27th April 2020, 12:15 BST
The first in an occasional blog series 5 Questions to a Theologian, in which we invite academics to answer questions on their work and views. This week, Andrew Perriman: Associate Research Fellow of the London School of Theology, author and blogger at www.postost.net.
The following text is an extract from a fuller interview, which can be found over on Andrew’s blog here. Andrew answered 4 of our questions.
1. For many years you’ve been encouraging your readers to take a “narrative-historical” view of the Bible. What does this mean?
We tend to use the New Testament in a piecemeal fashion to back up a theological system, defend a doctrine, illustrate some spiritual insight. That works up to a point, but it has some serious shortcomings. I think that we need to learn to read the New Testament as a coherent narrative that is being told about the historical experience of the emerging Christian community.
2. Can you give a couple of examples of how it works?
We see it at work most clearly, I think, when we consider how Jesus and his followers imagined the future. We have our own perspective on the end of all things, but as soon as we reckon with the biblical presuppositions of first century Jews and the limitations of their historical outlook, two obvious “horizons” come into view—first, the war against Rome; secondly, the end of classical paganism and the confession of Jesus as Lord by the nations of the Greek-Roman world.
So two quick illustrations in light of that.
First, while we may make evangelistic use of Jesus’ story about the two houses and the coming storm, I think he is remembering Ezekiel’s warning about the storm that would destroy the wall whitewashed by the false prophets. Ezekiel was talking about the Babylonian invasion. Jesus has in mind the war against Rome. It’s a story told about history.
Secondly, when Jesus talks about a “judgment of Gehenna”, he is not talking about punishment after death—our idea of “hell”. Jeremiah warned that at the time of the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem so many Jews would die that their bodies would be thrown into the valley of the Son of Hinnom—that is, into Gehenna. Jesus has just this sort of “judgment” in mind. He is telling a story about the historical experience of his people, and the historian Josephus tells us that this is exactly what happened.
3. How does a narrative-historical approach help us apply the Bible to daily life?
The approach brings to life the historical experience and perspective of the New Testament communities. Yes, it creates distance, but it serves us in other ways. First, this is our story, it tells us who we are, as a people in history, serving the God of history, and it answers the pressing questions of praxis on that basis. Secondly, it teaches us to tell a compelling story about our own place in history, following the collapse of Christendom and faced with the relentless progress of the secular-humanist worldview. Which brings me to….
4. Andrew, you’ve written a number of books on the Bible. Which is your favourite and why?
The last book is the nearest I’ve got to showing how the narrative-historical approach may bear fruit for ethics and mission. It’s called End of Story? Same-Sex Relationships and the Narratives of Evangelical Mission.
Andrew Perriman is an Associate Research Fellow of the London School of Theology, where he teaches and examines on the Aspects and Implications of Biblical Interpretation MA programme. Andrew’s most recent books include The Coming of the Son of Man: New Testament Eschatology for an Emerging Church (Paternoster, 2005; reprinted by Wipf & Stock); Re: Mission: A Vision of Hope for a Post-Eschatological Church (Paternoster, 2008); The Future of the People of God: Reading Romans Before and After Western Christendom (Wipf & Stock, 2010); and End of Story: Same-Sex Relationships and the Narratives of Evangelical Mission (Wipf & Stock, 2019).