05 April 2012

how god became king 1

N. T. Wright, How God Became King (New York: HarperOne, 2012).

Here is a discussion on The Bishop's latest publication, one that is causing much discussion around the church's theological water coolers.  As I was getting ready to post about this, I saw that McK is also starting a discussion at Jesus Creed (Happy 7th Year Today, BTW!) . . . so, there will be some interaction with his thoughts as well as we happen to cross paths.

When I was in the process of learning denominational history for The Brethren Church for my ordination, I learned that this non-creedal (which I don't wholly adopt as a position) branch of the faith had made the determination that we are not to adopt human statements in place of Scripture.  This led them to reject the "official" creeds of the church, even the Apostles Creed, as being flawed.  At the time I was taken back that a statement as basic as the Apostles Creed could be seen as defective.  The reason?  There was no mention of Jesus' life in between his birth and passion.  For a movement rooted in German Pietism, this was an important detail that should have been included.  I remember thinking, "Well, if there is a flaw to be found in the Apostles Creed, I believe they have found it."

How interesting when I heard The Bishop give his address to the Institute of Biblical Research in Atlanta (2010), where he began to publicly formulate the thoughts that would bring about this book, that he would point to the same issue found within the creeds.  "The one thing the creeds do not do . . . is to mention anything that Jesus did or said between his birth and his death" (12).  So I have been intrigued with where his own spin was going to lead.

Wright believes that the Gospels tell the story of Jesus so that Jesus' life and teaching can explain his own kingdom work (32).  This has led, therefore, to divergent understandings of what the gospel actually means, and (most importantly) how they shape the modern church.  In other words, both sides of the conservative-liberal divide can be rightly accused of reading only portions of the story and then filling in the gaps with other theologies.  Two axioms: "when the church leaves out bits of its core teaching, heretics will pick them up, turn them into something new, and use them to spread doubt and unbelief" (32-33); and, "when the church leaves out bits of its core teaching, it will inevitably overinflate other bits of its core teaching to fill the gap" (33).

The reality of this is that far too often the church has allowed cultural influences to fill the gap where its own core teaching has been ignored or misunderstood.  How is this the fault of the creeds?  It really isn't the fault of the creeds, but more of how the creeds have been used and understood throughout the history of the church.  I agree with Scot McKnight's assertion that while there could be more life-of-Jesus in the creeds, there is biblical precedent for summarizing the gospel in the same manner as the creeds.  However, to bounce back to Wright's premise, this has left the "gaps" that have been backfilled with our own theologies.  What is needed is a renewed sense of the Story . . . We need to hear the Gospels proclaim that this is how God became king more than we need to refine our theological intricacies.

Wright emphatically repeats throughout the book, ". . . the story of Jesus is the story of how Israel's God became king" (38).  Getting that right will begin to reshape how we read the Gospels, how we approach the story of Jesus, and how we carry out the mission of the church.  The creeds are statements of the gospel, but they must be kept within the larger context of the narrative story of God becoming king.  And that is where we have lost a sense of it . . . we have made the central focus of the creeds something different - whatever we have made the central focus of the bits-and-pieces we have learned about Jesus.  If we can return to the story we will undoubtedly be challenged by the new themes that emerge, which will in turn reshape our own identity and mission . . . as participants and as a community.

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