God's Grand Narrative
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God's Grand Narrative Document Transcript

  • 1. SUBMITTED TO BAKKE GRADUATE UNIVERSITY OF MINISTRY IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE DEGREE REQUIREMENTS OF A DOCTOR OF MINISTRY THE 700/THEOLOGY: GOD’S GRAND NARRATIVE FEBRUARY 1 - JUNE 30, 2010 BY BRYAN MCCABE
  • 2. CONTENTS
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  • 4. GOD’S GRAND NARRATIVE God’s plans for the world are given to us through a grand narrative. In our modern Western culture, however, we have often missed God’s grand narrative because we are obsessed with scientifically breaking God’s Word down into fragments or principles to be applied to life. There is a much better way to understand the ways of God than to get bogged down in the minutia of verses or systems. God has given us a Story to live in, and “we may need to learn to apply ourselves to the Story rather than the other way around; applying the Bible to our worldview.”1 The Bible describes one large, overarching metanarrative from Genesis all the way through Revelation. Living in the Story The concept of living in a Story as opposed to applying certain individual parts of the Story to our lives may be a new concept to many modern Christians. It requires a different way of seeing the world and living our lives. Most biblical teaching and studying in churches seeks to help us apply Scripture to our lives, when in actuality we should be putting our life into God’s Story. We, as Christians, are not called to simply understand God’s principles. We are called to live in Christian community in order to transform our world. When we break God’s Story down into the smaller stories, we miss the point of God’s mission to humanity. We end up making Christianity all about advancing ourselves and we miss out on real community. God should be working through us in words and works to make a difference in the world. 1 Winn Griffin, God’s EPIC Adventure (Woodinville: Harmon Press, 2007), 24. 4
  • 5. 5 In order to understand how to live in the Story, N.T. Wright has presented the Story as a five-act play. The first act describes creation, the second act describes our separation from God (sometimes called the fall), the third act describes how God chose Israel to be a model for how he would redeem the world, the fourth act came when Jesus entered the world through his birth, life, resurrection, and ascension, and we are currently living in the fifth act where the church is the light of the world and we are called to reach the world until Jesus’ second coming. The majority of this project presents my perspectives on theology through the lens of the five acts in God’s Story, but first I will prepare a foundation by examining what all of this means in the contemporary context. Modernity and Postmodernity Modernity did some pretty rough things to the Bible. Because modernity emphasized objective facts and progress, and deemphasized such things as miracles and creation, it was widely thought that the Bible did not stand up to the test of time and human advancement. Many modernists described the Bible as a fairy tale. The Bible was thus seen as a threat to modernity. Postmodernism, though, has emerged to take the place of modernism. Postmodernity is known for its destruction of metanarratives, or overarching stories which provide meaning to life but also involve control over our lives. Postmodernism has also sought to break down individual control of our lives. “No longer are we the masters of our own fate, the captains of our soul. We are each a mass of floating signifiers, impulses and impressions, changing all the time, reconstructing ourselves as we go along according to the stimuli we receive, the spin that comes our way.”2 In 2 N.T. Wright, The Bible for the Post Modern World (Latimer Fellowship, 1999), 5.
  • 6. 6 America, we live in a culture that tells us to do what feels good. We are told in thousands of different ways each day how to pick and choose between many smaller stories which might lend some small type of meaning to our lives. Understanding the Bible as a grand narrative helps Christianity to be subversive to postmodernism. “When we construe the Bible, in its own terms, as the true metanarrative, the strange history of the creator and the cosmos, the covenant God and the covenant people, the God who becomes human and dies for the sins of the world, the God who breathes his own breath into his followers and equips them to implement his victory in the world – when we read the Bible like this, we discover that this great metanarrative challenges and subverts other worldviews.”3 Postmodernism’s critique of modernism was necessary, but now God’s Story should help to lead us beyond Postmodernism’s influence in our culture. The Bible transcends all other worldviews, especially including all other religions. It is also important to remember that even though a strong narrative understanding of the Bible is powerful, “the story of scripture is not a story of power, but a story of love – genuine love, overflowing love for the world God made.”4 A Fragmented Bible Modern Christians have done some terrible things to the Bible. “We have fragmented the Bible into bits – moral bits, systematic-theological bits, devotional bits, 3 N.T. Wright, The Bible for the Post Modern World (Latimer Fellowship, 1999), 9. 4 N.T. Wright, The Bible for the Post Modern World (Latimer Fellowship, 1999), 13.
  • 7. 7 historical-critical bits, narrative bits, and homiletical bits. When the Bible is broken up this way, there is no comprehensive grand narrative to withstand the power of the comprehensive humanist narrative that shapes our culture. The Bible bits are accommodated to the more all-embracing cultural story, and it becomes that story – i.e. the humanist story – that shapes our lives.”5 This is what is going on when we as Christians in America look around us and notice that our lifestyle and values look very similar to the values of the world. Many Christians in America have fully bought in to the humanist story, and the fragmented principles, formulas, and self-help study guides available in most churches or Christian bookstores are not going to help us pull ourselves out of living in the wrong story. Engaging Culture The Bible’s authority and the mission of God’s people are best understood through the lens of one grand narrative. The Bible loses its power and effectiveness when we break it down into bite size chunks. We lose our sense of mission when we lose our place in God’s Story. God has a role for us. He wants us to participate in his redemptive purposes. “Mission is not just one more (even very important) task of God’s people but it is our very identity: we are sent with the good news to embody in our lives, demonstrate with our deeds, and announce with our words God’s end-time salvation. This defines the meaning in our entire lives.”6 5 Michael Goheen, The Urgency of Reading the Bible as One Story in the 21st Century (Vancouver: Public Lecture Given at Regent College, 2006), 4. 6 Michael Goheen, The Urgency of Reading the Bible as One Story in the 21st Century (Vancouver: Public Lecture Given at Regent College, 2006), 7.
  • 8. 8 I believe that God wants Christians to engage culture. We keep our focus on God so that we can go out into the world prepared with the empowerment of Scripture. Our lives should not involve creating a Christian bubble of Christian friends, Christian schools, Christians music, Christian books, Christian businesses, Christian breath mints, and on and on it goes. God is on a mission to impact the world, and so we should be on a mission to impact the world. We must share God’s Story with the world, because people need to know that “God is not a distant faceless bureaucrat handing down ‘to do’ lists, our ‘commands for the day.’ The God of scripture is with us in the world, his world, the world in which he lived and died and rose again in the person of his Son, in which he breathes new life through the person of his Spirit.”7 Yes, the world and culture have been twisted by evil, but God is in the business of redeeming his creation. As such, Christians should be both students of Scripture and students of culture so that we can be effective in carrying out God’s mission. Life affirming Christianity “will have nothing to do with world-denying, world-denigrating, or world-escaping religious impulses that characterize too much popular faith in U.S. culture.”8 Grace Not Law Many Christians do not spend much time reading the Old Testament, probably because they have thought that it represented “the law” so that it is no longer applicable to modern Christians. Many Christian teachers have encouraged that way of thinking by 7 N.T. Wright, The Bible and Tomorrow’s World (The Lambeth Conference, 2008), 3. 8 Walter Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 35.
