03 June 2008


Stephen B. Chapman and Laceye C. Warner, "Jonah and the Imitation of God: Rethinking Evangelism and the Old Testament." Journal of Theological Interpretation 2.1, (2008): 43-69.

This interesting article appeared in the latest issue of the new journal series, Journal of Theological Interpretation.  The premise seems quite straightforward: the Old Testament (especially Jonah) is undervalued in Christian theology, with specific interest in mission and evangelism.  Jonah is a good test case for this as the narrative (and main character) continue to be interpreted in various ways.  The question which is presented by the authors of this article is whether or not Jonah serves as a paradigmatic figure of evangelism within the biblical tradition.  Some say yes, others no (or else we wouldn't have an article, would we?).

In examining Jonah the authors appeal to the narrative focus as a whole, rather than seeing the opening chapter or the closing chapter as disjointed from the rest.  While this sounds simple enough, the extremely well-crafted narrative of Jonah pushes the interpretive limits on this more than one would initially think.  But the authors seem to get it right in both theory and execution.  For the story of Jonah is just that - a story.  And stories are meant to be read/told as whole units, which means our understanding of Jonah and his failures must make sense in light of the whole narrative.  Too many read this story and assume that his running away (ch 1) is because of his lack of faith.  In actuality (as this article points out), his running away is an improper outworking of "too much faith rather than too little" (60)!!  But we are not told this is the case until chapter 4, which allows us to pass judgment upon Jonah before we are able to evaluate ourselves - a maneuver properly identified in Allen's commentary on Jonah.

By the time we reach chapter four we have Jonah sitting on the ground with steam coming out of his ears.  I like the way Chapman and Warner put it: "God skillfully puts Jonah in the position of favoring mercy for a plant in order highlight Jonah's disapproval of mercy for the Ninevites" (58).  Ultimately, what is discovered about the Israelite mission via Jonah is that it envisages both a 'gathering in' and a 'going out' (50) to bring the nations to repentance.  And this seems to be the rub which also leads many exegetes to a break between OT evangelism and NT evangelism.  It is not as though Jonah represents a message only of judgment and destruction while the NT gives only a message of salvation, as Bosch suggests (cf. 44-46).  This is a gross misunderstanding of the Gospels, especially John the Baptist and the role of the Spirit.

Finally, the article notes seven points of which Christians can take Jonah and more adequately fulfill its mission.  The overarching principle is found in the notion that this is God's mission and it is not confined to any of our efforts.  But also, "Christian community extends itself in order to remain itself" (66), which might be the most direct way the narrative of Jonah hits modern evangelicalism between the eyes.

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