To help us know when we can say that and yet be true to scripture, McKnight suggests a few concepts.
Events not principles
McKnight quotes Old Testament scholar John Goldingay:
The biblical gospel is not a collection of timeless statements such as God is love. It is a narrative about things God has done.
And he quotes Jewish scholar Abraham Joshua Heschel:
The God of the philosopher is a concept derived from abstract idea; the God of the prophets is derived from acts and events. The root of Jewish faith is, therefore, not a comprehension of abstract principles but an inner attachment to those events.
God asks us to read the Bible as the unfolding of the story of his ways to his people.
I would add an observation from Ray Vander Laan, who points out the difference between Grecian (Western) and Jewish (Eastern) thought. We Westerners compulsively seek to abstract what we learn. We think in terms of underlying principles. The Jews and other Easterners tend to think more concretely. We think, “God is love.” The Jews think, “God is my shepherd. God delivered us from Egypt.” It’s metaphor or it’s fact, but it’s its always image and story.
This is not to say that abstraction is wrong (God really is love), only that it misses much of what the scriptures attempt to convey. We Westerners skip over Jesus’ and Paul’s images and go straight for the point — and sometimes miss the point because we don’t sufficiently linger over the images.
The power of the Resurrection, for example, is not merely atonement and forgiveness — as important as those abstractions are. The power of the Resurrection is that God the Son willingly died for us. We don’t see the depth of God’s love until we see the story as story. “Jesus’ atoning death” isn’t nearly the same as “Jesus’ agonizing death voluntarily suffered for me.”
It takes practice, but I recommend that we all discipline ourselves to take the time to see the images, to think more concretely before we think abstractly.
Different ways in different days
McKnight writes, “God needed a variety of expressions to give us a fuller picture of the Story.” (page 63).
You see, it’s a big Story with inexpressible depth. And so God allows his Story to be told by different people in different ways. Each expression of God’s Story stands on its own two feet, but they together tell but a single Story.
In our Bible, God did what God has always done: he spoke in Moses’ days in Moses’ ways, in Micah’s days in Micah’s ways, and in Jesus’ days in Jesus’ ways. Which meant, when Paul came around, Paul got to speak in Paul’s ways for Paul’s days, and when John put quill to parchment, he was freed up to speak in John’s ways for John’s days.
McKnight refers to each author’s story of the Story as a “wiki-story.” He compares the Bible to the Wikipedia, in which many people contribute their writings to a larger whole. There are many voices saying many things but all writing a single book.
Hence, when Matthew writes his Gospel, he is telling a wiki-story — contributing his story to the Story of God.
McKnight cites Goldingay again. Goldingay says the New Testament is but a series of footnotes on the Old Testament — and you can’t write a theology out of just footnotes. Now, Goldingay is exaggerating a tad, but to make a valid point. If we don’t know how the story begins, we miss what’s really being said toward its end.
The Old Testament isn’t just interesting history, suitable for middle schoolers. The Old Testament is prelude to the New Testament, it’s true, and it’s an essential part of the same Story.
McKnight summarizes —
* The Bible is a Story
* The Story is made up of a series of wiki-stories
* The wiki-stories are held together by the Story
* The only way to make sense of the blue parakeets in the Bible is to set each in the context of the Bible’s Story