  • 9. 9 communicating that the Old Testament of the Bible represents the law, and the New Testament represents grace. Actually, grace is a common theme throughout the Bible (both Testaments included). We will not be able to understand the New Testament without a significant understanding of the Old Testament. Besides, one Testament does not have more worth than the other. It is all given to us by God. The Bible is a book of God’s profound grace and love. Interpretation There are two basic ways of studying the Scriptures: historically informed and devotionally informed. The historical approach places an emphasis on matters such as the original context with all of its languages and cultures. “The historically informed process seeks to come to an understanding of what the Scripture meant to its original hearers and what the intent of the authors might have been.”9 An understanding of history is extremely important if we are to understand what God communicates in the Bible. Most people read the Bible from a devotionally informed perspective, which really places the importance of biblical understanding on one’s own personal needs and desires regardless of what certain words may actually mean or with much regard for such things as culture and history. Devotionally informed readers want to experience something instantly. They want to find things in the Bible that speak to their current circumstances, without any interest in the context of what the original authors or hearers of the Scripture may have actually meant. This can be a dangerous way to approach Scripture because many cults and heresies in the church have formed this way. 9 Winn Griffin, Listening to the Text to Hear God Speak (2004-2007), 4.
  • 10. 10 It is important to integrate both historically and devotionally informed methods of interpreting the Bible. God chose to give us Scripture within a certain historical context, yet we all still desire to hear from God for our own lives today. Both approaches are necessary. Often common sense and simple meanings are what are most important when it comes to interpretation. Nobody should be out trying to find their own unique interpretations for themselves in order to hear some special insight from God apart from the accountability of community and common sense. Also, this may seem obvious, but a relationship with God is necessary for a proper understanding of the Bible. Many scholars have tried and failed to interpret Scripture apart from having a relationship with God. A person may understand certain things if they are not a Christian, but they will never come to a full understanding of all that is written. The Holy Spirit illuminates Scripture through our relationship with God. Even so, “This illuminating work of the Spirit does not circumvent nor allow us to dispense with the principles of hermeneutics and the techniques of exegesis. That is, the Spirit does not alter the meaning of the text or reveal secret meanings.”10 When interpreting the Bible, it is important to note that we all approach the study of Scripture with a set of beliefs, biases, or underlying assumptions. We all have a cultural lens with which we view the world, and that does not magically change when we open the Bible. That is why we must seek to understand the original historical context, and be careful in devotional application. I do believe that “the Bible is authoritative and true. Being divine revelation through which God speaks, the Bible possesses ultimate authority. For this reason, it must constitute the standard for all human belief and 10 William Klein, Craig Blomberg, and Robert Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Nashville: Nelson, 2003), 139.
  • 11. 11 behavior. It speaks truthfully about who we are and how we are to live, so rejecting the message of the Bible means rejecting the will of God.”11 Many modern American Christians interpret the Bible through such methods as inductive Bible study, where principles are pulled from individual verses. Scientific systems are utilized to bring information forth from the pages of the Bible. Inductive Bible study is a product of the Enlightenment. Through inductive study, any individual or group of people can find specific Scriptures to back up their own belief systems, even if those beliefs are heretical. As a result, we may think that we are enlightened by our contemporary knowledgeable ways of interpreting Scripture when we are actually crippling ourselves and often misapplying Scriptures to our own specific situations in order to meet our own needs. Just think about how big a problem lone ranger Christians, denominations based on heresies, and cults are today in our society. Instead, people who intend to understand the Bible should read large sections of the Scriptures together as a whole. “Despite the ‘look’ of many Bibles, the biblical writers did not intend verses to exist as isolated, independent entities. The sentences and paragraphs comprise individual units of larger literary works, and interpreters must understand them according to their relationship to the whole argument of the book.”12 Even the verses and chapter headings in Bibles may appear to be helpful, but they can often contribute to the problem of fragmenting Scripture for our own personal needs. Bible verses and chapters were not even provided in the Bible for at least the first thousand years of Christianity. “The modern desire for precision must not be imposed on 11 William Klein, Craig Blomberg, and Robert Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Nashville: Nelson, 2003), 145. 12 William Klein, Craig Blomberg, and Robert Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Nashville: Nelson, 2003), 216.
  • 12. 12 ancient authors, who often, though not always, preferred to write in a generalizing fashion.”13 Chapters and verses can be helpful in locating Scriptures, but they have also served the purpose of turning individual verses into individual pieces of thought. “Each verse is treated like a complete expression of truth that, like a number in a phone book, has no connection to what precedes or follows – each is a ‘quote for the day’ or ‘proof text’ considered in isolation from its biblical context. This constitutes grave danger, for in isolation a single verse might be as misleading as ‘There is no God.’ There is simply no justification for routinely treating individual verses as independent thought units that contain autonomous expressions of truth.”14 Act 1: Creation The Old Testament is full of life-changing meaning for all Christians. It is the story of our spiritual heritage. Everything that God communicated and promised to Israel he offers to all of us today. Unfortunately, modern Christians often draw too much application and too many life application principles from the Old Testament. We replace the meaning of the original text with our own individual meanings in our modern society. The Old Testament is not set up to really function in that way, with us inserting our own meaning into the Scriptures. A classic example of Christians reading meaning into an Old Testament story is what many believers in creation science read into the creation narrative in Genesis 1. The biblical story about creation in Genesis is a theological story. It is not intended to be understood scientifically as a theory to combat Darwinism. God has plenty of ways to work throughout our modern scientific context, but the biblical 13 Ben Witherington, New Testament History (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 18. 14 William Klein, Craig Blomberg, and Robert Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Nashville: Nelson, 2003), 217.
  • 13. 13 story of creation is not necessarily one of those ways. We miss the point of the creation story when we try to make it scientific, because it is a theological story. Against All Other gods Even though the creation narrative should not be utilized scientifically to combat Darwinism or find out exactly how old or young the earth is, it still has plenty of meaning theologically for Christians. When Moses shared the creation story with the Israelites, they were traveling from one polytheistic society (Egypt) to another (Canaan). God gave the Israelites the creation story to refute all other gods that the people had embraced in their context. The creation stories in Genesis argue against all other stories which may have provided meaning to people back then. “Israel was constantly tempted to adopt these other stories as the basis of its worldview, in place of faith in the LORD God, who created the heavens and the earth.”15 We learn through the creation narrative in Genesis that we have a profound purpose to our lives. We are all stewards who rule over the creation so that God is glorified throughout the universe. Many Christians today lack purpose in their lives because they lack an understanding of stewardship. Most churches that I know only tend to teach about the stewardship of finances, but stewardship actually involves much more than just that. Everything that we have, all that we are, belongs to God. How would our outlooks on life change if we viewed ourselves as stewards over everything in God’s creation? 15 Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen, The Drama of Scripture (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 32.
