how to tell the biblical story in a way that makes a difference
There’s an index of Bible references, which provides a way to search for posts that give attention to particular passages.
You can find a list of prominent theological terms or themes discussed from a narrative-historical perspective—everything from annihilationism to the wrath of God.
Under the METHOD+ menu there’s a list of posts in which I have tried to explain my basic narrative-historical approach.
If all else fails, get in touch using the contact form. There’s a fair chance you’ll get a response.
I have always worshipped and worked in evangelical contexts and on evangelical assumptions. My evangelicalism, however, is a function of the biblical narrative rather than the expression of doctrinal commitments or political orientation. The “gospel” or evangel in my view is always something that happens in the narrative of scripture.
My commitment, therefore, in the first place, is to that narrative as the basis for the self-understanding and mission of the church. Then we ask when and how and to what effect that narrative has been good news for God’s people and for the world.
Yes, I do. I believe that the New Testament expresses the conviction, which was central to its proclamation, that Jesus would come with the clouds, or be revealed, at his parousia.
But I argue that this conviction had two historical horizons in view. The horizon for Jesus and his followers in Jerusalem and Judea was the war against Rome and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. The horizon for the apostles and the churches in the Greek-Roman world was the overthrow of the blasphemous power structures that dominated the ancient world and oppressed the people of the living God. The fall of Babylon the great—that is, Rome—would bring to an end the persecution of the churches and usher in a new age in which Christ would be confessed as Lord by the nations of the old pagan empire.
The point is that Jesus took the concept from Daniel 7, where it refers to the vindication of the persecuted righteous in Israel, and makes it available for his followers to speak about the intervention of God at a time of crisis to pass judgment, to put things right—on the one hand, to punish the enemies of his people, whether they were internal or external; on the other, to vindicate and give the kingdom to those who had remained faithful under intense opposition.
I think that the church as it settled and worked out how to express its beliefs in the Greek world was right to reimagine the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit in the highly philosophical language of Trinitarian orthodoxy. So I would say that the doctrine of the Trinity is appropriate and believable under the intellectual conditions that prevailed in Europe from the second century onwards.
But I do not think that this language or the conceptuality that it sustains is of much use for making sense of the New Testament. What was at stake in the mission of the early Jewish-Christian church was not whether Jesus was God but whether he was Lord—and specifically whether he had been given the authority and power to judge and rule, at the right hand of God, not only over Israel but also over the nations. This is the story of the kingdom of God. It is shaped not by Greek metaphysics but by a Jewish-apocalyptic interpretation of history.
To the extent that the New Testament further identifies Jesus with the creative Word and Wisdom of God, we have a major stepping stone towards the rationalisation of divine relations.
I wouldn’t say mangled. I’d say that I have adjusted my understanding of the atonement to fit the historical contours of scripture. We can say that Jesus died for our sins, or for the sins of our neighbours, or for the sins of the world. But there’s a backstory to that.
Jesus’ death needs to be understood against the background of the dawning realisation that the suffering of righteous Jews, at the hands either of the powerful and unrighteous in Israel or of pagan oppressors, could have atoning effect. In the first place, therefore, Jesus died as a righteous son of God for the sins of Israel, so that God’s people might have life and a continuing missional purpose after the catastrophe of the war against Rome.
Secondly, this death for the sins of Israel had a somewhat unexpected consequence. Because after Pentecost the Spirit was poured out on those who believed that God had raised his Son from the dead, not on those who were keeping the Law, it became apparent that there was nothing to stop Gentiles believing and receiving the Spirit. To cut a long story short, the death of Jesus had the further effect of removing the dividing wall of the Law: because Jesus died for the sins of Israel, Gentiles were also forgiven and embraced within the covenant community.
I don’t think this is nearly as much of a problem as people think. The Bible still gives direction to the church, but it does it as a historical narrative rather than as a universal blueprint. In simple terms, the church is the historical people of God. It has the purpose that it has always had: 1) to be God’s new creation in the shadow of Babel; 2) to mediate between God and humanity as a priestly-prophetic people.
At a moment of supreme crisis in the first century this people was saved from oblivion and transformed by the death and resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit.
So we now—in the West—continue to be 1) a new creation, in our clumsy and inadequate way, and 2) a priestly-prophetic people serving the interests of the living creator God in a world that is now rapidly abandoning its Christian heritage. Discipleship is learning how to do this well on these narrative assumptions.