Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The Acts of Jesus.. and a 5 (maybe 6)-act drama about Jesus..Holy Hemistich, Batman!

King James  says it's the apostles.
Peter Wagner says it's the Holy Spirit.

No need for Jimmy and Pete to duke it out..
Ideally, no contradiction there:
           the apostles through the Holy Spirit.
   Or the Holy Spirit through the apostles...


I love the tradition that suggests the official intended full name of The Book of Acts (since "Acts"  is the complete..  and thus  incomplete...cryptic title  we have inherited)  is "The Acts of Jesus."
(Not to be confused with the ridiculous Jesus Seminar book by the same name, )
 It could be that the intentional leaving blank who the acts are "of" is an intriguing ellipsis/riddle, in which we are  are supposed to respond "Well, who are acts OF?!...oh, I get it, Jesus!"  It is a  holy hemistitching.

 This of course tracks well with the prologue: "In my first book [The Gospel of Luke]. dear Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and say..."  The implication is that this second volume  is about  Jesus continuing to do and say, only know in a new form and format....and through the Holy Spirit and the believers.

Or, better said:

“Luke’s first two verses are, therefore, extremely significant. It is no exaggeration to say that they set Christianity apart from all other religions. These regard their founder as having completed his ministry during his lifetime; Luke says Jesus only began his …after his resurrection, ascension and gift of the Sprit he continued his work, first and foremost through the ministry of this chosen apostles and subsequently through the post-apostolic church of every period and place. This then is the kind of Jesus Christ we believe in: he is both the historical Jesus who lived and the contemporary Jesus who lives”.
John Stott, The Message of Acts (The Bile Speaks Today)

          “Luke does not think of his two-volume work on the origins of Christianity…as volume one on    the story of Jesus Christ from his birth through his sufferings and death to his triumphant resurrection and ascension, and volume two as the story of the church from its birth in Jerusalem through its sufferings by persecution to its triumphant conquest of Rome some thirty years later. The contrasting parallel he draws is between two stages of the ministry of the same Christ…. Thus Jesus’ ministry on earth, exercised personally and publically, was followed by his ministry from heaven, exercised through his Holy Spirit by his apostles. Moreover, the watershed between the two was the ascension. Not only did it conclude Luke’s first book [Luke 24.51] and introduce his second (Acts 1.9), but itterminated Jesus’ earthly ministry and inaugurated his heavenly one.”  -John Stott, "The Spirit, the Church and the World, p.32

I also appreciate Ross Paterson's thesis in "The Antioch Factor," that The Book of Acts, which some traditions/manuscripts name "The Acts of Peter and Paul," as the first half features Pater and the second half better outlined/interpreted by the prominence in the first half of the Jerusalem Church, and the second half the Antioch church.  The shocker here is it's the Antioch church that (over a decade later) "gets" and implements the cross cultural and missional command given in chapter 1.

 “Hundreds of millions of Christians think that Luke’s Acts of the Apostles records the twelve apostles’ obedience to the Great Commission. Actually it records their reluctance to obey it [in the first half, the Jerusalem church half]”
-Don Richardson, “Eternity in Their Hearts” 

Does it take persecution (Acts 8:1) to get us to finally get around to/acting out/actualizing/acting on/Antioching our Acts of Jesus?

I also love Erwin McManus' reminder that is The Book of Acts,  not The Book of the acts of a Person are its center.

What's the Bible about?

It is both simply prohoundly and overly simplistic to state that such is of  true for the entire narrativs sweep of Scripture.

A bit squirrely, reference the old joke.

"The Law and Prophets," Jesus offered, "are about me."
The Acts of Jesus...via Moses and Elijah.

Having said all that,  it could be that the same intentonal  literary trick/ellipsis of the Book of Acts title, which invites us to fill in the blank, is also happening  thematically on the grand scale of the broad biblical narrative... in playful  macrocosm.

 I connect you to NT Wright who offers  that the story of Scripture  drama in five acts (I love that coincidence that the word "acts" shows up in Book of Acts, but also in the theatrical sense of a play),  sixth, and final, of which has been intentionally lost (or embedded as hemistitch), so that we the readers might discover and discern it...or even work it out and write it!

