October 23, 2017

Bible Week: Quotes from the Bible — Kenton Sparks

Quotes from the Bible
#3: Kenton Sparks

When we read the Bible with historical and contextual sensitivity, we notice with ease that Scripture does not speak consistently on all matters. It is a diverse book written by numerous authors and editors who addressed different audiences and social situations. Sometimes their discourses are contradictory and, in extreme cases, convey ideas that verge on what we would call vice. But Scripture also offers undeniable beauty as it encourages us to love God and neighbor with a spirit of abandon and self-sacrifice. If this is right — if Scripture speaks the truth through perceptive yet warped human horizons — then how can we use it to weave a useful and coherent understanding of God and of his relationship with us? How can the Bible, as a diverse and broken book, serve as a primary source of our theological insight? My pursuit of an answer to this important question begins below and continues into the next two chapters.

First, if we wish to take Scripture’s human authors seriously, then theological interpretation necessarily includes a “two-step” process that appreciates the distinction between Scripture’s human and divine discourse. Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) put it this way:

[T]exts must first be restored to their historical locus and interpreted in their historical context. But this must be followed by a second phase of interpretation, however, in which they must also be seen in light of the entire historical movement and in terms of the central event of Christ.’

…I would maintain that the brokenness and diversity of Scripture do not negate its essential unity.’ In saying so, I do not intend to deny the truth in Pope Benedict’s judgment that, apart from our faith in the God of Scripture, “nothing is left beyond contradictory speech fragments which cannot subsequently be brought into any relation.”‘ There is a sense in which, on a human level, Scripture is incoherent. Nevertheless, I would say that even apart from faith, one can sense in Scripture a narrative portrait of the human situation and of God’s redemptive plan to put it right. I would attribute this coherence to the ancient authors and editors of the Bible, who were modestly “systematic” in their effort to present a coherent theological picture. This systematic tendency appears in the arrangement of the biblical canon as a whole and in some of its individual books, such as the effort of the author of Hebrews to relate the Old and New Testaments theologically.

Because of this editorial effort, Scripture from Genesis to Revelation presents a tolerably coherent story, what one scholar has called a “theodrama.” It begins with God’s creation of the cosmos and humanity, describes the Fall of humanity and its damaging effects, testifies to God’s redemptive work to put his fallen world aright through Christ, and ends with predictions of Christ’s return and a final reckoning of all things. Such is the general effect of Scripture’s narrative shape. I do not believe that this biblical narrative should be construed mainly as a “story world” alternative to the world we live in, as some narrative theologians have suggested. Rather, the Bible seeks to explain what is actually going on in this world, whether we realize it or not, and invites us to see this world in a certain The fact the some biblical narratives depict the world as it should be in contrast to how it actually is only supports this conclusion. To be sure, as Richard Bauckham has pointed out, the biblical story’s unity is “broken” and is neither complete nor perfect.’ But again, on the whole, the coherence and shape of the biblical story give us important clues about how to organize our theology.

The shape and substance of the biblical story explicitly point us to a fourth principle for organizing our theology. Namely, our theology should grant priority to Jesus Christ, to knowing him, his teachings, and the redemptive significance of his resurrection, ascension, and eventual return. As Pope Benedict expressed it, “Christ is the key to all things…. [O]nly by walking with Christ, by reinterpreting all things in his light, with him, crucified and risen, do we enter into the riches and beauty of sacred Scripture.” Benedict’s point is thoroughly biblical. For the entire canon of Scripture, with the first testament leading to Jesus and the second reflecting back on his life, is oriented around the revelation of God in Christ. John’s Gospel, in particular, warns us not to seek life in Scripture itself but rather by embracing it as a testimony that points us to Jesus (5:39-40).

• Kenton L. Sparks
Sacred Word, Broken Word: Biblical Authority and the Dark Side of Scripture

Comments

  1. Off topic.

    Hello Kent.

    I hope all is well with your family.

    Nice to see you around here.

