Chapter Eight – Three Horizons & Narrative…..157
Chapter Nine – Metanarrative and Jesus……….166
The Three Horizons & Narrative
Systematic Theology is a way of reading the Bible and viewing it whole. This does not mean that Systematic Theology does away with the need for hermeneutics. It just means that the course in hermeneutics and the practice of hermeneutics in Old and New Testament exegesis has to interact with Systematic Theology as Systematic theology has to interact with them. Systematics and Hermeneutics both offer something which is absolutely necessary to the correct interpretation of the Bible.
The “Theological Encyclopedia” or the pattern of seminary education is not a simple inductive movement from exegesis to ministry as many of the old schemes outlined the task. It is a highly complicated and interactive movement in which each of the disciplines depends upon all of the others and at the same time contributes to all of the others. There is no hierarchy here, but a team working together on a project much greater than anyone discipline can do by itself.
THE THREE HORIZONS
Throughout the history of the church, interpreters of the Bible have moved back and forth between three horizons: God’s divine authorship of the whole Bible, the human writers in their unique historical situation, and the contemporary reader. When any one of these were left out, the church suffered. When any one of them became the dominating way of reading the Bible, the church suffered. We need all three horizons all of the time.
HUMAN AUTHORS – GRAMMATICAL HISTORICAL INTERPRETATION
Reacting against the pietistic and allegorical reading of the Bible which virtually ignored the human writers as authors and their authorial intent, the modern age placed a high priority upon the human authorship, their historical and cultural environment, and their individual, authorial intent. It was a necessary and good reaction. It has opened up the Scriptures in a wonderful new way. We now see things when we read the Bible to which older writers were blind. The careful study of words, grammar, and historical background has been invaluable.
However, the very success of this exegesis has made some significant problems. One of the problems is the virtual ignoring of the other two horizons. Seminary graduates (and sometimes professors) have too often presented historical and grammatical lectures with a “moral” at the close. Careful exegesis of a pericope which does not relate that passage to all of the rest of the Bible and does not make it speak powerfully to contemporaries is a miserable failure (as are any of the three horizons apart from the other two).
Another problem is that when a passage of Scripture is viewed out of context with the whole biblical story then we must find another context. Sometimes we choose our own culture and worldview. Sometimes we choose a favorite stance or hobby of our own. More often, the good exegete will choose the historical background of the human author of that pericope. This is certainly superior to the other two options.
But the historical background of the individual author is never sufficient to give a context for any passage of Scripture. For one reason, we never know enough about that background. Compared to what we know about our own historical situation, what is known about Isaiah, Daniel, Matthew, or Paul is minuscule. We have to build a large structure of speculation on a tiny foundation of sand. It is so small that new discoveries often make radical changes in our perception of the historical background. The subject is changing to rapidly to give us a solid starting place.
Every culture is highly complex. We can never be certain just what part of a culture influenced any particular person. We can never be sure that what we know of an ancient culture was common knowledge or a description of the life of a small minority. It is too easy to make our own preferences the criteria for deciding which background influenced the biblical author. We can never be sure.
C. S. Lewis wrote an article on the reconstruction on authorial intent, comparing the experts on historical background of the Scriptures and his contemporary critics.
“All this sort of criticism attempts to reconstruct the genesis of the texts it studies; what vanished documents each author used, when and where he wrote, and with what purpose , under what influences…. This is done with immense erudition and great ingenuity. At first sight it is very convincing….
“What forearms me against all these reconstructions is the fact that I have seen it all from the other end of the stick. I have watched reviewers reconstructing the genesis of my own books in just this way.
“Since then, I have watched with some care similar imaginary histories both of my own books and of books by friends whose real history I knew. Reviewers, both friendly and hostile, will dash off such histories with great confidence; will tell you what public events directed the author’s min to this or that; what other authors had influenced him; what his overall intention was, what sort of an audience he principally addressed, why—and when—he did everything.
“My whole impression is that, in the whole of my experience, not one of these guesses has on any point been right. The method shows a record of 100% failure….
“Now this surely ought to give us pause. The reconstruction of the history of a text, when the text is ancient, sounds very convincing. But one is after all sailing by dead reckoning; the results cannot be checked by facts. In order to decide how reliable the method is, what more could you ask that to be shown an instance where the same method is at work and we have facts to check it by? Well, that is what I have done. And we find….the results are always, or nearly always, wrong….
