Summary: A look at the big picture in terms of the role of the bible in preparing us for mission in today’s world
I came across this illustration of the role of the bible and our role as the followers of Jesus (by N T Wright): Suppose someone discovered a play by say, Shakespeare – there were 4 acts but the 5th had been lost. The first four acts provide such a wealth of characterization and excitement that everyone wants it to be staged. But no-one wants to write a fifth act: it would freeze the play into one form, a form that the Bard himself not approve of – after all the fifth act would not be his. Instead what is decided is to give the key parts to the best Shakespearian actors, who would immerse themselves in the first four acts, and in the language and culture of Shakespeare and his time, and who would then be told to work out a fifth act for themselves. The first four acts would be the basis for the task in hand. Then the actors would improvise, along the lines in harmony with the first 4 acts – not repeating it, but continuing it. If people thought they were acting inconsistently with the first 4 acts they could appeal to them as their basis. In this illustration it was suggested that this is kind of what we are called to do. If you see the bible in that way, as the first 4 acts in God’s great play/purpose: (1) Creation; (2) Fall; (3) Israel; (4) Jesus. The New Testament would then form the first scene in the fifth act, giving hints as well (Rom 8; 1 Car 15; parts of the Apocalypse) of how the play is supposed to end. The church age after the New Testament and before the Second Coming is the second scene of the fifth act. I want to use this idea to illustrate what God is calling us to do in these days.
1. Living under the authority of the story
Now in the illustration I used the actors were required to so immerse themselves in the story so far, in the author and his way of thinking that they would be sensitive to how he would want the story to go on. Those first 4 acts are the authority for the continuing story. In a sense the church’s job is to live under the ‘authority’ of the story we have in the bible. Many people treat the bible as a rule book, there are rules and commands in there but that only represents a very small part. Some people have tried to turn it into a list of do’s and don’ts – it is called legalism. In fact the NT has only one command – love one another – love one another and do what you like! The bible is largely a story, not rules, not even loads of principles for us to follow – a story. But what we need to do is to so immerse ourselves in the bible that we live our lives consistent with the message and ethos of the bible – to live under the authority of the Word of God in that sense. This why reading the bible, studying it, preaching and teaching are important for us – because through God’s Word the bible our lives are informed, we think more and more in harmony with The Author – God himself. There are of course many explicit statements of what God wants us to do, like “Go an make disciples…” etc. but these are by and large general statements of God’s will. How they are worked out in detail in our lives is largely down to us, as we under the authority of the bible seek to live in harmony with it’s ethos, values and principles, led and guided by his Spirit.
2. Act 5, Scene 2
But the task in hand is so clearly now to finish off the play in our lives in a way that is consistent with the story of the bible. That is what we are called to do – we are the ones called to finish the story, guided by the bible, led by the Spirit, but charged with the responsibility of finishing the task, the story begun so well. How?
Jesus himself shows us the way to go, read it in the gospels and Peter some years later in Cornelius’ house tells people: “You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached-- how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him” (Acts 10:37-38). That is the principle - he went everywhere “doing good” and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom. Our task is to carry on where he left off. Listen to this excerpt from the book ’The Present Future’ by Reggie McNeal "How many evangelism programs have you encountered in which sharing the gospel assumes no relationship with the ’customer’ and where Jesus is sold like soap? Let me tell you my hunch about what effective 21st century evangelism will require and what the new apologetic is. I learned it from an experience my wife had a couple of years ago. Cathy went to Ground Zero in November 2001, about two months after the terrorist attacks. She travelled with a disaster relief team of people from our state denomination with a mission to clean apartments of people who had been displaced by the collapse of the World Trade Centre. The apartments she cleaned had faced the Twin Towers. All the windows had been blown out when the towers collapsed. These people had watched people jump. They had found telephones, briefcases, jewellery in their apartments, all blown in when the towers came crashing down. The residents were paying commercial firms thousands of dollars to get their apartments cleaned. Our team did it for nothing, even leaving gifts behind.