On Friday the 18th my first SBL event was “Jesus, A Public Figure, a Public Announcement: A Dialogue with N.T. Wright”. It proved to be one of the best sessions of the week. I promised that I would post my notes/reflections on this blog, so this is the fulfillment.
The first presenter was Roman Catholic theologian and biblical scholar Scott Hahn. I was very impressed with his talk and insights. He discussed “covenant and kinship” as it relates to Wright’s project. He grounds his work on covenant as a canonical concept grounded in creation. The Noahic Covenant had two main ideas: (1) a chosen people who are (2) redeeming God’s creation and establishing God’s Kingdom. In Christ all the obligations for covenant are fulfilled. In Christ the language of covenant transitions to that of kinship. It is still the same basic idea, but the overarching idea has changed. Covenant once subsumed kinship; kinship subsumed covenant.
God became Israel’s Father and spouse. As Wright has stated, so Hahn affirms, covenant was not something that needed to be declared all the time. It was a basic given. It permeated the ideas of many in Second Temple Judaism.
Then Hahn transitioned to 1 and 2 Chronicles wherein he finds the Kingdom of God to be a liturgical Kingdom. It was a “prophetic historiography” implemented by the Chronicler. According to Hahn the Chronicler made Israel a liturgical empire that existed to worship to God of Israel. The Kingdom is not primarily about humanity, but Divinity. The Kingdom is not primarily about military, but liturgy.
Hahn ended by noting that Chronicles ends where Matthew begins. Chronicles needs to receive more treatment from NT scholars. It provides the necessary Kingdom themes for NT scholarship.
Michael Goheen followed Hahn. He discussed mission. He worked from Leslie Newbign’s idea of “the Gospel as Public Truth”. For Goheen the worst thing we can do is allow the Gospel to be privatized. It has a place in the public square.
From Wright’s work Goheen draws a “missional hermeneutic”. He says this is not just a theme found in Scripture, but the way we should read Scripture. Scripture is given to inform mission.
Goheen says Scripture is the true story of the world. It is about God’s mission to restore creation. Like Hahn he gives major emphasis to Creation and Kingdom. Hahn focused on worship; Goheen focused on mission.
Goheen stated that we cannot understand the mission of the church until we understand how Israel was to be the light to the nations. Too often we have overemphasized the individual while ignoring the Creation and the world. Reading Scripture through the lens of mission focuses upon covenant and election: God electing a people through whom he would bless the whole world.
As the church continues Israel’s mission it does so by declaring Jesus as Lord. It functions as God’s answer to the problem of evil providing a foretaste of God’s eschatological redemption.
With all this in mind the nature of mission changes. It is not about simply saving individual souls, but rather about living God’s Kingdom. This provides meaning for art, politics, poetry, and yes, even biblical studies!
The community of God willingly suffers for the world. We develop a robust worship of God to point to God. We find a need for community if this is to happen.
For Goheen this means (1) We must be shaped by the worldview and controlling story of Scripture itself. (2) Mission is a central element to our overall story. Thus it is essential for a true interpretation of Scripture. (3) Biblical scholarship must serve the church and her mission.
N.T. Wright’s response was fun. He admitted to being on the road for more that two weeks, so his response was scattered. He brought together Hahn’s emphasis on worship and Goheen’s emphasis on mission by discussing the church as “outposts of the Kingdom”. The church is mini-temples of Israel’s God all over the world.
For Wright TaNaK is a story in search of an ending. Rome was telling a thousand year story about the Republic evolving into the Empire. Israel was telling a thousand year story as well. Israel’s God was about to become King. Wright said that the Kingship of God in Isaiah would be the end of Israel. Therefore, Israel expected their story to come to the end of exile.
After this Wright made some disconnected points. These are my notes:
– For Paul, theology is the thing you do as the church. Praying and discussing together what they believe God is doing.
– The Q of the Church and Israel must be addressed. Some talk about supercession. Other apocalyptic readers promote “hard supercessionism” = everything which has gone before is wrong and God is doing this whole, new radical thing.
– Rabbi Sachs = “You have done what we were supposed to do. You have taken the news of this covenant God to the ends of the world.”
– The church has been the one doing good. We cannot give that to the State. If the State wants to partner, very well.
– Many Christians have checked the box regarding Jesus’ divinity, but failed to acknowledge that in Christ God is becoming King….and that is the really scary part!
My favorite one-liner during the Q&A came from Hahn: ‘The NT was a sacrament before it was a document.’
Sorry if these notes are scattered. It is hard to convey what was said to people not present. If you have any questions leave a comment and I will try to fill in the details.
Thanks for this Brian…
Hi! I really wanted to go to this, I even got a ticket, but I had a class that afternoon and they didn’t end up canceling it for the Thanksgiving weekend. Do you recall if they mentioned if there would be an audio or video recording available, either for sale or otherwise? Thanks for the notes, I really appreciate it!
You’re welcome Irene.
Greetings from the UK. Thanks for these notes; sounded like a fantastic session! If you want to pursue the whole missional hermeneutic concept and the relationship between the Bible and mission check out the microsite for the Centre for the Study of Bible and Mission http://bibleandmission.redcliffe.org
There are links to a whole bunch of articles by Goheen in the resources section, as well as a load of other stuff.
@Tim: I have your blog saved in my reader! I didn’t know Goheen has contributed materials. I’ll need to go read those. Thanks!
I was there as well. Even though Hahn rubs me the wrong way on occasion, his line was stated powerfully. “The New Testament was a sacrament, before it was a document.”
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