“First, while I respect the learning of the great biblical critics, I am not persuaded that their judgment is equally to be respected. But secondly, consider with what overwhelming advantages the mere reviewers start. They reconstruct the history of a book written by someone whose mother tongue is the same as theirs; a contemporary, educate like themselves, living in something like the same mental and spiritual climate. They have everything to help them. The superiority in judgment which you are going to attribute to the biblical critics will have to be almost superhuman if it is to offset the fact that they are everywhere faced with customs, language, race characteristics, class characteristics, and basic assumptions which no scholarship will ever enable any man now alive to know as surely, intimately and instinctively as the reviewer can know mine. And for the very same reason, remember, the biblical critics, whatever reconstructions they devise can never be crudely proved wrong. St. Mark is dead. When they meet St. Peter, there will be more pressing matters to discuss.” 1
This certainly does not mean that we should not do biblical backgrounds. It does mean that we should be well aware of its limitations. It opens many insights into the meaning of the Bible. But the rest of the Bible is the real context.
There is one more problem that cannot be solved by studying a pericope of Scripture outside of the context of the whole Bible. All of Scripture is revelation; to and through the human authors. It always stands contrary to all contemporary cultures. It critiques all of the customs and interpretations of events. It offers a whole new worldview from which to view the realities of the time. If we make the cultural situation and intent of the human author the starting point for the meaning of a passage, we tend to remove all of the supernatural and the revelation until all that Isaiah, Daniel, Paul or Luke can say is what everyone else is saying. That is quite contrary to the nature of the Scriptures.
We must keep on doing careful exegesis and searching the culture and the mind of the biblical authors. But we must always do in the light of the great biblical story.
DIVINE AUTHOR – REVELATION AND METANARRATIVE
The Reformers followed the Renaissance leaders. They quit reading books of quotations like Peter Lombard’s Four Books of Sentences and began reading books and the Bible whole. Luther made a point of reading the Bible through twice a year. Calvin does not tell us his reading schedule, but his works show a man at home in the whole of the Bible. Their tremendous theological contribution certainly came in part because of the new grasp of the Bible as a single book authored by God.
After the Civil War a group of Phymouth Brethren preachers came to North America from Great Britain. They filled auditoriums on any day of the week with their preaching of the great themes of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. They were men who read the Bible through many times a year. Their preaching gave their hearers a whole new view of the Bible as a single book. Christians who had heard sermons on single verses but did not know how the verses were connected were deeply impressed. Dwight Moody heard one of these preachers preach the love of God from Genesis to Revelation. He didn’t know the Bible said so much on God’s love. He went back the second night and heard another message on the love of God from Genesis to Revelation without any repetitions from the previous sermon. This continued throughout the week. Moody was convinced. He vowed never to preach another sermon without mentioning this great theme. His response is similar to that of many others.
When we read the story as a whole we note themes which we could have missed or rejected apart from this kind of reading. Reading Isaiah 14:3-23 alone would seem to make the entire passage a metaphorical description of the king of Babylon. But, in the light of the whole story, it is obvious that Isaiah is using this opportunity to show the power behind the king of Babylon, Satan. He is here, behind the first of the four great kingdoms which stand between the first Davidic kingdom and the kingdom of David’s greater son, the Lord Jesus Christ. As Satan will stand behind the Antichrist at the end of the times of the Gentiles, so he stands behind the beginning of that time. There are a thousand other places where reading the Bible whole and seeing it from the perspective of God’s authorial intent gives insights of the kind that Jesus and the apostles noted when they quoted the Old Testament.
I will discuss this more carefully a little later when we discuss biblical narrative and metanarrative.
But this method alone, and apart from the other two “horizons” is a failure. Many read the Bible through dozens and hundreds of times without seeing all that was there. They especially needed the careful exegesis and historical background to shock them out of their own culture and out of their own habits of reading. They were well aware of the divine authorship of the Bible, but were too often of the human authorship and authorial intent. We need to read and study the Bible from all three “horizons”.
HUMAN READER – A LIVING COMMUNICATION TO ME, NOW
I have already discussed this as “The Sixth Characteristic of Scripture — Contemporaneity.” Here, it is enough to remind ourselves that they Scriptures are always a contemporary word from God to us…now.
