Thursday, 20 March 2014

Faithfulness and Freedom: Divine Drama and Pilgrim Improvisation

In my last post I ended with the increasingly popular insight about regarding the Bible as a great Drama in which God's purposes are being gradually unfolded, acted out in history. A Drama which we get to enter into and play a part. One of the most popular advocates of this way of viewing how we we live under the authority of Scripture (as opposed to it as a rule book, blueprint or big book of answers) is N T (Tom) Wright. He speaks of the Five-Act Model (as in a Shakespearean play) and suggests that the 5 Acts are: Creation, Fall, Israel, Jesus and Church. Others have suggested modifications to this but my main concern is with how we relate the Drama so far (recorded in Scripture) to how we live out the Drama now. And with how we live out this Drama not only  in the light of what has gone before, but also in the light of the final scene, the ultimate end of God's story. Doing this is a better way of understanding how we live under Scripture's authority.

Wright points out that the Story so far in the first four acts has been recorded in Scripture and the first scenes of the final fifth act (the Church) are also recorded in the New Testament, with the foundational events of resurrection, ascension and pentecost. And the final scene of the Drama has been sketched out (he suggests Romans 8, 1 Cor.15 and Rev.21-22 especially for this). We are now inbetween these first foundational scenes and the final scene - and there is no script for this part! We have to learn to improvise.

Improvisation can seem scary. We might fear that we will be cut lose from clear biblical truth, and become too subjective. Such fear has led to a slavish and an idolatrous use of the Bible (the Bible replaces God as our security). There are ways of being faithful to the biblical Story that do not require using it in this unhealthy way and which allow for the freedom of improvisation. Firstly, with the help of the Holy Spirit and within the community of fellow pilgrims, we improvise in such a way that is faithful to the Story so far  and to its key foundational events. We then also improvise in a way that is faithful to the ultimate end of the Story. It is not just about learning lines or reciting speeches from earlier parts of the play, thinking we can apply them directly to now. Especially when we ignore the stage of the Story that those scenes were at in this unfolding Drama, and their particular historical contexts. I fear that is how many fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals have wrongly used Scripture. Being biblically faithful also means staying focused on the person who is at the centre of this Story and the event of the Cross which is the turning point of the whole Story. That means any interpretation of the Bible that is not consistent with the God revealed in Jesus Christ and supremely in Christ dying for us on the Cross, cannot be accepted (much more on this in future posts).

As well as being faithful to the Story so far, to the ultimate climax of the Story, and to the hero of the Story, we need to be faithful to the key themes of the Story and the 'spirit' of the play/story. By themes, I mean the key dimensions of the message that the Story of Scripture conveys; they recur in varied ways throughout Scripture, and are reviewed and re-envisioned, seen from varying and fresh perspectives as the Story unfolds. Such themes include God's Kingdom - everlasting and overcoming but surprising in its counter-cultural and counter-intuitive nature - grace, servant leadership, community, family, Spirit vs flesh, dying to live, salvation, and many more. The spirit of the story is much more difficult to put into words, but it is essentially the constant undercurrent that flows through the whole story; or we might think of it as God's breath that can be discerned and felt throughout (if we stay tuned in spiritually). It is the essence of God's mission and the heart of the gospel. It relates to the love of God, to the fact that God created humanity purely as an overflow and expression of love, for the purpose of enjoying real intimate relationship with us; that that relationship has been fractured but that God continually pursues us to see that relationship restored. The Father wants his children back. Despite the twists and turns, the heights and depths, the complexities and perplexities that the stories of Scripture contain, that love of the Father for his children continues as the heartbeat of all Scripture.

Once we are seeking to be faithful in these ways that I have outlined, we can then trust the Spirit to help us in the freedom of working out and improvising the story in the here and now. Most of the time that will mean learning to live and love in community, as we share in God's mission to show and tell his love to the world. But occasionally it also helps with contributing to the conversation about, if not resolving, certain areas of debate and controversy in the Church. In my next but one post I will look at an example of a quite controversial issue where this way of viewing Scripture has helped me to review and refresh my thinking on it. I will use it to show how this approach to Scripture might work. (In the next post I will say a little more about N T Wright for those of my readers who have not read much of him but would like to). But this post has gone on long enough now..........

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