The Story and Daily Life

All this talk about Story, all this talk about reading the Bible’s narrative, all this talk … well, what difference does it make? More precisely, what difference does it make for the Christian life? I ape Paul’s words: “much, in every way.” But that only means we have to explain how it makes a difference.

What words are the preeminent words in your faith community that summarize the Christian life?

Daniel Kirk, in Jesus Have I Loved, But Paul?, sketches how Jesus’ kingdom vision and Paul’s theology are harmonious and it leads him to a study how we are to live in light of this narrative approach to Paul. The essential shape of that story is that Israel’s Story has been fulfilled in the Story of Jesus, his life, death, burial and resurrection. So what then does this mean?

Again, Daniel shows how Jesus’ theory of the Christian life and Paul’s theory of the Christian life are so much alike. Kirk focuses on Mark’s Gospel where we find that Jesus’ essential call is to follow Jesus (Mark 1:16-20), and this means we are to extend the ministry of Jesus. And here he draws on Mark 3:13-15 and 6:7-13 to show that we extend his very life and ministry, but this leads to the big one: the pattern of Jesus’ life in Mark is the life of rejection, suffering, death and resurrection. The Christian life then is to be noted by the cross — a life of sacrificial love for others (Jesus Creed and John 13). The heart of Mark’s narrative is the Messiah pointing toward and then dying on the cross.

Christology shapes discipleship; thus, christology shapes ecclesiology. Jesus’ pattern is our pattern.

This is the essence, too, of Paul’s theory of the Christian life. We are to be and live “in Christ,” and the Christ we are “in” is the one who suffered and died and was raised. That is, Phil 2:6-11 tells it all: be like Jesus and Jesus was like this: humiliation, suffering, death, resurrection. The way to the top is the bottom.

So the Christian life is the embodiment of the life of Christ.

This death-life is followed by the resurrection-life: God’s Spirit, the agent of new creation, is at work in those who die, in those who in baptism are buried in death with Jesus Christ and who are raised with him.  They are glowing clay pots (2 Cor 4:7-10).

This story, the life of suffering leading to resurrected life, is not the pattern of our society or our churches (enough). Too often the narrative of success: prosper, enterprise, large churches, best-selling books, etc are what attracts us. Instead of a list of death instances we only want the list of successes.

This leads Kirk to friendly fire for his Reformed justification-by-faith-alone society. (Only James has that expression by the way, as Kirk reminds us.) Too often it diminishes obedience and thrives on passive acceptance, and not enough of the “obedience of faith” taught by Paul in Romans 1:6. He contends there’s a tendency here to “produce an underdeveloped sense of Christian responsibility” (90). Faith works, he says.

“To be justified by faith is never to be justified by faith that stands alone” (92).

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Paul W

    “Baptismal identity” and “remember your baptism” are fairly common phrases used to assist us in focusing on our Christian life where I worship.

  • T

    Yes! (and . . .)

    Yes: “The Christian life then is to be noted by the cross — a life of sacrificial love for others (Jesus Creed and John 13). The heart of Mark’s narrative is the Messiah pointing toward and then dying on the cross.”

    And: Jesus lives and serves (“works”) by the power of the Spirit.

    I suppose/hope he deals with this shared narrative of Jesus and Paul elsewhere (I apologize if it’s been raised in earlier posts). As much as the gospels rightfully climax with cross and resurrection (just as Paul elevates cruciform love as the most excellent way), the power of the Spirit is critically important both to the gospel narratives and to Paul’s theology.

    We’ll get into this some tomorrow, but neither the gospels nor Paul present the powerful and loving miraculous works of the Spirit as optional or unimportant either to the work of God or the narrative of the kingdom. The Christian life/narrative is surprisingly cross-shaped AND surprisingly Spirit-empowered, just like Jesus (and just like Paul models and teaches it).

  • http://leadme.org Cal

    I echo the thoughts of some greater minds when they say that the Gospel, and how it impacts the speaker, hearer and everyone in between is thus: Messiah is Lord.

    In that simple statement, the whole cosmos is flipped on its head. Like years ago when Lombardi reminded his players: “This is a football”. I think we ought to start at the very key to the gospel, where the cross, resurrection, incarnation all meet in truth.

    Jesus is King!

  • AWB

    So, how does the “death-life followed by the resurrection-life” translate into (or challange) the typical approaches of ministry through the church? For instance, say a new start-up church is trying to figure out what this “death-followed-by-resurrection” path looks like at a congregational level… where does saving for and/or purchasing a church building fit into that path? Is it possible to “build a church” in the traditional American sense apart from the “success” model?

  • T

    Cal,

    Yes! That is the driving point all the gospel writers are trying to make with their readers: Jesus is the Messiah.

    And that driving point is why this call is logical and compelling: “Jesus’ essential call is to follow Jesus (Mark 1:16-20), and this means we are to extend the ministry of Jesus.”

  • Rodney

    I must get my hands on a copy of Daniel’s work. Superb.

