In last week’s post, I tried to retell the popular, yet distorted, version of the Christian story as I have heard it since my conversion into Christianity. Unfortunately, virtually all of that story is wrong.
I’m currently rereading NT Wright’s latest book, “The Day The Revolution Began.” This book is a treasure trove of theological resources and will probably be one of my theological “go-to” books for years to come.
Wright summarizes why the popular Christian story in general and specifically the popular understanding of Jesus’ crucifixion is wrong:
“In other words, in much popular modern Christian thought we have made a three-layered mistake. We have Platonized our eschatology (substituting “souls going to heaven” for the promised new creation) and have therefore moralized our anthropology (substituting a qualifying examination of moral performance for the biblical notion of the human vocation), with the result that we have paganized our soteriology, our understanding of “salvation” (substituting the idea of “God killing Jesus to satisfy his wrath” for the genuinely biblical notions we are about to explore.”
In other words, the popular version of the Christian story makes three crucial errors that distorts the actual biblical story. First, it substitutes the biblical goal of God’s New Creation with “going to heaven when we die.” Second, it substitutes the biblical human vocation of being God’s image-bearers in his cosmic temple with being morally righteous or unrighteous. And it substitutes the biblical salvation of being rescued from idolatry and restored to our human vocation with Jesus dying to satisfy God’s wrath for our personal sin so we can be considered righteous and ultimately go to heaven.
I also believe that these three mistakes lead to a fourth mistake — we have consumerized our ecclesiology. We have replaced the biblical community of being shaped into Christ’s likeness in order to bless the world with organizations programmed primarily to cater to the community’s expectations and needs.
Please take a moment to watch this introductory video featuring Dr. John Walton:
To steal Dr Walton’s words, I believe one of the primary causes for our distortion of the biblical story is that we continue to “impose our own questions, our own culture, our own agendas, our own issues on the biblical text and demand that it address our situation.”
Our questions, culture, agendas and issues that we impose on the biblical text focus on how to be right with God and ultimately get to heaven. This then reads the biblical text in a way foreign to the original authors and audience and forces the text to say things it never tried to say.
Because each of the mistakes that Wright mentions — eschatology, anthropology and soteriology — are intimately entwined, a tweak of one torques the other two, resulting in a comprehensive distortion of the biblical story.
Consequently, we try to live in a story that seems to be supported by portions of Scripture, but is actually not the biblical story.