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The biblical story, part two

The Old Testament story left us with a two-part eschatological expectation. During a period of great historical crisis the God of Abraham would demonstrate his righteousness or rightness, first, by saving and restoring his servant people, and secondly, by establishing his own rule over the nations in place of the old gods. This would be a political outcome—the climax to the centuries old story of Israel’s troubled relationship with the surrounding nations, which is the story of the kingdom of God. You should read part one if you haven’t already done so. There is no radical disjuncture between the sections of the Bible. They are telling the same story. You should also bear in mind that this is just my proposed reading, greatly simplified. You may want to disagree with it.

The biblical story, part one

My friend Wes and I are running some workshops at the Communitas International staff conference this summer, aimed at helping leaders who do not necessarily have formal theological training instil in their communities a good grasp of how scripture informs church and mission. How do we do credible, practical grassroots theologising? We think that telling the biblical story with enthusiasm, understanding and imagination is an important part of this—perhaps all there really is to it—so I have been preparing some notes on how the story unfolds. Wes will have something to say on how the story, and the “eschatology” that arises out of it, shape the practice of developing missional communities.

Does Jesus reveal to us what it means to be perfectly human?

Marc Cortez has written a book called ReSourcing Theological Anthropology: A Constructive Account of Humanity in the Light of Christ. I haven’t read the book, but I know a man who has, and I propose to take issue with the central thesis of Cortez’s book on the strength of Owen Strachan’s mostly enthusiastic review. The problem is that theology is so bent on imposing its totalising programme on scripture that it is unable to grasp the evangelical force—not to mention the exegetical integrity—of the narrative-historical reading.

Blessed are those who mourn in Western Europe

Last month the Pew Research Centre published the results of a survey of the level of religious commitment of people in Western Europe who self-identify as Christians. The basic finding appears to be that people who call themselves “Christian” in Western Europe are less actively religious—less likely to go to church, pray, believe in God, etc.—than people who call themselves “nones” in America.

Jörg Frey’s critique of the neutralisation of apocalyptic in Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God

Jörg Frey offers a useful critique of N.T. Wright’s understanding of Paul’s apocalyptic in his chapter in God and the Faithfulness of Paul—the massive response to NT Wright’s massive Paul and the Faithfulness of God. I was asked what I think about it, so here’s my brief assessment and a quick overview of how I understand Paul’s eschatology.

The key question, according to Frey, is whether Paul’s apocalyptic vision constitutes a continuation of the “covenantal traditions of Israel” and the narrative of salvation history or a radical interruption of it, the introduction of something fundamentally new (522). The first position is represented by Wright, who insists that Paul’s apocalyptic language must be thoroughly assimilated into the covenantal narrative of Israel. The second position is represented by the cosmic, a-historical apocalypticism of the “Union School” of Martyn and de Boer, and more recently by Douglas Campbell.

Alexandria and Antioch: a revised tale of two cities

I make the point frequently that there are two basic approaches to the interpretation of the Bible operative in the church today, a theologically determined method and a historically determined method. The church tends to regard the historical method as detrimental to orthodox belief and the theological method as supportive. My argument is, to the contrary, that “history”, understood principally as the story that the historical community told about itself and its experience of God, gives us a much more credible and robust account of Christian origins—and of the purpose of the church—than any method that, knowingly or otherwise, obliges scripture to conform to the theological presuppositions of the church.

I tried to give a simple schematic overview of the history of interpretation in a post some years back called “The history of biblical interpretation—a tale of two cities”.

Noah—the guy who saved humanity by making wine

I’ve been reflecting on the flood story this week in preparation for a sermon on Noah as a risk-taker. This is not the content of the sermon, just some notes on the background narrative of Genesis 1-11.

Theological readings of the Bible tend to isolate Genesis 1-3 as a foundational account of creation and fall, culminating in the need for an “offspring” of the woman who will bruise his head, which supposedly justifies the jump ahead to Jesus as the saviour of humanity. Both assumptions are misleading.

Does Daniel say that the nations will “worship” the one like a son of man?

I am firmly of the view that in the symbology of Daniel 7 the “one like a son of man” who is brought to the throne of the Ancient of Days stands for the persecuted people of the saints of the Most High, in much the same way that the four beasts in the first part of the vision stand for malevolent and destructive empires. I also think that Jesus identified himself with this narrative as a way of speaking about his own suffering and vindication in connection with the judgment and renewal of Israel.

However, Daniel says that all peoples and nations would “serve” (yiflchun) this “son of man” figure (Dan. 7:14, cf. 27), and it is sometimes argued from the use of this verb that the “one like a son of man” is a divine figure who will be worshipped by the nations. If that’s the case, then Jesus’ self-reference as the Son of Man must be an implicit assertion of his divinity. It’s a fairly obscure point of interpretation, but since the claim has again been made here, I want to try and show once and for all why I think it is wrong.

The resurrection of the just and the unjust in Daniel 12:2, and the horizons of New Testament eschatology

I think that the best way to understand New Testament eschatology is to organise the material according to three future horizons: i) a disastrous war against Rome, which would result in the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple; ii) the overthrow of classical Greek-Roman paganism and the confession of Jesus as Lord by the nations; and iii) in a very hazy distance, the final destruction of sin and death and the renewal of heaven and earth.

I have also argued that what Jesus’ resurrection anticipated, as an act of divine vindication, was not, in the first place, the final resurrection of all the dead but the resurrection of the martyrs, in conjunction with the figurative “resurrection” of the people of God, at the parousia. This seems to me to be required, not least, by John’s distinction between a first resurrection of those who had been “beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God” and a second resurrection of all the dead at the end of the thousand years (Rev. 20:4-6, 12-13). It points to the fact that the overriding practical challenge facing the disciples of Jesus, the apostles and the churches was to remain true to their calling in the face of persecution until they were finally vindicated in the eyes of Israel and the nations for their beliefs regarding Jesus.

Armageddon and the making of history

The relocation of the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has given airtime to a right-wing, fundamentalist-Zionist (I refuse to use the word “evangelical” in this context) eschatological narrative that regards this provocative endorsement of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as a big step towards a cataclysmic Armageddon in the Middle East and the second coming of Jesus. People in Australia are asking, “Is Trump a reincarnated King Cyrus, destined to herald the end of days?”

The answer, of course, is no. The chaos of the modern Middle East is as horrendous as history gets, but the fundamentalist theology that is being projected upon it is sheer fantasy, a flagrant and reprehensible abuse of scripture. In my view.

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