Thursday, December 17, 2009

Reading the Whole Bible

In my current sermon series on the Bible's storyline, I have been speaking about God's plan for the whole creation a bit more than I normally do. I imagine there are some who might be wondering, though they haven't actually asked me, why I am doing that. This portion of The Gospel Coalition's vision for ministry explains my convictions well:

II. How should we read the Bible? (The hermeneutical issue)

  1. Reading “along” the whole Bible. To read along the whole Bible is to discern the single basic plot–line of the Bible as God’s story of redemption (e.g., Luke 24:44) as well as the themes of the Bible (e.g., covenant, kingship, temple) that run through every stage of history and every part of the canon, climaxing in Jesus Christ. In this perspective, the gospel appears as creation, fall, redemption, restoration. It brings out the purpose of salvation, namely, a renewed creation. As we confess in CS–(1), [God] providentially brings about his eternal good purposes to redeem a people for himself and restore his fallen creation, to the praise of his glorious grace.
  2. Reading “across” the whole Bible. To read across the whole Bible is to collect its declarations, summons, promises, and truth–claims into categories of thought (e.g., theology, Christology, eschatology) and arrive at a coherent understanding of what it teaches summarily (e.g., Luke 24:46–47). In this perspective, the gospel appears as God, sin, Christ, faith. It brings out the means of salvation, namely the substitutionary work of Christ and our responsibility to embrace it by faith. As we confess in CS–(7), Jesus Christ acted as our representative and substitute, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
After discussing briefly how focusing only one of these two ways of reading the Bible can lead to serious imbalances, the document continues:

We do not believe that in best practice these two ways of reading the Bible are at all contradictory, even though today, many pit them against each other. We believe that on the contrary the two, at their best, are integral for grasping the meaning of the biblical gospel. The gospel is the declaration that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has come to reconcile individuals by his grace and renew the whole world by and for his glory.

The vast majority of my preaching fits into the "reading across the Bible" category. And I think this is right, because there is no salvation if we do not grasp this deeply. Seeing the Gospel as God-Sin-Christ-Response is absolutely imperative to any vital, biblical ministry.

But the "reading along the Bible" category is also important to see full the scope of what God has done, is doing and will do in the world. It seems that this gets talked about a lot less, though, which is why I am coming back frequently to that theme in these sermons.

Because I am eager for Jesus to receive all the glory that He is due as the Savior of man and the Redeemer and Lord of the whole cosmos, I think it's important to read both "along" and "across" the Bible. I hope my preaching ministry is marked by biblical faithfulness in both of these areas.

(You can read the rest of the Gospel Coalition document here).

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