September 6, 2012 by Jason Hood
I was looking up a topic in New Dictionary of Theology, ed. David F. Wright, Sinclair Ferguson, and J. I. Packer (IVP, 1988) Tuesday morning and happened to wonder what they did with the gospel. It turns out that the editors recruited a crack exegete for that entry.
In light of the current debates over the definition of the gospel, F. F. Bruce’s short five paragraph piece (278-9) is remarkably pertinent. He certainly emphasizes some “soterian” dimensions, to use the label Tom Wright applies to contemporary evangelicalism in his introduction to Scot McKnight’s recent book on the gospel.* With “[t]he preacher becomes the preached one,” Bruce appears to yield to much 20th century NT scholarship (think Bultmann, and further back in the historical Jesus movement to which Bultmann was reacting) that stressed a disjunction between Jesus’ proclamation and the later apostolic proclamation of him. I owe this observation to McKnight, who shows in his book that this distinction isn’t true: Jesus absolutely preached himself, just as the later church did. In fact, they learned their proclamation of him from him, and Jesus’ sermon in Luke 24 is not terribly different from the conversations Jesus had in public (“Just as Jonah was…”) and his disciples (the Son of Man must suffer, die…and be raised).
But Bruce’s concluding summation is almost identical to McKnight, as well as those in the Reformed redemptive historical tradition who emphasize the priority of historia salutis over ordo salutis. That is, they stress that the gospel is the Triune God’s work in the life, death, resurrection, ascension and return of Jesus as the capstone of the story of redemptive history, rather than the application of that work in salvation. (The latter is understood to be the result of the former, of course, and if you deny or downplay “ordo salutis,” you’re getting it all wrong.)
Here’s Bruce’s summary of the basic elements in the NT preaching of the gospel message:
1. the prophecies [and I'd clarify that it's story as a whole, not just individual prophecies] have been fulfilled and the new age inaugurated by the coming of Christ;
2. he was born into the family of David;
3. he died according to the Scriptures, to deliver his people from this evil age [McKnight and Reformed redemptive-historical types emphasize "from their sins," rather than movement from age-to-age, although the two are obviously related];
4. he was buried and raised again the third day, according to the Scriptures;
5. he is exalted at God’s right hand as Son of God, Lord of living and dead;
6. he will come again to judge the world and consummate his saving work.
If I remember his book on Paul correctly, Bruce has a more “Pauline” flavor of gospel there…but this piece comes after that book, and may reflect further study.
[[* Update: was just reminded that Tom got the label "soterian" from Scot's book.]]4 Comments
August 9, 2012 by Jason Hood
Here’s part two of my interview with Jonathan Pennington, Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction, coming in October 2012 from Baker Academic. (For more on the book, including killer video introductions, see the book’s website.) Part one is available here.
(4) What are some of the “big picture,” redemptive historical ideas that shape the way you read the gospels?
From how I’ve defined the gospel above you might rightly surmise that the kingdom or reign of God is central to my thinking, as it seems it was to Jesus’ as well, if his preaching and teaching are any indication!
At the same time, I am convinced that the goal of Holy Scripture (which I spend some time discussing in the book) is our personal transformation through God revealing to us both our brokenness and the full-orbed redemption available to us in the gospel. So, I think a wise reading of the Gospels will not only ask theological and redemptive-historical questions about the kingdom, but also about the nature of God and his redeeming ways with his people. Again, the Gospels are heavily-laden, low-hanging fruit-filled trees on these important matters. At every turn the stories of the Gospels reveal Christ’s gracious greatness and our need for redemption.
(5) Are there any under-appreciated or underexplored aspects of the theology of the kingdom for church today? Are there elements where we haven’t quite gotten the message of the gospels right (i.e., preaching, ethics, evangelism, political engagement, building a worldview or a biblical theology)?