Origen and most of the interpreters of Scriptures in the early church had this in mind when they developed the different forms of allegory. They wanted to stress, against the historical-grammatical interpreters of Antioch, that every sentence of the Bible was a word of God directly to the contemporary reader. But their focus on this one horizon made their whole project inadequate and a failure.
Pietists often read the Bible in much the same way with the same inadequacies.
The contemporary message of the Living God to me at the present time is necessary, but loses all foundation and perspective apart from the two other “horizons”.
THE LORD JESUS CHRIST IS THE CENTER OF THE SCRIPTURES
The key to an obedient reading the Bible from this triple horizon is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is also the chief actor in the great biblical Drama or metanarrative. The Bible is never merely a series of wise statements. It is always about the “Word of God, the incarnate Son, Jesus Christ. Origen worked hard to develop this Christ-centeredness, but did it with allegory and missed his real goal. Augustine knew that his theology should be Christ-centered but was so deeply influenced by Porphyry and Plotinus that he could never accomplish that goal. Aquinas was not even concerned to be Christ-centered in any real and biblical way. Bernard and Bonaventure remembered the dream and came closer than others had.
Luther had a great desire to be thoroughly Christ-centered, and often accomplished that in his sermons and commentaries. But he was too concerned with “how can I be right with God”. His concern for his own story prevented him from reading the whole Bible as the story of Jesus Christ. Wood wrote about this:
“It is not surprising that, since for Luther, Christ fills the whole sphere of God…he should regard the Bible as first and foremost a book about the Savior. He entire Scripture is ‘concerned only with Christ when you see its inner meaning, even though it may look and sound different on the outside.’ Christ is ‘the central point of the circle’ around which everything else in the Bible revolves.’ This is the new element in Luther’s doctrine of Scripture, the reformatory turn of his biblical theology…. To place the Bible in a central position had been done by the theologians of earlier centuries. To place Christ in the center of the Bible as totally as Luther did was previously unheard of. With great monotony he hammered constantly upon this single anvil. The Christ-centeredness of Scripture was his most distinctive insight.
“Luther’s Christocentric approach to Scripture provides the clue to the paradox involved in his insistence on the primacy of the literal sense while conceding that there is a further, inner, spiritual meaning. Luther took his stand on the literal sense. That, for him, was fundamental. But he recognizes that there is an inward meaning of the Word to which the eyes of faith must penetrate. It is not supplementary to the literal sense, but communicated by it. Luther’s major contribution to biblical interpretation lay in the fusion of the literal and the spiritual in a new and dynamic relationship.” 2
Calvin and Reformed theology had a difficult time with Christ-centeredness, though many of them saw the need for it. The emphasis upon the decrees of God and later upon the three covenants of Redemption, Works, and Grace took center stage and overshadowed the first and second comings of Jesus Christ. Sanctification and the Christian life also became a competitor for center stage in some Reformed theology.
Schleiermacher and liberalism made an attempt to be Christ-centered, but was really centered in Jesus of Nazareth, the first Christian, the model for our lives, the one who modeled the way we should think of God. Warfield rightly criticized this kind of Christ-centeredness as “Jesus-centered” in a way that denied the triunity of God. He made a man the center of theology and life. This is not what a biblical Christ-centeredness should be like.
Barth struggled to establish a radical Christ-centeredness, but went too far. His extremism resulted in a kind of universalism among other things. His position is developed best in his; The Humanity of God (Atlanta: John Knox, 1966).
Peter described a biblical Christ-centeredness well when he was arrested following his healing of the lame man:
“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them; ‘Rulers and elders of the people. If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth whom you crucified, but whom God raised from the dead that this man stand before you healed. He is the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:8-12).
This exclusive salvation in Jesus Christ was not only true for Peter’s time and ours, but also for everyone since the sin of Adam.
Old Testament believers since Adam, Eve, and Abel have been born again and justified by faith in the promises of God, all of which are centered in the coming Messiah. When Paul speaks of Abraham’s justification by faith (Romans 4), the focus of that faith is not a general faith in God, but faith in the promises of God. Paul reminds the Galatians that Abraham justifying faith was placed specifically in the Seed, and the context specifically identifies the Seed with Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:19). The faith described in Hebrews eleven is a faith in God’s promises and specifically a faith that finds in the great events of Christ’s coming.
