Israel’s Story and the Gospel

Is the story of Israel integral to the gospel?important part

This is an important question, particularly as it relates to the biblical gospel and to evangelism. Fortunately, biblical theology gives us a very clear answer to the question. In short, YES!

Israel’s story is essential to the biblical gospel. Nevertheless, this answer is perhaps less than self-evident to many people if judged by the place (or absence) of Israel’s story in most tracts and gospel presentations.

For example, the C2C Story is a popular evangelism tool used by many cross-cultural workers. While the approach makes use of a storying method, there are serious problems with the story, especially concerning the role of Israel in the biblical storyline. C2C makes no mention of the nation of Israel and implies that the 10 commandments and the OT sacrifices were given to humanity in general rather than Israel in particular. The story has room for the fall of evil angels, but omits the exodus.

More could be said about other omissions in C2C (no mention of Abraham, the covenants, or David; only a passing reference to the resurrection, etc.), but this post is focusing only on Israel’s story. And C2C is but one example among many in which Israel is either neglected or ignored.

This brings us back to the main question – is Israel’s story important to the gospel? There are no less than fours reasons why the answer must be in the affirmative.

1. The story of Israel is important in the Bible.

book with no middleFirst, the story of Israel is central to the biblical message. Proportionately speaking, Israel’s story makes up the bulk of the Christian canon. If we hold to a high view of Scripture, we must affirm that God inspired the biblical authors to pen a vast amount of material concerning the story of Israel.

If God saw this story as important, we must also hold it as important. Ignoring Israel’s story is like cutting out the main part of a book’s plot. We dare not do so with God’s book.

2. Jesus’s story is incomprehensible without Israel’s story.

Second, and related to the first point, the story of Jesus cannot be rightly understood apart from the story of Israel. Jesus’s story is Israel’s story. Failure to rightly appreciate the role of Israel’s story within the biblical narrative results in a deficient view of Jesus and his significance.

3. The story of Israel makes the gospel real.

By real, I mean that Israel’s story puts the gospel story in real life. The gospel message is not an abstract set of propositions, but a story, the story of the world’s true King, Israel’s Messiah, who sets the world right again. The story of Israel is the story of God’s people and his mission of restoration in and through his people. Israel’s story demonstrates God’s work in the real world, in history, with real people.

4. Israel’s story shows the corporate nature of the gospel.

Finally, Israel’s story helps us to avoid the individualistic bent of many gospel presentations. Much gospelizing involves telling people God is angry with them and that they are going to hell if they don’t believe in Jesus. Believing results in assurance that they will go to heaven when they die. The result of this is often viewing salvation as a ticket to heaven with nothing further needed.slide-10-people-of-the-church

Indeed, if the gospel is just “me and my personal relationship with Jesus”, there is little, if any, need for the church. The story of Israel helps correct this misunderstanding by showing God’s actions to rescue and restore his people. Just as the rescue from Egypt was the rescue of a nation, so redemption in Christ is the restoration of King Jesus’s people.

More could be said, but these brief points clearly show that Israel’s story is ignored to the detriment of biblical gospelizing. In future posts, we will look at some specific examples of Israel’s story in the NT gospel.

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The Biblical Story in One Sentence

IMG_1185Biblical theology proceeds from the biblical storyline. Of course, many biblical theologians would disagree with this statement, some even denying that a unified grand narrative exists. The absence of a unified biblical story leads to the denial of the possibility of a “whole Bible” biblical theology since such a theology necessitates some form of unity within the canon. Against this view, most evangelicals affirm the presence of a cohesive narrative within the Bible from creation to new creation. Of course, such a supposition demands defense, but I’ll leave that for another post.

Admittedly, the biblical story is complex with many characters, themes, and subplots. It contains a long history, is told in multiple languages (Hebrew and Greek with a bit of Aramaic), and takes place within multiple cultures. Nevertheless, the Bible displays an astonishing theological coherency. This conherency can only be understood as it emerges from the biblical story.

Assuming that the Bible tells one, unified story across both testaments raises the question “what is the biblical story?” While one does not want to be reductionist, the main plotline of Scripture can be summarized concisely. In my biblical theology classes, I have tried to summarize the biblical story in one sentence. Here is my attempt:

God, the Creator-King, is reestablishing his kingdom in the world through keeping his covenant promises to Abraham, Israel, and David in the life, death, and resurrection of his son Jesus the Messiah, who will reign forever in the new creation with his new covenant people.

This sentence covers the primary theological themes that tie the biblical story together: creatiold-hands-bibleon, kingdom, covenant, and Christ. I find this helpful for students, church leaders, and missionaries as they grow in their knowledge of the Scriptures and apply them to life and ministry. This sentence gives the hooks on which to hang doctrinal positions. Most importantly, this sentence helps to summarize the story within which believers are called to live.

Biblical Theology as Mission?

what-you-talkin-bout-willis-370x229The tagline of this blog is “Biblical Theology as Mission.” This may seem like either a grammatical mistake or a confusion of categories. It is neither. Yet, the concept needs some explanation, which this post will attempt to give. Many things could be said about this, but I’ll give a short description of my meaning along with a few reasons why biblical theology and mission are should be closely related. Most of the posts to follow will be further explanations of this central point.

The phrase “Biblical Theology as Mission” is intended to communicate the intimate connection between biblical theology and the mission of the church. Indeed, one does not exist without the other. In other words, mission is the natural outflow of biblical theology. On the other hand, God-honoring mission must be rooted in biblical theology. Thus, if rightly done, biblical theology is an essential aspect of mission.

Why is this so? Here are a few reasons:

1. The Bible is a Missional Book

In The Mission of God, Christopher J.H. Wright has ably shown that the Scriptures themselves are the product of God’s mission to restore the world. They are God’s redemptive self-revelation to humanity. The Bible is inherently a missional and contextualized book. Thus, the study of biblical theology is the study of God and his mission in the world.

2. Biblical Theology Invites us into the Missional God’s Story

Second, the Bible tells one, unified story of the Creator-King, his kingdom, and his people. This is the true story of the world  that invites its readers to participate. While the biblical story is similar to other stories in that it has a plot, setting, characters, etc., it is different in that it calls readers to join in the story. It invites us to become members of God’s family through faith in Jesus. Thus, the study of biblical theology is the study of God’s beckoning story.

3. Biblical Theology Provides the Content and Method for Mission 

Finally, the first two points lead to the conclusion that biblical theology provides mission practitioners with the content and method of mission. That is, the study of biblical theology helps us to understand both the content of the biblical gospel and the storying methodology for evangelism and discipleship. These ideas will be developed further in later posts.

So, “biblical theology as mission” communicates the intimate relationship between biblical theology (rightly understood) and mission (rightly done). The separation of the two results in deficiencies in both.