Just a brief thought from R. Kendall Soulen this morning. We have talked in the past about the SCN (Standard Canonical Narrative) or the way the Bible is typically read as a unified story.
Typically the story of the Bible is seen as: (1) God made the world perfect, (2) people screwed it all up (the fall), (3) Jesus came to redeem the world from the fall (redemption), and (4) Jesus is coming back to perfect all things (consummation).
As we have said in the past, this way of viewing the Bible is deficient because: (a) It sees only a preparatory role for Israel (they are the people through whom Jesus came) and (b) it omits most of the Bible, needing only Genesis 1-3 and the New Testament.
In place of this SCN I have offered an alternative:
1. Creation with a plan to make the perfect world (creation was not yet perfect–man was alone, serpent was in the Garden, knowledge of good and evil had not been shared, etc.).
2. The fall of humans into evil that already existed (serpent) and the move further away from God’s plan to perfect the world.
3. God’s restoration is through election of Israel and covenants that will lead to both redemption and consummation of the world.
4. God’s redemption is decisively begun through Yeshua’s atoning death and resurrection, to be completed at the end of the age.
5. God’s consummation of the world is happening through Israel and will come to completion at Messiah’s return.
What I wish to share this morning is the Gnosticism of the traditional Canonical Narrative. This is a concept from Soulen’s The God of Israel and Christian Theology.
What is Gnosticism? It is a heresy battled by the early church. The Gnostics believed that matter or physicality is evil and spirit is good. They believed we are spirit beings trapped in bodies. All our sins are a result of physicality. Creation is not from God, but from an evil deity. Jesus came to liberate us from our bodies and teach us the way of spirit.
As Soulen says, the church rightly declared this a heresy. Many of the early church fathers wrote expressly to deny the error of Gnosticism. The whole DaVinci Code phenomenon of 2006 was a sudden and very brief fascination in the media with the Gnostic gospels, such as Thomas and Peter, gospels written by unknown persons under the assumed names of Thomas and Peter. These Gnostic gospels represented Jesus as a liberator from physicality.
But wait . . . Soulen warns. Has Gnosticism really left the church? Not when the standard canonical narrative is assumed. The SCN is semi-Gnostic. Why? Because the SCN sees little or no role for human history in God’s plan. Human history is merely the record of human sin and a small theme of redeemed humanity amid the wash of iniquity.
But a more mature Canonical Narrative sees that God redeems through history and not from it.
What I get out of this is:
1. God’s plan to redeem and perfect the world was not to go around human history, but to work through it.
2. God’s plan was to redeem and perfect the world through electing and choosing a people in relation to all other peoples.
3. God chose Israel in a way that was and is physical and passed on physically (carnal election).
4. The nations were in God’s plan from the beginning, as Israel is defined as the elect among the nations, the priestly people.
5. God has already done much through the history of Israel and the nations, including bringing the scriptures and the Messiah.
6. God is still at work in Israel’s history bringing consummation, the Age to Come.
7. The Age to Come, Messiah’s kingdom, is to be in Israel and the events of history and the present in Israel are part of bringing that reality to earth.
So let’s rid ourselves of Gnosticism completely. God works through physical people, physical bodies, physical nations. His plan for the World to Come is not a barren realm of spirit with clouds and harps. It is a vision of mountains and rivers and trees. It is centered in Israel and includes all the nations.
Isaiah 65:17-25 For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former things will not be remembered or come to mind. 18 “But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; For behold, I create Jerusalem for rejoicing And her people for gladness. 19 “I will also rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in My people; And there will no longer be heard in her The voice of weeping and the sound of crying. 20 “No longer will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, Or an old man who does not live out his days; For the youth will die at the age of one hundred And the one who does not reach the age of one hundred Will be thought accursed. 21 “They will build houses and inhabit them; They will also plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 22 “They will not build and another inhabit, They will not plant and another eat; For as the lifetime of a tree, so will be the days of My people, And My chosen ones will wear out the work of their hands. 23 “They will not labor in vain, Or bear children for calamity; For they are the offspring of those blessed by the LORD, And their descendants with them. 24 “It will also come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear. 25 “The wolf and the lamb will graze together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox; and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will do no evil or harm in all My holy mountain,” says the LORD.