  • 14. 14 Idolatry Many modern Christians think of idolatry only in terms of ancient people who worshipped golden statues. However, idolatry is alive and well today. We somehow get things backwards when we choose to worship items within creation or items that we make instead of God. As a result of idol worship in our modern society, our relationships with one another and with God have often become dysfunctional. The high point of idolatry comes when we try to choose to be our own gods, which is becoming more and more of a phenomenon in America today. This is nothing new, as many societies in the past have tried to become their own sources of power. This would include the Israelites and the polytheistic societies surrounding them as well. Why is this issue of idolatry so important? “Arguably the most fundamental distinction in all reality is presented in the opening verses of the Bible. It is the distinction between the Creator God and everything else that exists anywhere.”16 Once we understand the significance of our own idolatry, then we can align ourselves more closely with God’s mission. God wants to restore the entire creation back to what it was originally intended to be. Our mission aligns with God’s mission, which is “to work with God in exposing the idols that continue to blur the distinction, and to liberate men and women from the destructive delusions they foster.”17 In America, we worship many things. We love sporting events, and sports heroes. We obsess about celebrities. We value the rich and the powerful. We value the strong, and trample the weak. I believe this is why we spend so much time glued to our TV sets. We settle for smaller stories instead of spending our time living in God’s bigger Story. “If we are looking for true 16 Christopher Wright, The Mission of God (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2006), 163. 17 Christopher Wright, The Mission of God (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2006), 165.
  • 15. 15 splendor, majesty, strength and glory, they are to be found in the presence of the living Creator God alone.”18 Thus, idolatry is extremely harmful to society. When we try to become like God or worship things other than God, we actually devalue ourselves as human beings. Act 2: Separation Genesis 2.4b-11.26 deals with creation and separation. In this part of God’s grand narrative we learn how sin entered the world. Clearly something has happened since creation that has caused problems in the world. We have lost a big part of our communion with God. We became distanced from God, and as a result we experience brokenness as a consistent theme throughout the course of our lives. In this part of the story with Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit, the trust relationship between humans and God was broken. “All the world’s ills and evils come from this one selfish act. The world that was given to them to be their perfect garden became a wilderness full of sweat, thorn, and thistles. One wrong deed and separation occurred.”19 The rest of God’s Story will not make sense unless we understand this crucial part. We were created to be in communion with God, but we became separated because of our own disobedience. The separation of God and man is not something that we can easily just explain and move on to the next section of Scripture. “The ‘fall’ into sin remains a mystery, but the story of Genesis 3 illumines the fundamental nature of sin. It is a quest 18 Christopher Wright, The Mission of God (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2006), 167. 19 Winn Griffin, God’s EPIC Adventure (Woodinville: Harmon Press, 2007), 80.
  • 16. 16 for autonomy, a desire to separate ourselves from God. The consequences of sin are clearly demonstrated.”20 Work Many people today believe that work is somehow cursed or evil. We go about our weekly work routines dreaming of what we can do with our valuable time when we are not working. I believe that this type of thinking can be traced back to a faulty understanding of Genesis. “Work is a gift from God. It is not a condition that is cursed. Work came before sin.”21 God has created each person with a certain set of skills and gifts so that we can live out the purposes for which God has made us. Sin has caused great distortions in our relationships, with God and with one another, and especially in the areas of work and purpose. Community and Family Much can be learned from Genesis 2.8-17. God does not want us to be alone. He wants us to be in community with him and with one another. America does its best to cast a new story for us all to live in, one based on individuality. We celebrate people who are self-made. That smaller story is not biblical, but many people (including Christians) have been deceived by it. As a result, people are desperate to experience community even if it comes in the form of pain and dysfunctional relationships. We really must remember that God created us for community, and he created things a certain way so that we would not harm one another within the context of those relationships. 20 Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen, The Drama of Scripture (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 43. 21 Winn Griffin, God’s EPIC Adventure (Woodinville: Harmon Press, 2007), 85.
  • 17. 17 There are also some great insights for marriage in Genesis. I believe that marriage was created by God to be between a man and a woman. God intended for marriage to be heterosexual for many reasons, not least of which was the continuation of the family and community in general. All other paths that deviate from heterosexual marriage, such as adultery, promiscuity, or incest, can cause tremendous problems for healthy families and communities. God intends for families to continue to exist and for the world to be populated, which cannot happen within the context of a homosexual relationship. Retirement I do not believe that the American Dream version of retirement is biblical. I would describe that version of retirement as accumulating as much wealth as possible in order to stop working some day, live comfortably in the golden years, and give a bunch of money away to family members when we pass. According to Genesis 3:15-16, we must all face toil in our endeavors. Very clearly, death is the only way to escape the toil of work. “There is not anything about retirement in Scripture. Death was exactly what God had forewarned and what the serpent had denied. Death is the reversal of men’s God-given state of being a living being. This reversal is the deterioration of the body that will return to the dust from which it was taken.”22 Searching for Eden In Genesis, Adam and Eve are exiled from the Garden of Eden. The Garden was an amazing place in which we were designed to live. In many ways, we humans are still 22 Winn Griffin, God’s EPIC Adventure (Woodinville: Harmon Press, 2007).
