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


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.

The salvation of the Jews by the “Author of life”—not quite in the way you might think

Here’s an interesting question. What are we to understand by the phrase “Author of life” in the ESV translation of Acts 3:15? Since we would normally say that God as creator is the author of life, we might imagine that Peter is saying, in this very early defence of the apostolic witness, that Jesus is God. We would be wrong. But what’s interesting here is not the negative (Peter is not saying that Jesus is God) but the positive thought that emerges regarding how the saving impact of Jesus’ death was understood—at least, how Luke understood it to have been understood by the early Jewish-Christian movement.

Testing times: a narrative framework for the renewal of the Western church

What I say is: a narrative theology ought to be able to account for the whole experience of the people of God, not just the beginning, middle, and end of it. We may give some sort of priority to the early biblical sections of the narrative, but the story doesn’t stop with the events of the New Testament—even those future events which are foreseen in the New Testament. We are still part of that story, and so is our future.

One way to think about the comprehensive narrative is as a series of historical tests. An idea or project is launched with the calling of Abraham, but the narrative theology which it generates over time takes shape and evolves because it is challenged, threatened, put under pressure, tested.

Another reason to think that Isaiah’s suffering servant is the generation of Jews which grew up in Babylon

Whoever finally redacted Isaiah 40-55 saw fit to insert or leave the passage about the suffering servant between a promise concerning the redemption of Jerusalem and the return of the exiles (Is. 52:1-12) and the assurance that the ruined city would be abundantly repopulated: “the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married” (Is. 54:1). It’s possible that the passage originally belonged to quite a different context, or to no context, but as things stand, we have to reckon, both historically and canonically, with its current location. It’s an integral part of the story of the exile and the return from exile.

About whom does the prophet say this?

In the famous “servant song” of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 the prophet describes a person who has suffered punishment because of the sins of Israel, and whose sufferings have had some sort of redemptive effect:

But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Is. 53:5–6; cf. 53:11-12)

Traditionally, this has been interpreted as a prophecy about Jesus, and the language of the passage is certainly applied to Jesus in the New Testament (e.g., Matt. 8:17; Jn. 12:38; Rom. 15:21; 1 Pet. 2:22-25).

Who will recline at table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven?

The Canaanite woman in Matthew’s story got the leftovers from the table at which the “children” of the household of Israel were being fed. She had no right to sit at the table, nor was any such right promised to her or her daughter; and it is clear that Jesus found her a distraction.

The earlier encounter with the centurion whose servant was sick is similar in many respects (Matt. 8:5-13). Like her he knows that as a Gentile he is unworthy to receive this Jewish miracle-worker into his house and has to argue his corner. The woman claims the right to pick up the crumbs from under the table; the centurion makes a persuasive case for healing at a distance. Both make a deep impression on Jesus and get what they came for.

What did it mean to “see” the coming of the Son of Man in clouds?

When Jesus says that some people will “see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory” (Mk. 13:26), does he mean this literally—picking up on a recent comment? Does he expect people to look up to the sky and actually see a human figure descending to earth on a cloud, like Mary Poppins?

Why was Jesus so polite to the centurion and so rude to the Canaanite woman?

The story of the Canaanite woman (Matt. 15:21-28; cf. Mk. 7:24-30) has been going round in my head the last few days, partly because I have been marking a number of undergraduate essays comparing the two versions of the episode, partly because I happened across quite a good podcast in which Trevin Wax and Brandon Smith ask why Jesus called the woman a dog. I wonder if there isn’t, in Matthew’s telling of the story, a rather mundane and pragmatic explanation of the disturbing episode.

Stephen Burnhope: Atonement and the New Perspective

One of the main arguments that I have been putting forward on this site is that modern evangelicalism needs to shift its weight from the rickety stool of theology or dogmatics, before it collapses, to the much more solid and reliable stool of history. What would this mean for how we understand things? First, we would read the New Testament as a narrative testimony to the historical experience and perspective of a messianic Jewish movement in the first century. Secondly, we would determine the present life and mission of the church not dogmatically—as though a fuzzy, grainy, blotchy and easily misinterpreted snapshot of the first century church could reasonably serve as a template throughout the rest of human history—but as an extension of that narrative.

Why traditional eschatology is a failure of nerve

I want to begin the new year by exhorting “evangelicals”—that is, by my definition, Christians who think that the Bible is to be taken seriously—to get to grips with eschatology. Why not? It’s as good a time as any to pause and reflect on where things are going.

The traditional view is that the events associated with the coming of the Son of Man on the clouds have not yet happened—even though Jesus seemed confident that his parousia would take place within the lifetime of at least some of his followers (Matt. 16:28; 23:36; 24:34; Mk. 8:38; 9:1; 13:30; Lk. 9:27; 21:32). We are still waiting. I think we are waiting in vain. Worse than that, I suggest that by constantly deferring the “end” we are not engaging with the present, and for that reason we are missing the whole point of New Testament eschatology.


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