I enjoy plodding through the occasional New Testament theology and recently I read through some portionsof Frank Thielman’s Theology of the New Testament: A Canonical and Synthetic Approach. In winding down his account of the theology of Luke-Acts, he writes about the original readers, ‘As a people whom Greco-Roman society had moved to the margins of its social map, they needed to know where they were located in the scheme of God’s purposes in history, they needed assurance that their costly commitment to the things they had been taught was right, and they needed a strategy for coping with the difficult life that faced them because of their commitment to the gospel’ (p. 148).
The notion of a sense of urgency with respect to understanding and getting situated in redemptive history strikes me as rather dissonant with some (I’m tempted to say ‘many’) of my experiences in evangelical circles. I wonder if we often (knowingly or unknowingly) bypass the work of God in history for the sake of rushing on toward spiritual immediacy. I’m reminded of the Christmas sermon that touches on the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke and proceeds quickly to underscore how we can imitate the faith of Mary or Joseph without taking much time to explore those narratives in terms of what they indicate about the historical unfolding of God’s sweeping design for redemption. I wonder if it’s too easy to ask about how the teaching of Scripture immediately relates to us and to our own circumstances at the expense of seeing the bigger picture.
It seems to me that a stronger emphasis on mapping out and intentionally living within the plot of redemptive history might have at least two very pastoral and salutary effects. On the one hand, breaking the spell of spiritual myopia and concentrating more on matters external and objective might relieve some of the heaviness of introspection whenever introspection threatens to bring despair or self-absorption. On the other hand, the fact that history has a definite shape and goal might induce gratitude to God as well as a greater sense of accountability to him. We might rest more in the objectivity and inexorability of God’s work and we might seek to use the time we’re given in wiser ways.
Any thoughts here?