice. Or both. Or neither. He takes Tim Keller’s side in this week’s little well-mannered twitter spat, and zealously raises the banner of “inseparable asymmetry” in the hope of rallying divided evangelicals to a traditional understanding of the church’s mission. The primary problem solved by the gospel, he insists, is our sin against God. The secondary problem solved by the gospel is our sin against others.

The doctrine of the Trinity: less than the sum of the parts

Fred Sanders appears to be the go-to evangelical academic for a defence of Trinitarian orthodoxy these days. In a post last week on the Zondervan Academic blog he asks ‘Is the “Trinity” in the Bible?’ In it he sets about defending the doctrine of the Trinity against the perennial protest that it isn’t found in the Bible. I’ll summarise his argument and then set out my objections, which are not to the doctrine of the Trinity per se but to the apparent disregard that theologians have for the historical character of scripture.

The parable of the good Samaritan and the plight of Israel

Alex notes that a corollary of the narrative-historical approach is that “Jesus’ primary ethical concern centered around the survival of the covenantal communities he was forming—communities that he believed would face violent opposition”. That is well stated. Jesus taught his disciples how to behave—towards those inside the community and those outside it—in the tumultuous period leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, the revelation of the glory of the Son of Man, and their public vindication. What the Gospels give us is not a general purpose Christian ethic but an eschatological ethic for groups of believers who had taken the risky step of following Jesus down the narrow road that would lead to the life of the age to come.

Nevertheless, Alex wonders whether texts such as the parable of the good Samaritan (Lk. 10:25-37) and the sheep and goats judgment scene (Matt. 25:31-46) “push against this predominant ethical agenda”. These have often been used to “demonstrate that Christianity is a religion whose ethical core is social transformation through acts of service”—and in the case of the parable of the good Samaritan, through the refusal to give priority to the insider.

Unbelievable? Was Jesus a failed apocalyptic prophet? Matthew Hartke & Andrew Perriman

The podcast I did with Justin Brierley and Matthew Hartke for Justin’s Unbelievable? show is now available on the Premier Christian Radio site. Matthew and I agree that Jesus has to be understood as an apocalyptic prophet—his mission was defined by a searing vision of Israel’s future. We disagree over the important question of whether Jesus got it right or not. I think he did. Matthew thinks he didn’t, and makes a good case in the podcast.

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