I used to think the story of Israel was the all-purpose theological trump card.
But now I’m having second thoughts.
You see, I’ve signed up for a reading group tackling the whole New Perspective on Paul issue — focussing on the in-print tussle between John Piper and N. T. Wright.
I’m excited about sinking my teeth into it. And I’m especially looking forward to getting our Bibles open so we can weigh up what we read — whichever highly respected teacher and pastor penned it.
But I’ve just finished reading the (extended) introduction to Wright’s Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision. Towards the end, he caps off a discussion of the representative role stitched into Israel’s expectations about the Messiah like this (page 84):
Once we grasp the essentially Jewish categories of thought with which Paul is working, many problems in a de-Judaised systematic theology are transcended.
Wright’s point here is well made — particularly in relation to the mistaken attempt to play off representation against substitution. And I can’t help but sympathise with him.
I’ve long felt that many of the knots we tie ourselves in when it comes to Christian doctrine and ethics can be significantly slackened by attending to the story of Israel, God’s faithfulness to his promises to Abraham, and the overarching biblical narrative.
I don’t doubt that reference to the story of God’s dealings with Israel (which reaches its climax with Jesus) can throw fresh light on old questions.
But I’m starting to wonder if we might be overplaying it.
What’s your sense? What issues has Israel — and the overall plot-line of Scripture — illuminated for you? And where has it been less helpful than you imagined?