Contemporary people have no sense of the holism of the biblical story in the light of Christ.
Christ came to free people from bondage to the law of Moses, but not through the absolute abandonment of all law. Paul’s training as a Pharisee made him the most biblically competent of the Apostles, which is reflected by his dominance as an author of the New Testament letters. My intention here is not to impose a foreign metanarrative upon the text, but to reveal the actual metanarrative of the Old Testament in the light of Christ as Paul presented it to the Galatians. That metanarrative was not what he had been taught as a Pharisee, nor what they had been taught by the Temple establishment. It was shockingly different, but it made undeniable sense of the Old Testament. The Temple establishment version was full of ancient mystery and symbolism that was difficult to understand, and cast the role of Israel as the hero of the story. Paul’s version, on the other hand, was clear, simple, and practical—though it required the abandonment of much well-established Temple superstition. Paul’s version cast the role of Jesus Christ as the hero.
While understanding the story of the Old Testament in the light of Christ is not difficult, abandoning our own false presuppositions about it requires some personal tenacity. Jesus continues to challenge our ideas about who we are and our role in history, God’s story. The story that Paul grew up with was the story about the importance and purity of the Temple. But the story that he learned from Jesus was about the corruption and failure of the Temple. Similarly, Christians today are Sunday-schooled in the importance of the institutional church, but the actual ongoing story in the light of Christ is about the corruption and failure of the church as an institution. In the following pages you will see that this story has played out over and again throughout history because of the pertinacity of sin.
A new battle for the Bible is afoot because the wholeness of the Bible has been ill perceived apart from what Ross calls the Backstory/Christory, Paul’s understanding of Israel’s history in the light of Christ. One of the ways that we see this is from the fact that modern Western culture, which is a child of Christianity, is awash in sin—personal sin, corporate sin, sexual sin, financial sin, etc. Poverty and planetary despoliation are primary examples. We are caught in the grip of an ingrained world-spirit of denial, deceit, jealousy, gossip, theft, fraud, and covetousness that manifest as wide scale personal and social brokenness. Contemporary people have no sense of the holism of the biblical story in the light of Christ. We are in the grip of a divisive narrow-mindedness on both the Right and the Left that is inadequately holistic, among both conservatives and liberals. Whatever understanding we have of biblical morality has been compromised through accommodation into an all-pervasive acedia, an epidemic of religious sloth that is the very first trigger in a causal chain of the seven deadly sins.
There is a battle for the Bible that has been raging for a very long time, but it is a battle that most Christians are not prepared to engage. Average pew sitters are lambs to the slaughter because the self-centeredness of the world trumps the self-centeredness of Christians—their timid identity with Christ, their tentative union with Christ, and their tepid commitment to Christ. Christians are rightly conflicted about their self-centeredness, the world is not. The world is much better positioned to win that argument, as we see daily. What must we do? Read the Bible holistically! Ancient Israel was destined to fail in her wider mission to the world because ancient Israel was a culture in transition, it had one foot in the Old and nothing but hope for the New. Very early in Israel’s history she began serving two metaphorical “masters.”
Cain was jealous of Abel because God preferred Abel’s sacrifice. The jealousy arose because of a religious problem. The whole of the history of the Old Testament is the outworking of this religious problem, this transition and establishment from one culture to another. God blessed Israel and set Israel apart to wander in the desert in order that Israel could worship God rightly. Israel was called out of that old pagan, ancient way of worship, which was based on domination, justice, and revenge—a law-based culture—to become a culture based on mercy and forgiveness—a grace-based culture. Ancient Israel was a culture in transition between the Old and the New. And yet when Jesus further illuminated the truth of the New, Israel, because of her exclusive understanding of God, rejected Jesus’ Gospel. Jesus inaugurated a change, a change of law and a change of worship, where His resurrected body is now the Temple of God (John 2:19; Matthew 26:59-64). Jesus inaugurated a new way of worship based on cooperation, mercy, and forgiveness—grace.
The entire story of humanity over the past five to eight thousand years is about replacing the ancient retributive religious habits of domination, justice (understood as vindication against wrongdoing), and revenge. Jesus taught the values and habits of cooperation, justice (understood as the righteousness of not doing wrong), and forgiveness. The New Testament teaches mercy, gracefulness, and forgiveness. The general historical outlines of this issue is coming to a head today through the long-standing conflict between Islam and Christianity, which employ competing systems of culture and morality. In our day, Christianity is in the process of abandoning her historic moral understanding, teaching, and commitment, and that abandonment then fuels Islamic hatred of the West. The best thing that Western people can do to extricate themselves from bearing the brunt of Islamic Jihad is to stop being such a prominent target—by repentance. We must repent by claiming biblical moral understanding, teaching, and commitment in the light of Christ, in the light of Ross’ Backstory/Christory. Doing that requires both a reaching back to our biblical history and reaching forward with biblical hopefulness to a sustainable future, a future that is only available in the light of Christ.
Ross essentially argues that the holiness of God is the wholeness of God in Christ, that the purpose of God is the establishment of God in Christ in the world, that the end or purpose of history is the reign of Christ, not as some sort of ancient tyrant, but as a loving Father, as a Bridegroom who is madly in love with His bride.
“I declare the end from the beginning, and from long ago what is not yet done, saying: My plan will take place, and I will do all My will” (Isaiah 46:10, Holman Christian Standard Bible).
Ray V. Foss
See the Review by Steven Kopp.