“These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us, so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” (Hebrews 11:39-40).
Jesus taught his followers that the Old Testament Scriptures were about himself. He never view his constant references to himself in the Old Testament as accidental or as convenient statement which could be used by him even though not originally meant as predictions of his person and work. Every reference to the Old Testament is an intended prophecy of the One who was the hope of all believers. He stated this very clearly to the leaders who would not accept him:
“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:39).
A little later, Jesus stated:
“Your fathers Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” (John 8:56).
After the resurrection, Jesus taught the disciples about the clear and intended predictions about himself.
“How foolish you are and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory? And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself…. This is what I told you which I was still with you; Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms. Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, ‘This is what is written; the Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations….” (Luke 24:25-27 and 44-47).
We do not have the content of what Jesus taught those disciples, but their own ministry recorded in the book of Acts and in their letters reflects that content for us.
Narrative and Metanarrative
By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man when god spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.
By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased god. And without faith it is impossible to please god, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear, built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became the heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. (Hebrews 11:4-7)
1. Place in Postmodernism
2. Necessity of narrative
3. Narrative as history
4. Narrative as literature
5. Narrative as drama
2. Telling the story
3. Interpreted metanarrative
4. Place in theology
D. Our Response…………………..198
1. Why do we need a structure for
understanding the Bible?
2. Where do we find the structures
for understanding the Bible?
3. How do we read biblical narratives?
4. How are narratives true?
5. How do the biblical narratives fit
6. How do we use this Story/Drama?
THE BIBLICAL STRUCTURE — NARRATIVE AND METANAR
The Bible does not need to have a structure imported from outside, whether it is a philosophical system, one of the social sciences, or the structure of the historical setting of the human authors. The Bible has its own structure and we will never interpret it correctly until we recognize this structure and read all of the Bible and every part of the Bible from the foundation of that intrinsic structure.
NARRATIVE (See Appendix C)
We are created in the image and likeness of God as a race. Because of that we are history-shaped or story-shaped creatures. Angels are certainly created in the image and likeness of God in some important senses. But the human race is different from them in this generational character that makes time something much more than “the sequence of events.” We are born, grow, become co-creators with God of another generation. This marks us as people with a history, people with a story. It is not surprising that the God’s communication to us in the Bible is given in a historical, story form that corresponds with our nature.
We need to learn how to read stories. The biblical authors were magnificent story tellers. Their greatest strength was that the stories that they told were true. But, beyond that, they knew how to structure stories to demand attention and to get the hearer to become a participant in the story.
We live in a postmodern age when stories have come back into style. They had gone out of style in the modern age which relegated stories to fiction and entertainment for children and lazy adults. But now, we have move story back into the center of serious thinking about ourselves and any reality which may exist outside of ourselves.
The newer commentaries now take narrative seriously. Reading them, we wonder at our dullness in failing to note the great truths communicated in stories which we always read as some kind of interruption of the truth of the propositions. I had a wonderful Sunday School teacher in my teen years who was always thrilled to find “nuggets of truth” in the Scriptures. These were those good verses which summarized and interpreted. She liked them so much better than the stories and the histories which were something less than “nuggets”.
We have often considered the stories and the histories to be illustrations and examples of the eternal truths given in the summary statements of Scripture. So we go to the concordances to find all of those verses which prove our position. But the Scriptures do not treat stories and history in this way. They are rather the center and foundation of all of those propositions and summaries of truth. Everything begins with the story. All of the truth flows out of those stores which describe the works of God and his great theophanies. This is a drastic reversal of our reading of the Bible. It demands a lot of practice, because we are not very good at it.
But we do not read the biblical stories and histories like the postmodern interpreters do. They select the stories that they like, take them out of their setting in Scripture, and ignore God’s words of interpretation. They read the stories in a self-centered way. We need to read all of the stories and histories in a Bible centered way.
METANARRATIVE (See Appendix D)
But the Bible is more than narrative, it is metanarrative. A metanarrative is a story of stories. It is the story that ties all of the other stories together. It is a story which ties everything together from the beginning to the end — from the creation to the new creation. As such it presents the ultimate Story, the perfect Drama. It can be structured in many different ways. I change it a little every time I write it, not because it changes, but because my perception of it is growing. One way to write it is the following dramatic form.
