Christians and the Story of Israel – the “question in the middle”

Christians and the Story of Israel – the “question in the middle” June 10, 2012

Tom Wright begins his new book How God Became King with a set of provocative questions:

But what about the question in the middle–my question? Why did Jesus live? What, in other words, about the bit between the stable and the cross?  . . .  Did it matter that, according to the four gospels, he had a short period of intense and exciting public activity at the latter end of his life? What truth could we learn from it? Why did it have to be like that? Does it matter that he did all those things, that he said all those things, that he was all those things? Would it have made any difference if, as a virgin-born son of God, he had been plucked from total obscurity and dying for our sins, without any of that happening? If not, why not? I realized then, and have realized increasingly in recent years, that many Christians read the gospels without ever asking those questions. Adapting a phrase from the well-known book on management, The Empty Raincoat, such readers experience the four gospels as an empty cloak. The outer wrapping is there–Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection.But who is inside the cloak? What did Jesus do in between? . . . Does it matter? (4-5)

I think the same point about Jesus made by Wright can be made with equal or greater force with the story of Israel in the Bible. Most Christians read the Bible as an “empty raincoat”. Israel is the ultimate “question in the middle” — a very large one at that (since the story of Israel takes up most of the Bible). What about the “bit between” the Garden in Gen 3 and Jesus?

Many Christians have no idea what to do with the story of Israel. The story of Israel in all its particularity is virtually ignored by most or simply reduced to background music. But Wright’s form of questioning nags at such approaches: Would it have made any difference if God brought the Savior by some other ethnic route or if God sidestepped Israel’s story completely bringing the “Christ” from outside of any human story?

What are we to make of the story of Israel in all its particularity?

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