Archive for the ‘metanarrative’ Category

In his chapter ‘Refashioning the Clay’ Samuel Wells acknowledges the huge contribution the Big Bang and evolutionary theory have made to science, but cautions against turning them into theology, for “you get a single word answer: survival. The whole dynamic of history mutates into survival; and adaptation that enables survival is called progress. Conflict is at the heart of every encounter, and survival is the reward for those who win the battle.

“But Christianity has a very different answer.

“Christians believe the logic – the logos, or word – at the heart of the universe is not about survival. It’s about death and resurrection. The ultimate future doesn’t belong to those who have fought and prevailed, it belongs to those who have laid down their lives for others.

Samuel Wells, in Learning to Dream Again


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The First Testament Story never talks about God having a plan for the world or a plan of salvation or a plan for people’s individual lives, and the story it tells does not look like one that resulted from a plan. God certainly had an aim, a vision, some goals, and sometimes formulates a plan for a particular context, but works out a purpose in the world in interaction with the human beings who are designed to be key to the fulfilling of those goals. God is not a micromanager who seeks to make every decision for the company, but the wiser kind of executive who formulates clear goals but involves the work force in determining how to implement them, and also recognizes that the failure of members of the work force will require an ongoing flexibility in pursuing these goals. The story does not give the impression that from the beginning God had planned the flood, or the summons of Abraham, or the exodus, or the introduction of the monarchy, or the building of the temple, or the exile, or the sending of a messiah. It portrays these as responses to concrete situations, while all are outworkings of God’s purpose and character. Our security lies not in the world’s actual story being the outworking of God’s plan (that would be scary) but in its unfolding within the control of an executive who will go to any lengths to see that the vision gets fulfilled – even dying for it. In this sense the lamb of God was slain before the world’s foundation. God has always been that kind of God.

John Goldingay, ‘God Began’ in Old Testament Theology, Volume One: Israel’s Gospel (IVP: 2003), p.60

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Interesting to find support for my ‘Where on Earth Does God Dwell?’ study paper thesis from John Polkinghorne in this interview. I hadn’t thought about the possibility of describing the future in terms of panentheism (not the same as pantheism!), though I guess that’s what I am essentially describing in my paper.

I believe that God created this world, this creation, to be other than God’s self and that it is allowed to be itself. However, as the Eastern churches have always maintained, through Christ creation is intended eventually to share in the life of God, the life of divine nature. Even now, this world contains sacraments, inklings of God’s new creation, the redemption of this world beyond its death. I believe that the new creation will be a totally sacramental world, totally suffused with God’s presence. That means, of course, that the world could then properly be described as panentheistic. So I see panentheism as an eschatological destiny rather than as a present reality.

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Old Testament Scholar and conservative evangelical John Walton presents the clearest and most coherent explanation of Genesis 1 that I have come across. In this talk he makes the case for reading the text of Genesis 1 in the way it was intended – and does so in a highly lucid and entertaining manner. Very readable!

…the text has no interest in the physical, material cosmos. That’s just not what it’s talking about. That doesn’t mean that God didn’t also create the physical material cosmos, but that’s not what the ancient mindset is concerned about. That gets back to us wanting the text on our terms. We want to know about about the physical cosmos because that’s our ontology, that’s our world, that’s our concepts. That’s what we want to know about. We can’t indulge ourselves in that way with the Genesis account. Again, there’s no question that God did those things, but that’s not what this text is about. God makes it work.

From Minor Thoughts: Why Didn’t God Call the Light, Light?, a paraphrase of a talk by John Walton (Minor Thoughts also offers the MP3 file). John Walton is Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College and author of the NIV Application Commentary on Genesis.

I’ve been looking at his ideas for my study project on the temple metanarrative, and I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on his book ‘The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate’ (read reviews at Amazon.com).