PROLOGUE – Before the Beginning
A. The Triune God
B. The creation of heaven and the angels
C. The revolt in heaven, creation of hell, and expulsion of the rebels.
I. CREATION – The Beginning
J. The stage — the cosmos
K. The human actors
L. Creation in the image and likeness of God
M. Their creation commands
N. Their vulnerability to Hell and provision of grace upon request
II. CRISIS – The Revolt
O. Satan’s invasion from Hell
P. Human disobedience
Q. Beginning – Adam’s disobedience
R. Progress of sin – History
S. Culmination of revolt – Antichrist
III. PROVIDENCE AND PROMISE -The Preservation
A. Providence and Israel
B. Promise of the coming Redeemer
IV. THE SECOND ADAM – The New Man
C. Incarnation and holy life
D. Being and teaching the truth
E. Death on the cross
F. Resurrection and ascension
V. THE BODY OF CHRIST, THE CHURCH – The New People
W. Pentecost – Her birth
B. Discipling all nations – carrying out the Great Commission
VI. THE SECOND COMING – The New History
X. The conquest of Satan’s kingdom of darkness – the tribulation
Y. Establishment of the Messianic Kingdom – the millennium
Z. Resurrection and judgment
AA. Cleansing of the cosmos by fire
EPILOGUE – The New Beginning – The New Cosmos
BB. Return of God’s people to the new earth
CC. Dwelling of God and Jesus Christ with his people
All of the stories, histories, and genealogies of the Bible fit into this larger Story. They never are read with their full meaning until they are read as a part of this great metanarrative.
The metanarrative is immensely more complex than the simple outline which I have given above. The various biblical writers all approach it from different perspectives. They all assume something like the outline above. But they focus upon a particular part of it, and view it from their own unique perspective.
Matthew built his book on the covenants with Abraham and David, and the seeming destruction of those covenants in the exile. He states this in the opening genealogy so that we cannot miss the setting for his presentation of the Messiah as the one who fulfills the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants and saves his people from their sins and their exile. But Matthew also connects his book to the larger and future story. He gives the whole structure of his book in the great commission. He sends out the disciples that he has made to make disciples in all nations. They know how to make disciples because they have experienced them making them into disciples. They are related to a whole new age which is bracketed by the great commission on the one side (28:16-20) and the end of the age when the gospel has been taken to all of the nations (24:14). His last picture of our Lord Jesus Christ pictures him in glory in the heavens, visible to all the earth, and ready to come down and build the Davidic Kingdom (24:30-31).
Mark presents Jesus breaking into history in the preaching of John the Baptist, and rising from the dead before fearful and wondering followers. It is an apocalyptic view that almost seems to ignore any connections with the larger story. But all through the story of Jesus we hear reflections of the larger Story in fulfilled prophecy and anticipations of the latter part of the story in Jesus’ own prophecies.
Luke begins with prophecies and fulfillments to the faithful remnant. We meet Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary, Simeon, and Anna. These people come from a meditation on the story of God and from the life of the book of Psalms. God is fulfilling his great prophecies of the coming of Elijah and of the Messiah for the dawning of the new age. Through it all is an interpretation of the primary work of Jesus being a fulfillment of John’s prophecy — “But he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16 and Acts 1:5). Pentecost, predicted in Luke’s first volume and fulfilled in his second volume, is the reversal of Babel. There God judged by the confusing of tongues. Here, God begins the work of restoration by the proclamation of the gospel in the heart languages of everyone at Pentecost that year.
John ties the coming of Jesus Christ into history with the creation of all things (John 1:1-18) and carries his story through to the new heaven and the new earth (Revelation 21:1-22:5). In the center, between these two creations, “The Word (the reason and meaning of all things) became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). In this context — between creation and the new creation — the Son has entered history, and the story of the Lord Jesus Christ gives meaning to the whole story in his first coming (John) and in his second coming (Revelation).
