If the Bible is history, what are we supposed to do?

Austin asks: “How do we know what the creator God wants from us if the Scriptures are history for us and we’re not looking forward to ‘the day of Christ’? What are some practical ways of living this out? How do we interact with those of differing faiths?” Here is a quick list of practical things that we might do—an agenda for a renewed biblical (rather than cultural or political) evangelicalism, let us say. Let me know if I’ve missed anything important.

  1. Intentionally uphold the reputation of the creator God; do not bring his name into disrepute. Pray in this way: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name in the Western secular world….”
  2. Worship and serve the one true living creator God in priestly communities scattered throughout the world; bring God to people, bring people to God.
  3. Tell the whole, difficult, unvarnished story of the people of God, with honesty, clarity and conviction, ideally on the basis of a narrative-historical hermeneutic.
  4. Live as an obedient new creation people in the light of the final renewal of heaven and earth; celebrate the blessing.
  5. Do what is just and right; set the benchmark by which the secular world will be judged.
  6. Fail gracefully.
  7. Mediate the recovered original blessing of creation to the world around us.
  8. Honour all who seek righteousness.
  9. Forgive our enemies.
  10. Confidently affirm that Jesus is Lord, that he will defend us against all our enemies, including the last enemy, death.
  11. Remember his death on the cross for the sins of first century Israel.
  12. Live by the healing, transforming, disruptive power of the Holy Spirit; manifest the fruits of the Spirit.
  13. Speak prophetically, in humility, to the church and to the world on behalf of the good, righteous, and almighty creator God.
  14. Love the world, but explicitly in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit.
  15. Develop a robust, expansive, radical wisdom for the age that will enable us to live well under the difficult conditions of modernity.
  16. Baptise people on the basis of the whole story, and for the sake of the overarching calling of God, in the name of the Father who maintains a holy people for his own purposes against all odds, in the name of the Son through whose obedience this people was saved from its sins, and in the name of the Holy Spirit, who is the presence of the living God in the midst of his people. Diligently teach them the ways of the Lord.
  17. Wait for the Lord to reform his people; wait for judgment and renewal. The church will be justified by its faith in the continuing relevance of the God of Abraham.
Samuel Conner | Wed, 03/20/2019 - 13:25 | Permalink

Wonderful! And very helpful. I have been wondering about the same thing; such a radical reconceptualization (warranted IMO, but radical from the point of view of those whose faith is primarily “spiritual abstraction”) could leave people at a loss for “how to carry on ‘being the church.”

I hesitate to suggest an amendment to this admirable proposal, but perhaps item 7 could be enlarged along the lines of “Responsibly tend the ‘Garden’ that has been entrusted to us while we await its ultimate renewal”.

That’s not explicitly a “church”-ly task, more of a general wisdom agenda for all of humanity, and one could argue that it is present in other elements of this proposal. In my context, there’s a bit of contemporary equivalent of OT “the Temple, the Temple” confidence that God will not suffer disaster to overtake His people. And so we are not praying or working for the well-being of the ecosystem in which we reside. If it is overthrown, we will perish with it.

I would probably have included “tending the garden” under #4, but I agree with the principle; it needs expounding. My only hesitation has to do with how Christian environmentalism relates to secular environmentalism. How do we do this as a priestly people and not as an out of touch church trying to play catch-up.

Austin | Wed, 03/20/2019 - 17:03 | Permalink


Thanks for this repsonse. Very helpful. Regarding 17:

As we’re waiting for judgement and renewal, should we be concerned with what that judgement and renewal will look like? You put your finger on that judgement and renewal in the destruction of the temple, Jewish-Roman War, and the Rise of Christendom. What might it look like today? Should we be expecting another Christendom, even striving to bring it about?

AndrewAustin | Wed, 03/20/2019 - 17:24 | Permalink

In reply to by Austin

In a sense, judgment and renewal (to keep the dynamics of the biblical story in play) have been going on for the last couple of hundred years. The waiting, I guess, is for that moment when it becomes apparent that the church in the West is now fit for purpose again. I do not expect or want another Christendom, but I do think the church might work out how to maintain a credible and effective minority perspective within the dominant secular-humanist culture—or whatever it evolves into.

I’m not Catholic, but my impression is that Catholics and many of the more liberal Protestant denominations meet together weekly to remind people to be good for God’s sake (with the Spirit’s help), love and forgive all, worship Yahweh, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and remember that because Jesus rose from the dead, his followers will too.

Although this isn’t as thorough as your list since it ignores many of the historical/theological details, isn’t the practical outcome the same? 

Since most sermons never mention the atonement, return of Christ, or doctrine of the trinity, I just wonder if your corrective points would have any real effect on Christian praxis.

I think you may be right, up to a point, about this not making too much of a difference to Christian praxis. My argument would be, however, that the method changes the story that we tell about the identity and purpose of the church, and it may be that in the long run this will change behaviour in ways that we cannot immediately foresee. I would also say that the failure to mention certain key components of the New Testament story (the doctrine of the Trinity is another matter) in sermons highlights the problem: we don’t know how to interpret and make good use of the foundational texts of our faith.

I would also say that the failure to mention certain key components of the New Testament story (…) in sermons highlights the problem: we don’t know how to interpret and make good use of the foundational texts of our faith.

Would you include the following among the “texts of our faith” that are worth “mentioning in sermons” …

“Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. ” (Matthew 24:44; cp. Luke 12:40)

… or would it seem too much of a provocation against  “secular-humanist culture”?

I certainly think that “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” is worth mentioning in a sermon, but primarily as a provocation against first century Jewish culture, only secondarily, indirectly and anachronistically as a provocation against secular humanist culture.

1. In what sense would mentioning (or commenting on) Matthew 24:44 in a sermon be a “provocation against first century Jewish culture”? Perhaps you mean that “first century Jewish culture” didn’t take seriously the call to be prepared for the destruction of Jerusalem (70 CE; 135 CE) by the Roman Empire and the “punishment” of Israel, with its dispersion among the Gentiles, and the loss of their “national home”?

2. While you appear to confirm that mentioning (or commenting on) Matthew 24:44 in a sermon would be seen as a “provocation against secular humanist culture”, why would it be “anachronistic”, considering that “secular humanist culture” hardly includes any eschatological dimension?