Thursday, November 13, 2008

reading the Bible as story

One of my excellent seminary professors, Dr. Joe Crawford who taught systematic and historical theology, etc., now with the Lord, had a passion for truth which was infectious. I especially remember the time he got me excited about wanting to read Henri Crouzel's book on Origen. While I was there, Dr. Crawford talked about how reading the Bible as story, revolutionized his theology. He wrote a manuscript on that later. I think it was an evolving, growing process for him. On a lesser scale this is true of me as well. Scot McKnight's new, interesting and I believe excellent little book, Blue Parakeet.

I open this up. Do any of you identify? And what does reading the Bible as story look like, or mean for you and for your understanding of the truth as it is in Jesus? How might reading the Bible as story differ from other ways of reading it? Is it natural to the Bible itself? Is it reading the Bible contextually? And what about places in the Bible which are not narrative, such as wisdom literature (example: Proverbs, Song of Songs), or the book of Romans?

Of course we must read the Bible contextually. Good Bible reading and study should consider a passage, or verse in its immediate context, then in the context of the entire book, and then contextually in books by the same human author, next within the new or old covenant scheme, and at last with reference to the entire Book. Word studies can be helpful as well, as long as we note that the same word will mean different things at times, depending on its context. Good Bible reading and study does all of this either closely or by recall (not that we should think that we have to go through all of this consciously).

To understand any teaching sufficiently it must be put into the whole and in the context of story (Genesis through Revelation), but we take the entire teaching along into the story. We can't just take the part we want and leave the difficult or unwanted part of it, perhaps a difficult part to understand, behind. And it must be factored into the story.

Though it is not necessary for anyone to engage in good Bible reading and study, to have background information as to the world in the day the Scripture was written, with reference to its culture and practices is likewise helpful (an understatement, really, especially with regard to some matters such as women and slaves).

When we do this we avoid what I believe is the error of "bullet lists" to teach a systematic theology. Taken by themselves they can be quite different than when taken up and read with reference to the whole story from Genesis through Revelation. Not that we want to change the meaning in its original context. But that this meaning must be factored into the whole of the story.

One example I posted on recently is predestination and election. If I study the relevant passages on their own, it would appear that many of them are only about assurance of salvation through the work of God, as our good friend Andrew, has so aptly pointed out in his comments on that posting. But considered in the story we find that there is more to consider. Other factors weigh in on that discussion as well, and on nearly any other discussion, factors on which Christians disagree. For example in my case, even though I believe God does a work in Christians to help them persevere, I believe the imperative to make one's calling and election sure, makes it clear that our assurance is dependent on us remaining in the faith, and that a true Christian can apostasize. But in the grace of God in Jesus, as we trust, we can be assured of salvation- in the present and future, based on the work of Jesus.

And aside from the differences Christians have over interpreting the relevant texts, we need to see such teachings in the sweep of the entire story of God. This means predestination and election are not just about one's salvation, as important as that is, but it's with reference to what that salvation entails. That in Jesus, we become a part of God's ongoing work in the world through him, a work that has to do with the new creation, thus touching all of creation, including human culture, as well as helping others come into this new life for themselves. We receive the light and become the light of the world, in Jesus.

This is an overly long post, and for that I apologize. But just a sketch and example as to why I believe we need to read and think through everything with reference to the entire story, and not just within its own immediate context. I am certainly working on this, myself.

What would you like to add here- and with reference to the above questions and thoughts?


Litl-Luther said...

I don't get the logic of your thought Ted: How is it that "we can be assured of salvation- in the present and future" if "a true Christian can apostasize" and be lost? It seems to be that would exclude true assurance for the future for even true Christians.

How would you respond to Charles Spurgeon's take on this issue?

"If one dear saint of God had perished, so might all; if one of the covenant ones be lost, so may all be; and then there is no gospel promise true, but the Bible is a lie, and there is nothing in it worth my acceptance. I will be an infidel at once when I can believe that a saint of God can ever fall finally. If God hath loved me once, then He will love me for ever...."

Ted M. Gossard said...

For all practical purposes there's really little difference between our positions.

A Calvinist holds that one must persevere to the end if there one of God's "elect" or else it's evident they are not.

It's all of grace, and grace underlies any movement toward God we make.

I simply disagree with Spurgeon because I think Scripture does not back what he says. I Corinthians 10 and the Old Testament, Hebrews 6, for starters. But assurance is real as we trust, as we by grace simply look to God or have any faith at all. And God works for our persevance, or to help us persevere and grow. It's the norm for any and all Christians to become "stablished" in the Lord.

Litl-Luther said...

Thanks Ted,
I don't necessarily agree with Spurgeon's harsh language about those who think genuine believers can be lost, but I do agree with him that if one of God's people in Christ (who born again by God’s Spirit, adopted as God's son, justified by Christ, etc.) can be lost, then that really raises doubt that any genuine believer can have lasting assurance. And it also raises questions on what saves us. I know you will agree that from beginning to end in Scripture God alone is our Savior and that our salvation is not based on our works, yet if we can be lost because of our works (i.e. sin, apostasy) then that would seem to conclude that our salvation IS dependent upon our works, which seems completely unbiblical to me. I’m not sure how you tackle this obstacle. At least it seems like a huge obstacle to me.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks, Triston.

I don't see the possibility of apostasy as a matter of works, but as a matter of faith. Leaving God's grace behind so that we no longer have faith, or our faith dies. Something like that. Not because I no longer DO such and such.

Litl-Luther said...

Ted, does Jesus call faith a work in this passage?:

"Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” (John 6:28-29)

I think this passage could only be interpreted two ways: Either Jesus is saying faith is a work, or he is staying faith is God's work in our life. In other words, either faith is a work we do or faith is a work God does in us. Of course, I believe God gives us faith, so this passages doesn't give me trouble, but how would you understand it?

Ted M. Gossard said...

Yes, grammatically I guess that could go either way: the work of God, or the work of humans required by God. I certainly agree with you theologically that faith is not a work. But in the context as Jesus was using it, language is not always framed in a way that is concerned about theological precision in words chosen. Jesus was making a point. Maybe he was saying something like: This is the "work" you must do, simply believe.

That statement would put a question mark on the need for works at all, or it could. But just my thinking here for now, without looking at the Greek or what evangelical scholars say on it.