This is obviously a huge question. I will just tackle one small part that is related to what we’ve been discussing. I think we have largely misread the Gospels as if they are the historical data while the rest of the NT is the theological and ethical interpretation of Jesus’ life. This is quite mistaken at many levels. The Gospels themselves are finely-tuned, well-honed, fully-theological and practical interpretations and applications of Jesus’ message. They are, in my opinion, more universal and comprehensive than the epistolary literature, which is largely occasional in nature.
As a result, I believe our understanding of NT theology (and biblical theology overall) is often somewhat pear-shaped by preferencing a certain way of reading Paul and not taking into account the whole NT witness, including the vast bulk of it: the Gospel accounts. When we begin to read the Gospels as theological (even homiletical) messages it will potentially affect how we articulate many things including our worldview, political engagement, evangelism, and ethics.
I absolutely agree, Jonathan, and I don’t think I’m alone. I have been teaching OT of late, I’ve noted the same problem with the way we read the OT books. We take them as historical accounts (to be defended or critiqued, depending on whether we lean left or right) while downplaying or overlooking the theological and pastoral purposes of those books.
Strangely enough, your criticism is the opposite criticism employed by Bultmann and the early Barth against 19th and early 20th century liberalism. That movement was guilty of over-emphasizing the gospels (but by mining for acceptable moral gems and reconstructions of the historical Jesus, famously categorized by Schweitzer as looking intently for Jesus only to find we’re looking into a well and seeing our own reflection) and downplaying soteriological concepts found in Paul and Luther.
(6) A hypothetical student in “old school” dispensationalism picks up this text. What will he or she encounter that will be challenging?
Well, if they truly are old school dispensationalists then they won’t appreciate the fact that I think the Gospels’ teachings are the Church’s teachings! That is, as I was just suggesting, the Gospels are post-Pentecostal interpretations of the Christian faith, not time-bound data about the historical Jesus in his own dispensation nor teachings for Israel in the millennium. This is, according to my understanding, a classical dispensational view. I know it is not the view of today’s “progressive” dispensationalists, thankfully.
Indeed, the edgiest part of RGW is the final chapter where I boldly suggest that the fourfold Gospel book should be understood as the epicenter or keystone of the archway for all of Holy Scripture. I don’t suppose this fits overly well into an old school dispensational view, nor indeed into most evangelical views! You’ll have to read the book and evaluate the arguments for yourself.
Bruce Waltke answers the question, “What is your favorite book of the Bible?”: “Whichever book I’m currently studying.” I imagine your text will help students dig into the gospels so that they become favorite texts for many, Jonathan! Thanks so much for your time, and best wishes on this new publication and your new position as Director of the PhD program at Southern Seminary.1 Comment
August 8, 2012 by Jason Hood
Friend of SAET Jonathan Pennington has a new textbook coming out on the gospels: Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction, coming in October 2012 from Baker Academic. I recently asked him a few questions about this work and his approach to the gospels. (For more on the book, including killer video introductions, see the book’s website.)
(1) You’ve been teaching gospels for how long now? What are some of the key elements you want students to take into the pastorate?
I’ve been teaching from the Gospels at several levels for about ten years now – everything from church seminars to Greek Exegesis of Matthew, from Sunday preaching to NT Survey courses.
I want my students and all readers of this book to grow in their love for the theological and literary depth and beauty of the Gospels – and of course, for the Subject of their narrative. I want students to learn how to read narrative texts well and how to apply the narrative portions of Holy Scripture theologically and personally. Most importantly, I want to see the Church rediscover the central role that the Gospels can and should play in all our teaching and preaching.
(2) I still have your ground-breaking dissertation, Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew (click the title for an impressive slate of reviews) on my desk for fast reference. What’s the connection between that work and this present work? Obviously one is a dissertation, the other a textbook; but are there links would someone see and identify as the seedbed of the “Pennington” school of thought?