  2. Robert F says:

    Good post. One thing that always concerns me when we Christians talk about Christ as being the key and light and overarching unity of scripture: does this not make it difficult for us to read the OT from a Jewish perspective, and to appreciate it as Jewish scripture? After all, for millennia now the Jewish people have found meaning, light and unity in the OT sufficient to see them through the darkest times imaginable, without reference to Christ. Isn’t this sufficiency of the OT (even as worked out and interpreted in oral and Talmudic traditions) part of what it means to read it with Jewish eyes and appreciation rather than merely expropriating it for Christian purposes? That unappreciative expropriation has contributed in significant ways to the Christian history of antisemitism and anti-Judaism.

    • Robert F says:

      Understand: I think the above quote from Sparks handles the issue I’m talking about as well as Christianity probably can. Sparks recognizes that the OT scripture has a unity and overarching meaning even before we get to Jesus Christ; he then goes on to say that Jesus Christ provides the greatest and most important unity for Christian understanding and interpretation. But it seems to me that the balance between the need for a Christian interpretation, and the risk of losing an appreciation of the Jewishness of the scriptures, is a precarious and unstable one, no matter how deftly handled.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > and the risk of losing an appreciation of the Jewishness of the scriptures

        I suspect this issue is as much to do with how the absence of Jewishness in the community as how the OT is discussed. “Middle America” neglects the ish-ness of just about everything – primarily due to the stark homogeneity of Middle America. I suspect you would find ish-ness even difficult to explain in many contexts.

        One thing that helped me was getting a copy of the Talmud at a library sale. That was yet another door to how to see scripture, particularly the OT, very differently. The whole section on whether it was moral to pray for rain on days before a holiday when others would likely to be traveling – I constantly think of that section – how very seriously they took both Scripture and the demand to consider one’s neighbors [meanwhile I am sure my Evangelical leaders at the time would have hand waved that away as pharisaic hair-splitting – missing the point entirely].

        • –> “The whole section on whether it was moral to pray for rain on days before a holiday when others would likely to be traveling – I constantly think of that section – how very seriously they took both Scripture and the demand to consider one’s neighbors ”

          Wow! Love that tension! “What I want vs. what is best for others.” Though that’s certainly “a follower of Jesus Christ tension”, I didn’t know it existed in the Talmud. Thanks for that insight!

  3. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    > modestly “systematic” in their effort to present a coherent theological picture.

    Ok, I agree with that. There is, if you step back, a coherent arc.

    But “systematic”? Only if by “systematic” he means something other than the majority of [pop?] Theologians with their Systematic Theologies – most of which operate by zooming in and creating elaborate constructs resting on precise meanings [which are not there].

    I struggle with the notion that Scripture is “systematic”. It is certainly “organized” and “ordered”; but that is a low bar for “systematic”.

    But it is just a word at the end of the day.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Only if by “systematic” he means something other than the majority of [pop?] Theologians with their Systematic Theologies – most of which operate by zooming in and creating elaborate constructs resting on precise meanings [which are not there].

      Like Medieval Angelology and Demonology — massive hyperdetailed systems built generation after generation after generation from the most minimal of foundations, each generation mistaking the previous generation’s speculation for Fact and using it as the factual foundation for their own speculations.

      • If only the Medieval Angelology and Demonology had stayed in the middle ages…

      • “…massive hyper-detailed systems built …, from the most minimal of foundations, … for their own speculations.”

        And the question is: where is our present [mine-] field of faith doing the same? What are today’s parallel pitfalls, human nature being a constant?

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          From my time in-country (during The Gospel According to Hal Lindsay), End Time Prophecy and the Dispy Trib charts and Revelation checklists choreographed almost down to the minute.

  4. As to most “Christian” theologizing, which strikes me more as agonizing over the jots and tittles for sport, I tend to read the little note posted “Out to Lunch” and move on. This week is featuring some folks who seem to have stepped back from the trees and noticed there was a forest. Good. As to Christian theologizing over the Olden Scriptures, I would prefer to go straight to the Great Forester himself. Jesus says repeatedly that they are talking about him as Messiah. And the main point of the Christian Scriptures is talking about Jesus as Messiah. Jesus as Messiah is the whole point to the whole shebang and is what distinguishes Christianity from every other religion and philosophy. That’s what it’s name, Christianity, means. Followers of the Anointed One. That’s it, believe it or not. The rest is adiaphora. Adiaphora is a Greek word best translated as “tedious”.