  • 18. 18 trying to arrange for Eden for ourselves. In many parts of America, especially, we can be found building bigger homes for ourselves and arranging for as many comforts as can possibly be found while doing our best to ignore as much brokenness in our society as possible. God has given us a different Story to live in, though. God has much bigger plans for our lives than anything that we could ever possibly imagine on our own. Act 3: Israel God chose Israel for his plan to redeem his creation, so we should all familiarize ourselves with the narrative portion of Scripture which describes God’s relationship with ancient Israel. Many Christians do not read their way through the segments of the Old Testament that describe the story of Israel, and the read-your-way-through-the-Bible-in- a-year modern Bible study guides are not helpful in this matter. It is nearly impossible to understand what it going on in much of the Old Testament by pulling out isolated chunks of texts, because much of the Old Testament and the story of Israel have been given to us in story form. Promises Genesis is full of many themes which would have been useful to the Israelites. Through this part of the narrative, God shows how he delivers on what he promises. Often God’s timing is much different than ours, and in many cases we try to force God’s will in our favor and on our time schedule. God does not operate like that, so instead we
  • 19. 19 often try to create smaller stories for ourselves instead of waiting on the Lord. We should seek to live in God’s Story instead of engineering our own stories. Chapters 12-50 of Genesis introduce us to several patriarchs of the faith, such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. We should not try to live our lives exactly like these patriarchs because God worked differently through each of them, and many parts of their stories resulted out of wrongful thinking or disobedience. God often demonstrated that he was able to work through all kinds of different circumstances, if only his followers would choose to live in his Story. For instance, the story God had planned for Abraham was much bigger than the cultural story that Abram had tried to create for himself. God chose to work through Abraham to restore the world, just as God wants to work through each one of us today. “Time and again the stupidity and sinfulness of the patriarchs themselves put them and those who come after them – and God’s purposes – in peril. And yet, through all of this human turmoil, there is one constant: God remains faithful to his promise to Abraham.”23 Rescue before Law Exodus describes the amazing story of how God rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt, and the details of Israel’s covenant with God. The order of rescue first before the law was given shows us that the law was never intended to consist of a bunch of rules for people to observe in order to gain the favor of God. The Old Testament Commandments are given to us because of God’s amazing grace. God almost always unveils his plans for us through the lens of grace. There is nothing that we can really do, from a human 23 Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen, The Drama of Scripture (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2004), 59.
  • 20. 20 perspective, to earn God’s favor. God intended for the Ten Commandments to be good news, not a bunch of restrictions designed to make life miserable for the Israelites. Even today, we should recognize that God’s commandments guide us into fuller lives according to his purposes for humanity. When we live according to the commandments, we model for the rest of the world what a healthy life with God can look like. Public Faith Deuteronomy reminds us that there is no such thing as a personal, private, individual faith in God. Every part of our lives belongs to God. From reading Deuteronomy 6:4-8, we learn that “The Lord intends that he should instruct Israel in every area of life. Only then will Israel truly become a light to the nations. ‘There is not a square inch of life of which he does not say, ‘That is mine!’ Religion is no merely private affair: the LORD wants his law (torah, ‘instruction’) to permeate every part of his people’s experience. His words should frame the personal life of each individual (being present in the mind and the heart, whether one is walking or lying down).”24 Individual Suffering The best example we have of individual suffering is in the book of Job. Job shows us that life is not fair, but God is still sovereign. One of the main themes in Job is suffering, and most readers of Scripture who come from a Western perspective have a difficult time accepting suffering. However, suffering is a part of life. It can be seen as a gift from God, for his purposes. We try to arrange for comfortable, controllable lives for 24 Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen, The Drama of Scripture (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 77.
  • 21. 21 ourselves in America, and when things seem to go wrong with someone (i.e. they’re not successful by the world’s standards), we tend to think that they have sinned. We must keep in mind that God’s ways are not our ways, and his logic is not our logic. In the book of Job we should know that “we are dealing with an immensely sophisticated artistic work that is removed from any particular historical context or crisis, and that it stands on its own as a daring explication of the most difficult questions of faith. The book of Job is not for ‘everyday use’ among the faithful, but is an artistic extremity that is peculiarly matched to the most extreme crises of life lived in faith.”25 The Destructive Power of Sin Judges shows us how the level of sin can get progressively worse in a society. Disobedience and lack of repentance can lead to complete chaos, which in the case of Israel yielded lawlessness, rape, and murder. Things got so bad for Israel that the nation was divided by civil war. Samson, who represented the last judge, was an image for just how bad everything had deteriorated at that time. When we choose to live in a different story than God’s Story, then the result is often separation and chaos and sometimes even war. On the contrary, when we choose to live in God’s Story, and when we teach the generations that follow us to live in God’s Story, then God is pleased and our lives are more likely to be grounded in God’s life-giving purposes. The book of Ruth shows us that even in a dark time period like the time of Judges, people can always choose to live 25 Walter Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 294.
  • 22. 22 in God’s Story. There is always hope. We do not have to follow others into destruction and chaos. Generational disobedience can be broken simply by the actions of one person choosing to step back into God’s Story. Worship Psalms is a book about worshipping God, and finding ways to develop intimacy with him. The Psalms are intended to bring about passion and emotion, as any good music does, not to learn more facts about God. As with all matters of biblical interpretation, we should be careful when applying devotional meaning to the Psalms. “Application must conform to the situation behind each genre. In other words, apply corporate texts to the Christian community and individual texts to the Christian individual. Individual complaint psalms speak to situations of individual suffering.”26 We should resist the temptation to apply the Psalms today in any and all situations of joy and pain. Many modern people believe that the Psalms guarantee a comfortable and fruitful life. God does not intend to make our entire lives worry free. I believe that prosperity doctrine is heretical, and that much of the gospel of comfort and health that is preached in many churches is unbiblical. In Psalms, it is easy to pull words out of their context in order to back up one particular line of thinking and interpretation of the Scripture. However, it is important to take into consideration the context of God’s entire grand narrative when determining if certain chunks of Scripture have an interpretation that might back up the concept of prosperity doctrine. Take the book of Job as just one 26 William Klein, Craig Blomberg, and Robert Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Nashville: Nelson, 2003), 358.
  • 23. 23 example of that. The loss of the lament or suffering in Western theology has been documented by many theologians, and “thus the recovery of the psalms of disorientation (complaint, protest, and lament) is a major enterprise in valuing the full spectrum of Israel’s rhetoric faith.”27 From Theocracy to Monarchy Samuel captures well the intense struggles between prophecy and kingship which were a big part of Israel’s history for many years until they reached the time period of the exile. The content in the two books of Samuel covers the transition from theocracy to monarchy, with a special focus on the Davidic covenant. The writing is “a remarkable literary, artistic and, consequently, theological achievement in that ancient world.”28 In David’s story, it is clear that humanity both loves God and also rejects him. We obey him and we turn away from him. This status is much like our modern context, where we often try to both serve and destroy God all at the same time. Kings In this part of the Story, God shifts Israel’s role in the world from that of a nation to that of an individual, or a king. Sadly, the kings often chose to live in the stories of their own creation instead of choosing to live in God’s Story. Solomon, in all of his wisdom, was even a victim of trying to create his own story to live in. However, this 27 Walter Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 290. 28 Walter Brueggemann, An Introduction to the New Testament (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 140.