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[Fairy-stories] strike deeper truth than other literary forms precisely because of their happy endings – not in spite of them. True fantasies end happily, thus providing consolation for life’s tragedy and sorrow. But their endings are not escapist. Their felicitous outcome is always produced by a dreadful disaster, by a drastic and unexpected turn of events, which issues in surprising deliverance. Tolkien calls this saving mishap a eucatastrophe: a happy calamity that does not deny the awful reality of dycatastrophe – or human wreck and ruin. …

Like C. S. Lewis, Tolkien regards many of the world’s myths and fairy-stories as forerunners and preparations of the Gospel – as fallible human attempts to tell the Story that only the triune God can tell perfectly. The Gospel is the ultimate fairy-story, Tolkien concludes, because it contains ‘the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe.’ …

Here is God’s own Story wherein the Teller of the tale becomes its chief Actor. Rather than canceling all other stories, however, this one is what they have all been stumbling and pointing toward. The Gospel is the fulfillment and completion of all other stories.

Ralph C Wood, The Gospel According to Tolkien, 2003

The Gospels contain a fairy story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels—peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving: “mythical” in their perfect, self-contained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the “inner consistency of reality.” There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits.

J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy Stories

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Within the large, capacious context of the biblical story we learn to think accurately, behave morally, preach passionately, sing joyfully, pray honestly, obey faithfully. But we dare not abandon the story as we do any or all of these things, for the minute we abandon the story, we reduce reality to the dimensions of our minds and feelings and experience. The moment we formulate our doctrines, draw up our moral codes, and throw ourselves into a life of ministry apart from a continuous re-immersion in the story itself, we walk right out of the presence and activity of God and set up our own shop.

Eugene Peterson puts it plainly – and strongly – in his book ‘Subversive Spirituality‘ (p.5)

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I’ve been thinking recently about Jesus the man. Do we have a large enough conception of what it means for Jesus to be the ‘last Adam’ (1 Cor 15.45)?

If we look back to the beginning, we find that Adam’s mandate (apparently part of what it means to be in the image of God) is to ‘have dominion’ / rule over the plants and animals (Gen 1.28-29). This is God’s sovereignty, delegated – or mediated – through humanity. Later, in chapter 9, God tells Noah that from that point animals would ‘fear and dread’ humans (in a passage which is a clear echo of 1.28-29) – clearly this was not what God originally meant by ruling.  

Often, the fall has been interpreted as the moment where Adam loses his dominion into the hands of God’s enemy, the devil. The New Testament teaches that ‘the whole world lies under the power of the evil one’ (1 John 5.19). In Romans 5 Paul draws a contrast between Adam and Jesus:

‘If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.’ (Romans 5.17)

In Daniel’s vision of the coming of the Son of Man (ch 7) God takes dominion away from the great beasts (v. 12) and hands it over to ‘one like a human being’ (v.13, NRSV). But it appears as if this dominion, this everlasting kingdom, thereafter belongs to the people of God: 

‘The kingship and dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the holy ones of the Most High; their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them.’ (Daniel 7.27)

Revelation 22 also presents a similar idea in describing the new Jerusalem: 

‘Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.’ (Rev 22.3-5; see also Rev 5.9-10).

God is certainly reigning here, but so too, in a mysterious way, are his people. There are plenty of other New Testament passages that speak of the people of God reigning in the new creation (e.g. 1 Cor 4.7-8, 2 Tim 2.8-13, Rev 3.21).

We need to understand Jesus, the last Adam, as reinstating, in himself, the dominion of humanity over the earth. Jesus’ kingship is given to him as the Son of Man. He is the true human being.  How ironically fitting are Pilate’s words in John 19: ‘Behold the man!’  In his obedience to God, dying a sinless death, defeating Satan and rising from the dead, Jesus opens the way for humanity to be restored to its proper place.

In a similar way, it might be worth considering what it means that Jesus is ‘the one ordained [appointed] by God as judge of the living and the dead’ (Acts 10.42).

“‘The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. …he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of ManI can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me.”  (John 5.22-30)

While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17.30-31)

It seems as if we should also understand Jesus’ status as judge primarily in terms of his humanity, rather than his divinity. God has handed over authority to execute judgement to the Son. “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? …we are to judge angels – to say nothing of ordinary matters?” says Paul (1 Cor 6.2-3). 

Both as king and judge, it matters that Jesus is a human being, the Son of Man as well as the Son of God. God’s intention from the beginning was for human beings to exercise authority on the earth. Jesus reigns over an everlasting kingdom as the Son of Man. His kingdom reign is not ‘Plan B’ – human beings made a mess of things so God steps in. God’s plan was always for human beings to have dominion, and in Jesus, the last Adam, they have and will.

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