What is the Bible?

Interested in a really useful resource for helping people understand the Bible?

Thanks G for pointing me to these guys at The Bible Project.  They are doing a very impressive job of producing short clever, animated videos on how the Bible, and each Bible book, fits together.

I remember many years ago Peter Cotterell at London Bible College saying that something understood profoundly can be explained simply. He’s right. And these guys have done that. The videos are easy to understand, but behind them is a ton of hard thinking, careful theological judgements, and creative communication.

Here’s a wee 5 min sample on The Image of God.

And what I really like is that it is all for free. A gift to the church.

How do you think of the Bible? What is it? And more specifically, how do you think the NT relates to the OT?

For me, it’s all about story. A story framework is the way to unlock ‘the drama of Scripture’. The Bible is a complex narrative with all sorts of sub-plots. But if you can get the overall plotline clear, the rest starts to fall into place.

It’s a great way to teach the Bible. It opens up the Scriptures and educates the church to understand their place in God’s story. It’s a wonderful way to preach too.

Once you start to see how the Bible functions in multi-layered biblical theological categories, there is no going back. It’s full of life and imagination. It’s how the Bible is given to us. It draws you in to the story. All sorts of doctrines come into sharper focus within the unfolding narrative of God’s redemptive engagement in the world, through his people.

It’s a journey that I have been on for years and I continue to love it.

Systematic theology has its place sure. But it doesn’t ‘fit the rhythm’ of the Bible. It too easily leads to abstraction and rationalism. Primacy of place has to go to biblical theology.

I’m thinking out loud here, this image might work, it may not.

Narrative could be seen as the skeleton giving shape and coherence to the overall body of Christian theology. Without it, you have a spineless blob. Maybe the best way to think of systematics is as theologians as experts in their distinct bits (systems) of the body.  But what is going to connect the parts, give them shape and coherence? You need narrative to do that.

This, I believe, is the way to do theology. I teach Christology and pneumatology, both through a narrative lens (the focus of both courses is primarily biblical) and it brings alive the thought world of the New Testament writers.

The NT as a whole, I think, is best understood as an exercise in ‘retrospective theology’. The writers are looking backwards – in light of the world-changing events of the life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus and the sending of the Spirit – to (re)tell the old [OT] stories of God, sin, salvation, covenant, law, Israel, promise, land, Messiah, Spirit, and creation itself in a new way. These stories are not complete innovations. Not at all. They are continuations of the old stories, but radically reshaped in light of Jesus and the Spirit.

One of the best examples of how narrative theology can be compelling and attractive, as opposed to systematic categorisation of abstract doctrines is to compare a standard bullet-pointed evangelical statement of faith with this   wonderful, accessible and attractive narrative account of what Christians believe from my alma mater.

It’s also worth thinking about how narrative theology has a special capacity to unite evangelicals who share basic convictions about the truth of the story and the means by which it is told (the Bible).

Reformed theology at its best has a strong narrative structure around creation, redemption, consummation – all held together through the thread of covenant. But there are many who are not Reformed who share a deep conviction about the importance of narrative theology – take Methodist Ben Witherington and his 2 Vol magnum opus The Indelible Image for example. Anabaptists like Hauerwas are also great advocates of narrative theology.  [Hauerwas and Jones edited one of the best academic books around on the topic. It explores the use of narrative in a much more complex and broader scope than my narrow focus on biblical theology in this post].

Comments, as ever, welcome.

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Darrell Bock on gospel

Irish Bible Institute was set up to provide good quality biblical and theological training for leaders and lay people in the Irish context. We do this through developing our own undergrad and postgrad programmes, designed for our context, taught by teachers engaged in local ministries (this includes our full-time staff) and meant to be applied practically into everyday life and ministry.

It’s a privilege to work here. And one of the bonuses is that we have been blessed with some wonderful guest teachers for short Summer Institutes over the years. Basically, we’re cheeky enough now and then to ask top notch speakers and scholars if they’d like to come teach and often it has worked out that they can.

