How to Study the Bible: The Over-Arching A-B-A’ Story

biblepage-781x1024[This is adapted from an earlier post.]

The next step in Bible study is learning to approach the scriptures with the right questions — understanding where each element of scripture is situated within God’s story.

One excellent approach is found in Scot McKnight’s latest book Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church.

McKnight points out that both the local church and academia have learned — finally — to read the Bible as story. One such story might be summarized as C-F-R-C: the story of salvation in the Bible.

(And this is very much the story as related by Scot in his excellent The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible, which we covered in this series.) The story goes like this–

* Creation: God created the heavens and earth, and they were very good. He created man, male and female, in his image.

* Fall: Man, male and female, sinned and so fell from Eden, leading to a cursed world.

* Redemption: God makes a covenant with Abraham and then with Israel. Israel fails to be faithful to the covenant and so is sent into exile. Jesus came, died on the cross, was resurrected, and so provided grace by which we — fallen mankind — may be redeemed. This establishes the beachhead for the Kingdom — it’s here but not fully here, but the complete victory of Jesus is certain.

* Consummation: Jesus will return and establish the Kingdom in its fullness, and all the redeemed will join Jesus in the completed, full Kingdom.

McKnight criticizes this approach as true but very incomplete:

Those who read the Bible solely through the C-F-R-C plot have an annoying propensity to read Genesis 1– 3 to get their C and their F in place, but then they skip all the way to Romans 3 or to the crucifixion scenes in the Gospels to get to the R. This skips 99.5 percent of the Old Testament. Some, too, tend to omit any serious discussion of Israel or church or the people of God as the locus of what God is doing in this world. Why? Because the focus of the C-F-R-C story is on personal salvation, it is also a focus on the salvation of the individual.

(p. 25). And that’s true. There is nothing in this telling of the Story that explains the purpose of Israel or even the church. It’s about as un-Kingdom a telling as is possible because it’s as individualized as possible.

That doesn’t make it false, but incomplete. Jesus loves me. But he loves a lot of other people, too, and he would really love it if I would love them, too. And where is that in C-F-R-C?

As an alternative, McKnight offers an A-B-A’ theory. Back when I took math classes, that apostrophe after the second A was pronounced “prime.” I assume the same is true in theology.

This approach to the gospel is borrowed from McKnight’s book The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited (reviewed here).

In Kingdom Conspiracy, however, he reworks the idea into this easy-to-remember structure:

Plan A extends from Adam and Abraham to Samuel. The period is marked by one major theme: God rules the world through his elected people, but God is the one and only King.

(p. 28). From Eden until Samuel, God served as the only king of his people.

(Deu 33:5 ESV)  5 Thus the LORD became king in Jeshurun, when the heads of the people were gathered, all the tribes of Israel together.

The period ends when the leaders of Israel ask Samuel for a king. You see, Samuel was the last judge, and he appointed his own two sons to serve after him, but they proved to be corrupt. In effect, Samuel attempted to establish an inherited judgeship — an entirely new thing.

The leaders of Israel were desperately unhappy with this situation — and understandably so.

(1Sa 8:4-5 ESV)  4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah  5 and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” 

The problem is that the elders saw no solution other than to be like their surrounding nations. They had no desire to return to God’s rule through judges.

God allowed Samuel to anoint a king — Saul — who proved an effective military leader (he defeated the Amalekites), but morally empty. He really was like the kings of the surrounding nations.

(1Sa 8:7 ESV)  7 And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.”

McKnight concludes,

Plan A has four characteristics: God alone is King. Humans, from Adam and Eve to Abraham, are to rule under God. Humans usurp God’s rule. God forgives the usurpers and forms a covenant with Abraham.

(p. 29).

And so God instituted Plan B — which is rule by David and his descendants under God. The problem is that David’s descendants rarely came close to the stature of their ancestor.

McKnight summarizes this phase:

So there are six elements in Plan B:

  • God alone is (still) King.
  • Israel is to rule God’s created world under God.
  • Israel wants to usurp God’s rule.
  • God accommodates Israel by granting it a human king.
  • The story of the Old Testament becomes the story of David.
  • God continues to forgive Israel of its sins through the temple system of sacrifice, purity, and forgiveness.

A human king on the throne, even David, was still Plan B.

(p. 31). So, inevitably, this leads to Plan A’ — a better version of Plan A. Jesus announces that the “kingdom of God” has drawn near.

This is not the kingdom of Moses or Samuel or David or Solomon or any other of the kings of Israel and Judah. This is the kingdom of God as it was before Samuel’s fateful request and God’s accommodation to Israel, and yet this new King will be modeled on David. Jesus is announcing that God once again has established divine rule in the land.

(pp. 33-34). David’s throne remains David’s throne, but now it is occupied by the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth — who both human and much, much more than human.

Here, then, is Plan A Revised: in Jesus, who is called Messiah (which means king), who is also called Son of God (which also means king), God establishes his rule over Israel one more time as under Plan A. Here are the major elements:

  • God alone is King.
  • God is now ruling in King Jesus.
  • Israel and the church live under the rule of King Jesus.
  • Forgiveness is granted through King Jesus, the Savior.
  • This rule of Jesus will be complete in the final kingdom.

Jesus is all of Israel’s major leaders, and more: he’s a new Moses and especially a new David and a new Solomon and a new Servant and a new Son of Man and a whole new redemptive order. Joseph and Mary name him Yeshua because he will “save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1: 21). The story is that in Jesus God now rules, and God’s kind of ruling is saving, rescuing, atoning, justifying, and reconciling.

(pp. 34-35). The reason the Kingdom draws near when Jesus walked the earth is not merely a matter of time. The Kingdom was established when Jesus became King. The Kingdom is centered on Jesus and so always “at hand” wherever Jesus might be.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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