Bauckham’s ‘Bible and Mission’ – 3

Posted: December 10, 2014 by J in Bible, Book review, Church, Church history, Mission, Theology

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 12.58.36 PM3. Anticipated closure and permanent narrative openness.

Another mouthful of a title! But there’s good stuff in here. The NT often seems to indulge in hyperbole when speaking of the extent of the spread of God’s kingdom. Paul has the gospel proclaimed ‘through the whole world’, to ‘every creature’ etc. Revelation contrasts Rome’s claims to universal rule with the church’s universality.

This hyperbole of completion might seem to suggest a final arrival, an end to the movement from particular to universal. But in fact it does not close off options for the future. The NT narratives make it clear the mission is not complete, e.g. the open ending of Acts 28. Nor are we given a timetable from here till the parousia. So then the church in every age finds itself plunged ‘into the midst of the biblical story where the words of the great commission still ring in its ears.’

Thus we live in ‘a dialectic of anticipated closure and permanent openness.’ This presses the reality of God’s unfolding purposes for the world hard on the church’s consciousness. We are caught up in something global that he is doing now, expressed in a unique way in our particular locality. 

Assessment:

I’m less sure what I think about this part. It’s very interesting! There certainly are the two sides of anticipated closure and ongoing openness, in the NT. It’s helpful to have that spelt out so clearly. However, I’m not entirely comfortable with structuring it as a dialectic. In fact, I’m always suspicious of dialectics: they remind me too much of Enlightenment German philosophy.

I think what I’m missing here is the language of eschatological arrival, of the ‘ends of the ages’ which seems to be the NT way of expressing closure. Rather than being anticipated, it’s a closure that is occuring now. Calling it anticipated, describing us as plunged in the midst of history, seems to me to locate us wrongly in history. We are not in the middle, but at the end. I doubt RB would disagree, but I don’t quite like the structure of his thought here.

Also, calling the openness permanent is a bit ambiguous. I suppose he means ongoing. Whenever you live, prior to the return of Christ, openness is still there.

I think the structure of a dialectic between permanent openness and anticipated closure makes it feel too abstract and unreal, too much like a paradox. The way I read the NT, it’s more like, history is closing up, drawing to a fast conclusion, and the time is short. We are living in the last days. Yet there is still time right now. Seems pretty simple to me. Maybe I’ve missed something?

Overall, however, I like the picture. The church lives caught up in the movement of God’s uncompleted worldwide mission, which he is bringing to its conclusion. Consciousness of this pushes us forward. We express our part in that cosmic program through the unique particulars of our local situation. Yes.

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