  • 24. 24 kingly theme is important because God utilized the circumstances to foreshadow the eventual coming of the King, Jesus, who became the light of the world. Wisdom Proverbs are not statements of absolute truth, designed to be plucked from the text individually in order to give proof to decisions that we might be making in our lives today. Proverbs teach about probable truth. They are very useful, but they should not be used to support our desires to have nicer homes, newer cars, or as a formula to achieve more blessings in our lives. Modern Christians should be very careful in interpreting Wisdom literature and applying it to their lives. “When misused, it can provide a basis for selfish, materialistic, shortsighted behavior – just the opposite of what God intended.”29 Romance Song of Songs is a love song about human romance and intimacy. Some Christians have tried to make Song of Songs an allegory for Christ’s love for the church. That is not what it is about. It is a celebration of human love and attraction between men and women. God designed sexual intimacy to be between a man and a woman in a monogamous, heterosexual marriage relationship. Sex is a good thing that humanity has managed to twist into a distorted thing apart from God’s design. Walter Brueggemann uses powerful language in describing Song of Solomon by writing that “the book is love 29 Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All its Worth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 225.
  • 25. 25 poetry of an unrestrained, passionate kind in which the erotic interaction of a man and a woman are brought to daring and imaginative speech.”30 Making Sense of the World Ecclesiastes has often perplexed Christians because its language is quite different than many common themes in the Old Testament. We should tread carefully when interpreting the book, but the text still has plenty of meaning. Ecclesiastes describes, in profound ways, what life in the world is like without God. There is much pain in the world, but when we choose to live in God’s Story we are able to make sense of things and experience the amazing impact of God’s love. In our contemporary context, world views alternative to God’s Story are around every corner. New Age mystics write books, atheists and Gnostics are still heavily at their work, and even within the church the self help gospel tries to lend meaning to life. That is why we must be wary of the smaller, less significant stories our culture presents as an alternative to God’s Story. Power Struggles Jonah’s story is often taught by modern Bible teachers because of its simple, universal message about God’s mission and his desire to redeem the world. We must once again be careful in interpreting the meaning in the lives of the prophets, because the prophets “were not social reformers or innovative thinkers. They had a message from God to his people and they were determined to give it.”31 The prophets were powerful because their messages often went against the desires of the kings, and words from God 30 Walter Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 324. 31 Winn Griffin, God’s EPIC Adventure (Woodinville: Harmon Press, 2007), 142.
  • 26. 26 always trump the plans of men. The power plays between prophets and kings often led to a great deal of drama, not to mention a great deal of suffering for the prophets, the kings, and the common people. In the modern church, power plays between church leaders still lead to a great deal of drama and often harm that is done to one another. Justice Israel at one time enjoyed a period of tremendous prosperity in both kingdoms which occurred as a result of business and lifestyle practices that oppressed the poor while the richer got richer. These practices caused tremendous problems for the society which God had chosen to represent light in the world. Amos delivered a message about the social injustice of that particular lifestyle, promising that God would bring severe consequences for anyone who became rich by taking advantage of the poor. The contemporary church has long been enamored by the message in Amos because in our context we still have rich people who take advantage of the poor all over the world. I believe that God does call Christians to engage in social justice, even if this is not a popular statement for Christians who adhere to ultraconservative principles being communicated by people like Glen Beck in American culture. When the church fails to engage on issues of social justice, then a void is left in society. Social justice is biblical. Failure to act with both compassion and justice on behalf of the poor is therefore unbiblical. “Specifically, the prophet Micah accents the rapacious economic practices of the landed community that exploit the vulnerable, and so violate the will of YHWH for economic justice in the community.”32 32 Walter Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 234.
  • 27. 27 Corporate Suffering The oft prophesied Day of the Lord came for the northern kingdom in 722 B.C., and for the southern kingdom in 587 B.C. Exile was a catastrophic event for Israel because their land and the temple were so crucial to their relationship with God. While the book of Job struggles with the issue of individual suffering, the book of Lamentations struggles with the issue of corporate suffering. Israel experienced much corporate suffering through the exile, and it is important to point out that Israel caused their suffering because of sin while Job did not cause his individual suffering. Most Americans have a hard time relating to corporate suffering because we have lived in a context where our country is powerful and often comfortable. America makes up less than five percent of the world’s population, but we consume over 25 percent of the world’s resources. When Americans experience corporate suffering, as many have during the most recent recession, we often become disoriented, anxious, or even afraid. We must remember that the majority of the world’s Christians live outside of America, in places like China, Africa, and Latin America, where the majority of the world lives on less than two dollars a day. Many global Christians experience corporate suffering as a normal part of their existence. American Christians can learn a lot from our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world during our current struggles. Faith and Obedience Daniel shows us that God works through difficult circumstances in ways that we cannot always understand. Our job is to remain faithful and obedient in the midst of
  • 28. 28 trying circumstances. When the world tries to force us into living in a different story, it is important for us to orient ourselves once again in God’s Story. God rewards our obedience when living in a difficult environment. Sadly, a majority of the church today is running away from difficult situations in the world while actively trying to buffer themselves from their environment by creating safe Christian environments for themselves and their families. The problem is, when Christians withdraw from the world, we cause more problems for the world because we fail to be the light in the darkness to which God calls us. Daniel gives us an example of how to live when our environment deteriorates because of sin. Empowerment through Relationships “Nehemiah ties together three theological themes: Scripture, worship, and community.”33 Nehemiah was able to model for Christians how to live in God’s Story in a remarkable way. He empowered the people of Israel by building effective relationships with them. That serves as a powerful reminder to us that God is a God of community, and relationships are much more important than any tasks that we might accomplish on our own. Nehemiah was also resourceful. He listened well, he resonated with the pain of the people, he prayed, he had great timing, and he utilized the gifts and influence that God had given him in order to elevate others. He acted compassionately and justly within the context of God’s Story. Act 4: Jesus 33 Winn Griffin, God’s EPIC Adventure (Woodinville: Harmon Press, 2007), 158.
  • 29. 29 Jesus is the climactic act of God’s grand narrative. His coming to Earth represents a huge turning point for all of humankind. Jesus’ followers were intrigued by his description of the Kingdom of God, which was now God’s plan to redeem the world. In this act, God conquered evil and suffering in a now but not yet way through the Kingdom of God. Jesus modeled for the world how God works in the creation. He showed us all how to live and interact with one another. Jesus created a new paradigm for how humanity should live their lives. Because Jesus’ life was so pivotal to all of humanity, it is extremely important for Christians to have a sound, biblically-based understanding of Jesus. “The disciplines of prayer and Bible study need to be rooted again and again in Jesus himself if they are not to become idolatrous or self-serving. We have often muted Jesus’ stark challenge, remaking him in our own image and then wondering why our personal spiritualities have become less than exciting and life- changing.”34 We should all seek to learn more about what it means to follow Jesus. After all, Jesus requires us to be for the world what he was for Israel. Most everything we do should be understood through the lens of what Christ did for us. Missing the Point Jesus entered the world in a context which was filled with basically three Jewish options. The quietists withdrew from the world. The compromisers assimilated as best as they could to the dominant pagan culture around them. The zealots sought to be revolutionaries by fighting a holy war against their pagan oppressors. Jesus entered the world in that context, and all three groups completely missed the point of his arrival. “He 34 N.T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 11.
