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

Creation, fall, redemption, and new creation is not much of a metanarrative

I came across this somewhat at random, but it illustrates a point. In an article on the role of theology on the Gordon Conwell website John Jefferson argues that a sound biblical theology is like the backbone in the human body—it provides “support, shape and stability to the Body of Christ”.

In the early church this was expressed through four functions: catechesis, or the teaching of basic Christian doctrine; apologetics, the defence of the faith; polemics, the suppression of heresy; and homiletics—“assisting preachers and teachers in the exposition and teaching of Scripture”.

Jefferson then goes on to suggest that a sound biblical theology “can provide vitality, vision and standards for assessment in the local congregation”. The framework for vision is provided by the “biblical metanarrative of creation, fall, redemption and new creation”, and the point is made that salvation is not just about forgiveness of sins and the hope of heaven but also about an “experience beginning now of entering into the life of the Triune God”.

Does the gospel first appear in Genesis 3:15?

Another good example of how theology gets read back into texts where it doesn’t belong is provided by the argument that the gospel first appears in Genesis 3:15. The singular “seed” of the woman, who will crush the head of the serpent, is taken to be a prophecy of the coming messiah. It’s known as the “protevangelium”. The argument cannot be defended exegetically as we shall see—and as even Calvin reluctantly admitted:

…other interpreters take the seed for Christ, without controversy; as if it were said, that some one would arise from the seed of the woman who should wound the serpent’s head. Gladly would I give my suffrage in support of their opinion, but that I regard the word seed as too violently distorted by them; for who will concede that a collective noun is to be understood of one man only? Further, as the perpetuity of the contest is noted, so victory is promised to the human race through a continual succession of ages. I explain, therefore, the seed to mean the posterity of the woman generally. (Commentary on Genesis)

But the point I will emphasize is that it illustrates the pervasive failure of dogmatic theologies to respect the integrity and boundaries of the text.

The Gospel Coalition gets the gospel back to front

A while back Daniel asked me what I thought of a Gospel Coalition video called “Did Jesus Preach the Gospel?” The question which John Piper, Tim Keller, and Don Carson address is basically this: Is Paul’s gospel of justification by faith on the basis of Jesus’ atoning death for the sins of the world to be found in the Gospels? They appear to be reacting against theological developments which have driven a wedge between the Reformed emphasis on personal salvation, supposedly as Paul understood it, and the “emerging” idea—though it’s not stated as such—that Jesus preached kingdom and that kingdom means social transformation.

Church as eschatological community (part 1)

I gave a talk last night at Community Church Harlesden on church as eschatological community. It was a little complicated, as you can see from this handout, so I promised to write up a summary. I’ll do it in two parts. If you’re not sure what “eschatology” means—or at least, what I mean by “eschatology”—see this article. You’re welcome to download the handout.

Adam, original sin, and wrath against the Jew

At the THINK Conference last week Tom Wright made the interesting observation that Judaism shows very little interest in Adam and his original sin until after the destruction of the temple. With slightly different emphases the apocalyptic texts 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch, written around AD 100, both make frequent reference to Adam as the source of the world’s and Israel’s problems. 2 Baruch is especially concerned with the sin of the nations:

O Adam, what did you do to all who were born after you? And what will be said of the first Eve who obeyed the serpent, so that this whole multitude is going to corruption?

The Lord said to my lord...

I have argued in a number of posts recently (see below) that the confession that Jesus is Lord is not the same as the confession that Jesus is God, and that we are likely to miss a critical part of New Testament teaching if we carelessly conflate the two. There is an eschatological or historical narrative about lordship, which in my view aims at judgment against the idolatrous Greek-Roman world, and there is a protological or cosmic narrative, modelled on Jewish wisdom thought, by which Jesus is closely associated with God as creator. In the first, Jesus is given authority to rule at the right hand of God. In the second, he is an agent or means of creation or new creation. These two narratives intersect at some point, and we may imagine that they eventually converged in the conviction that Jesus is God. But in the New Testament, they mostly remain distinct.

Rob Bell: What we don’t talk about when we talk about God

I have been listening to Rob Bell talk about his book What We Talk About When We Talk About God with Justin Brierley and Andrew Wilson on Premier Radio’s Unbelievable podcast. I download one of these discussions from time to time if I have a long car journey to make. I find them a bit rambling, and most of them have an apologetic focus, which is not really my thing. But Justin has had some good contributors, and it is refreshing—if not downright remarkable—to hear such high level debate on Christian radio. I recommend them. I wrote recently about the stimulating debate between Tom Wright and James White over the meaning of justification. Coincidentally, I am attending a conference tomorrow at which Wright will be speaking about Paul and the cross of Christ. But to the matter in hand….

Is the Shema really so important for understanding “one God… one Lord” in 1 Corinthians 8:6?

Richard Worden Wilson has drawn attention to a short piece by Scot McKnight on the relation between Paul’s statement about one God and one Lord in 1 Corinthians 8:6 and the Shema, the great Jewish confession that “The LORD our God (yhwh eloheinu), the LORD (yhwh) is one” (Deut 6:4). McKnight thinks that “one Lord, Jesus Christ” identifies Jesus with YHWH: ‘astoundingly, Paul sees “God” (Elohim) as the Father and he sees “Lord” (YHWH) as Jesus’.

I respectfully disagree with this interpretation. I think it is a mistake to identify the “Lord” who is Jesus in Paul’s statement with YHWH, for reasons which I will set out. But first I want to say again, for the benefit of those who want to banish me into outer darkness, that this is not an argument against the view that Jesus is presented in the New Testament as God. It is an argument for the view that this is not what is meant by the confession that Jesus is Lord. It is the argument that at the heart of the New Testament is the apocalyptic story of how the God of Israel raised his obedient Son from the dead and gave him authority to judge and rule over the nations, a narrative trajectory which I suggest found its historical fulfilment in the conversion of the empire. It is an argument for thinking that this historical ambition is much more important for understanding the New Testament than the assertion of Jesus’ divinity.

Tweaking Richard Bauckham on Jesus and the God of Israel

In his valuable book Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity Richard Bauckham argues that the unique identity of God in scripture is characterized in two ways: he is the particular God of Israel, known to them as YHWH, who brought them out of Egypt and revealed himself to Moses as “YHWH, YHWH, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…” (Ex. 34:6); and he is God in relation to all reality, he is creator and sovereign ruler of all things. These two categories remain for the most part distinct, but they come together in Deutero-Isaiah “with special combined significance in Israel’s eschatological expectation”:

In the future, when God will fulfil his promises to his own people, showing himself to be finally and definitively the gracious God they have known in their history from the exodus onwards, God will at the same time demonstrate his deity to the nations, implementing his sovereignty as Creator and Ruler of all things in establishing his universal kingdom kingdom, making his name known universally, becoming known to all as the God Israel has known. (8)

Some rough and ready “rules” for doing a narrative-historical reading of the New Testament

In response to persistent demands that I explain my hermeneutic, here is a list of seven rough and ready “rules” for doing a narrative-historical reading of the New Testament.  They loosely outline or summarize what is to my mind a coherent and defensible methodology, but I have not offered here much by way of philosophical justification. I take the view that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. A list of related posts can be found here.

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