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That sinking faith feeling

Here I want to try and answer some questions sent to me by someone who grew up in the “reformed, fundamental, SBC” tradition but has spent the best part of the last year deconstructing his faith “down to nothing.” He has been reading the work of historically-minded interpreters like Pete Enns and NT Wright, but has been having a hard time finding a way forward. His faith is sinking. “I currently don’t see any reason to be a Christian or to continue in the Christian way.”

My initial response was that the faith questions are much harder to answer than the historical-exegetical questions, and—goodness knows!—the historical-exegetical questions are hard enough. But interpretation is a major part of the problem, and I think it is important to recognise that it has implications for faith, both positively and negatively.

What sort of hope do we find in the New Testament?

Certain core emphases or tenets have emerged over the years as I have dug myself deeper and deeper into the pit of the narrative-historical perspective:

  1. The key to understanding the Bible is history, not theology.
  2. What holds the whole thing together is the historical existence of a people that tells a story about itself and its relation to the creator God over long periods of time; and in a sense we are still telling that story.
  3. The “message” of the New Testament is as Jewish as the message of the Old Testament….

The “rolling interpretation” of the Old Testament

In the opening paragraph of his book Jewish Messianism and the Cult of Christ (SCM Press, 1998) William Horbury outlines a basic model for understanding the relation of the Old Testament to history. His leading contention is that the Old Testament “forms the backbone of any study of messianism in the Second-Temple period,” so it is specifically the relation of the Old Testament to that period of Jewish history which encompasses the New Testament narrative that is under consideration.

The model is valuable because it highlights the importance of historical context both for the production and for the interpretation of the Jewish scriptures. It consists in two stages.

Learning from Daniel’s prayer of confession

At the Communitas Family Reunion in Malaga last week my friend Wes led a brilliant series of teaching conversations on Daniel 9. In my view it was a model of narrative-historical pedagogy. The historical context was critically appraised and kept in focus, and precisely for that reason our group of mission-minded folk was able to find in it the draft of a powerful story that may give credibility, resilience, and orientation to mission today. What struck me especially—though I’m not the first person to notice it—was that the climax to Daniel’s prayer prefigures the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples.

It’s a while since we’ve had a diagram about theology and history

It’s summer in the northern hemisphere, and there’s not much happening, so I was doodling and came up with a little diagram to show the difference between traditional evangelical thought and the approach that I take on this blog. For many readers it will be familiar, but if you’re new here, it may blow your mind. Or maybe not.

Does the historical interpretation of the parousia really make historical sense?

In this rather long post I want to address some questions put to me about the general plausibility of my reading of the parousia texts as prophecies regarding two historical developments—the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the armies of pagan Rome and the overthrow of pagan Rome through the witness of the churches to the lordship of Jesus. There are undoubtedly things that I have overlooked, but these are the texts and questions that immediately stand out.

Reimarus on the second coming of Jesus

I had two emails from friends recently, within a few minutes of each other, recommending books to read. The first pointed me to an online edition of Fragments from Reimarus: consisting of brief critical remarks on the object of Jesus and His disciples as seen in the New Testament. The English translation was published in 1879, more than a hundred years after the death of the German philosopher. The original Wolfenbüttel Fragmente arguably prised open the Pandora’s box of critical research into the life of Jesus. My friend thought I might be interested in some comments Reimarus made on the second coming of Jesus, and we’ll come to that in a moment.

The gospel for Jews and Gentiles according to Romans: a summary

Here’s another response to a comment that has outgrown itself and become an ad hoc summary piece. Peter Wilkinson points to Romans 3-4 as evidence that the gospel for both Jews and Gentiles was that Jesus died for their sins:

The argument is addressed to Jews and Gentiles v.9, v.19b. The righteousness through the faithfulness of Christ is “to all who believe. There is no difference, for all….are justified….through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus….a sacrifice of atonement….the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus….Is God the God of the Jews only? Is he not the God of the Gentiles also?”

I maintain, however, that Paul’s gospel is that God has appointed Jesus as Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead, and that this is to be interpreted in “political” terms on the basis of Psalm 2:7-8….

The restoration of the kingdom to Israel: a summary

Todd asks a question in respect of an old post on the restoration of the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6-8).

Is the restoration of Israel, then, during a future Millennium? If so, how do Gentiles fit into this, and where is the Church during this time? Is the kingdom of Israel different than the Church, the heavenly Zion? Will Hagar, Jerusalem below, and her children, have their own kingdom, or will they return to Sarah and submit to her?

To bring it all up-to-date, here’s a brief summary of my understanding of the future of Israel as seen from the perspective of Jesus and Paul, with a few links to the relevant posts.

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