I’m getting ready to teach Romans again. No, I’ve not yet repented of the idea that the resurrection of Jesus is the most important theme in the letter. But in my recalcitrance, I continue to find, as well, the call to live our the impossible dream. For all that we approach Romans for its theological interest, Paul’s interest lies in mixing the cement by which the scattered and divided Christian communities might be held together.
In a letter full of great “therefore” moments, none is so great as when Paul says, “Therefore, accept one another–Just as Christ has accepted you, to the glory of God!” (Rom 15:7).
Why tell an elaborate story of the resurrected Christ as the culmination of the story of Israel? Why insist that faithful living is through the power of this Jesus’ resurrection at work in the world through the same Spirit who gave this Jesus life? Why argue that proclaiming this Lord to the Gentiles will result in the belief of until-now-unbelieving Jews?
The resurrected Lord is Lord over all, the agent of God’s faithfulness to not only Israel but the whole world:
I’m saying that Christ became a servant of those who are circumcised for the sake of God’s truth, in order to confirm the promises given to the ancestors, and so that the Gentiles could glorify God for his mercy. (Rom 15:8-9, CEB)
One of the reasons I am passionate about a narrative approach to scripture, and why I’ve written on a “storied approach” to Paul, is tied to this mandate that we purse the impossible unity that should characterize us as God’s people in Christ.
When we talk systematic theology, we have language at the ready to distinguish us from those with whom we disagree. This is fine, it’s what systematic theology does. It’s what dogma does more generally.
But when we engage the biblical texts using narrative categories, we find ourselves on different ground. Suddenly, a Presbyterian, a Methodist, and an Anglican are standing together as they articulate the most fundamental dynamics in Paul’s letters. A new set of glasses is employed, a story is seen, and we see it together.
When we define ourselves by the story of the God of Israel at work to redeem the world through the reconciling life, death, and resurrection of Christ, we have created a new venue for unity around a holistic gospel, a story with all-encompassing ramifications.
Why agitate for a narrative theology?
Because we need to have our minds transformed again, so that we can reimagine not only what the work of God in Christ is, in itself, but who we are and whom we are with when we occupy that reconciled space in Christ.