Empire and the completion of Israel's story

I suggested in my post on N.T. Wright’s inaugural lecture at St Andrews that the lines of Jewish narrative converge not at the end of history but “on the moment of the concrete victory of Israel’s God over the powers of paganism, which historically speaking is the conversion of the empire”. Not surprisingly this provoked some bemusement.

Roger Haydon Mitchell asks the inevitable question:

Surely this convergence was at best a repeat of Israel’s tendency to missalign with empire? Didn’t it import the deep structure of paganism into ecclesiology and theology and produce the toxic theocracy of Christendom? Isn’t Wright’s point precisely that the true trajectory of the Old Testament prophets is the counterpolitical positioning of the people of God as a radical theocracy in confrontation with empire?

Why N.T. Wright's narrative of Jesus is not narrative enough (reflections on the inaugural lecture)

In his recent inaugural lecture at the University of St Andrews Tom Wright talks about his leading concerns about the state of Gospel studies. In particular, despite generations of redaction criticism and narrative criticism, he remains unconvinced that that “the main message of the gospels has been grasped”. What in his view is the main message that has not been grasped?

My proposal about the gospels is that they all, in their rather different ways, tell the story of Jesus of Nazareth as the story of how God became king. They all, in other words, announce the launch of a ‘theocracy’.

The first statement will have come as no surprise to his audience. The second may have raised a few eyebrows. “Theocracy” is a bad word these days. Wright argues that it’s only what “kingdom of God” means—so the word is defused and rendered safely rhetorical. But I’m inclined to think that “theocracy”—now you come to mention it—is actually a much more pertinent term for our understanding of New Testament theology than Wright may be prepared to allow.

Is the good news necessarily good?

Peter G. cites this passage in a comment here as evidence that euangelion does not necessarily signify good news. The message of the angel to the pagan world, to the nations and peoples ruled by Rome, is that the hour of God’s judgment on the whole idolatrous, unjust, immoral system is approaching. They are called to worship instead the one true creator God, not the ineffectual works of human hands. A second angel announces the fall of “Babylon the great”—that is, Rome, the power that has corrupted the world (14:8). A third angel adds that those who worship the beast and its image, etc., will also “drink the wine of God’s wrath” (14:9-11).

Scot McKnight, Gospel Coalition, and how many "gospels" do we really need?

There is an interesting critique of Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel on the Gospel Coalition site, by Luke Stamps, called “What God Has Joined Together: The Story and Salvation Gospel”. It’s worth reading, not least because it’s a good example of a friendly and constructive response from the more traditional evangelical-Reformed side of the argument.

The central issue is whether the category “gospel” includes the “plan of salvation”. Scot’s argument essentially is that the New Testament “gospel” is a proclamation about the lordship of Jesus at the culmination of Israel’s story. Personal salvation is what happens when people hear that proclamation and respond to it in faith, repenting of their sin and accepting the lordship of Jesus over their lives. Stamps argues that while the emphasis on the narrative framework is a ‘helpful corrective to some popular “de-storied” presentations of the gospel’, the dichotomy that Scott insists on between Israel’s story and the offer of personal salvation “doesn’t appear to do justice to the ways in which Israel’s expectations of the kingdom are transformed by Christ and his apostles”.

The church and social protest: counting the cost

Now that St Paul’s has belatedly decided that it has enough common ground with the Occupy London protesters to work with them rather than against them, the conversation naturally turns to the question of what sort of economic policy, etc., the church might propose in the place of rampant acquisitive capitalism.

The announcement of a willingness to engage in constructive dialogue already contained details of a new initiative led by the former investment banker Ken Costa aimed at “reconnecting the financial with the ethical”.

That sounds safe and probably ineffectual enough (read Jonathan Bartley’s concerns), but once the excitement provoked by the turnaround has worn off, people will begin to remark on the fact that the church generally, from St Paul’s downwards, does not always set a very good example of material restraint. What does the church have to do to be seen to be putting its money where its mouth is? How socially radical does the church have to be if its prophetic stance is to carry weight and integrity?

St Paul's: a step in the right direction

It appears that the resignation of the Dean of St Paul’s yesterday has made room for a much more constructive response on the part of the cathedral authorities towards the Occupy London protesters. A statement was released today, reported on the Telegraph website, which admits that the Dean’s action has provided an “opportunity to reassess the situation”.

Occupy London: what would Jesus have done?

The confrontation between the Occupy LSX encampment and the St Paul’s authorities in London over the last couple of weeks has reminded many commentators of Jesus’ shocking display of anti-establishment indignation in the temple. Take Stephen Tomkins, for example:

Major national Churches are often the focus of protest. A homeless man, known to the authorities for his radical activism, once slipped into one with his supporters and wrecked it, overturning tables and lashing out with a homemade whip.

His point was that what should have been a place of prayer for all people had become an institution fleecing the poor. Those were tougher times than now, and he was executed a week later.

The right reason for crying "Abba! Father!"

It’s a long time since I’ve sung “Abba, Father, let me be yours and yours alone” in public, but it’s the song that is now rather dated, not the sentiment. Evangelical theology is quite insistent on the fact that as Christians, as sons and daughters of the Father, we have the unique right to address him in intimate terms as “Abba”, “Daddy”. We have been taught that this was Jesus’ typical form of address to God, and that because we have all received the Spirit of adoption, etc., we too may call out to God as “Abba! Father!” (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6).

In the spirit of friendly deconstruction (I’m not sure that “deconstruction” should be used in this sense, but everybody else does, so why not?) that I hope characterizes this blog, I want to suggest that this misses the point. It is a good example of theological inflation at the expense of contextualized argumentation.

We do not know Jesus if we know him only as a personal saviour

In his book Constructing Jesus: Memory, Imagination and History, Dale Allison puts forward a number of arguments in support of his view that Jesus is presented in the New Testament as an eschatological figure, whose identity and vocation must be explained with reference to Jewish apocalyptic themes. One of these arguments is that much of what Jesus says about the coming turn of events draws on Old Testament texts that “foretell the defeat of Israel’s enemies, the influx of the Diaspora, the transformation of the land of promise into a paradise, and the realization of God’s perfect will throughout the world” (78). Allison then sets out a representative, not exhaustive, catalogue of passages to which Jesus alludes (79-82).

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