The Pivot Point in the Biblical Drama: A Question for Ron Allen
On Saturday, at our 1st annual Perry Gresham Bible Lecture, Ron Allen, Professor of Preaching and New Testament at Christian Theological Seminary (author of Life of Jesus for Today, WJK, 2008), laid out a scenario of a biblical drama that begins in Eden, moves to the Fall and then envisions a New Kingdom Age. As Ron laid out this view of the biblical drama he noted that the biblical writers envisioned Jesus being the pivot point where the New Age intersects with the Old Age -- which leads to an age in between where both old and new exist together -- an age of conflict of values.
John, who is a member of the church and a frequent commenter here, raised a question with Ron concerning the point at which Jesus fits in as pivot point. His question was:
"What moment is the pivot point in history in this four-epoch scenario. Ron posited four points in Jesus life, and then declined to choose: birth, baptism, death, resurrection."
Ron has offered his response here:
We should take two matters into account in responding to the excellent issues John raises.
First, as John notes, the writers in the Gospels and Letters envision different moments in connection with the life of Jesus as the pivot moments in the transition from the Old Age to the New. For Paul, the transition occurs at the cross and the resurrection. For Mark, the is the hinge of history. For Matthew and Luke, the pivot is the birth of Jesus. The Fourth Gospel does not operate with the old age/new age view of history but sees the incarnation (when the Word, Jesus, becomes flesh) as the decisive moment that begins the revelation of God in Jesus for the sake of those who live in “the world.”
From the point of view of contemporary scholarship, these viewpoints are different. Nevertheless, the church has effectively agreed with John (your learned parishioner, not the gospel writer) that Matthew and Luke take priority. We can see this with particular clarity in the creeds which begin their affirmations about Jesus by speaking about his birth.
Second, and I did not get into this at CWCC because of a shortage of time, there is a bigger theological question raised both by the presence of the Fourth Gospel and by occasional theological reflections over the history of the church. This question is whether we should view the world and God’s relationship to it from the perspective of the old age/new age scenario. To get immediately to the heart of the matter, the question is whether that scenario is completely true to real life experience. If the old age/new age typology is completely true, then we would expect the experience of life to be qualitatively different in the two ages. However, many Christians today think that the actual phenomena in the world are much the same both before and after Jesus. The good things are still good in about the same amount and degree and the bad things are still bad. In the language of philosophy, there is no phenomenological difference between the time before and after Christ.
The presence of the Fourth Gospel indicates that some in the early church did not find the old age/new age way of thinking to be satisfactory. To be honest, I do not find either the old age/new age or the heaven/world ways of understanding existence to be true to my experience of the world today. As I said several times in the seminar, I am not an end-time thinker myself as I think the end-time viewpoint is a surface way of thinking. The deeper point of the end-time theology, I believe, is to indicate that God is dissatisfied with the way things are and is at work to help the world better embody God’s loving purposes. I side with the process theologians in believing that life is an ongoing process and that God is ever loving presence to offer us the highest possibilities that are available within each circumstance. For Christians, Jesus is God’s agent and lure towards those possibilities.