bauckham“God’s purpose begins with a singular choice: God singles out first Abraham, then Israel, then David. The three movements that begin with these three choices by God each has its own distinctive theme, one aspect of God’s purpose for the world. We could call these the thematic trajectories of the narrative. The trajectory that moves from Abraham to all the families of the earth is the trajectory of blessing. The trajectory that moves from Israel to all the nations is the trajectory of God’s revelation of himself to the world. The trajectory that moves from God’s enthronement of David in Zion to the ends of the earth is the trajectory of rule, of God’s kingdom coming in all creation. OF course, these three movements and themes are closely interrelated.” (Richard Bauckham, Bible and Mission: Christian Witness in a Postmodern World, p. 27)

bauckham“The Bible is a kind of project aimed at the kingdom of God, that is, towards the achievement of God’s purposes for good in the whole of God’s creation.” (Richard Bauckham, Bible and Mission: Christian Witness in a Postmodern World, p. 11)

peterson“I am often disturbed or disappointed by what I experience when I go to church.  At first glance the issues seem to be practical–poor preparation, inadequate content, inappropriate music, songs that people cannot sing very easily, uncertain leadership and superficial comments about what we are doing.  Mostly, however, these practical failings seem to reveal a poor understanding of why we gather, little awareness of how to lead a gathering effectively, and an inadequate grasp of what we should expect from our time together.

Some church services proceed along well-worn paths, familiar to regular attenders but quite strange to newcomers.  Little explanation is offered about what is taking place and why it is done.  There may be meaningful prayers or a challenging sermon, but overall there is something missing in the experience.  At the other end of the spectrum are visitor-friendly services that are more like a concert.  Each item is introduced by a ‘master of ceremonies,’ but with no discernible flow or direction.  There may be enthusiastic singing, but little else to transform the lives of the participants and equip them to serve God in everyday life.

There is little expectation in some contexts that we gather to encounter God and to be renewed in our relationship with him; church is viewed primarily as an occasion for fellowship and ministry to one another.  In other contexts there is little sense of the horizontal dimension to the gathering of Christ’s people: church is simply viewed as an occasion for ‘worship,’ however that is conceived.  Across this spectrum of views what we do often seems to be determined by what attracts people or makes them feel comfortable.  It is easy to be driven by pragmatic, rather than biblical, concerns.” (David G. PetersonEncountering God Together: Leading Worship Services That Honor God, Minister to His People, and Build His Church, pp. 11-12)

But Why Did Jesus Live?

Wright“Despite [the Protestant Reformers'] desire for a church based on ‘scripture alone,’ and their insistence on the literal sense of those scriptures, it may be questioned whether they ever found a satisfactory way of making the literal sense of the gospels yield worthwhile theological results.  If what one needed was clear, ‘timeless’ doctrinal and ethical teaching, one must go (so it seemed) to the epistles.  The gospels must then be turned into repositories of the same ‘timeless truth.’  This was achieved by treating them, not literally, as stories which were there for their own sake, but as collections of sayings of Jesus which then became, as it were, mini-epistles; or of events which showed the clash between false religion (here represented by sixteenth-century legalists or formalists thinly disguised as Pharisees) and the true one offered by Jesus.  All this culminates, of course, in the event to which the gospels really do point, the death and resurrection of Jesus, which is to be understood not as the execution of an awkward figure who refused to stop rocking the first-century Jewish or Roman boat, but as the saving divine act whereby the sins of the world were death with once and for all.

This divine act, however, did not have very much to do with what went before.  The fact that the gospels reached their climax with the death of Jesus seemed to have little to do with any significance to be drawn from his life, except that the conflict he engendered by preaching about love and grace was the proximate reason for his death, which the redeemer god then ‘counted’ in a redemptive scheme which had nothing to do with that historical reason.  The reformers had very thorough answers to the question ‘why did Jesus die?'; they did not have nearly such good answers to the question ‘why did Jesus live?’  Their successors to this day have not often done any better.  But the question will not go away.  If the only available answer is ‘to give some shrewd moral teaching, to live an exemplary life, and to prepare for sacrificial death,’ we may be forgiven for thinking it a little lame.  It also seems, as we shall see, quite untrue to Jesus’ own understanding of his vocation and work.