  • http://jrdkirk.com J. R. Daniel Kirk

    AWB, I think you’ve hit on one of the most challenging questions that far too many of us are afraid to ask: If the way of the cross deconstructs society’s constructs of power, why are we building Christian institutions that mirror those constructs within our own walls? Does the way of the cross call us to a different way of being church entirely?

  • T

    Daniel (7),

    In that vein, have you read or did you see the discussion here of Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church by Johnson? I think he was making some of the same points, especially around Jesus’ itinerancy, servant leadership, and voluntary poverty. What did you think of Johnson’s argument?

  • Albion

    JRDK at 7: I think AWB’s question is the kind of question asked by relatively affluent western christians who feel some measure of guilt for their affluence and so cannot imagine that we would ever spend $ on buildings. Then we take our eyes off of God’s beauty and the artisans gifted by God who can create beautiful buildings for his glory. I think there’s something to be said for beautiful spaces dedicated to the worship of God — a place where all God’s people, rich and poor, can joyfully praise his name. It is the antidote to a Judas mentality of scarcity. God provides abundantly and sometimes his people can do something “extravagant” when done for his glory. I’m very uneasy saying this (I have in mind the crystal cathedral) but how could we support Christian artisans but warn them: “This big, but no bigger. This far, but no further. This price, but no higher.”

  • http://leadme.org Cal

    Albion:

    Why did God find Jeroboam’s building of cultic sites at Dan and Bethel sin? They were dedicated to Him (!).

    The question is: who told us to build these edifices? When has aesthetic beauty ever been the mark of Truth and Life?

    I have no problem with beautiful artwork, but we are deceived if we think spending time and money to build them is somehow more honoring (or holy!) than feeding the poor and clothing the widowed. In fact, the latter is a command.

  • AWB

    Albion(9),

    While I am admittedly a “relatively affluent western christian” who is asking the question and so, I suppose it’s always possible that my motivation in asking the question arises from some level of guilt over that affluence (as you suggest) — quite honestly, I’m not sure that is the issue. The issue I feel I’m being motivated by is one of stewardship. Yes, there is no end to what God can supply, but at the same time, we are to be responsible with what we have been given.

    As I wrestle with the thoughts of this author (and others like him), I find myself simply wondering “why we do what we do”. If Jesus and Paul seemed to have zero-vision for constructing buildings to accomplish mission, why do we end up making that an essential part of mission? Is that the best way we “relatively affluent western christians” can use the resources God has blessed us with to glorify Him?

  • AWB

    J. R. Daniel Kirk (7),

    I have not yet read the book (but I hope to grab it soon!). Any further thoughts on how the path of “death-to-resurrection” might work for a modern congregation?

  • Albion

    Cal & AWB:

    “relatively affluent western christians” was not meant as a dig, just a fact. compared to the rest of the world, we are very rich.

    but i raise the other point simply because I think there must be a place for Christian architects, writers, engineers, doctors, chimney sweeps, astronauts, even in a world decimated by poverty, war and disease.

    Jesus does not prohibit the exercise of gifts to build beauty into the world; rather, Jesus calls into being a community around himself that doesn’t lie, turns the other cheek, goes the extra mile, feeds the hungry, loves the enemy, welcomes the stranger. Jesus makes possible a people with a new kind of character in the new creation inaugurated by his life, death and resurrection.

    It seems like Jesus is much more concerned about character than vocation. I just wonder if there cannot be a place for gifted people to create things that have beauty as well as utility. I don’t think Jesus required that we all be Benthamites.

    Maybe because we know what’s going on in the rest of the world in a way our forbears never did, we feel constrained in ways they did not. In light of so much suffering, how can we possibly “waste” money on art? I don’t know the history of the building of cathedrals. Maybe they were raised on the backs of the poor. But they are still magnificent structures that testify to an age when someone thought that the biggest, most beautiful building around should be dedicated to the worship of God. And cities were built around these places of worship.

    If it’s a zero sum game, and every spare dollar should always go to feeding and clothing the poor, Christians are in a world of hurt.

    Just rambling . . .

    Peace.

  • http://leadme.org Cal

    Albion:

    Again, I have nothing against beautiful architecture and art of any kind. I love the look of the ancient gothic cathedrals!

    However it’s worth considering what the thing is vs. the person making it. I can say, yes this architect, this builder, this engineer, this artist is a follower of Christ. It does not make his art, building etc. anything less common than the things made by pagans and non-believers.

    The Coliseum is absolutely marvelous in architecture, it is also a temple to death. The pantheon, with its stunning oculus, is a work of engineering art. Yet it is the sum of pagan worship, trading the Creator for the created thing.

    These followers of Christ in these fields may do what they do and give the glory to God, but it doesn’t make what they’re doing ‘Holy’. We don’t count a Christ-Following doctor as practicing ‘Holy’ medicine?

    I won’t get into the issue of how these structures were built and where the treasure to fund them came from. Another story, another argument.

    Cal

  • Matt

    What am I missing? What is profound about saying that Jesus & Paul agree while communicating differently (for various reasons of course)?


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