Here’s another example of how a theological reading can drive a coach and horses through historical exegesis. At the heart of the “theological doctrine of the incarnation,” Adams writes, “is the union of the divine and human in Jesus the Messiah”. Keeping in mind Wright’s historical method and critique, however, he insists that this is not an abstraction from scripture….
The fault line between theology and history is pervasive, persistent and profound. Samuel Adams argues in The Reality of God and Historical Method: Apocalyptic Theology in Conversation with N.T. Wright for a theological hermeneutics at the heart of which is the “apocalyptic event” of God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ (122). This event is “historical” only in the general and abstract sense that it happened in time and space; it has very little to do with the particular history of Israel under the political-religious conditions of the late second temple period. I suggest, in fact, that the phrase “Christ event” should be consigned to the dustbin of a-history.
The explicit testimony concerning Jesus throughout Mark’s Gospel is that he is the beloved Son, empowered by the Spirit, who will serve the purposes of YHWH, who will suffer, who will be vindicated by his resurrection from the dead, and who will be seated at the right hand of YHWH, having received from YHWH authority to judge and rule over Israel and, potentially at least, the nations.
The cluttered mega-chart below (click for an enlarged version) combines yesterday’s schematic overview of Samuel Adams’ concise and lucid summary of Wright’s account of the relation between theology and history with my earlier attempt to show how the narrative-historical method goes back to the blessed Albert Schweitzer’s insistence that both Jesus and Paul need to be understood within the frame of apocalyptic Judaism.
In The Reality of God and Historical Method: Apocalyptic Theology in Conversation with N.T. Wright Samuel V. Adams offers an inversion of Wright’s solution to the division between theology and history. Whereas Wright addresses the question of God from the side of history, Adams wants to consider how the matter would look if we began not with historical method but with the reality of God. “Can what theologians say about God make sense of both the historical question and theological question and articulate them in such a way that does justice to both?” (17). He will argue for an apocalyptic theology that can be traced from the Reformation, through Kierkegaard and Barth, to Torrance and Martyn.
The last few weeks have been busy, and I’ve not had the time, or frankly the inclination, to blog. I haven’t posted a sermon before, and it’s perhaps a rather desperate measure, but I feel under some pressure to show that the narrative-historical approach can work in normal preaching-teaching contexts. The proof-of-the-pudding, of course, is in the eating. The sermon was originally part of a series on witness that Crossroads International Church in the Hague was doing earlier in the year, but I also preached it as a one-off in our little church in Westbourne Grove last Sunday. You might think of it as expounding a narrative urban theology. It’s been edited—all the flim-flam that I usually throw in to lighten things up a bit has been removed; and it ends rather abruptly—I decided not to include the impassioned altar call. Make of it what you will.
Craig got in touch with a couple of questions. He wants to know, first, what P.OST stands for. That’s straightforward and not very exciting. I ran a “collaborative” site called Open Source Theology from about 2002 to 2009. It was associated with the self-consciously postmodern rethinking that went along with the now defunct (I assume) “emerging church” movement. Increasingly I found myself diverging from the emerging line in the direction of what I regarded as a more cogent reading of scripture, so I started a personal blog and called it P.OST or postost.net—that is, post-Open Source Theology. Dull, eh?
I’ve been preparing some material for a workshop on Theology and Future Church for a group of church planters, and as often happens, my mind ran off in a rather impractical direction. But the point is this. Too often practitioners look for a theology that will directly support or enhance or defend their practice—or discredit the practice of their opponents. What are we supposed to think about gay marriage? Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God? How do we resolve the tension between evangelism and social action? And so on…. We have issues, pressing issues, and that’s where we want to start.
But that’s not what the New Testament is for. Not primarily. If at all. It’s not a reference book for twenty-first century missional praxis. It has no idea what life is like in the twenty-first century. It knows nothing about homosexual fidelity, Islam, or the ideological split between gospel and justice. It tells the story of how the people of God were transformed through the faithfulness of Jesus and how that transformation changed the ancient world. I think that New Testament studies at the moment is doing a marvellous job of helping us to understand the power of that story—and in a way that may be profoundly, though unconventionally, evangelical.
Paula Gooder talked about heaven at a Theos event last night in London, with passion, verve, an impressive grasp of the details (the gentleman behind me was certainly impressed), and a robust determination not to let theological tradition get in the way of honest biblical interpretation.
Her leading argument was that in the modern era the concept of heaven has been privatised, spiritualised and postponed. All that most people are interested in—if they’re interested at all—is whether they will go to heaven when they die and what it will be like when they get there. Gooder insisted that these are not biblical concerns. The New Testament has very little to say about people going to heaven when they die. In scripture heaven is the place where God dwells. It is a created space above the firmament, no more remote from the earth than it needs to be. It can be visited by people: Paul at least entertained the possibility that he, or somone known to him, had been caught up bodily to the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2).
I have been closely following recent exchanges among a set of notable scholars regarding Mark’s christology. All good stuff, a model of civilised online debate. On one side we have those who argue that in subtle, ambiguous, indirect, and covert ways Mark presents Jesus as a figure who in some manner shares in the divine identity (Michael Bird, Chris Keith, Michael Kruger, Anthony Le Donne, Brant Pitre). On the other side are those who doubt it (James Crossley, Daniel Kirk, James McGrath, Dustin Smith, Joel Watts, Stephen Young). Some are not direct participants in the conversation but have been cited; and there are no doubt contributions out there, filling the void like dark matter, that I’ve overlooked. If I’ve mis-categorised anyone, let me know—I’m a little unclear where Crossley falls, for example. This is a partial overview of, and response to, the debate. Apologies for the length.