It would not, then, be much of a caricature to say that orthodoxy, as represented by much popular preaching and writing, has had no clear idea of the purpose of Jesus’ ministry.  For many conservative theologians it would have been sufficient if Jesus had been born of a virgin (at any time in human history, and perhaps from any race), lived a sinless life, died a sacrificial death, and risen again three days later. (In some instances the main significance of this would be the conclusion: the Bible is all true.)  The fact that, in the midst of these events, Jesus actually said and did certain things, which included giving wonderful moral teaching and annoying some of his contemporaries, functions within this sort of orthodox scheme merely as a convenience.  Jesus becomes a composite figure, a cross between Socrates defeated the Sophists and Luther standing up against the Papists.  His ministry and his death are thus loosely connected.  The force of this is lost, though, when the matter is thought through.  If the main purpose of Jesus’ ministry was to die on the cross, as the outworking of an abstracted atonement-theology, it starts to look as though he simply took on the establishment in order to get himself crucified, so that the abstract sacrificial theology could be put into effect.  This makes both ministry and death look like sheer contrivance.” (N. T. WrightJesus and the Victory of God, pp. 13-14)

Wright“Despite what is often imagined, the Trinity grows directly out of Jewish monotheism.  It isn’t a later corrupt development.  The Jewish belief in one god, which was the seed-bed for early Christianity, was never intended as an analysis of the inner being of this one god.  Rather, within Judaism in the time of Jesus we find various ideas about the way the one god would act within his world.  He would come to live in the Temple.  He was present when people studied his law.  He breathed with his Spirit on certain persons, to enable them to speak and act with his authority.  He spoke his creative Word, and things happened.  His divine Wisdom was alive and active throughout the world, but especially in Israel.  And it is precisely in these ideas–these thoroughly Jewish ways of envisaging the one true and living God–that form the basis of what the earliest Christians said about Jesus and the Spirit.  They didn’t imagine for a moment that they were abandoning Jewish-style monotheism.  They simply used the Jewish categories available to them to describe what it was that they had seen in Jesus, and what it was that they knew of the Spirit.  The doctrine of the Trinity is thoroughly present in the very earliest writings of the New Testament, such as Paul’s letters: God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, and entrusting us (by the Spirit) with the message of reconciliation.  Trinitarian theology is not a late or strange corruption.  It lies at the heart of the very earliest Christianity of which we have evidence.” (N. T. WrightFor All God’s Worth: True Worship and the Calling of the Church, pp. 28-29)

Wright“What you believe about God makes a difference to the way you respond to this god, and at the same time to the way you are in the world…Christian doctrine isn’t a matter of intellectual algebra.  It is directly integrated with the way people behave…The place of doctrine within Christianity is absolutely vital. Christians are not defined by skin color, by gender, by geographical location, or even, shockingly, by their good behavior. Nor are they defined by the particular type of religious feelings they may have. They are defined in terms of the God they worship. That’s why we say the Creed at the heart of our regular liturgies: we are defined as the people who believe in this God. All other definitions of the church are open to distortion. We need theology, we need doctrine, because if we don’t have it something else will come in to take its place. And any other defining marks of the church will move us in the direction of idolatry.” (N. T. Wright, For All God’s Worth: True Worship and the Calling of the Church, pp. 26-28)

peterson“The language of service implies that God is a great king, who requires faithfulness and obedience from those who belong to him. Israel’s service in a cultic way was to be understood as a particular expression of the total allegiance due to the Lord, who had set them free from slavery in Egypt to serve him exclusively…More obviously than the language of homage, the terminology of service implies devotion to God as a pattern of life. In modern parlance, the word ‘worship’ is often applied quite strictly to acts of homage and devotion…‘Bowing down’ to God in the Old Testament, however, is ideally an expression of one’s desire to ‘serve’ him. It is therefore necessary to recognize that, from a scriptural point of view, worship involves specific acts of adoration and submission as well as a lifestyle of obedient service. To make this point, it may be helpful to translate words indicating service to God as ‘worship.’ There is always the danger, however, that readers of the English text will then understand such worship purely in cultic terms! The problem for translation and for theology is that the English word ‘worship’ is generally used too narrowly.” (David Peterson, Engaging with God: A Biblical Theology of Worship, pp. 69-70)


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