So it was fun to get to know Darrell Bock and his wife Sally on their recent visit and show them around a bit before they left for a lecture tour in Australia and New Zealand. I even grew a beard in preparation (we have similar ‘hairstyles’).

An open lecture was on the Gospel in Luke-Acts

 

There is I think no more important topic than the gospel for Christians to be wrestling with and thinking about. Not primarily for the negative reason of tying down ‘correct theology’ and identifying error (although that is always a partial role of theology). But because Christians first need to be re-envisioned, excited, thrilled and energised by the good news if they are ever going to begin to reach out to a post-Christendom culture that thinks it has ‘heard’ all there is to hear about Christianity.

And, in my opinion, too often it is Christian semi-understandings of the gospel which have reduced it down to something that is not that thrilling, exciting or transformative.

So – to Darrell Bock’s lecture – and the notes which follow are my own and they may well not be an accurate representation of what he said.

– the good news revolves around the identity of the Messiah

– the Messiah is the one who brings the promised Spirit

– thinking Jewishly – it is the Spirit who cleanses and who brings renewal and restoration to Israel

– In Acts 2, the big point is how Pentecost is fulfilled promise, the new era has dawned. God has made Jesus both Lord and Christ. How do we know this? Because he is the one who has poured out the Spirit of God.

– So often the gospel is presented as a solution to a negative plight. ‘You’re a miserable sinner, you shouldn’t behave like that’ or ‘here’s how to avoid hell and spend time in eternity with God’ (the gospel is about personal survival)

– the astonishing good news of Luke-Acts is how the Holy Spirit of God is given as gift by God even to pagan Gentiles. This inclusion is orchestrated by God alone. This is unexpected and boundary breaking. Peter knows God has included the Gentiles because they are cleansed and forgiven by the gift of the Spirit through faith in the Jewish messiah.

– Gentiles are ‘cleansed vessels’ Acts 15:7ff. The Messiah and the giving of the Spirit fulfilling the promises of God is what the gospel is all about.

Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.

– James and Paul and Peter all agree on this in one way or another

– The gospel is therefore about the renewing and life-giving presence of the Spirit. Without the Spirit we are DEAD (and Darrell lay on the floor playing the Last Post at this point which you don’t see every day]

– As Paul puts it, the gospel is the POWER of God for salvation

– The good news is of a new community of faith, empowered by the Spirit

– We undersell the gospel by reducing it to a check box of belief and ‘we get what we pay for’ – a message with little expectation of necessity of personal and corporate transformation.

– The whole purpose of the good news is a new relationship with others and with God that issues in a renewed life.

What I found particularly helpful was Bock’s insistence on the integral place of the Spirit in the good news. No artificial distinctions between faith as mental assent to a message that might, or might not, result in changed life and behaviour. Luke of course is the great theologian of the Spirit. Luke insists on the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ leading to a response of faith and repentance and the gift of the Spirit of God. The result is life from death; an empowerment for holy living and for mission. And all of this is the surprising and unexpected plan of God (a big theme of Luke).

Popular understandings of the gospel as merely a solution to personal need have at least two major problems:

1) They fail to do justice to Luke’s narrative of the good news. It de-stories the gospel and abstracts it from the fulfilled promise to Israel. It is literally an unbiblical reduction of the gospel.

2) They lead to an anaemic gospel that has little or no place for the powerful, enlivening and transforming presence of the Spirit to purify and change Jew or Gentile believer in the here and now within a renewed community of faith.

In ‘gospel debates’ swirling around evangelicalism, those who want to equate the gospel narrowly with the cross and personal salvation (‘Jesus died for our sins’) and those who want to equate the gospel broadly with the good news of cosmic reconciliation under the Lordship of Jesus the King, need to listen to each other. Bock argued that Luke’s unpacking of the gospel gets beyond an unbalanced emphasis on one aspect of the good news. We need the whole story.

Comments, as ever, welcome.