Archive for November 24th, 2006

Improvising the Missing Act

November 24, 2006

I’ve recently finished reading The Unnecessary Pastor, by Marva Dawn & Eugene Peterson. The book, in fact, consists of lectures at a conference at Regent College, where Dawn & Peterson were the keynote speakers.

It wasn’t my favorite book of all-time, but there were some really interesting parts. I thought over the next several weeks I’d offer some of those parts for your consideration and/or discussion.

This one is from Dawn:

IMPROVISING THE MISSING ACT

“N.T. Wright offers an especially helpful analogy for dealing with the question of how we apply the biblical texts to our lives. Frequently, the ultra-conservatives take texts and slap them on the present situation without any concern for the original or current cultures and how the differences between them might affect how we apply the Scriptures at least two thousand years after they were written. Extreme liberals, on the other hand, often react by insisting that the Bible has nothing specific to say directly to this culture, that we can only abstract some sort of ethereal principles out of the text. As a creative and yet faithful alternative beyond both sides, Tom Wright suggests a brilliant comparison.

“Suppose we found an incomplete play by William Shakespeare. How could we produce it? If we discovered the first five acts and the last bit of the seventh, we could try to write the missing parts – but who could ever write as well as Shakespeare? Besides, Shakespeare is no longer alive for us to check out our attempts with him.

“Instead, we could go to Ashland, Oregon, which has one of the finest Shakespeare festivals in the world, and there we would secure the best Shakespearean actors we could find – people who have performed lots of his plays, who know his ways, his idiosyncrasies, his twists of language. They would immerse themselves in the acts that we do have, and then we’d let them improvise the parts that are missing. Since the audience would be different every time the play was performed, it would be improvised differently every day according to who is there and what is happening. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

“Similarly, the Christian community has passed on the unfinished drama of God. Act I of the play, the creation, teaches us that we are all created equally to bear the image of God, that we are responsible to care for each other and the cosmos. Act II, the fall, enables us to understand the world’s brokenness and destruction. Act III and V present the stories of Israel and of the early Christians, respectively, to offer us examples of both disobedience and trust and to demonstrate the consequences of our rebellions and our following. Act IV gives an account of the life, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus as the culmination of all God’s promises to Israel in Act III and the foundation for all the Holy Spirit’s work through the saints of Act V. Those five acts are complete, but Act VI is missing, and we have only a fragment of the drama’s end (Act VII) from the book of Revelation. What we know of the grand denouement of the world, when Christ comes again and destroys evil and death forever, is only a sketch meant to encourage us in the struggles and sufferings of the present.

“How do we apply the Scriptures? We immerse ourselves in the first five and partial last acts of the drama, in all the texts passed on as the grand biblical story of God and his people. By means of the commandments, speeches, narratives, poetry, warnings, promises, and songs of the entire Revelation, we are formed with the character of God’s people to imitate the virtues and deeds of God himself. All over the world Christians are improvising the biblical story – differently in each place because of the surrounding audience and circumstances…

“We need a lifelong immersion in the texts of the Scriptures – soaking ourselves in the language so that when we put down our Bibles we can improvise living our that language in whatever we encounter.”