Very funny and rather scary idea that there would ever be a “Pennington school of thought”! But it is a good question about what connections there are between my earlier work on Matthew and Reading the Gospels Wisely. The biggest difference is that RGW is written as a rather far-reaching, supplement textbook on how to read the Gospels overall.
There is a similarity in approach in that I still primarily read the Gospels through a literary and theological lens; this is evident in both books. But while Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew makes a sustained argument for the existence of a particular literary theme in Matthew, RGW covers a range of hermeneutical, historical, and theological issues concerning all the Gospels. In many ways it is really an ecclesial hermeneutics book for the Gospels.
(3) Your promotional video has a bit of a provocative edge to it, pushing back against “small” gospel. How do you situate your book with respect to the wider conversation in evangelicalism on the definition of the gospel? How does your experience as a professor of the gospels shape your definition of the gospel?
Yes, I suppose there is a bit of an edge in that video, but I hope a nice, smooth edge, not a jagged one! Though the scope of RGW is much wider than the issue of how to define the “gospel,” I do address this issue in the first couple of chapters and I do care about this important current discussion.
My study throughout the years has convinced me that the Gospels – intertextually rehashing Isaiah in particular – help us see that the “euangelion” (good news) of the Bible is the message of God returning to restore his reign. It is, to use Matthew’s unique phrase, “the gospel of the kingdom” (Mt 4:23; 9:35; 24:14). The shorthand version is that the gospel message of Scripture is the story of God’s reign coming from heaven to earth, from creation to new creation, centered in Jesus the Christ. There is no place in Holy Scripture where this is more clearly or fully developed than in the fourfold Gospel book.
Stay tuned for part two of the interview, coming tomorrow.1 Comment
June 27, 2012 by Matthew Mason
In relation to creation, the gospel is not a crown on a canary. God’s purposes in Christ do not replace, subvert, or alter his original design in creation; rather they redeem and deepen it, bringing it to completion. Grace does not replace nature; grace restores nature and brings it to its proper perfection. As John Bolt explains, this was the heart of Herman Bavinck’s understanding of the Christian religion.
Repeatedly in his writings Bavinck defines the essence of the Christian religion in a trinitarian, creation-affirming way. A typical formulation: “The essence of the Christian religion consists in this, that the creation of the Father, devastated by sin, is restored in the death of the Son of God, and re-created by the Holy Spirit into a kingdom of God.” Put more simply, the fundamental theme that shapes Bavinck’s entire theology is the trinitarian idea that grace restores nature.
…In an important address on common grace…Bavinck sought to impress on his Christian Reformed audience the importance of Christian sociocultural activity. He appealed to the doctrine of creation, insisting that it s diversity is not removed by redemption but cleansed. “Grace does not remain outside or above or beside nature but rather permeates and wholly renews it. And thus nature, reborn by grace, will be brought to its highest revelation. That situation will again return in which we serve God freely and happily, without compulsion or fear, simply out of love, and in harmony with our true nature. That is the genuine religio naturalis.” In other words, “Christianity does not introduce a single substantial foreign element into the creation. it creates no new cosmos but rather makes the cosmos new. it restores what was corrupted by sin. it atones the guilty and cures what is sick; the wounded it heals.” (John Bolt, ‘Editor’s Introduction’ to Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ, 17).
May 22, 2012 by Jason Hood
It is perhaps some relief that a book which for so many people is somewhat inaccessible . . . at least has a structure which is easy to grasp. It is a structure which reflects . . . the core theological truth of biblical faith: judgment precedes grace.
As it was for Israel in exile, so it is for us and all people: we have to hear and accept the bad news about the reality of our sin and the terribleness of God’s just reaction to it, before we can respond with joy and gratitude to the good news of God’s incredible mercy, grace and purposes for ourselves and for his world. This is the message of Ezekiel…
Chris Wright, The Message of Ezekiel, 42.0 Comments
September 6, 2011 by Jason Hood
In my forthcoming book I note that Paul sees himself as a “Suffering Servant” (Isaiah) after the model of Jesus. In Romans 15:21 Paul quotes from Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song, the famous “Song of the Suffering Servant” (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) and applies it to his own ministry. Luke presents him in the same way in Acts, which is one of the many reasons we have for believing that the author of Luke-Acts really was one of Paul’s co-workers.