    • –> “This week is featuring some folks who seem to have stepped back from the trees and noticed there was a forest. Good.”

      Agreed. It’s been refreshing!

      Speaking of the tree/forest thing, here’s a true story from yesterday…

      I run a modest (and that’s being generous) coffee house two days a week at our church. A guy came in off the street yesterday and asked if our pastor was available. I said he wasn’t (he was at a district meeting) and asked if I could help. The man proceeded to jump right into end-times stuff, like maybe they’re here and suggesting we’ll be judged if we let ourselves get deceived and then the pre-trib/post-trib “fun.” He was very knowledgeable about the Bible, quoting scripture to support his points.

      I kept trying to get him to step back and see the forest, suggesting that none of those things really matter if we focus on Jesus’ love, forgiveness and grace, and that those fears, worries and anxieties can actually be unhealthy for our faith and our walk.

      His response was consistently, “Yeah, but…”

      People like that are tiring…LOL.

      • Rick, last week I had a skin cancer on my upper arm cut off which was smack dab in the middle of a tattoo of a dragon I got in my youth. It took out the talons and the fangs and most of the head of the dragon. My private belief is that the same thing is happening to the entrenched world system as we speak and this makes for a great correspondence to mull over in my spare time as the arm heals up. I know better than to push this on other people but I would have been sorely tempted with your dispensational friend and likely would have jumped in with both feet and the arm.

        • Rick Ro. says:

          –> “…skin cancer…”

          Don’t like to hear those words. Hope and pray they got it all and there are no other issues.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        The man proceeded to jump right into end-times stuff, like maybe they’re here and suggesting we’ll be judged if we let ourselves get deceived and then the pre-trib/post-trib “fun.” He was very knowledgeable about the Bible, quoting scripture to support his points.

        Left Behind Fever of 106+ F.
        The Gospel According to Hal Lindsay strikes again.
        (When I was in-country in the Seventies, this crapola was NORMAL! WIth the Trib (including Antichrist’s Guilotin Carts) described in lip-smacking hyperdetail. Anything else and You Weren’t Really SAVED!)

        • Rick Ro. says:

          I even mentioned Hal Lindsay and “The Late Great Planet Earth” as points for why worrying and debating end-time stuff are pointless and fruitless. That didn’t get anywhere, either.

          • Robert F says:

            The guy needed a little excitement in his life. End Times fantasies provided distraction and entertainment for him. He probably felt like he was one of the main characters in a cosmic melodrama. Maybe it’s even like one of those role-playing games. Heady stuff, for those who buy into it. Life, for the most part, is so boring, but apocalypses are exciting.

            • Dungeons and the Dragon vs. Peter at the Pearly Gates?

            • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

              End Times fantasies provided distraction and entertainment for him. He probably felt like he was one of the main characters in a cosmic melodrama.

              With the added Lure of the Inner Ring of those who KNOW What’s REALLY Going On.

              It’s the ultimate cosmic-level Grand Unified Conspiracy Theory.

          • Robert F says:

            Yeah, a good apocalypse: now that’s something you can sink your teeth into!

            • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

              “They see themselves as living in the first chapter of Left Behind and find it all Very Exciting.”
              — possibly the original IMonk

              Never mind that the OT Prophets called The End “That Great and TERRIBLE Day of God”, not a spectator sport with catered box seats reserved for Me.

              In a way, these guys are like the fanboy wing of Reagan-era Survivalists who looked forward to Nuclear War so they could finally be The Road Warrior.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      As to most “Christian” theologizing, which strikes me more as agonizing over the jots and tittles for sport…

      Good description.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      As to most “Christian” theologizing, which strikes me more as agonizing over the jots and tittles for sport

      Good description.

