I am very tempted to quote a huge portion of N.T. Wright’s “The New Testament and the People of God” where he explains Paul’s story and Paul’s use of the Jewish story as the framework for his telling of the Gospel.
Wright’s argument at this point is to show that the earliest 1st century writings are essentially a retelling of the Jewish story and flows from the Hebrew worldview. To Wright, one’s worldview and one’s understanding of the story of history are two sides of the same coin. For example, the enlightenment story is one of the progress of human freedom as a result of the ascendancy of human reason. This is the modern story and this story makes up the modern worldview.
To understand the mind of the New Testament and therefore the mind of normative Christianity, we need to understand the narrative context of the preaching of the Gospel in the first century. In so doing, we come to understand the worldview of normative Christianity. This process of discovering the New Testament faith is the protestant tradition of sola scriptura. The prototype of the new testament faith is the foundation laid by the apostles, and to understand the faith of the first century Christians and the theology of the New Testament we must understand the relationship between the text, the implied story, and worldview.
Well, to make a short story long, I am going to attempt to make a small little quote and then place it in it's context followed by my foolish and ecstatic commentary.
So here is the quote, “Paul’s theology only makes sense within a large-scale retelling of the essentially Jewish story, seen now from the point of view of one who believes that the climactic moment has already arrived, and that the time to implement the great achievement is already present”.
So what is the “essentially Jewish story”?
Here is Wright's answer to hat question from the context of the above quote:
“Torah holds out to Israel life and death, prosperity and exile, and then (in Deuteronomy 30) speaks of new life on the other side of exile/death. Israel chose exile/death; the prophets warned that this would happen, and happen it did. Again, Paul is on common ground with his kinsmen according to the flesh. But again he subverts the Jewish story from within. (Note here how N.T. Wright starts sentences with the word “But” just like I do – LOL. I am experiencing grammatical liberation. Now if he would just leave in all the typos in the published text I would be in blog heaven)…(back to the quote)…
The end of this exile, and the real return, are not now future events to be experienced in terms of a cleansed Land, a rebuilt temple, and an intensified Torah. The exile came to it’s cataclysmic end when Jesus, Israel’s representative Messiah, died outside the walls of Jerusalem, bearing the curse, which existed in exile at the hands of the pagans, to its utmost limits. The return from exile began when Jesus, again as representative Messiah, emerged from the tomb three days later. As a result, the whole complex of Jewish expectations as to what would happen when the exile finished had come tumbling out in a rush. Israel’s God had poured out His own spirit on all flesh; His word was going out to all nations; He had called into being a new people composed of all races and classes, and both sexes, without distinction. …Paul’s theology only makes sense within a large-scale retelling of the essentially Jewish story, seen now from the point of view of one who believes that the climactic moment has already arrived, and that the time to implement the great achievement is already present”.
The fulfillment of this expectation is key to the understanding of the new life presented in the Good News. How anathema to the life of normative Christianity it is when we lack faith that the time to implement the great achievement is already present. How often I hear the unbelief of our hearts saying, "the testimony of scripture is that we will always return to exile and failure". Has the great victory of God occured in the cross of Christ or not? The very cancer of the curse has been removed from the society of the church. What then is the great achievement other than the building up of the people of God to be that city set on a hill?
How great a diversion it is to attempt to build upon a foundation other than the one built by the apostles which is the story of the Gospel and the People of God. Oh, how I long for a church, even a church as small as my own family, that lives not in the residue of Adam but the newness of a people of the presence of our God.
Paul's theology cannot be understood outside the context of his life story, the story of the People of God and, therefore, Paul's foundational worldview. Paul is not a gnostic ideologue or a stoic philosopher nor a politician. Paul is a Hebrew prophet and a New Testament Apostle. His vision is understood, and His work and the life of the church is understood, in this context of building Morally Beautiful Community. This task always has been the work of the Hebrew prophet and the New Covenant missionary, a task in which all Christians are called to co-labor.