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

Jesus is Lord (still)

We visited Philippi in September. We were staying in Kavala, in eastern Greece, formerly Neapolis, which is where Paul landed having sailed from Troas via Samothrace in response to a visionary summons to Macedonia (Acts 16:11-12). The extensive ruins of the Roman colony of Philippi lie about 12 miles inland.

We climbed to the Acropolis that looks down on the ruins of the city, we wandered past the supposed prison from which Paul and Silas were liberated by an earthquake, crossed the forum to the imposing remains of Basilica B, skirted round to the octagonal Basilica of Paul with its faded mosaics, and took a leisurely stroll along the Egnatian way. A short distance from the site is the Gangitis river where Paul met and baptised Lydia (Acts 16:13-15).

The rider on the white horse and the war against the beast and the kings of the earth

Someone got in touch asking about the interpretation of John’s vision of a rider on a white horse and the war against “the beast and the kings of the earth” in Revelation 19:11-21.

What does Revelation 19 and the rider on the white horse defeating the beast, false prophet, and other kings represent? Is this symbolic of Christ’s conquest over the nations (perhaps a parallel of the millennium in Rev. 20?) or is it pointing toward a specific judge over a particular enemy (Rome or Jerusalem)?

I think the answer is “yes”, but anyway here in summary is how I read the passage…

Same-sex same old story?

The narrative-historical approach recognises that the biblical story works on different levels. Modern (evangelical) theologies tend to highlight the universal story of the individual person who is a sinner in need of salvation, etc. More recently greater attention has been given to an overarching but largely uneventful story about God and the ultimate renewal of creation, which has helped to extend the ethical and social reach of modern (evangelical) theologies.

Kingdom and mission: a pants classification

I mentioned before the distinction that Scot McKnight makes in his Kingdom Conspiracy book between a “pleated pants” view of kingdom as the redemptive activity of God and a “skinny jeans” view of the kingdom as social activism in which the church may be more of a hindrance than a help.

You probably have to be American really to appreciate the sartorial metonymy, but I think we can usefully extend the classification.

Paul’s parable of the olive tree

In Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church Scot McKnight takes aim at two broad misconceptions of what the kingdom of God is: the “skinny jeans” reduction of kingdom to social activism, and the more conventionally religious “pleated pants” approach, which regards the kingdom as primarily an expression of God’s redemptive presence in the world.

The church should not be doing mission on the basis of a false view of this central biblical concept. The “kingdom of God” belongs to the story of first century Israel and what it became, and McKnight argues strenuously that how we think about and do mission today must take this historical narrative into account.

As Scot McKnight says, the meek ought to have inherited the land

Let me state this as clearly as I can…

(I’ve picked up something of Scot McKnight’s combative tone of voice here.)

The sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7 was not preached to or for the benefit of the post-Christendom, modern-going-on-postmodern, global church.

It was preached to beleaguered first century Israel. It was a call to a section of first century Israel to pursue a particular course of action, to think in a particular fashion, to embark on a particular journey at a time of extreme national crisis, when a storm and a flood were about to sweep away the house that Israel had built on the sand.

On second thoughts, the five act play model doesn’t work

I wrote a piece recently offering my revision of Tom Wright’s five act play model of biblical authority. The aim was to take account both of the realistic character of biblical eschatology and of the historical experience of the church. This was my proposed narrative structure:

  • Act 1 The people of God and the land
  • Act 2 The clash with pagan empire
  • Act 3 Jesus and the coming of the kingdom of God
  • Act 4 The people of God and the nations
  • Act 5 The people of God and global secularism

An illustrated guide to Tom Wright and an introduction to “transtomism”

I have been reading an excellent little “visual guide” to the thought of Tom Wright by Marlin Watling. The book is called The Marriage of Heaven and Earth, it’s self-published, and is available as a paperback or on Kindle. Coincidentally, my copy of Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion arrived today. Will it never end?

The book kicks off with an introduction to “Tom” the person—a “veritable rock star of contemporary theology”—which gives a mildly hagiographical slant to it. Then we have three main sections: a summary of the four concepts that Watling thinks are key to the thought of the popular Wright (Bible as story, the good news about Jesus, the kingdom of God, and a “new take on morals”); his proposal about a new worldview; and, quoting from the press release, an “overview of humanity’s mission, with an eye toward the end times”. It is not a summary of Wright’s Christian Origins and the Question of God books.

John the Baptist and the wrath to come

What did John the Baptist have in mind when he warned the Sadducees and Pharisees about the wrath to come (Matt. 3:7; Lk. 3:7)? Is there any scope for thinking that he is talking about more than—that his language exceeds or transcends—the disastrous events of AD 70? This is one of those posts that started out as a comment but got too big for its boots. It develops part of the argument put forward in ”Getting saved in the Gospels”.

I think we have to assume that if a Jewish prophet in the first century warns the leaders of Israel about the wrath to come, tells them that trees which do not bear good fruit will be cut down, and uses the language of threshing, chaff, winnowing and fire, he is speaking, as the prophets did, about God’s judgment on Jerusalem.

Getting saved in the Gospels

Christianity is reckoned by most people, I imagine, to be at core a religion of salvation. The defining event is the cross, understood as an act of atonement or redemption, the means by which people are saved. If you are not a Christian you are “lost” or “perishing”. If you become a Christian, you don’t simply convert or join: you admit that you cannot save yourself, that you need a Saviour, therefore you repent of your sins and are saved. You then become part of a community of saved individuals, the church, and are expected to do what other saved people do, until eventually you die and go to heaven.

This has certainly been the overriding paradigm for the modern conservative and evangelical church, and we all naturally assume that it’s biblical. At the heart of the New Testament must be the simple and consistent gospel proclamation: you are a sinner, but the good news is that Jesus died for your sins; so believe in him and be saved from lostness before death and annihilation or worse after death.


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