4 min 2 seconds reading time
As I said, the standard narrative model (SNM) of reading the Bible from Genesis to Revelation is fundamentally the creation, the fall, the redemption in Christ, and the consummation of all things. That is the big picture that puts all the other pieces in their place for us. You may be familiar with slightly different versions of this pattern, but at the core, they are more or less the same.
The first problem with the SNM is it functionally ignores nearly all of the Hebrew Scriptures, the very Bible of Jesus. (click here for last week's installment)
The second problem with the SNM is it implies the Church supersedes Israel and replaces the Jews in God's dealings. Do you know this term, supersessionism? It means—this is what the early church fathers believed and most in the church today believe—that God has displaced Israel in his divine economy. The natural offspring of Abraham is no longer relevant; they have been replaced. Physical Israel is superseded by spiritual Israel, now called the Church. Does that sound familiar?
The third problem with the SNM is that it is a flight from history and a catapulting into metaphysics. Church creeds and our Christian way of reading the Bible give little significance to history. What ultimately matters is that we perceive things rightly, the essence of their being. We have centuries of debate and division over subtle distinctions like did the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father and the Son or just from the Father. Meanwhile, we disregard centuries of God's dealing historically with a people who are supposed to be his witnesses in this earth.
The fourth problem with the SNM—as a byproduct of this flight from history and this catapulting into metaphysics—is that religion turns individualistic and otherworldly. If history is unimportant, if it's the spiritual essence of the thing that truly matters, then the focus becomes you and your individual spiritual experience, not God's dealings with the community. What inevitably follows is an emphasis on the sweet by and by as all that really counts.
Does this provoke your thinking? Jesus would choke on the way we treat his Hebrew Bible. Even naming it the Old Testament is telling. But the standard narrative model teaches, directly and indirectly, that with the advent of Christ, Israel became obsolete. There is, therefore, no need to read Torah past Genesis 3 except to illustrate our sermons, inspire our private spiritualities, and find prophecies predicting the first (and second) coming of Jesus. Why? Because all that matters is Christ has come to save your soul so that when you die, you get to go into the spirit world.
I hope you know me well enough to understand that I'm speaking in hyperbole. These are indeed important critiques, but I'm purposely simplifying and magnifying each one to drive home the points.
It is not my intention to put anyone or anything down. Each of these analyses needs to be developed, nuanced, and balanced. I hope to get you to a place where you understand that the SNM needs to be put into a much bigger frame, a more biblically complete picture.
That being said, the problems I've highlighted for you are active and mostly undiscerned among God's people. As you can see, these things are vitally important to you and me—with respect to how we relate to God, to one another, to the world, and to our salvation. I would go as far as to say what we are talking about is crucial to the times in which we live.
The church fathers saw all of God's dealing with Israel as simply prefigurative. In other words, it prefigured the reality that was yet to come, and so it is illustrative and important to us from that point of view. But when that which is to come arrives, all of what came before has no more meaning, including God's relationship with Israel. That has been the traditional view.
I am suggesting to you that we've lost our biblical orientation to theology.
I am not the first to recognize this, by the way. A man in our lifetime arrived at the same revelation from a different direction. His name was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Have you heard of him? He was a Christian pastor executed by the Nazis.
Bonhoeffer became convinced of the same thing and wanted to create what he called a religionist Christianity. For him, the Christianity of Germany and the West was a religion dictated by Greek philosophy rather than by the Word of God. As a result, it was very individualistic and otherworldly. He saw that the Word of God is telling us that it is being the people of God in this world that counts.
We have lost the essential orientation that the Hebrew scriptures would give our theology because we leapfrog over them and, instead, let our Western philosophical mind interpret the New Testament. As a result, we lose a biblical worldview that engages history in any meaningful sense. It is interesting but essentially unimportant. Therefore the gospel we proclaim has become decidedly personal and private.
All that matters is you and God and what you do in your little world. Faith doesn't have any bearing on the marketplace. It doesn't matter whether you go to this church or that church—all that matters is that you be right with God. The biblical view opposes that way of thinking. Over and over again, God talks about establishing a people for his namesake in this world. A community of faith, not just a group of isolated individuals.
In his writings, Bonhoeffer said we need to be delivered from subservience to metaphysics and the individualistic interpretation of Scripture. Can you guess what prescription he offered to cure this ill? He said we need to get back to the Bible of Jesus, to be immersed in the Hebrew Bible.
We desperately need the Hebraic perspective of Jesus and the early church. That is where we are going for the rest of this teaching.