Paul, like Matthew, is deeply interested in presenting the story from the perspective of Abraham and God’s covenant with him. He is the paradigm believer who was justified by faith, and who lived a life of continuous and confident expectation (Romans 4). He will be featured again in Romans 11 and in Galatians as well as numerous other places throughout Paul’s letters. He will so delight in the comparison and contrasts between the first Adam and the second Adam (Romans 5:12-21 and I Corinthians 15) as the two primary turning points in history. Paul’s own place in this great story is his call to be the “Apostle to the Gentiles” as a primary builder in this great new church which looks forward to the blessed hope of Jesus’ coming again.
This is an embarrassingly brief and incomplete look at the first five New Testament writers and some of their connections with the biblical metanarrative. The other New Testament authors did the same thing in their own unique ways. Each of them gave a new fulness to the great Story/Drama which structure all of their thinking and writing.
The Old Testament writers were well aware of the greater story of which their writings were a part. I do not have the time now to work through their major contributions. This is the work for a seminar or an independent study. This gives a perspective from which to grasp something of the centrality and complexity of the biblical metanarrative.
N. T. Wright is in the process of writing a five volume theology of the New Testament. The first volume has some wonderful material on stories and worldviews. I will be heavily dependent upon this first volume in the following discussion.
“When we come to the parable (the parable of the wicked tenant), we read it as a story which already has a history; a story about Israel which turns our to be a story about Jesus…. And even though as part of our overall (and in principle subvertible) story we may believe that we can… achieve some sort of historical accuracy in these readings, the ‘meaning’ that the parable continues to have will in several important respects remain open…. The point at issue here is that the story has brought a worldview to birth. By reading it historically, I can detect that it was always intended as a subversive story, undermining a current worldview and attempting to replace it with another. By reading it with my own ears open, I realize that it may subvert my worldview too.” 3
Grant goes on to describe the worldview of Israel at the coming of Jesus into history.
“Story, symbol, and praxis, focused in their different ways on Israel’s scriptures, reveal a rich but basically simple worldview. We can summarize this in terms of the four questions which, as we argued in chapter 5, are implicitly addressed in all worldviews.
DD. Who are we? We are Israel, the chosen people of the creator god.
EE. Where are we? We are in the holy Land, focused on the temple; but paradoxically, we are still in exile.
FF. What is wrong? We have the wrong rulers; pagans on the one hand, compromised Jews on the other, or halfway between, Herod and his family. We are all involved in this less-than-ideal situation.
GG. What is the solution? Our god must act again to give us the true sort of rule, that is, his own kingship exercised through properly appointed officials (a true priesthood; possibly a true king); and in the mean time Israel must be faithful to his covenant charter.
The difference between different groups of Jews in this period can be plotted quite precisely in terms of the detail of this analysis. The chief priests would not have agreed with (2) or (4) as stated. They were in the Temple which was all in order; the problem was the recalcitrance of other Jewish groups, and the solution was to keep them in their place. Essenes would have modified (4); our god has already acted to call us to be the advance guard of the age to come and he will act again to vindicate us. And so on. But in principle these four answers to the basic questions remain constant for the majority of the non-literary people, throughout the period, and come to expression in story, symbol, and praxis. Together they point forward.” 4
There were other varieties of this world view. Josephus saw the story ending in being a submissive part of the Roman empire. Philo saw the story as culminating in Greek literature and philosophy. The Pharisees would have liked the above four points as stated.
But all of them had one thing in common. The story did not include any need for a provision for sin. Israel had gotten rid of idolatry. She had made the temple central in their lives as it had been in the great revivals recorded especially in he book of Chronicles and Ezra/Nehemiah. Forgiveness was available for repentance and a life committed to obeying the six hundred and thirteen commands of the Scriptures.
John’s message of repentance and forgiveness and a coming Messiah would fit into their story quite well. But Jesus came with a story which sometimes sounded like the one they told and at other times sounded radically different from the story that anyone had ever told. Jesus sermons, parables, and miracles were all a radical new telling of the story of Israel. Sin was the real problem, even of the Jews. Sin could be dealt with only by death and resurrection of the sinless Messiah on behalf of his people. If Jesus’ story was right, then all of Israel had read the Scriptures wrongly and had heard and told the wrong story. They had to make a radical change or kill Jesus. There was no other option. His story turned everything in their lives upside down, destroyed all of their traditions, and subverted all of their stories. So they killed him — just as he had told them in his story and just as he found the story in the Scriptures.
