p.ost

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

Was Jesus an adopted Son?

One of the critical points at which a narrative-historical method and post-Christendom mission intersect, in my view, is the confession of Jesus as Lord. To say that Jesus is Lord is not the same as saying that Jesus is God, contrary to the arguments of many who support an early high christology. It means only that God has delegated or devolved the authority to judge and rule over Israel and the nations from heaven, which otherwise was his prerogative alone, to the “Son” who had faithfully fulfilled his mission to Israel. For a pre-existence christology we have to look to the Wisdom/Logos motif, not to the language of sonship.

The destiny of the unevangelised (in narrative-historical perspective)

I happened this morning upon a short video in which the highly regarded New Testament scholar Ben Witherington talks about the fate of people who do not hear the gospel. He asks the question: Isn’t it inherently unfair that people should be damned simply because they haven’t had an opportunity to hear the gospel?

There are two main parts to his answer.

First, he argues from Romans 1 that the reality and power of God is evident in all his creation, so every single person knows the truth of God, but people have exchanged the truth for a lie. This means that people will be held accountable for what they know and for what they do with what they know. It is not the case that a person is “lost” because he or she has not heard the gospel.

Jesus and the job of modern missionaries

Following my “Stories about Jesus: how they fit together, and what he means for us today” post a couple of months back, a missionary friend got in touch wondering what this all meant for the “job of the missionary” in the secular Western context. My typical way of answering this sort of question is to spend so long reviewing the biblical narrative that there is little space left at the end to consider the practical implications—I’m not much of a missiologist. This post will be no different, but in my defence I will argue—as a non-missiologist—that telling the story of the creator God as a matter of history is, in fact, the primary task of the missionary in the secular Western context.

Ascension Day and the Coming of the Son of Man

I’m afraid I missed it, but yesterday was Ascension Day. Dang. Ian Paul, however, reposted a good piece making the important point that whereas John’s Gospel makes the crucifixion the climax of Jesus’ ministry, the New Testament as a whole pursues the narrative through the resurrection to the ascension and exaltation of Jesus. We often miss this emphasis because our tradition downplays it and because we don’t read carefully. Quite!

The beginning and the end of Trinitarianism: a response to Fred Sanders

In a recent article on the Christianity Today site Fred Sanders argues that “We Actually Don’t Need a Trinitarian Revival”. He has heard widespread rumours of the death of Trinitarianism and he thinks that they are “grossly exaggerated”. Where the “everything-you-know-is-wrong diagnosis” fails is in not recognising a basic distinction between primary and secondary forms of Trinitarianism—a distinction which Sanders attributes to Robert Jenson.

Primary Trinitarianism is “the underlying reality of the presence and work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the life of the church”. It is grounded biblically in the idea that the person who is “born of the Spirit… testifies that the Father so loved the world he gave his only-begotten Son”. That person, therefore, is “giving an account of the triune structure of salvation history itself in the Bible’s own language”.

Narrative substitutionary atonement in Luke: Jesus and the sins of Barabbas

Last night I went to hear Steve Walton’s inaugural professorial lecture at St Mary’s University. The lecture was entitled “Doing Theology Lukewise: Luke as theologian and storyteller”. It was a straightforward demonstration of the theological depth of Luke’s narrative art. It was lucid, engaging, and I enjoyed it immensely.

One of the main points that Steve wanted to make was that, contrary to popular opinion, Luke has an atonement theology—it’s just that he constructs it narratively rather than as a matter of explicit theological assertion.

Mission from anywhere to Europe

Stefan Paas is Bavinck Professor of Church Planting and Church Renewal at the Free University Amsterdam, which is where I started work on my PhD back in the 90s.

In an excellent article in Mission Studies called “Mission from Anywhere to Europe: Americans, Africans, and Australians Coming to Amsterdam” (2015) he examines three phases of foreign mission to Europe over recent decades: by American evangelical Protestants, by West African Neo-Pentecostals, and more recently by Australian neo-Pentecostals, which basically means Hillsong. In each case he looks at their perceptions of Europe, their message and method, the responses from Europeans, and the results.

A hermeneutical parable: the frog of the gospel and the lily pond of narrative

Matthew Bates’ book Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King is just one straw in a strong wind blowing out of biblical studies, driving us away from theological towards narrative constructions of Christian identity and purpose.

In my view, this is an exhilarating and necessary development, but Matthew’s book, for all its merits, has highlighted a fundamental shortcoming. Because evangelicals naturally want to retain the direct practical application of the “gospel”, evangelical narrative theologies exhibit a consistent tendency to leapfrog history. I would put Greg Beale’s A New Testament Biblical Theology and J. Richard Middleton’s A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology in the same category.

Salvation By Allegiance Alone (5): the exegetical evidence for faith as allegiance

In chapter four of his book Salvation By Allegiance Alone Matthew Bates sets out to defend his core thesis that the pistis (“faith”) with which we respond to the gospel is better understood in terms of concrete allegiance than as mere mental assent.

He argues that the gospel consists in an eight-part narrative that “climaxes with the enthronement of Jesus as the cosmic king, the Lord of heaven and earth, even though all too often this portion of the gospel is entirely omitted when it is proclaimed today”. If that’s the case, “faith in Jesus is best described as allegiance to him as king” (77).

Salvation By Allegiance Alone (4): the best bit so far

From pre-existence and incarnation Bates works swiftly through “died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures”, “was buried”, “was raised on the third day”, and “appeared to many”, to the climax of the chapter and the best bit of the book so far: “is seated at the right hand of God as Lord, and… will come again as judge” (52, his italics).

The shape of the story supposedly reflects a reconstruction of apostolic preaching in Acts, though how he accounts for pre-existence and incarnation on that basis is not made clear. For example, Paul tells the Jews in Pisidian Antioch only that God brought to Israel from the seed of David a saviour, Jesus, whose “coming” was after the preaching-beforehand (prokēruxantos) of John the Baptist (Acts 13:23-24). The language as good as rules out any thought of pre-existence.

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