  5. Dana Ames says:

    “Jesus says repeatedly that they are talking about him as Messiah. And the main point of the Christian Scriptures is talking about Jesus as Messiah. Jesus as Messiah is the whole point to the whole shebang and is what distinguishes Christianity from every other religion and philosophy.”

    This. As richly as Jewish people have interpreted their own writings, they still have a veil over their eyes with regard to seeing Jesus as Messiah in them. They’re not alone in this. Of course this does not justify anti-semitism in any form. If we can’t be grateful for The Writings (scripture, graphe in Greek, in every place to which they are referred in the NT and the LXX) and the Jewish people who received, cared for and preserved them, then we’re pretty poor followers of the Anointed One – whom in prophetic ignorance the Romans tagged “the king of the Jews.” The LORD, the god of the Jewish people, was always meant to be a crucified God – Luke 24.26-27. Most Jews don’t get this, but I think most Christians don’t quite it, either.

    Dana

    • Dana Ames says:

      Ach – “don’t quite get it…”

      D.

    • Robert F says:

      Many if not most Christians have been pretty poor followers of the Anointed One, if the persistence and pervasiveness of historic Christian anti-Judaism and antisemitism provide the evidence. As a community, Christians have failed miserably not only to be grateful for the Jewish people who received the scriptures, but to even respect the humanity of those people. This persecution of Jewish people is not just an unusual and atypical aberration in historic Christian behavior, but an ingrained habit that has been lauded down through time as a mark of true devotion to that Anointed One. If you really love the Lord, you cannot but hate those who had him crucified, and who crucify him still by denying that he is their Messiah, the voice has insisted, and many, many, many Christians have embraced that message with vengeful zeal. It’s not just history; it exists among us today.

      • Patrick Kyle says:

        Brother, don’t you get tired of the constant harangue against your brothers in the faith for their manifold’ failures’ and inherited guilt for the deeds of those long dead? Do you loathe yourself and your culture so much that this is all you can see?

        • Robert F says:

          Can you own up to the responsibilities you share as a member of the communion of saints, a communion without temporal or spatial boundaries, for the treatment of the Jewish people, some of which treatment which has not discontinued in our own time? Are you unable to acknowledge the blasphemies committed by Christians in the name of Christ against his own people? Your problem is that you think it’s over, but it’s not; of late, it’s been getting worse rather than better. But you don’t want to see that, you prefer to deny.

        • Robert F says:

          It’s amazing that you can dismiss as something that happened long ago and far away a genocide committed against the European Jews by Christian Europe less than a hundred years ago, a genocide that was the culmination of centuries of pogromsand persecutions. On the other hand, now that the last Jewish survivors of the death camps are dying of old age, and the Holocaust deniers have gained larger and larger credulous audiences and traction for their historical revisionism among people who neither have nor want a memory of what really happened, it should come as no surprise when someone like you pooh-poos the relevance of those events for our world today. You are exactly what the deniers are counting on.

      • Dana Ames says:

        Robert,

        You are right, and there is plenty for us to be ashamed of regarding treatment of the Jewish people, and allowing our understanding of our heritage from them to lapse. Not only will we answer to the Lord for it at the Judgment, but it also has negatively affected our understanding and interpretation of Scripture; I’m convinced that one of the reasons Christ himself has so little impact on us in general and in the US in particular is because of the lack of knowledge and appreciation of the Jewish roots of Christianity. For me personally, N. T. Wright’s work, so full of bringing those C1 Hebrew ideas forward again, made me want to fall on my face before Jesus, and gave me actual good news to be able to tell people.

        It is incumbent upon us now living to work against such attitudes and actions however we can.

        Dana

        • Robert F says:

          I actually think, Dana, that in the US the Jewish people have been better treated, and found a safer home, than in any other nation that has existed in the last two thousand years, with the possible exception of modern Israel. And the more secular the US has become, the better the treatment the Jewish people have experienced here. It’s when people start talking about the country as a Christian one that Jews have to be wary, and this is what’s been happening of late.

        • Robert F says:

          Enlightenment values made the US a relatively good place to live for the Jewish people.