This look at the state of the story in the time of Jesus helps us to understand the place of stories, the nature of the Story, and the radical and subversive (subversive of their pagan ending to God’s story) nature ot the story as Jesus told it.
This is only a beginning in all that Metanarrative is all about in the Bible. See Appendix “D” below for a further and slightly different treatment. We will be developing various parts of the story throughout the Systematic Theology sequence.
THE READER — MODERNISM, POSTMODERNISM, AND CULTURES
I discussed the contemporaneity of the Scriptures under the “Characteristics”
of Scripture and under the “third horizon” in the triple horizon of our interpretation of the Bible. We need to look at the same idea from a different perspective here. We each stand with some culture or mixture of cultures from which we read the Bible. We need to grow in the understanding of our own cultures in order to grow in the understanding to the unique worldview of the Bible.
In the modern age, Western culture has become the dominant culture in the world. It accomplished this through its conquest of nature, its machinery, its political power, and its communication, books, radio, television, computers, and the internet. We are now closer to one world culture than we have been since the tower of Babel, and western culture has been the instigator of most of it. Other cultures have become powerful only to the extent that they have bought into significant parts of this western way of life.
Western culture has been going though a deep and radical change in the last third of the twentieth century. The old modern optimism has been exchanged for a deep pessimism because the old certainties have proved false. It is as large a cultural change as has occurred in the history of the race. We are moving from one or another of the various forms of modernism to one or another of the various developing forms of postmodernism.
MODERNISM (See appendix E)
POSTMODERNISM (See appendix F)
NON-WESTERN CULTURES (Discuss the culture represented in the class)
OUR RESTATEMENT OF THE BIBLE
With all of the perfection of the Bible, God has given us, his image and likeness, the tremendous responsibility and privilege of restating his message. We must listen well so that we understand what he is saying and then must say it again in our own language and to our own cultures. It is a fearsome task to say in our own words what God has said perfectly in his, but we have no choice. The One who stated the truth perfectly has given us that duty as a clear and certain command.
First, we have to have to listen to God. This is no easy matter because most of what God is saying to us is beyond our present understanding. It is even more difficult because what he says is contrary to what we want to hear. And it is only as we obey that we grow to love what he says. And it is only as we love part of what he says that we begin to understand more of what he says. Ignorance and rebellion go together. Obedience and learning are inseparable.
Jesus was deeply concerned that people listen to what he said. Many followed him because of what they saw—the miracles. Few listened. He spoke in parables because he wanted his obedient followers to understand and didn’t want the rest to understand (Matthew 13:10-17). He stressed the same thing in his seven letters to the churches (Revelation 2-3).
There is a powerful example of dishonest hearing in Jesus question to the chief priests, teachers of the law, and the elders in the last week of his ministry. They came to him questioning his authority:
“Tell us by what authority you are doing these things?… Who gave you this authority? He replied, ‘I will also ask you a question, Tell me, John’s baptism—was it from heaven or from men?
“They discussed it among themselves and said, ‘If we say, From heaven’ he will ask, ‘Why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, From men’ all the people will stone us because they are persuaded that John was a prophet.’
“So they answered, ‘We don’t know where it was from.’
“Jesus said, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” (Luke 20:2-8)
Jesus was not being mean-hearted in refusing to tell them the source of his authority. He was letting them see the duplicity of their request. They did not want to know the truth. They only wanted him to say something that they could use against him. They had already made a wrong decision when they refused the ministry of John the Baptist. They proved their duplicity by their discussion. They would not make a decision about John the Baptist because either way they chose would cause trouble for them. They had already decided against John, but were afraid to say so. In that decision they made themselves too blind for further truth. They did not have “ears to hear” about the source of Jesus’ authority.
We also have to listen to our culture or cultures so that we can be good translators of what we have heard into the contemporary culture. We do that in our witnessing to the unsaved, in our worship, our preaching, our counseling, and in our Systematic Theology.
In his essence, Systematic Theology is just an honest and obedience listening to the Word of the Living God, a listening to our own contemporary culture or cultures, and a translation of the whole of what God has said to the present world of believers and unbelievers.
See Appendix A for a further treatment of the nature of Systematic Theology. See Appendix G for worship, Appendix H for counseling, and Appendix I for ministry.