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

Discipleship and the eschatological narrative of 1 Corinthians

I have to prepare some material about discipleship for a small leaders’ retreat. The approach I want to take is to frame discipleship narrative-historically. No surprises there. One way to do this is to take a very practical letter with strong discipleship content, such as 1 Corinthians, and try to show how the paraenetic material relating to disunity, sexual immorality, lawsuits, celibacy and marriage, food offered to idols, spiritual gifts, men and women, etc., is controlled by an overarching eschatological narrative. It is not generalised ethical-spiritual teaching; it is narratively contextualised; and we are likely to misunderstand Paul if we drive a wedge between the practical teaching about how to live and be church and the eschatological frame. By the same token, I will argue—but not here—that we cannot do discipleship properly today if we do not take into account our own unique narrative-historical context.

Greg Beale’s multi-storied new-creational kingdom theology

The basic thesis of Greg Beale’s A New Testament Biblical Theology is i) that the Old Testament gives us the story of how God “progressively reestablishes his new-creational kingdom out of chaos”; and ii) that this storyline is transformed in the New Testament inasmuch as Jesus’ life, death and resurrection have “launched the fulfillment of the eschatological already-not yet new-creational reign” (16, italics removed, statements abbreviated, other caveats may apply).

In short, he aims to develop a more or less comprehensive biblical theology controlled by a story oriented towards the “goal of new-creational kingship” (179). Note the merging of “new creation” and “kingdom”—I’ll come back to that.

Daniel’s Son of Man is not the Messiah—he’s just a very naughty symbol*

I argued a few weeks back that the “son of man” figure in Daniel 7:13-14 is not an individual messiah or an angel or divine hypostasis (i.e., a manifestation of some aspect of the godhead) but symbolically represents that part of Israel which remained faithful to the covenant, at great cost, during the crisis provoked by Antiochus IV Epiphanes’ brutal attempt to eradicate Jewish religion.

Craig has objected, however, that the reference to “one like a son of man” is unique, that he is clearly a “singular individual”, and that I have not “provided a persuasive argument to overcome this”. He further maintains that “saints of the Most High” defines an expansive category that includes not only the “current Jewish saints” but everyone who would be part of God’s kingdom—“in other words the church of God of people of all nations”. Finally he asks whether my novel “historical interpretive schema” does not in fact oblige me to argue that Daniel’s prophecy was not fulfilled by Jesus. I want to address these criticisms.

Who binds the strong man? And why? And when? And how?

The scribes claim that Jesus casts out demons by the prince of demons, and Jesus says that’s a stupid accusation to make because it would mean that Satan is fighting against himself. He then puts to them a little parable, the point of which presumably is that he is able to cast out evil spirits because the strong man has been bound:

But no one can enter a strong man’s (ischurou) house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house. (Mk. 3:27; cf. Matt. 12:29)

The place of the cross in the biblical narrative

In a series of talks at the Communitas International (formerly known as Christian Associates) staff conference in Budapest recently Greg Boyd argued 1) that American Christianity has been compromised and corrupted by its close association with state and especially military power; 2) that European Christendom was a disastrous departure from the authentic faith of the early church and should never have been allowed to happen; and 3) that the cross should be determinative for our reading of scripture and our understanding of God. Greg has a big new book coming out next year, I gather, with the title The Crucifixion of the Warrior God, which just about sums up the whole thesis.

Mission - the narrative-historical board game

What is the mission of the church? Conservatives will say that the mission of the church, at core, is to save people. Other activities, no matter how laudable, are secondary to this task because there is nothing more important than a person’s eternal destiny. More progressive types will say that the mission of the church is to serve people. That’s partly because people don’t want to be saved any more, but there’s also a gratifying ethical-political edge to it. It’s a way of getting some traction in the world.

Oversimplifying admittedly, I suggest that both the conservatives and the progressives have got it wrong. Saving people and serving people are understandable responses to the crisis of credibility that the church in the secular West faces. But they lack a sense of narrative context and for that reason miss the point.

Who is Daniel’s son of man?

Who is the “one like a son of man” who comes with the clouds of heaven to be presented before the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7:13? Collins calls it “perhaps the most celebrated question in all the apocalyptic literature”.

As far as modern scholarship goes, three interpretations are generally considered: 1) a symbolic figure standing for righteous Jews or for Israel; 2) an angel, probably Michael; and 3) an individual human such as the messiah, or even, if we keep the historical context in view, Judas Maccabeus. It has sometimes been claimed that the “one like a son of man” is a hypostatized manifestation of God like Wisdom in Proverbs 8 or equivalent to the “likeness with a human appearance” in Ezekiel 1:26. But the narrative does not easily allow an identification of the inferior son of man figure, who receives dominion, with the Ancient of Days, who judges empires.

Hurtado’s critique of Wright’s account of Paul’s christology

Larry Hurtado has uploaded a pre-publication version of his contribution to a response to N.T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God. As the fashion goes these days (How Jesus Became God / How God Became Jesus) the new book is cleverly called God and the Faithfulness of Paul: A Critical Examination of the Pauline Theology of N. T. Wright, and is edited by Christoph Heilig, J. Thomas Hewitt and Michael F. Bird. You can get it on Amazon for £134 ($194), which is twice the price and half the number of words of Wright’s original book, so if any other contributors feel inclined to make pre-publication copies available, it would be much appreciated.

Hurtado’s chapter is entitled “YHWH’s Return to Zion: A New Catalyst for Earliest High Christology?” He summarises Wright’s argument about the development of Paul’s christology and puts forward two main lines of criticism. I haven’t looked closely at what Wright says, but on the evidence of the summary, I’d say Hurtado has a strong case. Where it leaves us in terms of an Early High Christology, is another matter. I’ll throw in some thoughts at the end.

Double Post-Tribulational Pre-Amillennialism

A question about the relation of my narrative-historical reading of New Testament eschatology to postmillennialism led me to the Wikipedia article (along with other fine resources), which has a simple diagram illustrating the four main species of millennialism. I’ve reproduced the diagram here with some small modifications and added a fifth (admittedly tongue-in-cheek) definition of my own. The white triangle gives a rough idea of where we are today in the timeline. The diagrams are not to scale and should not be used as a basis for investment decisions or the purchase of life insurance.

16 reasons to think that the “age to come” is now and in history

My reply to a question from Ian Paul (see his excellent Psephizo blog) got out of hand, so I’ve posted it separately here. Ian thinks that my argument about the “age to come” being now and in history smacks of a discredited postmillennialism and wants to know what support the New Testament offers for the view:

I agree with your first four diagrams. But are you seriously arguing that ‘the age to come’ is now, and in history? This is in effect post millennialism…and there were good reasons why that was abandoned! What support from the NT can you offer for this?


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