The Story of Christ… Really…

I’ve found myself indirectly thinking about what it means to read the Bible as Christians. By “indirectly” I mean that these thoughts have gnawed around the edges of my thinking while I’ve been working on other things: teaching the Gospels and Acts, writing a paper on wisdom literature in the Coen Brothers’ movies, listening to sermons on the deadly sins, reading books on what the Bible is and we’re supposed to do with it.

By “reading the Bible as Christians” I don’t just mean reading it like we’re supposed to learn from it. There are lots of ways to read the Bible so as to learn from it. But those among whom I number myself approach the Bible as Christians–not as Jews, not as Mormons, not to mention that we don’t approach it as atheists or pantheists or deists.

Reading the Bible as Christians means that we not only read it with a ready disposition to hear it as God’s word, as the story of salvation, it means to read the story with the conviction that the narrative comes to its surprising climax in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

You have to do this on purpose, if you want to do it.

Pick up the book of Deuteronomy, and you’ll come away with a strong sense that they way God will fully restore his people is through their faithful obedience to Torah. Jesus is a surprise.

Pick up the law or the prophets, and you’ll come away with the strong sense that God’s ultimate plan is for a nation to be located in the geophysical land of Israel. The explosion of the promise of land to a promise of the world and indeed of new creation is a surprise.

Pick up the Proverbs, and the next thing you know you’ll be looking for your diligence to overflow in wealth and peace. The call to embody the death of Jesus in all quarters of our world is a surprise.

To read the Bible as the story of Jesus is to decide that nothing in the OT comes to us directly. It all comes to us mediated through Jesus. This means both that it is mediated through Jesus and that it all comes to us. Some is transformed in him, some is fulfilled and left behind. And some comes as a word reiterated now for a people reconfigured around Christ rather than Torah.

The vitality, and validity, of our reading the OT as Christians hinges on our willingness to read it in light of what we know to be more ultimately true: the Christ who is the end of the Law, the Christ to whom the Law, Prophets, and Psalms bear witness.

4 thoughts on “The Story of Christ… Really…”

  1. Great read. I am always pointing out to people that we are not generic “God-ians’ and merely ‘Spirit-ists’. We are Christian and thus we read the scriptures through that lens.

    One thing I want to ask you is about the way that language functions in our traditions and forms us (in a sense). While I don’t like how far Linbeck folks take it – I am haunted by The Nature of Doctrine when it comes to conversations like this.

  2. I think a variety of things keep Christians from reading the Bible with such expectation:
    -reading it as “Christians” (i.e. without the OT)
    -reading it as Americans which means we already know the outcome (good for us, bad for our enemies)
    -reading it as capitalists (as self-interested consumers)

    These tend to reinforce each other in North America and, by and large, the church has followed along in lock-step. We tend to read with a realized eschatology (we’ve got the best god, the best country, the best lifestyle), so our only expectation can be an afterlife. No vision of afterlife can remain vital for long against the rationalistic, nationalistic consumerism that really animates us and we know “delivers the goods”. Thus we read the Bible as inspirational nuggets or behavioral mandates to enhance our “already realized eschatology” lives.


  3. Great post. Very thought provoking. I think a Chistocentric reading of the Bible is largely missing in Protestant/American Christianity. Sola scriptura means we leave Jesus out. Still, interpreting the life and death of Jesus is a challenge. Many parables and the cross are often (falsely) interpreted to support human and divine scapegoating. I think even more of a surprise is that Jesus becomes the Forgiving Victim – the one who forgives on the cross and offers peace to those who betrayed him. You would expect divine wrath, instead we get divine forgiveness.

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