Tuesday, December 20, 2016

How God Became King, by N.T. Wright

Chapter Eleven

1. The car is the New Testament. The owner is the “ordinary Christian,” whether in the pulpit or the pew. The mechanics are a certain breed of New Testament scholar. And the sad little story represents the perception of many “ordinary Christians” about the effect of scholarship on their wonderful old text. Some scholars have said it’s unreliable. Some have said people have added bits that shouldn’t be there. Some have said you won’t be able to drive it much longer. But many others have just taken it apart, analyzed it word by word, drawn cunning parallels with other ancient literature, demonstrated its rhetorical skill— and left it in bits all over the floor. To be admired, no doubt. But not to be driven. I and many others have done our best to study the New Testament with a different aim. Without skimping on historical and verbal analysis, we have done our best to put the whole thing back together again, even though the owners may have to get used to driving slightly differently in the future.

- How does this analogy compare with your experience of reading and interpreting the Bible?  What are the virtues/limitations of this analogy?

2. Let me show what I mean by offering two readings of the Apostles’ Creed. The first is the implicit reading of much modern Christianity. It maintains its hold on the great doctrines that are there in the creed, but, as we have seen already, it distorts the narrative as a whole and those great truths with it. The second is the implicit reading to which I believe the canon of scripture, particularly the four gospels, compels us.

(Read & discuss each creedal statement applying both methods.)

- I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.

- And in Jesus Christ his only son, our Lord…

- Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried.

- He descended into hell.

- The third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

- From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

- I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins…

- …the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

3. This whole book has been about new reality, the new reality of Jesus and his launching of God’s kingdom. The new reality of a story so explosive (unlike the muddled, murky, “self-help” world of the noncanonical gospels!) that the church in many generations has found it too much to take and so has watered it down, cut it up into little pieces, turned it into small-scale lessons rather than allowing its full impact to be felt. Part of the tragedy of the modern church, I have been arguing, is that the “orthodox” have preferred creed to kingdom, and the “unorthodox” have tried to get a kingdom without a creed. It’s time to put back together what should never have been separated. In Jesus, the living God has become king of the whole world. These books not only tell the story of how that happened. They are the central means by which those who read and pray them can help to make that kingdom a reality in tomorrow’s world. We have misunderstood the gospels for too long. It’s time, in the power and joy of the Spirit, to get back on track.

-  How has N.T. Wright provided the means to “get back on track” with integrating the central messages of Scripture and Creed?

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

How God Became King, by N.T. Wright

Chapter Nine

1. If, then, the gospel writers are, as we suggested earlier, offering the story of Jesus as the completion of the story of Israel, in what sense is it now complete? How has it been fulfilled? The answer seems to lie, for the gospel writers themselves, in the dark strand that emerges at various stages of the tradition of ancient Israel. As the psalms and prophets sharpen up their vision of how God’s kingdom is to come to the world, there emerges a strange and initially perplexing theme: Israel itself will have to enter that darkness. The songs and oracles focus, from time to time and often mysteriously, on the idea that Israel’s own suffering will not simply be a dark passage through which the people have to pass, but actually part of the means whereby they will – perhaps despite themselves – fulfill the original divine vocation.

- How does Israel’s suffering provide a context & purpose for your faith?

2. God is the creator and redeemer of the world, and Jesus’s launch of the kingdom— God’s worldwide sovereignty on earth as in heaven— is the central aim of his mission, the thing for which he lived and died and rose again. How can we even begin to understand this? Perhaps we should say that, with the hindsight the evangelists offer us, God called Israel to be the means of rescuing the world, so that he might himself alone rescue the world by becoming Israel in the person of its representative Messiah. This explains the place of David in the story. He is, in some respects at least, the man after God’s own heart, the man whose Temple-building son would be God’s own son, as God says to David through the prophet Nathan: “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.” (2 Sam. 7: 12– 14)

- As Israel’s representative Messiah, Jesus is called to fulfill the work of God the Father.  How do you understand this unique, dynamic relationship, especially as it fulfills God’s covenant with David?

3. Here, the suffering and death of Jesus’s people is not simply the dark path they must tread because of the world’s continuing hostility toward Jesus and his message. It somehow has the more positive effect of carrying forward the redemptive effect of Jesus’s own death, not by adding to it, but by sharing in it. When we speak of the “finished work of the Messiah,” as the evangelists intend us to (as far as they were concerned, the story of Jesus was the unique turning point of all history), we are not ruling out, but rather laying the groundwork for, a missiology of kingdom and cross. Jesus has constituted his followers as those who share his work of kingdom inauguration; that is the point of his sending out of the Twelve, and then others again, even during his lifetime and far more so after his death and resurrection. But if they are to bring his kingdom in his way, they will be people who share his suffering.

- What are the burdens, risks, and joys of sharing in Jesus’ suffering?  Please consider all three outcomes.

4. In other words, the powers that put Jesus on the cross didn’t realize that by doing so they were in fact serving God’s purposes, unveiling the “wisdom” that lies at the heart of the universe. That is to say, when Jesus died on the cross he was winning the victory over “the rulers and authorities” who have carved up this world in their own violent and destructive way. The establishment of God’s kingdom means the dethroning of the world’s kingdoms, not in order to replace them with another one of basically the same sort (one that makes its way through superior force of arms), but in order to replace it with one whose power is the power of the servant and whose strength is the strength of love.

- Where have you witnessed such power and strength?  
- How did it change the way you perceived the work & presence of God?

5. All four dimensions— all four speakers, to continue our image— thus contribute to a richly layered narrative that we find, in different ways, in all four canonical gospels.  Getting to this point requires considerable mental effort in today’s world and church. We have to reconstruct this story step-by-step, because so many elements of it have been simply forgotten or ignored in so much Christianity, not least, paradoxically, in those parts of the church that like to think of themselves as “biblical.” But for the evangelists and their first audiences, the sounds that force us to strain our ears, to readjust our sound systems, would have come through loud and clear with little effort. This dense and dramatic fusion of ancient scripture and in-your-face pagan power, this coming together of the dream of YHWH’s return and the surprising launch of a quite new people— all this was their world.

- What similar challenges & opportunities await today’s Church?
- What excites you personally as a participant in this encounter?