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

Add new comment

Unlike cherylu, I do read here all the time, though I made an unsuccessful vow of abstinent restraint for Lent.

I can see precisely why you say what you say in this post, Andrew. I think it’s unfortunate that you take J T John Tancock as reflecting the ‘theological’ position to highlight the contrasting ‘narrative’ position which you are promoting. It is setting up an antithesis which doesn’t really advance the argument.

I still think you have a point though, which probably explains why I keep chewing at the bone.

Just to pick out one thing from amongst many, there is the statement:

we still operate under the theological assumption that the most important thing we can say about Jesus is that he is God

I’m a little hazy, but I don’t think this was much of an issue after Nicaea until the 19th century and early to mid 20th century, when interpreting the gospels as proofs of Jesus’s deity became a major apologetic of ‘fundamentalist evangelicals’ against the depradations of the ‘woolly liberals’ who argued the opposite.

I no longer think this is the assumption today, as the battle lines have changed. There are many different arguments today, one of which is over the assumption of a biblical conflict between a ‘works-based Judaism’ and ‘grace based Christianity’ on the one hand, and a biblical gospel in which faith is generated by the proclamation of Jesus and his Lordship in our lives on the other. The latter has the potential to do away with the old divisions between Catholic and Protestant, liberal and evangelical, altogether, much to the consternation of both.

However, the real necessity of Jesus’s deity lies not in Greek arguments or Nicaea, but in his agency as renewer of creation. That was YHWH’s exclusive role. It also lies in his agency as atoning sacrifice for sin. Had Jesus been an Israelite like all other Israelites, he would have been under the curse, and as powerless to reverse it as the all the others.

Also, I don’t know if you are aware of it, but the argument for a non-divine interpretation of Jesus in Philippians 2:5-11 has been hugely set back since James Dunn’s proposal of something similar in his Adam Christology in “Christ, Adam and Pre-existence”. The counter arguments have produced some of the most compelling academic exegesis and interpretation of the passage to date. But we’ve been here before (many times!).

Quite who Jesus is in your interpretation is a mystery. “He is not himself the Creator, but he plays an instrumental role in an act of creation”. So at the very least, he was present at creation (or at “an act of creation” - whatever that mysteriously means). So who is he? Not God, not Creator yet pre-existent, not under the curse - there are sufficient assumptions here to fill a systematic narrative theology. Where in the O.T. narrative is anything like this suggested?

The huge strength of the traditional interpretation is that it was God’s suffering and God’s sacrifice which made atonement for sin, and this in itself highlights the depth and extent of sin as universal problem, something which is absent from your interpretation. Maybe that’s entirely as you would wish. As in atonement, so in renewal of creation; it was not in the power of any human agency to bring this about. It also goes a long way to explain why the Old Testament was written/preserved as it was, unlike, say, the Koran, where sinfulness in ‘God’s prophets’ was unthinkable, and they are rewritten as saintly superheroes.