Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Reflections on Jesus and the Gospels I

OK, back from Lewis and time for HTC Reflections...

This last semester there have been four modules on my plate (yum-yum): Jesus and the Gospels, Former Prophets, Introduction to Systematics and Greek Grammar I. I will be reflecting on these modules in turn over the next few days. First up is Jesus and the Gospels, taught by Dr Mike Bird. The set texts were Exploring the NT I: the Gospels and Acts by David Wenham and Steve Walton, The Challenge of Jesus' Parables by Richard Longenecker and Jesus According to Scripture by Bock. So, my highlights from this module (where to begin, where to begin?)...
  • Walking in Jesus' World: yet again, the material on the 1st century world has been really useful. The early chapters of Wenham and Walton were great for this: knowing the socio-political situation sheds light on the teachings of Christ, but just as importantly brings the narratives alive. And life in these narratives is what we really need to rediscover - the power of the story. And with the parables (see below), understanding Palestinian culture and Second Temple Judaism can shed a great deal of light when it comes to interpretation.

  • Re-discovering the Parables: Longenecker's book on the Parables has been generally very useful even if the first chapters on interpretation can be a little hard going. The much-vaunted 'there-is-only-one-point-to-a-parable' view is challenged effectively by pointing out the importance of the readers/hearers interaction with the parable (oooh careful, reader-response alert!). This is important in exegesis. For example, in the parables of Luke 15 (Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, Lost Son) you have a mixed crowd of followers, plus the specific group of tax collectors/sinners and the Pharisess listening. So immediately you get three or more target audiences. The thrusts of the parables are in different directions, especially in the Lost Son. You also have the Jewish response to tales of youngest sons and the identification of Israel as God's Son, so different nuances manifest themselves. Exploring the connections with OT parables and with parables in other Rabbinic writings was also extremely useful. More generally, we can be so familiar with the parables that they lose their impact. Longenecker's book and the lectures have helped in rediscovering the scandal of the parables - just how shocking they would have been (Kingdom of God? Like a Mustard Seed? Now just hang on a minute...!). Other parables are so hard to decipher, but again the material in this module sheds light (such as with the parable of the unjust steward). Even well-known parables like the Persistent Widow (and the associated Friend at Midnight) came alive for me with new understanding - in this case the specifically eschatological setting of this parable. The fact that one of us students was required to make a presentation each week on the relevant section of the book really helped in engaging with the material - a good feature of the module.

  • Beginning to get an over-view of the Gospels: I'm a bit slow, but I feel I'm beginning to get a 'feel' for the gospels. You know, above the content, the background to what Mark's saying; where Luke's coming from etc. Again, Wenham and Walton was good for this. There's a long way to go! The differing emphases of the writers are important in showing the richness of the gospel message, but also in warning us against reductionism. It never ceases to amaze me how the Kingdom, which is so prominent in the synoptics, is not afforded the same prominence in our own church vocabularies - at least in my experience. Some more time looking at John's gospel was really valuable in this module (mainly through the essay, which will be the subject of a separate post).
My one regret from the module is that I'm not doing it next year! Next year, so the word on the street goes, the text book is Blomberg's Jesus and the Gospels and there will be more of a focus on John's gospel, including video! Blomberg's book gives a good overview of the life and ministry of Jesus, and I think that the module will be improved by his material. Dr Bird's teaching has again been inspirational and motivational on this module. His insights are matched by a genuine pastoral concern.
Next up on Reflections: Jesus and the Gospels - the Essay...