He is a servant, suffering for Jews and for Gentiles.
These observations aren’t uniquely mine, of course. I recently dipped into a new commentary on 1 Corinthians and was pleased to see Brian Rosner and Roy Ciampa make the same case, but apply it to Paul’s mission. Relying on Hafemann and others, they discuss the role of suffering at the heart of Paul’s identity and mission. Because of his self-conception as a “suffering servant” as described in Isaiah, Paul can tie his ministry to the good news of the breaking in of God’s kingdom as promised in that same OT book:
Paul in his own person takes on the prophetic role of Israel—he is the light to the nations, the bringer of salvation.
Paul’s task of proclamation, therefore, is not the mere rehearsal of past facts. God is bringing to pass, through Paul, the eschatological fulfillment of salvation history. Just as the new eschatological age has already dawned with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, so it is currently breaking in to the old age through the preaching of Jesus Christ.
Paul’s message is not idle chatter or some good news ideas; it is apocalyptic power (1 Cor. 4:20). As Paul proclaims and lives out ‘Christ crucified,’ all the structures of human existence are transformed, human pride is judged, and salvation comes to those who believe (1 Cor 7:17-25; cf. 1 Thes 1:5)….Paul sees himself as not only proclaiming but also actively bringing about, the new age of God’s direct rule over the cosmos in both judgment and salvation.
The First Letter to the Corinthians (Pillar NTC; Eerdmans, 2010) p. 121 Comment
February 22, 2011 by Jason Hood
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” (John 16:13)
As mysterious as this phrase sounds, and as often as these words have led to speculation on what exactly Jesus meant, John Levison (Filled with the Spirit) points out that John’s Gospel gives us an explanation. In the context of John 16, Jesus is talking about his death: its circumstances, its meaning, its results and what will follow. The disciples are in distress, do not yet have the Spirit to help them process and believe, and therefore simply can’t hear what Jesus wants to tell them about his mission (16:12). Grasping the truth will require the Spirit.
Elsewhere in John we get clues from John as to how this process worked. When Jesus says in ch. 2, “Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” everyone assumes he is speaking of Herod’s Temple. But John notes that “he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” (2:19-22).
And again, when Jesus enters Jerusalem in fulfillment of Zechariah’s words, “His disicples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, they then remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him” (12:16).
This is the heart of the Spirit’s mission, then. Not “all truth” as in economics and physiology and the rest, but “all truth,” an understanding of the work that Jesus himself was about to perform. The Holy Spirit “will teach you and remind you of everything that I have said to you” (14:26). As Levison summarizes, “The focus of the paraclete’s vocation is not to predict but to recollect . . . . The holy spirit, in brief, will teach by reminding.” (402)1 Comment
December 19, 2010 by Jason Hood
(1) Big Gospel: I really appreciated this post by Tullian on the size and centrality of the gospel. (Short version: it’s huge.) As Darrell Bock says when talking about his new book, “I think the church gets what it pays for when it treats the gospel as a momentary transaction.” I’m going to be reviewing this book for TGC and may say more on the topic later.
Tullian picks up some nice comments from Keller, who elsewhere offers creation, cross, and crown as “three biblical perspectives” on the gospel. These two pastors are offering potent, mainstream Reformed thinking here. I’ve ceased to be surprise when I meet young pastors who aren’t well-trained who admit how little they emphasize (say) the resurrection, in favor of talking about the cross and justification repeatedly.
(2) My friend Caleb Sigler has a nice song you can listen to for free, out in advance of his new album. Very nice singer-songwriter pop, way above K-Love grade.0 Comments