Sorry about the delay… here it is:
3. Faithful interpretation of scripture requires an engagement with the entire narrative: the New Testament cannot be rightly understood apart from the Old, nor can the Old be rightly understood apart from the New. The Bible must be read “back to front” — that is, understanding the plot of the whole drama in light of its climax in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This suggests that figural reading is to be preferred over messianic proof-texting as a way of showing how the Old Testament opens toward the New. Yet the Bible must also be read “front to back” — that is, understanding the climax of the drama, God’s revelation in Christ, in light of the long history of God’s self-revelation to Israel. Against the increasingly common contention that Christians should interpret “the Hebrew Bible” only in categories that were historically available to Israel at the time of the composition of the biblical writings, we affirm that a respectful rereading of the Old Testament in light of the New discloses figurations of the truth about the one God who acts and speaks in both, figurations whose full dimensions can be grasped only in light of the cross and resurrection. At the same time, against the assumption that Jesus can be understood exclusively in light of Christian theology’s later confessional traditions, we affirm that our interpretation of Jesus must return repeatedly to the Old Testament to situate him in direct continuity with Israel’s hopes and Israel’s understanding of God.
How is ‘figuration” related to traditional understandings of allegory and typology? How do we honor claims about the centrality of Christ while honoring the abiding significance of Israel? How do we deal with New Testament texts that appear to say that Israel has been rejected by God and superseded by the church?
The main part, the bold text, makes pretty common sense to me. Should it challenge me? I guess it challenges someone, and that’s good. Anyway…
About reading front-to-back: On its own, Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia is a wonderful manifesto against legalism. But even a rudimentary understanding of Jewish culture (gleaned from the OT) greatly illuminates Galatians, and makes its messages all the more pointed away from debunking legalism and instead pointing toward grace. Opposing legalism is great, but promoting grace is better. Just the basic issue of ‘Do you want to be known for what you oppose, or what you endorse?’
About reading back-to-front: Having a pretty detailed grasp of Christ’s life here on earth really makes it fun to read books like Isaiah. Let’s take chapter 53 for example. If you know Jesus’ biography, you know he probably got a kick out of subverting the system, out of defying the Man. So when you read in Isaiah that Christ was probably not all that handsome, dare I say unattractive, it helps you get that foul picture out of your mind of Jesus as a fair-skinned Swede with a neatly trimmed beard and perfectly bleached robes.
I think the theme I see in reading the testaments in light of each other what I’ll coin mutual illumination. And it’s so important. Because this is definitely a case where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Or… [Truths gleaned from reading OT alone] + [Truths gleaned from reading NT alone] < [Truth gleaned from reading God’s narrative as One Big Story].
Time to go home, have dinner with friends, watch LOST, and give my wife some quality attention. I’ll address the questions tomorrow.
EDIT 16April2007: How do we honor claims about the centrality of Christ while honoring the abiding significance of Israel? I don’t know that the two are mutually exclusive. Christ and Christ alone carried out the redemptive work integral to God’s plan for saving me. Before Christ was among us though, God acted in a different way to save his people. God the Father exercised great patience in maintaining his cyclical covenant relationship with Israel. “The abiding significance of Israel” is preserved because our relationship with God the Father still ebbs and flows just like theirs did; it is preserved because Israel’s history with God is just one specific iteration of the metastory we all find ourselves in. We can appreciate that we personally continue to live out Israel’s cycle while also affirming that (unlike for Israel) Christ is the key that unlocks our relationship with God today. How do we deal with New Testament texts that appear to say that Israel has been rejected by God and superseded by the church? Off the top of my head, I don’t know which texts are being referenced here. A wiki search of the question’s phrasing pointed me to the topic of supersessionism. So I will read up on it and add my thoughts to this post, or it might be meaty enough for a supplemental post.