  • 30. 30 was neither a quietist nor a compromiser nor a zealot.”35 Modern Christian America has basically the same three subgroups of people. The quietists are actively seeking to withdraw from the world by separating themselves from the evil in the world. The compromisers assimilate well to American culture, to the point where one cannot tell the difference between a person who follows Christ and one who does not. The zealots are still alive and well, represented by fundamentalists who would be more than happy to violently overthrow anyone who disagrees with their particular brand of religious beliefs. The same three subgroups of people still almost entirely miss the point of why Jesus came. We can experience the amazing joy of the presence of the Kingdom now because Jesus has defeated evil, but we can also look forward to experiencing the fullness of the Kingdom when Christ returns again. God does not want us to just be religious. God wants us to engage culture, “articulating in story and music and art and philosophy and education and poetry and politics and theology and even, heaven help us, biblical studies, a worldview that will mount the historically rooted Christian challenge to both modernity and postmodernity, leading the way into the post-postmodern world with joy and humor and gentleness and good judgment and true wisdom.”36 Now that sounds like an exciting mission. Kingdom of God The Kingdom of God represents God’s reign. It is not really a realm or group of people. The profound message and mystery of the Kingdom of God is that it will one day completely transform the world, but for now it has arrived to bless and bring order in our 35 N.T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 37. 36 N.T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 196.
  • 31. 31 world without having completely transformed it. We still live in the way things used to be, but we have God’s power to enjoy the Kingdom as it currently is. God’s Kingdom has invaded the kingdom of Satan. We do not need to live as though we are in bondage to sin and death anymore. The Kingdom of God is at work in our midst. Jesus wants to give us life now, and also at the end of this evil age. We can experience a relationship with God, even in the midst of trying circumstances in the world. We may not get to experience life in its fullest form yet, but we still have hope and much to live for. Some day we will be transformed and the creation will be transformed. What do we do until then? We will experience suffering, pain, and death, but during our lives we also get to experience what it is like to experience heaven on earth for a little while. When Christians worship and build relationships with one another, we are experiencing what it is like in heaven. We can experience community amidst difficult circumstances. Assimilation From the time when the Babylonians destroyed the Temple in 587 B.C. to when Jesus arrived, the Jews faced ongoing decisions on whether or not to assimilate to the cultures that influenced them. They became Hellenized to a certain extent, and the Romans influenced them greatly. In our modern Christian context, we face constant decisions about whether or not the church wants to assimilate to postmodern values and cultural shifts. The answer is simple. We need to choose to live in God’s Story, although we know that we will be influenced by culture. That is life in the now, but not yet. Now but Not Yet
  • 32. 32 Jesus established his Kingdom through both words and works. In Jesus’ ministry, words were not more important than works. Both had equal value in communicating the gospel message. God worked through Jesus to redeem the world. He made it possible for us to be in a relationship with God. We, in turn, should become God’s messengers into the world to live out the gospel message with both words and works. We should live in the tension between the now but not yet. “In Jesus, we have the presence of the future. Jesus has brought the rule of God from the future into the present.”37 Love In Jesus, we see a picture of God coming to Earth to do what no person could do. God dwells with his people. God opposes anything that distorts or destroys his creation, and he has a special place set aside for human beings. God demonstrates a love for humans so amazing that we do not even have accurate words to explain it. The true function of Christians is to abide in the love of Christ and demonstrate that love to the world. We were made to reflect God’s love and stewardship in the world. Just as God used Israel to demonstrate his love in the Old Testament, Jesus arrived as the world’s true light and modeled for us what it is like to be truly human. Our role as Christians is to live out the love of Christ for the world. Christians need to engage in areas where the world is in pain. Victory in Death Through Jesus’ death, he achieved victory and he redeemed the creation once and for all. Jesus’ life, his fellowship with sinners, his countercultural message to the Law, 37 Winn Griffin, God’s EPIC Adventure (Woodinville: Harmon Press, 2007), 189.
  • 33. 33 and his words and works in general, demonstrate why many Jews wanted him to be killed. Most Jews really had no place of understanding for a crucified Messiah. “Indeed, if someone wanted to scotch the rumor that Jesus was the Messiah, there was no better way to do so than to have him crucified.”38 Yet, Jesus’ death was the most amazing of all of God’s works in all of time. We all follow the crucified Messiah. His death was not just an unpleasant part of the Story which had to happen before we could move on to the next thing. “The cross is the surest, truest and deepest window on the very heart and character of the living and loving God; the more we learn about the cross in all its historical and theological dimensions, the more we discover about the One in whose image we are made and hence about our own vocation to be the cross-bearing people, the people in whose lives and service the living God is made known.”39 As a result, all Christians should be found serving the world “with arms outstretched, holding on simultaneously to the pain of the world and to the love of God.”40 Resurrection and Ascension Many modern people deny the resurrection because they find it impossible to accept. Modern people need to deny the resurrection of Christ because we are products of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment allows us to live out a private faith which does not impact the world. However, “The Resurrection of Jesus assures, confirms, and completes the victory of the Kingdom of God over the kingdom of Satan. It is for this very reason that the Resurrection is at the very heart of the message of the early Church. 38 Ben Witherington, New Testament History (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 155. 39 N.T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 94. 40 N.T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 190.
  • 34. 34 It was the final authoritative announcement that God had won the battle and the firstfruits of the Age to Come had arrived.”41 If Jesus was not resurrected from the dead, then all of what modern Christians believe is a lie. We know that Jesus is the Messiah because he rose from the dead. “When one begins to look at the cross through the lens of the resurrection, what at first appears to be foolishness is really the wisdom of God. What seemed to be weakness is really the power of God, conquering human rebellion and Satanic evil.”42 Jesus died to save all of creation. His death moves beyond the salvation of individuals. Jesus died for the whole world. The resurrection is of central importance to the Christian faith. Jesus defeated the enemy, and has ascended into heaven. He currently sits in a position of authority over the entire creation. Act 5: The Rest of the Story in the New Testament Following the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the church now serves as the light of the world. Because of Christ, the church has stepped into a significant role in God’s grand narrative. Much of the New Testament was written because the church faced difficulties in living out what was being required of them, and as a result God has given us just about all that we need to thrive in the now but not yet era of the Kingdom of God through his Word in the Scriptures. A New Perspective on Paul 41 Winn Griffin, God’s EPIC Adventure (Woodinville: Harmon Press, 2007), 214. 42 Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen, The Drama of Scripture (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 163.
