The Improvising Community

March 26, 2007 — Leave a comment

One of the most important implications of reading the Bible as story – the 6 act drama we find ourselves in – is better interpretation in the church community.  Here are some notes from today’s teaching (3-25-07) with some outside sources referenced.  Acts chapter 15 is the strategic story of the Jerusalem Council.  The method of resolving the theological conflict over requirements for Gentiles to be full members in God’s  New Community is important, as is the message.  The church leaders read scripture and discerned God’s plan together with respectful, intellegent debate leading to unity.  (The end of chapter 15 ironically shows the humanness of the apostolic team as Paul and Barnabas part ways – disputing not faith issues, but ministry strategy!)

Here is a summary of N.T. Wright’s very helpful metaphor  of “improvising” (adapted with deference to the 6 acts in Bartholomew and Goheen’s The Drama of Scripture  instead of Wright’s 5 acts – available in an article on How Can the Bible Be Authoritative.)  The last chapter of Wright’s The Last Word gives an extended treatment from his more scholarly work, The NT and the People of God .(chpt. 5)

Suppose a headline appears in the newspaper: Unknown Shakespeare play discovered!  6 Act play missing only Act 5, scene 2.  The decision to stage the play is made. The first four acts and the Scene one of the fifth act are given to well-trained and experienced Shakespearian actors who immerse themselves both in the first part of the play and in the culture and time of Shakespeare. They are told to work out the concluding scene 2 of the  fifth act for themselves.

This scene 2 must be both consistent and innovative. It must be consistent with the first part of the play. The actors must immerse themselves …in the unfinished drama. The first four acts would contain its own… forward movement that would demand that the play be concluded in a way consistent and fitting. Yet an appropriate conclusion would not mean a simple repetition or imitation of the earlier acts. The actors would carry forward the logic of the play in a creative improvisation. Such  improvising would be an authentic conclusion if it were coherent with the earlier acts (and if it reflected the known ending of Act 6.)

“This metaphor provides a specific analogy for how the biblical story might function WITH AUTHORITY to shape the life of the believing community.   The biblical story  consists of six acts – creation, fall, Israel, Jesus – plus the first scene of the fifth act that narrates the beginning of the church’s mission. Furthermore this fifth act offers hints at how the play is to end. (And in our scheme it also contains …the last act that completes the story.)  Thus the church’s life is lived out consistently with the forward  momentum of the first acts and moves toward and anticipates the intended conclusion. The first scene of act five, the church’s story, begins to draw out and implement the significance of the first four acts, especially act four. The church continues today to do the same in fresh and creative ways in new cultural situations.

So we are called to be an improvising community – called to be an Acts 29 kind of church, living in and implementing the story of Jesus who taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”

The whole teaching will be posted on the Christ Church website (Resources/sermon archives)  later this week.


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