Sunday, February 12, 2012

King Jesus Gospel - More

Both NT Wright and Dallas Willard wrote introductions for the book, which is likely the only reason I gave it a whirl at all. I very much admire Wright, and perhaps most interestingly, previous world's-most-famous-atheist* Anthony Flew, now ex-atheist Anthony Flew, admires him and states he was pivotal in his conversion to theism. And Tom Branscom, in the conversation for smartest person I have met, greatly likes Willard. So their names on the cover got me over my suspicions.

Wright has a remarkable essay on a seemingly offhand comment of Paul's in his Letter to the Galatians of going to Arabia after conversion. There is general agreement, I believe, that part of his intent was to note that he did not go to Jerusalem, but opinions vary as to what he meant instead - a period of years meditating alone in the desert? A trial run at witnessing to Gentiles? Wright's view is that Paul is speaking slightly in metaphor, but telling us that he went "back to Sinai," back to the beginning of understanding of the law, studying the Scriptures to understand how they fit with this unmistakeable experience of Jesus declaring himself Messiah. Not so much to check and see if this Jesus thing were true, but to relook at the entirety of scripture now that he knew who the Messiah was, and something of how he had lived and died?

It is not dissimilar to what Jesus himself did for the believers walking on the road to Emmaus. He goes back over the ground of material that they have known, but are now for the first time enabled to understand. Peter does the same with the Ethiopian, and in his first sermon at Pentecost.

It is how Paul arrives at the same gospel as the others. He was the scholar of scripture, but now he saw the same words with proper reading glasses, so to speak. I believe God puts this contrasting different-roads-to-the-same-point lesson right at the beginning of the church for that reason - proof, against those who wished to claim that the scriptures did not support the idea of Jesus's Messiahship, that at minimum, someone with significant credentials had gone over it all and found no contradiction. Not only that, but had found that this indeed was explained the previously dark or ambiguous passages. Here was the key chapter, the climax of the story which made the others clear.

I imagine McKnight is well aware of the essay, though he doesn't mention it, as it fits so cleanly with his contention that The Gospel is properly understood as the Story of Israel as completed by Jesus. The gospel is a story, not a list of checkpoints on a card, and resolutions to stories...well, good stories, anyway...are not easily put into summary sentences.  Even Stoppard's Fifteen-Minute Hamlet can only get it down to two minutes after he has done the 13-minute version.  (Reduced Shakespeare does eventually get it down to six seconds through similar successive refinings.) For a pivot-point-of-the-universe life, death, and resurrection, we might expect that we cannot reduce it to a four-verse Roman Road.

Smaller point from McKnight:  he notes that the Gospel According to John illustrates for Jews how Jesus connects to their ongoing worship, not only the scriptures but the daily experience of the prayers, the Sabbath, and the festivals.  Interesting.

*Who keeps those rankings, and do they change from year-to-year? It sounds rather like Buttercup in The Princess Bride, the book, mind you, "What difference could it have made if you were only the third most beautiful. Or the sixth. (Buttercup at this time was nowhere near that high, being barely in the top twenty, and that primarily on potential, certainly not on any particular care she took of herself.)


james said...

Mathematicians love to express things in pithy summaries, though the run-up to that simple theorem takes pages and pages.

Feynman joked once that the laws of physics could be expressed as U=0. The only tricky part was the details that went into U.

Some theologians seem to like it too: "Love God and do as you will." Unpacking what each part of that means takes more than a little explanation :-)

Anonymous said...

"Peter does the same with the Ethiopian"
Acts 8:27

Assistant Village Idiot said...

It's a fair cop. Philip.