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

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Review: Walter Brueggemann, Virus as a Summons to Faith: Biblical Reflections in a Time of Loss, Grief, and Uncertainty

The Reformed tradition reads the coronavirus pandemic in a narrowly personal and dualistic fashion, with little regard for the tumultuous realities of history. How far this falls short of the standards of the biblical witness is apparent from Walter Brueggemann’s somewhat improvised contribution to theological reflection on the COVID-19 pandemic: Virus as a Summons to Faith: Biblical Reflections in a Time of Loss, Grief, and Uncertainty.

Seriously? Coronavirus is a dress rehearsal for persecution of the American church?

Ben Sciacca’s Gospel Coalition piece on “Coronavirus as Dress Rehearsal” had me fooled. Aha! I thought. That’s exactly what I’ve been saying. The pandemic is a dress rehearsal—a foretaste, a harbinger, a portent—for far more serious things to come. Conservative evangelicalism in America really is moving in the right direction.

Lots of people, Sciacca says, think that the pandemic will blow over quickly and everything will return to business as usual. But we don’t know that for sure.

Review: John Piper, Coronavirus and Christ

The coronavirus pandemic is an opportunity for the church to rethink its message and reform its behaviour, and we need to take up this challenge urgently. That’s how I see it. So it’s good that John Piper has attempted, within a very brief span, to assimilate the pandemic into his theological paradigm and draw some conclusions.

The book is in two parts. The first part basically states Piper’s conviction that God is sovereign and can be trusted even when appearances are to the contrary. “The secret… is knowing that the same sovereignty that could stop the coronavirus, yet doesn’t, is the very sovereignty that sustains the soul in it.”

Why did Jesus tell his disciples to take swords with them?

Paul says that God sent his Son to Israel “in the likeness of sinful flesh” and probably “as a sin offering”. By so doing he “condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:3–4).

I maintain that the phrase “in the likeness of sinful flesh” is not a reference to the paradoxical ontology of incarnation but a more realistic, though somewhat opaque, allusion to the fact that Jesus was wrongly crucified as a malefactor, a bad guy.

The deity of Jesus, the war against Rome, and theology (of the cross) as a hermeneutical tool

It sometimes happens that a response to a comment takes on a life of its own, which is the case with this attempt to address the excellent points made by Ted Hopkins about certain areas of disagreement and the tension between history and theology. I’ve omitted the reference to a “strong creator-creature distinction” because I’m not sure what he was getting at. Arianism? Perhaps he will come back and explain. In the meantime, these are the main issues that he raised.

Come out of her, my people…

A passage that rarely gets taken into account in expositions of the “gospel” is John’s vision of three angels in Revelation 14:6-11. The context is important. It comes as part of a visionary interlude between the seven trumpets (8-11) and the seven bowls (15-16). I argued in The Coming of the Son of Man, on intertextual grounds, that the trumpets signal judgment on Israel, the bowls judgment on the nations, culminating in the overthrow of immoral, corrupt, blasphemous Rome. That won’t convince everyone, but in any case the basic narrative shape of chapters 12-14 seems to me clear enough.

Answers to questions about the narrative-historical method

I was asked earlier in the year to answer a few questions about the “narrative-historical” approach to reading the New Testament, which has been the focus of this blog and a handful of books. I didn’t notice that the whole thing had to be done in 500 words and set about writing this rather lengthy response. Then I had somehow to cut it down to the required proportions. All Saints Centre for Mission & Ministry are happy for me to post this and to cross-reference the condensed version on their website, and I’m very grateful to them for that. A good lesson in the value of brevity… and reading emails carefully. You’ll notice also that I only managed to answer four out of the five questions.

Scot McKnight, Matthew Bates, and Greg Gilbert on the gospel

The merry-go-round of the debate between Scot McKnight and Matthew Bates, as exponents of a “King Jesus” gospel, and Greg Gilbert, representing a more traditional Reformed emphasis on justification by faith, continues to spin noisily. Gilbert has issued a response to the criticism he received from McKnight and Bates, Michael Bird leans towards McKnight and Bates, as does Michael Mercer, and Jackson Wu seems to think that it’s a both/and situation. No doubt others have had something to say. [Indeed, others have had something to say.]

The gospel is changing, but there’s still some way to go

Matthew Bates will think I’ve got it in for him, but that’s not the case. I love the direction he is moving in. I just don’t think he’s taking the journey seriously enough. He has a piece on Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog asking whether Together for the Gospel and The Gospel Coalition are shifting their ground on the meaning of “gospel”. It’s an interesting question. He sees signs of a new emphasis on Jesus’ kingship, somewhat displacing an older “God-man-Christ-response version of the gospel”. In the course of the article, however, Bates offers his own quite substantial definition of the “true biblical gospel”, and I couldn’t resist the temptation to appraise it.

Kingdom come and gone: is Jesus all he’s cracked up to be?

Peter asks a question that gets right to the heart of my attempt to follow the historical narrative of scripture through to our own time. This is exactly the sort of conundrum that a consistently developed narrative-historical method throws up—and, I think, solves:

I don’t mean any disrespect, and maybe I’m just not understanding your view, but it feels like you are trying to rescue Jesus or at least rescue the Church. But either way, it paints a picture of a weak ruler. If Jesus became Lord almost 2000 years ago but was overthrown by the Enlightenment, is he really king of kings and lord of lords? Or did he abdicate the throne?

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