If Jesus was prophetic (and he was) then the church that follows him is prophetic (and it isn’t always what it should be). This is the thesis of Luke Timothy Johnson’s new book Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church. He contends that the church today needs to hear a prophetic voice, and a good place to begin for LT Johnson is with Luke-Acts. Johnson is a specialist in Luke-Acts, and so this series will be full of solid exegesis and theology.
Johnson contends the readers of the Luke-Acts (one book, not two; together, not apart) would have heard a “summons to an ideal that might be in danger of being lost … a thrilling act of utopian imagination … [and] “a normative prescription for how things ought to be” (5).
He observes that what Luke did to Mark is a clue to how to read Luke-Acts: Luke adds lots to the front end of the Story about Jesus; Luke adds more ecclesial stuff to the last chp of Luke; and most notably he adds a long Story about the Church to the Gospel — and it would be good to sit down just to ponder what happens to one’s database when one has Luke 1-3, Luke 24 (not to mention other things added in), as well as Acts 1-28. Just with those basics, what happens to the Story? What does this tell us about the gospel? What does this tell us about Jesus? What does this tell us about the church (and its importance)? What does this, then, say about the local church?
This is what happens: The Story of the Church is seen as the continuation of the Story of Jesus. That, in and of itself, is a huge theological perspective. Jesus isn’t just history; Jesus is alive and well in the Story of the Church.
That is, this is one story — the Jesus-Church Story. This is not two stories, but one.
Stylistically: Luke is adept. That intro to Luke (1:1-4) is a one-of-a-kind and the intr to Acts continues that stylistic competence.
As for genre, Johnson thinks the comparison to Greek and Roman novels is overplayed (he’s thinking no doubt of Pervo). Yes more like “lives” but not as much as some would like to think. Johnson thinks Luke-Acts fits into “historiography” (surely he means “history” for “historigraphy” is a study of history itself and not an historical account). History is not a chronicle of events but a shaping of events with a purpose. And Johnson argues from Luke 1:1-4 that this is a history of the fulfillment of Israel’s Story in Jesus and the Church. [Yes, indeed, say I — King Jesus Gospel is happy to hear this.] Luke tells this Story in order to create confidence in his readers by providing the Story as a set of narratives in sequence. Part of that order is the Israel to the Gentiles sequencing of the Story. God is faithful, Johnson argues, is central to Luke-Acts. In other words, Luke-Acts is theodicy.
Geography — namely, the centrality of Jerusalem — is important to Luke-Acts.