  • 35. 35 Paul is a central figure in the New Testament, so it is important for all Christians to have a good understanding of his views and purposes. I tend to align more closely with the ‘new perspective on Paul’ than the traditional ‘Lutheran’ understanding of Paul and his work. The new perspective on Paul “suggests that justification is about exclusivism and inclusivism as reflected in Tom Wright, James D.G. Dunn, and others.”43 The new perspective on Paul removes many social boundaries that people experience as a result of theology that was developed in the sixteenth century, so that the gospel message is much more inclusive than has been thought over the past five centuries of Christian thought. Paul actually presents an open view of Scripture. “When Paul refers to ‘the gospel,’ he is not referring to a system of salvation, though of course the gospel implies and contains this, nor even to the good news that there now is a way of salvation open to all, but rather to the proclamation that the crucified Jesus of Nazareth has been raised from the dead and thereby demonstrated to be both Israel’s Messiah and the world’s true Lord. ‘The gospel’ is not ‘you can be saved, and here’s how’; the gospel, for Paul, is ‘Jesus Christ is Lord.’”44 Interpreting the Epistles All of the epistles were written to a specific audience for a specific purpose in a specific context, all of which were uniquely located within the first century. This concept does not dismiss the fact that all of the documents were inspired by the Holy Spirit. When modern Christians read the epistles, we should make a habit out of reading entire letters before attempting to determine any meaning from them. After we have read entire 43 Winn Griffin, God’s EPIC Adventure (Woodinville: Harmon Press, 2007), 223. 44 N.T. Wright, New Perspectives on Paul (Edinburgh: Rutherford House, 2003), 4.
  • 36. 36 letters, then we can begin the process of rereading specific paragraphs. We must understand what God was communicating to the first hearers. Only then will we understand what the epistles are communicating. The writers of the epistles did their best to communicate that “Jesus reigns over all of human life, all history, and all nations.”45 The Holy Spirit is active in our world today. Humans cannot stop the spread of the gospel or the growth of the church because God is still at work. Paul’s letters, in particular, describe how we are living in the now but not yet. “The world of the Bible is our world, and its story of redemption is also our story. This story is waiting for an ending – in part because we ourselves have a role to play before all is concluded.”46 Even though we all try to live out false stories, the biblical account of God’s Story is still the most powerful Story for us to live in. Good biblical interpretation takes into account that Paul’s writings were written to certain people living in certain types of mostly urban environments. The cultural context of each individual city, and the issues brought up by those environments, present the keys to understanding what Paul was trying to communicate. We must be very careful in modern America not to just pull individual verses from books such as Romans in order to apply their meaning to our lives today. “Paul’s letter to the Romans has been seen by many as the most crucial document that the apostle to the Gentiles ever wrote. Yet it would be a mistake to take is as a sort of summary of his gospel. It says nothing of his views on a host of important subjects, such as the Lord’s Supper, and precious little about 45 Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen, The Drama of Scripture (Grand Rapids: Baker Academics, 2004), 172. 46 Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen, The Drama of Scripture (Grand Rapids: Baker Academics, 2004), 196.
  • 37. 37 others, such as the resurrection.”47 The book of Romans, like most of Paul’s writing, was given as a response to questions or problems that arose within a specific context. Mission with Innovation We should understand our task today in terms of the context of Israel’s initial task from God. Jesus fulfilled that task, and now we need to understand what God is doing in the world today so that we can fulfill our roles in that Story. Much is required of modern Christians. “We follow Jesus’ mission, but our own cultural situation is quite different from that of first-century Palestine. Thus, we need to carry out the mission of Jesus with imagination and creativity.”48 Consistency over time is also key. Reconciliation Galatians deals heavily with justification and reconciliation, which are two topics that are closely tied together. God uses the concept of reconciliation to draw separated people closer to him, and to draw us closer to one another. Because Christ is peace, we must remove all barriers between ourselves as human beings. In simple terms, if we as Christians are estranged from one another, then we must do whatever is necessary to reconcile ourselves because that is what Christ requires of us. The church in America can be very segregated. I believe that Christians in our culture should be on the leading edge of racial and cultural reconciliation, not lagging behind dragging our feet. Sadly, church growth movements based on homogenous principles have been a popular smaller story for the church to live in for decades. Participating in reconciliation can be a difficult task 47 Ben Witherington, New Testament History (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 292. 48 Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen, The Drama of Scripture (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 199.
  • 38. 38 that comes with a cost, but it is something all Christians should be doing. One of the central themes in Luke is that the gospel message is for anyone. God’s love transcends race, class, and culture. With that type of understanding, we have a biblical foundation for why brothers and sisters in Christ should be reconciled to one another. The gospel serves as a bridge of sorts between cultures. That is one reason why I am such a big advocate for churches to be multi-ethnic and multi-cultural. Walking in the Spirit Many Christians describe feeling as though they are in tension between living as the Spirit of God would want us to live, and the constant desire to live in the flesh. 1 Corinthians describes that tension, and how Christians must constantly be doing our best to keep our flesh under control even though our flesh has been crucified in Christ. “The Christian will never be the person he or she wishes to be – free from temptation, struggle, tension. The old self is ever present; only by a constant walking after the Spirit can the dominance of the flesh be broken.”49 The book of Acts describes how crucial the activity of the Holy Spirit is to the church. The church often experiences explosive growth, as experienced in Christianity’s shift from Jerusalem to Rome within thirty years in the first century. That type of explosive growth can only be caused by the Holy Spirit, not by our manmade programs. Programs and systems are popular in the church today, but I sometimes wonder if we are trying to replace the room for the Holy Spirit’s work with our own thoughts and innovations. “The picture that Luke wishes to leave us with is of the unstoppable Word 49 George Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 537.
  • 39. 39 of God being shared freely and unhindered even in the capital of the pagan empire.”50 Luke captured well for us how the small movement known as the Way became a global phenomenon because of the Holy Spirit. Eternal Life I believe that, as John taught so clearly, when we accept Christ we will have eternal life. While the Synoptic Gospels seem to really proclaim the Kingdom of God and what our lives are like now, John tends to go deeper into eternal life and what our lives will be like when everything works out for the fullness of eternity. Many Christians in America do their best to accumulate as much as they can in this life. In my opinion the American Dream, with all of its consumerism and individualism, is a smaller cultural story that we have come up with to try to replace God’s Story. A somewhat simplified solution is for all Christians to wrap their understanding around the concept that we have tremendous hope for a future in eternity. All of the anxiety that we place upon ourselves in trying to advance ourselves now draws our attention away from God’s mission to redeem humanity for all time. However, as I have emphasized previously, we should not in turn live our lives as though nothing here and now matters. God also longs to see his creation transformed in the here and now. Second Coming Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians to people who were wondering about the second coming of Jesus. A great deal of misunderstanding about the second coming has made its 50 Ben Witherington, New Testament History (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 325.