"History belongs to the intercessors," Walter Wink might chime in at this point.
“Intercessors have an essential role to play in creating a better future for our world, because intercession is spiritual defiance of what is in the name of what God has promised. The shape of the future will be determined by those who can survey all its various possibilities and who, by faith, latch on to one as inevitable. History belongs to the intercessors who thus believe the future into being.” (Walter Wink, Sojourners Magazine)
Or to return to the Book of Acts, it is common today to tease that we are chapter 29, as the Acts of Jesus/Holy Spirit/Apostles are still being written/enpacted, rep-enacted in our day  (Act 5).

 Bartholomew and Goheen incoporate much of Wright's model, but they add the sixth act, as you'll see by the links below.

I love the narrative arc/homletical plot of Eugene Lowry and U2.
 I enjoy Vonneguts take  (Vonnegut, Drama, Timeline)...

But perhaps the place to start is wrestling with Wright, and then branching iut to Bartholemew/Goheen, to decide which drama you prefer..

As Neo said into the phone in his Great Commision/Ascencion scene.  ":I'm not here to tell you how it's  going to end..Where we go from here, is a choice I leave to you."
Or as St Paul Hewson once inserted into the narrative of a Dylan song: "All I've got is a red guitar, three chords and the truth...the rest is
up to you."

Three chords, or five acts..


John Piippo quotes, and responds to NT Wright:

It is here that Wright introduces his well-known” five act play,” which he claims is not only found in Scripture but also helps us to interpret Scripture.
Wright writes:
"Suppose there exists a Shakespeare play whose fifth act had been lost. The first four acts provide, let us suppose, such a wealth of characterization, such a crescendo of excitement within the plot, that it is generally agreed that the play ought to be staged. Nevertheless, it is felt inappropriate actually to write a fifth act once and for all: it would freeze the play into one form, and commit Shakespeare as it were to being prospectively responsible for work not in fact his own. Better, it might be felt, to give the key parts to highly trained, sensitive and experienced Shakespearian actors, who would immerse themselves in the first four acts, and in the language and culture of Shakespeare and his time, and who would then be told to work out a fifth act for themselves."
Consider the result.
The first four acts, existing as they did, would be the undoubted ‘authority’ for the task in hand.
· That is, anyone could properly object to the new improvisation on the grounds that this or that character was now behaving inconsistently, or that this or that sub-plot or theme, adumbrated earlier, had not reached its proper resolution.

This ‘authority’ of the first four acts would not consist in an implicit command that the actors should repeat the earlier pans of the play over and over again. It would consist in the fact of an as yet unfinished drama, which contained its own impetus, its own forward movement, which demanded to be concluded in the proper manner but which required of the actors a responsible entering in to the story as it stood, in order first to understand how the threads could appropriately be drawn together, and then to put that understanding into effect by speaking and acting with both innovation and consistency. [In other words, you and I and the whole world are part of this grand narrative.]
The Bible’s “5 Act Play” goes like this:
Act One: (Creation). Whatever means God uses to create the world it’s a crucial feature of the play that creation is good and that humans are in God’s image.
Act Two: (Fall) God’s good creation is full of rebellion: evil and idolatry become real features of the world.
Act Three: (Israel) The story of Israel as the covenant people of God for the world. This act begins with the Abrahamic covenant and ends with the Jewish anticipation of an event in which God will liberate Israel from spiritual exile and reveal himself as the world’s true King.
Act Four (Jesus) The story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. As the climax of the narrative it represents the inauguration of a new kingdom in which death and sin are being reversed throughout all of creation.
Many of the OT teachings, as well as some of Jesus’ teachings, have played out their intended purpose.
Wright compares the Old Testament to a ship that has brought travelers to their destination. Once they arrive, “they leave the ship behind and continue over land, not because the ship was no good, or because their voyage has been misguided, but precisely because both ship and voyage had accomplished their purpose.”
The apostles’ teaching, then, recorded in the New Testament books, becomes the “new covenant charter,” guiding the  church in its encounter with the cultures of the world.
Act Five: (New Testament and the people of God). The New Testament forms the first scene of this act. The church is the people of God, in Christ, for the world; their job is to act in character: to live out Act Five by showing the world the true way of being human and to bring about God’s victory over evil on earth. This largely involves living out (“improvising and retelling”) God’s story and gospel – namely that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead to ‘put the world to rights.’
For Wright the five-act play is not just the grand narrative of Scripture, but also the true story that we are living out – more accurately, we are living out Act Five, which has yet to be completed.

