Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Book Review: The Drama of Scripture

The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story by Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen

This year, the children and I are cycling back around to Volume 1 of Connecting with History, Old Testament and Ancient History. I asked Kansas Dad for recommendations in placing the Old Testament in the context of history and this is the book he recommended. He uses it in his theology courses.

This book is not written by Catholics, but the text is still valuable. I noticed one reference to Jesus's siblings (which of course Catholics would say were cousins). Also, the books of Maccabees are placed in the intertestamental period rather than the Old Testament. Interestingly, though, the authors never explicitly say the books of Maccabees are non-Biblical, and they present the content of those books with as much authority as those they cover in the Old Testament section. Also, the appendix in the back that lists all the references used in the course of the book includes 1 and 2 Maccabees without even an asterisk. So in some ways, it is perhaps more Catholic than I expected.

Basically, the book presents the historical thread of Scripture as a single story, combining the events of all the books of the Bible. The goal is to see the overall picture of God's work on earth and his plan for all of creation, including ourselves.

One of the aspects of the book I found most helpful was the authors' ability to explain the understanding of the Jewish people of the Scriptures as they were handed down and how that understanding (or misunderstanding) was addresses by Jesus in his teachings and in the moments of his ministry selected and emphasized by the writers of the Gospels. Lots of sources tell a bit of what life was like in Jesus's time, but this book incorporated all of Old Testament history to generate a picture of the Hebrew people as a whole, including those areas in which there was debate and disagreement.
The church of the first century is almost two thousand years removed in time and (for most of us) half a world away in distance...The biblical accounts of how all these different people struggled to live faithfully in their distant times and places may seem to have little to do with you and me.
Yet it is not so. The world of the Bible is our world, and its story of redemption is also our story. This story is waiting for an ending--in part because we ourselves have a role to play before all is concluded...We must resist the temptation to read the Scriptures as if they were a religious flea market, with a basket of history and old doctrines here, a shelf full of pious stories there, promises and commands scattered from one end to the other.
The authors are interested in convincing their readers to integrate the story of Scripture into their lives, not just on Sundays or during a prayer time, but throughout their days. We are participating in God's kingdom already come but not yet complete.
Salvation is not an escape from creational life into "spiritual" existence: it is the restoration of God's rule over all of creation and all human life.
Because our own culture is very different from that in which Jesus and the apostles ministered, we must be creative in how to understand and carry out that continuing mission today.
Witness will mean embodying God's renewing power in politics and citizenship, economics and business, education and scholarship, family and neighborhood, media and art, leisure and play...It means that the way we live as citizens, consumers, students, husbands, mothers, and friends witnesses to the restoring power of God.
As I said, Kansas Dad uses this book in his university level courses, so it's written in an academic style. That doesn't mean it's impossible to understand for a layperson, just that there are a lot of quotes from academic theologians (those that publish in academic journals) versus popular theologians (those that write most of the books and do most of the touring around the country to speak at conferences for laypeople). There are lots and lots of endnotes, which makes me happy. It is a little dense for someone wanting to just sit down and read a bit now and then. I generally found I understood it better if I read it while the children were focused on something or in bed. Interruptions were problematic.


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