  • 40. 40 way into the contemporary church. I believe that Jesus will appear to everyone on earth in a personal and visible way. His coming will usher in the Kingdom of God in all of its fullness, as the consummation of the now but not yet era in which we currently live. Where the modern church errs centers on the concept of the rapture. The rapture is not a biblical concept. The word rapture is not even found in the Bible, yet many end times teachers have developed entirely fictional false doctrines based on the concept of the rapture of the church. “Popular thinking and writing has replaced the words caught up by the word rapture.”51 Dispensational theology believes that the return of Christ will come at first secretly in the rapture, and then a second time will provide salvation for Israel and bring in the millennial kingdom. Much of the writing and thinking being done on that subject is unbiblical, and yet many modern Christians align themselves closely with dispensational theology without even realizing that they are aligning themselves with doctrine that is unbiblical. “The fact is that the hope of the church is not a secret event, unseen by the world. The Christian hope is the visible appearing of the glory of God in Christ’s return (Tit. 2:13), the revelation to the world of Jesus as Lord when he comes with his mighty angels (2 Thes. 1:7).”52 The Bible does give a consistent message about the second coming of Jesus. The second coming is for all people in the world who will experience either salvation or judgment. From that perspective, we can determine that salvation is not merely a private, individual issue. It is for the whole body of Christ and the transformation of the entire creation. God will bring order into an age that is currently filled with evil and sin. 51 Winn Griffin, God’s EPIC Adventure (Woodinville: Harmon Press, 2007), 239. 52 George Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 602.
  • 41. 41 Escapist Theology Dispensationalists lead Christians, in one way or another, to believe that they should escape from this evil world. In other words, the rapture is an easy way out. I believe that when Christians withdraw from the world, they cause huge problems in society. Christians should be engaging the difficult issues and broken systems in our world. Dispensationalism actually sets us back from what God wants to accomplish through us as a body of believers. The book of 2 Thessalonians starts out by describing the second coming, but it moves also into the topic of suffering. Suffering well is an anecdote to the smaller story of escapist theology that has been presented in modern American Christianity. Living in God’s Story means that we will all experience suffering, but we still have tremendous hope for our daily lives in this present age. The book of 2 Peter encourages all Christians to find joy in suffering. “The sufferings of which Peter speaks are not those of physical afflictions, natural evils, or accidents, or the sort of ordinary tragedy that besets all human beings. It is the sufferings people are called upon to endure because they are Christians.”53 God has a mission for us to engage the world, not to escape from it secretly by being magically zapped up into the sky. Revelation The book of Revelation seems to have a wide variety of interpretations. I tend to align most closely with the Moderate Futurist point of view which “believes that the message of Revelation must be understood within light of its first hearers, while fulfillment of the seven letters can now happen within any church. God’s people are the church, not the Jewish nation. The church will go through tribulation, but will be saved 53 George Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 644.
  • 42. 42 from destruction by God. The Temple will not be rebuilt and God will not deal with Israel as a nation.”54 This point of view has been a more traditional view held by the church throughout many centuries, and it seems to rule out the fictional fantasies that the authors and readers of the Left Behind series of popular fiction have indulged themselves in. Tim LaHaye and other Dispensationalists brazenly violate one of the most basic hermeneutical principles, which is that the Bible cannot mean something to us in our modern context that the Scripture’s original readers would not have understood. How could it be that that principle is often applied to the rest of the Bible, but when it comes to Revelation suddenly all bets are off? That scenario is not possible, but for the LaHaye’s of the world to admit that, they would stand to lose a lot of money from book sales. Comfort Revelation is a book about comfort. When Christians are persecuted for their beliefs, comfort is what will resonate most powerfully in those circumstances. This would have been very clear to the early church, to which Revelation was written, as they experienced a great deal of suffering and persecution. We will not correctly understand Revelation without grasping the concept of comfort for those who are hurting. Revelation is so comforting because of one simple fact: we know that God wins! That should make all of us rejoice, even in the midst of difficult circumstances. We should have tremendous hope. One day we will see God’s face. That is such an amazing blessing to look forward to. We will all live together in a new earth characterized by the absence of evil and the presence of all that is beautiful and glorious. All of history leads to that one goal. 54 Winn Griffin, God’s EPIC Adventure (Woodinville: Harmon Press, 2007), 288.
  • 43. 43 Living in and Telling God’s Story So where do we go from here? How do we live in God’s Story? First, our actions should align closely with what God has been doing so far in the Story. We must familiarize ourselves with God’s Story in as many accurate ways as we possibly can. We must be creative and innovative, yet within the context of the accountability of history, context, and community. It is our job to have God work through us to make a difference in the world. God is in control of everything in the world, and we get to share in his victory. We get to both tell about and live out our roles in God’s Story. We should have a way of looking at things that is different from the world’s perspective. God’s Story should transform our lives. We must decide which story we will live in. For those who follow Christ, this means that we find our place in God’s Story which is given to us in the Scriptures. “All of this has been designed as a plea to the church to let the Bible be the Bible, and so to let God be God – and so to enable the people of God to be the people of God, his special people, living under his authority, bringing his light to his world.”55 God is so amazing! All glory and praise belong to him. 55 N.T. Wright, How Can the Bible Be Authoritative? (Vox Evangelica, 1991), 21.
  • 44. BIBLIOGRAPHY Bartholomew, Craig G., and Michael W. Goheen. The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004. Brueggemann, Walter. An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination. 1st ed. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003. Fee, Gordon D., and Douglas K. Stuart. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. Third Edition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003. Goheen, Michael. The Urgency of Reading the Bible as One Story in the 21st Century. Vancouver: Public Lecture Given at Regent College, 2006. Griffin, Winn. God’s EPIC Adventure. Woodinville: Harmon Press, 2007. Griffin, Winn. Listening to the Text to Hear God Speak. 2004-2007. Klein, William W., Craig Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. 2nd ed. Nashville: Nelson, 2003. Ladd, George Eldon. A Theology of the New Testament. Rev. ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993. Witherington, Ben. New Testament History: A Narrative Account.. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001. Wright, Christopher J. H. The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2006. Wright, N.T. How Can the Bible Be Authoritative? Vox Evangelica, 1991. Wright, N.T. New Perspectives on Paul. Edinburgh: Rutherford House, 2003. Wright, N.T. The Bible and Tomorrow’s World. The Lambeth Conference, 2008. Wright, N.T. The Bible for the Post Modern World. Latimer Fellowship, 1999. Wright, N.T. The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999. 44
  • 45. 45