Story and Hermeneutic: Living in the Fifth Act, NT Wright:

In the church and in the world, then, we have to tell the story.  It is not enough to translate scripture into timeless truths.  How easy it has been for theologians and preachers to translate the gospels (for instance) into something more like epistles!  We must, if anything, assimilate the epistles to the gospels rather than vice versa.  I would not actually recommend that, but if you were going to make a mistake that would be the direction to do it in.  And as we tell the story—the story of Israel, the story of Jesus, the story of the early church—that itself is an act of worship.  That is why, within my tradition, the reading of scripture is not merely ancillary to worship—something to prepare for the sermon—but it is actually, itself, part of the rhythm of worship itself.  The church in reading publicly the story of God is praising God for his mighty acts, and is celebrating them, and is celebrating the fact that she is part of that continuous story.  And, that story as we use it in worship reforms our God-view our world-view—reconstitutes us as the church.  The story has to be told as the new covenant story.  This is where my five-act model comes to our help again.  The earlier parts of the story are to be told precisely as the earlier parts of the story.  We do not read Genesis 1 and 2 as though the world were still like that; we do not read Genesis 3 as though ignorant of Genesis 12, of Exodus, or indeed of the gospels.  Nor do we read the gospels us though we were ignorant of the fact that they are written precisely in order to make the transition from Act 4 to Act 5, the Act in which we are now living and in which we are to make our own unique, unscripted and yet obedient, improvisation.  This is how we are to be the church, for the world.  As we do so, we are calling into question the world’s models of authority, as well as the content and direction of that authority.

So, we have to tell the story within the world and the church; because the church is always in danger of getting too like the world.  I have already said that this happens in relation to authority; we use the world’s authority models instead of the God-given authority models.  And scripture demands, in fact, to be read in the context of traditions within the church, precisely in order that it may judge and redeem the traditions of the church.  Not that it may bl under them: the traditions are second-order stories, the stories that you and I tell about who we are as Christians, which go back through Wesley and Whitefield or through Luther or Aquinas or whoever.  These are the stones that form the grid through which we read scripture; we can’t do without them, but they need regular checking.  And part of my whole argument here is that evangelical traditions needs checking just as well as anybody else’s, checking according to scripture itself.  We then have to allow the story to challenge our traditions, not to get rid of traditions but in order to see where we’ve come from, and who we are as the people of God in the 20th century, and to reshape on, traditions honestly and properly.  But, also, we must allow scripture to stretch our reason back into shape.  We must allow scripture to teach us how to think straight, because by ourselves we don’t; we think bent, we think crooked.  Gerard Manley Hopkins said, ‘The Holy Spirit over the bent world broods with warm breast and with Ah! bright wings.’  And the Spirit broods over us as we read this book, to straighten out our bent thinking; the world-views that have got twisted so that they are like the world’s world-views.  God wants us to be people, not puppets; to love him with our mind as well as our soul and our strength.  And it is scripture that enables us to do that, not by crushing us into an alien mould but by giving us the fully authoritative four acts, and the start of the fifth, which set us free to become the church afresh in each generation.
NT Wright

See also:

 "Wright's application of the five-act structure of drama to the dramatic story of the Bible is enormously helpful, and that is why we have (mostly adopted that structure..and here is where we depart..It is clear that the the biblical story does not simply end at the conclusion of the fifth act.  Nor is the outworking of a ct 5 a smooth resolution.  While the resolution  has taken place in Christ, the conflict continues and actually intensiifes." (page 26, The Drama of Scripture, Bartholemew/Goheen)



    1. lol, i knew it...

    2. Yes, know a even knew I would throw in a U2 reference


    Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!