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

We all are being transformed into the same image—a correction (of sorts)

In the previous piece on being transformed into the image of Christ, I included 1 Corinthians 3:18 in a wider pattern in Paul whereby conformity to the image of Christ means specifically sharing in his suffering and resurrection:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding (or reflecting) the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image, from glory to glory, as from the Lord, the Spirit.

This view needs modifying (after a fashion).

Who is being transformed into the image of Christ? Not me

I’ve just got back from a missions conference at which the idea that believers in general and “missionaries” in particular are being—or should be—transformed into the “image of Christ” got a lot of airtime.

I can see what people are getting at. The assumption is that Jesus represents either an ideal way of being human or an ideal way of doing ministry. He’s Jesus, after all! Therefore, to grow towards spiritual maturity is to be conformed to his image.

It’s a central plank of evangelical piety. Tim Challies quotes Jerry Bridges: “Christlikeness is God’s goal for all who trust in Christ, and that should be our goal also.”

A pragmatic non-theory of the atonement

The title of the previous piece (“The death of Jesus: not as difficult to understand as you might think”) was perhaps a mistake. I suspect that many people found my narrative-historical reinterpretation as baffling as the classical theories of the atonement, if not more so.

In my defence I would say that the difficulty lies not in the narrative-historical account itself but in the amount of unthinking that we need to do—the mental effort involved in discounting a mountain of redundant conceptuality in order to see the narrative for what it was.

It’s a case of not being able to see the wood for the wall that has been built in front of it.

The death of Jesus: not as difficult to understand as you might think

Peter Enns has written in his characteristically provocative style about two issues in the Bible that are really important but not at all clear.

The first has to do with Israelite origins. We can be reasonably confident about the broad outline of Israelite history back to the reign of David, but earlier than that things are decidedly murky. “Historically speaking,” Enns writes, “we really don’t know where the Israelites came from, and the exodus and conquest stories, which are so central to the biblical account, are particularly problematic.”

The second issue is of a very different type: “Why did Jesus die?”

Theology and history: is the dam about to break?

Here’s one way of framing my “thesis” at the hermeneutical level—that is, at the level of how we interpret the Bible and make use of it as church.

For various complex reasons the church is coming under pressure to switch from a theological way of thinking to a narrative-historical way of thinking. In my view that is a good thing. It should be encouraged. It may even, in the long run, save the church in the secular West from obsolescence.

It comes down to the question of how we explain or talk about or define the new state of affairs that began with Jesus—the phenomenon that we call Christianity.

A new Dead Sea Scrolls Cave and the narrative-historical method

It appears that a new Scrolls Cave has been discovered at Qumran—the first new cave in sixty years. All that was found in the cave, sadly, were the remains of six broken jars, some fragments of parchment and papyrus, and a piece of linen. Any scrolls that might have been preserved in the jars were looted in the mid-20th century.

Calling on the name of the Lord Jesus

I said I would look at the idea of calling on the name of the Lord Jesus in order to round off a little flurry of posts on the relation between Jesus and God in the context, particularly, of Luke’s narrative in Acts. The aim is neither to undermine nor defend Trinitarian orthodoxy. It is to try to imagine how the apostles and the early churches located the risen Jesus, not simply in relation to the Father but as part of a story that was being told.

In the minds of the apostles Jesus was the “Son” sent to Israel who had been rejected and killed by the leaders of the people and their Roman overlords, but who had been raised from the dead and elevated—in a more or less literal fashion—to the right hand of God in heaven.

This resurrected Messiah or “Son of God” was revealed to Paul on the road to Damascus, bringing him in line with the Jerusalem apostles (Gal. 1:15-16; 1 Cor. 15:8-9). He was also revealed in more visionary experiences at critical junctures—for example, to Stephen on the point of death, as the Son of Man who had likewise suffered but had been vindicated by God (Acts 7:55-56).

Why talking to the exalted Jesus was not prayer

After the death of Judas the disciples decide that a replacement must be chosen to bear witness to Jesus’ resurrection. Two men are nominated, Barsabbas and Matthias. Luke then writes:

And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen (exelexō)… (Acts 1:24)

Since Luke referred earlier to “the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen (exelexato)” (Acts 1:2), we can probably infer that the “Lord” addressed in verse 24 is Jesus. But we note that in this passage the choosing of apostles is closely associated with the moment of the ascension. In fact, it could be argued that the description of the apostles as those “whom he had chosen” before the ascension in verse 2 deliberately anticipates the need to choose a replacement apostle immediately after the ascension. The narrative context will be important.

The virgin conception of Jesus and the christology of Acts

In Acts Luke tells a story about the mission of the early church first to Israel, then to the nations. The risen Lord Jesus features prominently in this story both as the content of the church’s preaching and as one who is dynamically involved in the direction and oversight of that mission.

Nothing suggests, as far as I can see, that Luke thought this story depended on the premise that Jesus was God. It’s an invasive hypothesis. The remarkable status and role of Jesus in the story is fully accounted for by the claim—made principally on the basis of Psalm 110:1—that the God of Israel has exalted the “man” Jesus to his right hand and given him the authority and power to judge and rule over Israel and the nations that he would otherwise have reserved for himself.

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