Everyone loves a good story, right? And they’re always easy to understand, too… right? Or maybe not so much.
When we move into New Testament Narrative as a genre (basically consisting of the Gospels and Acts) we move into some of the most familiar and most beloved portions of Scripture.
But we must not mistake ‘familiar’ and ‘beloved’ with ‘rightly understood.’
The Gospels & Acts
New Testament Narrative may best be described as ‘Theological History’ or perhaps ‘Historical Theology.’ The term Gospel simply refers to the proclamation of good news and was typically associated with things like military conquest or the birth of a son.
While each Gospel-writer has his own purpose for writing, and therefore his own themes, we need to be familiar with big themes of the Gospels & Acts (kingdom, authority, end of the age, revelation of God, etc.). In particular, we want to see how each is deliberately trying to portray Jesus as the fulfilment of all humanity’s needs and all the OT’s expectations.
Forms of Writing in the Gospels
Parables: A parable is a short narrative that demands a response from the hearer. They are sheep-discerners (Mark 4.10-12). Some hints for parables:
- Watch for contextual indicators which teach why parables are told (Lk 18.1; Lk 15.1-3; Lk 10.26-29)
- Look for a single major point (with perhaps some secondary points), rather than allegorizing or universalizing
- In some sense, these are proverbs in narrative form, contrasting how different people live before God (wise & foolish builders, pharisees/Levites & Samaritans, rich man & Lazarus, Pharisee & tax collector).
- Parables are supposed to make you pensive; don’t press on too quickly
Are We Asking the Wrong Question?
Last week Tim posted an interesting collection of articles relating to the issue of baptism. Specifically, the issue being debated was, ‘At what age should we baptize?’ That in itself is an interesting question, because it is one that the Bible never asks or answers. Age is never given as a prerequisite for baptism, nor is it listed as even being a hindrance to baptism. It’s simply a non-issue.
The wrong question is, ‘What age?’ The right question is, ‘Does this person make profession of repentance and faith?’
What Are We Afraid of?
Nevertheless, wisdom and pastoral experience must be brought to bear on an issue that has certainly brought some level of difficulty and pain into the lives of many people. Right?
In all of the discussions I’ve read over the years on this topic, one of the nagging questions that keeps coming back to me is this: ‘What are we afraid of?’ I think that the answer is sadly, not a biblical one. Oftentimes it appears that we’re just afraid of being wrong. We think, ‘What if we baptize someone who ends up not really being converted? Then what?’ Our minds turn then to problems of ‘re-baptism’ and giving false assurance.
Isn’t This a Healthy Fear?
But we ought not be afraid of this, I think, for at least two reasons.
I don’t know if you’re anything like me, but if you are, then you probably wonder from time to time why you have to learn something so many times before it finally sinks in. This morning, as I was reading through Acts, I couldn’t help but be struck with the reality of my need to regularly read big chunks of Scripture at a single sitting.
This is true for lots of reasons. For one thing, it’s the way Scripture was meant to be learned. Luke didn’t write Acts in handy little chapters and verses so that we could read a little bit each day. He wrote it as one story to be read aloud or to oneself in one sitting. If we want to understand a book of the Bible, we need to read it like it was meant to be read.
Following on that reason, it brings out a lot of the bigger themes that you’re so prone to miss in a book if you don’t see them repeated over several chapters. Call me an idiot, but it blew my mind to see this time through the book just how big a role the Holy Spirit plays in this book. It’s plain to see, I know, but our need of the Spirit, the necessity of the Spirit going where the gospel goes, the sovereignty of the Spirit in determining where the gospel goes, the role of the Spirit in guiding and protecting believers, the role of the Spirit in redemptive-history, the necessity of the filling of the Spirit for any effective ministry… over and over and over again the Holy Spirit (or ‘the Spirit’ or ‘the Spirit of Jesus’) is emphatically spoken of as essential to the gospel-cause.
That’s something that I need to hear more of. In the cessationist circles I’ve always moved in the Spirit is viewed with a funny kind of suspicion–as if he really actually did have something to do with those whacko tv-preachers. Obviously that’s not who he is. But the temptation, of course, is to swing the pendulum so far in the other direction that we leave the Spirit no room in our lives or churches.
In fact, I dare confess that there have been times in my life when in my own theology I have made the Spirit out to be a sort of demi-God, under the Father and Jesus who are truly God. I mean, I would never have said this, but it seems to be the way I viewed the world. I looked at God working in this world as if the Father could or would do anything without doing it through his Holy Spirit.