Friday, January 30, 2009

The centre of the New Testament - Apostolic Discourse

What is the theological centre of the New Testament? Justification by faith, that's only really central in Romans 1-5 and Galatians 1-2. Jesus Christ - well duh - that is so broad as to be meaningless! Salvation-History, but doesn't that confuse the car with the driver? It must be resurrection then, but is the resurrection ofJesus Christ the centre of Philemon and Jude; and for that matter does the centre of the NT have to be the centre of every constitiuent part? It is hard to find a centre given the theological diversity in the New Testament and the differences in genres as well as differences in time and space that separate these documents.

I like Peter Balla who proposes a shared creedal summary, a kinda early "Rule of Faith", as the shared theological fabric in the NT. Then again Dodd's kerygma is an attractive option since it brings together the Gospel of Mark, Paul's epistles, and the Lucan speeches into a comprehensive unity. More recently, I'm interested in the notion of "apostolic discourse" (borrowed from John Webster and Kevin Vanhoozer) as it is the essential elements of the apostolic testimony to God and Jesus Christ. Of course that again begs the question, what are the essential elements of the apostolic testimony to God and Jesus ? I'm still working that out! For the moment, I'm tending towards certain "fixtures" that involve God, Christ, and the story of salvation as it is made in the NT. The word "gospel" is an encoded reference to that story which is decoded in the apostolic proclamation that details the relationship between the exalted Lord and Messiah to Jesus of Nazareth, the life of Jesus in relation to the hope of Israel, the identity of Jesus Christ in relation to the God of Israel, and the God of Israel in relation to the rest of creation.


Jason said...

You might also mention Beale's "New Creation".

Why not mention the establishment/inbreaking of the Kingdom as a possible center, as some argue? What are the objections there as you see them?

The Pook said...

I'm not so sure that "Jesus Christ" is too broad a category. The person and work of Jesus and the claim that he is Messiah is pretty central and summarises those early credal statements you speak of.

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Michael Russell said...

I'm not clear on something: are you asking for the centre of the NT or the unifying theme of the NT?

The centre, I think, would be the God-Man Jesus Christ. The central or unifying theme, however, could be the righteousness of God - and not "merely" forensic righteousness but practical righteousness, as well.

Matt said...

I think that the person of Jesus Christ isn't too broad to be considered 'the centre' of the NT. I can't imagine getting to heaven, seeing Jesus, and going "well, this experience is a bit a vague...a bit too 'general'". Proposing that Jesus is the centre of all NT teaching might seem too general in way, but it is clearly (in my mind) the correct answer.
If a second answer were to be proposed, perhaps "Gospel ethics" could be argued. The entire NT is laden with not just the Gospel (with Christ at the centre), but with injunctions on how to live in respose to the Gospel. This would also account for Philemon and Jude. Thoughts?

C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

I would suggest that the theological center of Paul's gospel is the resurrection. BTW, just finished a reading of Philippians with a linguist in Finland. Quite a project. Hundreds and hundreds of e-mails over about a month. He was preparing his class notes for a course which has now started. In the process I started reading N.T. Wright with a new interest. Perhaps this fellow has something to say. I have already read Piper, and I know where he is coming from and I don't learn much reading him.

Paul L. Johnston said...

By "Apostolic discourse" do you mean something like Caird's picture of the apostles sitting around a table talking about the gospel (New Testament Theology, by George Bradford Caird, L. D. Hurst)?

I found this helpful. It seemed from this way of looking at the gospel, it focused on salvation in Christ.

Paul J

Eddie said...

Hi all,

Does the vast array of proposals within scholarship tell us that we are not all looking for the same thing when we look for a 'theological centre'? Or does it tell us that early Christian belief was more like a 'web' or 'network' of interrelated and inseparable beliefs? Are we assuming a 'foundationalist' like structure?

andrewbourne said...

Why do we need to find a theological centre? Surely a better starting point is the Economic Trinity. In the sending of the Son by the Father to redeem Humanity in the work of the Holy spirit who continues the work in the Church through the Paschal Mystery is not this a more real estimation other wise you can end up in Christolatry

Eric Zuesse said...

Prior to Paul's having asserted that the way to win God's approval is by possessing Christ-faith, no follower of Jesus had asserted it, and this is important because this doctrine violates Judaism -- violates the covenant, including the very creation of the covenant, Genesis 17:11-14, where God offers to Abraham the contract or covenant to sign and says that the way to sign it is in blood via circumcision, and that "no uncircumcised male will be one of my people," in other words that no uncircumcised man will be a Jew, and that this agreement will be eternal, which is quickly repeated for emphasis in 17:19. Paul, in Galatians 2:16, Romans 3:21-22 and 3:28, and elsewhere, clearly negates Genesis 17, despite Paul's lame argument that only Abraham's faith mattered, and that Abraham's obedience to God's commandment did not matter. Obviously, Paul's claim there is false, and the covenant between God and the Jews would not have come into force if Abraham had not obeyed the commandment. Paul had no answer for that, and so he simply ignored Abraham's carrying out the commandment, as if that didn't even matter -- as if Abraham's obedience to the commandment didn't matter.

You deny that replacing the Jewish covenant by Paul's gospel is crucial to Christianity; but, without this replacement by Paul, Christianity would have remained what it was before Paul first said this (which Galatians says occurred in the year 49 or 50): just the sect of Jews which had been started by the rabbi Jesus. Before Paul introduced that replacement of Judaism, Paul was like all other members of the sect, a Jew himself, but at this moment, 17 years after his supposed encounter with the risen Jesus, he started Christianity by saying that no longer did God's approval require obedience to God's Law, the commandments; that from now on, mere Christ-faith is the way, and that nobody has to obey God's commandments any longer.

Consequently, what you are saying is that the thing that makes Christianity Christianity is not crucial to Christianity, and that Paul's creation of Christianity was unimportant. I do not agree.