Friday, January 11, 2008

The Canon/Story

I find it interesting how many evangelicals read the Bible. You may have heard it said that every Church has its own canon or a canon within the canon, meaning every church seems to regard certain books as more important than others and those books are which are more important are emphasized (sometimes overly-emphasized) over the lesser. The choice of which books are more important, which books are more canonical, varies from church to church and tradition to tradition. I think that many of us, if we’re truly honest, will probably find themselves do just the same thing, holding one books word over another. For example if the Old Testament seems to say that the Law, the Torah, is life giving (see Deuteronomy 30) but you read Paul saying that the Law is the “ministry of Death” (many see Paul as referring to Law in this way in 2 Corinthians 3:7) then many in such a position would gladly take Paul’s word for it at face value and find a new way to explain the Old Testament rather than doing things the other way around. We all have certain books and chapters within the canon which we hold very highly and if we were to see something in the Bible that seemed to disagree with them we’d rush to re-evaluate our interpretation of the disagreeing text rather than the text we treasure.

The reason I find so many evangelical readings out there to be so interesting is because the New Testament is held so highly over the Old even though the latter occupies a large majority of our pages. It’s almost like there’s the book of Romans, the book of John, the book of Revelation, and then there’s the Old Testament. Now, before it sounds like I’m being too critical I want to clarify that I may be doing the same thing in the opposite direction. I tend to be very skeptical of any theology derived from the New Testament that differs to the theology of the Old Testament. But perhaps what is called for here is that we try our best to see the scriptures as less of a collection of theology books, as less of a catechism and begin to see the Bible as a story. In a story every chapter gives more and more color to the message. Every page reveals something new or something forgotten. Now, if we see the Bible as a big story then we see that most of it is the Old Testament and the New Testament is the climax. Before the climax of the story the main characters, the problem which must be solved, and the hope that the reader should have for the heroes at the end of the story is already well established… you’d have no real understanding of what the significance of the most important events in the climax were if you did not follow the whole story prior to the climax. So therefore, the Old Testament is essential to the story, it is in a real sense the bulk of the story. But what would a story be without a climax? The New Testament is essentially where the problems presented in the Old Testament is solved, it is the climactic struggle with and defeat of the enemy (which ironically happens through the death of the God who promised to save). So, you see? The Bible is a whole book, the Old Testament needs the New just as the New Testament surely needs the Old.

Perhaps seeing the Bible as a whole book—as a story—will help us to keep the whole thing in at least something close to the same canon. But in seeing the Bible as a story with the Old Testament as the bulk of the story and the New Testament as the climax (and of course this in not a perfect model but it might be helpful) we are still without a very important component: the ending. The Bible doesn’t give us the whole ending, though it may reveal, in part, what that ending will look like. The story continues and we are a part of it, living between the climax and the finally—between the reality of the victory of God and the reality of things not back to normal yet. In a way, the Bible isn’t a great story from a literary standpoint because it has seemingly two climaxes… though the problems of the Old Testament are in one sense solved, in another sense the problems still exist, and as the early church did, we await one more climax… or is it just one climax which is still happening and we are living as a part of that climax—part of the solution?

Think about it…

1 comment:

Danny said...

I would take your argument even further and suggest that most Americans are just plain lazy in regards to the Bible. Most American Christians don't read the bible AT ALL. It is the misunderstanding of most of the Old Testament and old inaccurate interpretations of the New Testament out of context that have led to many of these problems that you speak of.

For instance, I was reading Brown's introduction to the NT yesterday and he argues that 1Thessalonians receives less attention that Romans/Galatians/Ephesians--even though it was written before all of theses books--because it does not talk about justification. I think this is a sad thing.