Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Scooby-Doo and the New Testament

Have you ever watched Scooby Doo? Who hasn't, right? You know how at the end of the episode, after the kids rip off the mask of the mystery monster, one of them, usually Velma, goes on to explain how the pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place? It usually happens right before the "and I would have gotten away with it to if it wasn't for you meddling kids!" Have you ever thought about the parrallels between that Scooby Doo moment and the New Testament? Probably not. Neither did I until I read the chapter by David Steinmetz "Uncovering a Second Narrative: Detective Fiction and the Construction of Historical Method" in The Art of Reading Scripture. Interestingly, his chapter follows Richard Bauckham's on "Reading Scripture as a Coherent Story". The editor placed them next to each other for good reason.

Bauckham argues that the entire Bible can be read as one coherent story with a plot, main characters, etc. I haven't read this chapter by Bauckham, but I've read other books by him (good stuff). The story of Scripture begins with creation. Conflict is introduced in Genesis 3 and climaxes in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Revelation is somewhat of a epilogue - kind of like the "The Scouring of the Shire" in The Return of the King. The great battle has already been one, just a mopping up operation is left.

If the story climaxes in Jesus, what of Acts and all those epistles? They are, according to Steinmetz, the second narrative. Or, in my parlance, the Scooby Doo moment. It's Peter, and Paul, and John (not Mary) explaining the mystery that they has been revealed (through the inspiration of the Spirit). He explains,

"The mystery story in its classical form is often an enormous puzzle that is slowly put together, bit by bit, until at the end all of the small parts fall together into an intelligible pattern that makes sense of the whole. This kind of mystery story has two narratives"

The first, in Steinmetz's view, is a long 'ramshackle' story that doesn't seem to be going anywhere important. Details seem random, etc. But the second narrative explains the first for us, fits all the pieces together so you see there were no random details after all. He asserts,

"The long, ramshackle narrative of Israel with its promising starts and unexpected twists, with its ecstasies and its betrayals, its laws, its learning, its wisdom, its martyred prophets - this long narrative is retold and reevaluated in the light of what early Christians regarded as the concluding chapter God had written in Jesus Christ. The New Testament is full of what we might call second narrative moments, short retellings of Old Testament stories in the light of Christ...They disclose at the end the structure of the whole from the beginning"

Sounds cool huh. It is, but it also has important ramifications for how you approach Scripture - which hermeneutical approach you'll adopt. Steinmetz explains,

"Historical criticism [read source criticism, form criticism and redaction criticism] attempts to set texts in their own place and time. It can this properly only if it avoids anachronism, that is, reading back into earlier texts the views and assumptions of texts from a much later period. Traditional exegesis, on the other hand, was written by people who were convinced that no one can properly understand earlier developments in the biblical story unless one reads them in light of the later. How the story ends makes a difference for the beginning and the middle of the story as well as for its conclusion."

I want to think a lot more about the practical implications of this interpretation and especially for preaching. Thoughts?

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