Rev’d Jonathan Gale
This is the second in our series on the Scriptures. Last week we looked at the origins of Scripture and saw how God uses them, in the first instance, to reveal Christ, and in the second to equip us for ministry.
Today we will look at how the Scriptures reveal God’s purposes for the world, and by implication how we can best align ourselves with God’s purposes.
And the focal point of God’s purposes is no secret. The one overriding highlight of the holy book is that Jesus has come in the flesh, died for the sins of humankind and been resurrected in order to inaugurate God’s kingdom which is given effect through the Body of Christ, the church.
The story tells us that Jesus has defeated the powers of evil and has begun the new creation. We read Scripture, as NT Wright puts it, “in order to be refreshed in our memory and understanding of the story in which we ourselves are actors., to be reminded where it has come from and where it is going to and hence what our own part in it ought to be.”
Professor Wright, the former Bishop of Durham, points out that Scripture itself offers us a model for understanding it which one can look upon as a Five Act Play.
- Act 1 is creation
- Act 2 is The Fall
- Act 3 is Israel
- Act 4 is Jesus, and
- Act 5 is the church.
Act 1 – shows God creating all things by speaking them into being and declaring them good.
Act 2 – shows humanity’s abuse of its free will in a unilateral declaration of independence that is disastrous in its severing itself from God, who is the source of all life and good.
Act 3 – shows God’s love in action as he begins primarily by moulding a specific people (Israel) who are to reveal God to the world in an attempt to save it.
Act 4 – shows what it is that Israel has produced: Jesus, both the Son of God and a man of the tribe of Judah who is the Saviour of the world and whose life and death open up the possibility for the renewal of all creation, which includes our salvation.
Act 5 – shows how the resurrection of Jesus and the coming of God’s Holy Spirit provide both a strong signal and an active means for our involvement in the mission of God, which is his reconciling love manifest to all of creation.
We live in the fifth act whose opening scenes are Easter and Pentecost – in other words, Jesus’ resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit. We must be committed to telling the story of Jesus as both the climax of Israel’s story and foundation of our own.
We know that the new creation is the climax of the story but much of what happens in the scene in which we now live is in our hands. It is up to us as to how long the intervening scenes will be and how the story develops in them.
As I said earlier, we know the final scene – that is made clear by Scripture itself but our handling of things between now and then is vital, and part of that is how we handle Scripture itself in order to advance the mission of God.
Again, I am dependent upon Prof NT Wright for this advice.
Because Scripture is so important in the formation of our thinking and the maintenance of our faith, he makes the following suggestions. He states that if we are to ensure that we do not abuse Scripture and instead make proper use of it, we should:
- Ensure that our reading of it is totally contextual. In other words we should be very aware of the context out of which any particular piece of Scripture has arisen. This includes an awareness of our own biases as we come to the text.
- Ensure that our reading is liturgically grounded. That means placing a great emphasis on the corporate reading of Scripture and understanding this reading as an act of worship. This is what keeps us on track for God’s mission
- Ensure a privately studied reading of Scripture. Paul’s letters to Timothy in particular makes the point that individuals have a responsibility to engage with Scripture. Professor Wright believes that small groups play an important part in this process as the sharing by individuals of what they have learnt is an important aspect of our relationship with God
- Ensure that our reading of Scripture is refreshed by appropriate scholarship. It’s for this reason that I highly recommend authors such as C.S. Lewis, Eugene Peterson and N.T. Wright himself.
- Ensure that a reading of Scripture is taught by the church’s accredited leaders. He makes this point because it guards against the danger of highly personalised mis-readings that do not have the checks and balances of accountable leadership as guardians of the truth.
In essence Paul makes it very clear to Timothy what God’s purpose is:
3 This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, 4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, 6 who gave himself a ransom for all (1 Timothy 2: 3 – 6a).
God’s mission is to save and make us Christ-like, but more than that, to renew all of creation so that the individual salvation of souls, and the infusion of justice in the world, have a context in which they flourish.
For us to be effective players in Act 5, we need revelation. We need God to reveal to us individually and as the church of Christ, guidance and encouragement that we might be strengthened in our quest for the right direction for the right reason.
The Scriptures, in their great variety, have been used by God to communicate himself to us. When we approach them in openness to him, he is able by the Holy Spirit to achieve his purposes through us.
For this we were created.
 Wright, N.T, Scripture and the Authority of God (Harper Collins UK: London/Glasgow/Honley 2005) p.116