Unifying unifying ideas

Izaac has been reflecting on life at Moore College – and I’m happy to see that stuff first year Moore College students are taught in the early weeks of their course is similarly formative to the stuff we’re taught in the early weeks of our course at QTC.

It would be really nice if the Bible could be summed up with one unifying idea that every passage drives towards. I think it’s something like “you need God”… other people have more nuanced interpretations of that. There are classic systems for understanding every passage of the Bible – a lens through which people come to terms with every passage they approach.

Here’s Izaac’s helpful diagram.

Let the reader understand.

Here are some of the big ideas that “famous” preachers are famous for:
John Piper: Joy.
Mark Driscoll: Missional contextualisation (and sex, lots of it).
Tim Keller: Idolatry.
Graeme Goldsworthy: God’s people, God’s place, God’s rule.
Phil Campbell: Deuteronomy 30.
Matthias Media: The answer to your every question is Jesus – and we’ll even skip the actual answer to your question and get to Jesus straight away in order to sell books that are the right size for people to read.
NT Wright: Who knows, but it makes people angry (possibly “the people of God”).

Share any more in the comments…

The nice thing about these ideas is that they all capture the essence of something true and good. And something big, but just that little bit elusive. Like an animal you try to spot in the wild – like bigfoot or the Sydney panther – that comes close to being caught but escapes just when you think you’ve got it… Thinking through how each passage we’re exegeting fits into these schemas is useful when it comes to applying them, and to pointing people to Jesus. All have their place.

The problem comes when we push one barrow as the “big” idea driving every part of the Bible. These ideas suffer because they’re never quite big enough. I’m going to plant myself into the “The Bible has more than one big idea that ultimately help us to live our lives as God’s people, joyfully, forsaking idols while pursuing righteousness by the spirit so that people will know that they need Jesus”… I’m not sure that I can fit Driscoll’s second big idea in there… Is this rocket science? It feels like one of those posts you write that is really obvious to everybody reading it.

The author

Nathan runs St Eutychus. He loves Jesus. His wife. His daughter. His son. His other daughter. His dog. Coffee. And the Internet. He is the campus pastor at Creek Road South Bank, a graduate of Queensland Theological College (M. Div) and the Queensland University of Technology (B. Journ). He spent a significant portion of his pre-ministry-as-a-full-time-job life working in Public Relations, and now loves promoting Jesus in Brisbane and online. He can't believe how great it is that people pay him to talk and think about Jesus.

9 thoughts on “Unifying unifying ideas”

  1. It's important theologically to insist that there is a unifying nature to the Scriptures. It's caught up somewhere in divine inspiration. Once we've got that stake in the ground we can argue about what it is.

    I think just about any of the one's you suggested can work individually, so long as they are so broadly defined that they include all the others.

    Where does that leave us?
    My recent post Overheard at lunch

    1. It's important theologically to insist that there is a unifying nature to the Scriptures. It's caught up somewhere in divine inspiration. Once we've got that stake in the ground we can argue about what it is.

      I agree. That's why Mathias is right. Isn't it? Jesus is the centre of the Bible. And he fulfils many roles. And there are many road to him

  2. "It's important theologically to insist that there is a unifying nature to the Scriptures. It's caught up somewhere in divine inspiration. Once we've got that stake in the ground we can argue about what it is."

    Nature yes, sole idea, I'm not so sure. I like to think of the Bible as a really big diamond – one that is so big we can't look at it all at once. (I'm not sure how similar this is to your recent T-shirt analogy Izaac). You can look at one facet of the diamond and through it see all the others, some people lack depth perception and will only see one facet of the diamond ignoring all the others, but the richest way to appreciate the diamond is to step back and see that there are many facets at work and that each of them contributes to the diamond's beauty in a slightly different way. Light hits each and refracts differently. If I wanted to be trite I would say "when you shine a light into any facet of the diamond and focus that light on a smooth surface it makes a cross – no matter which facet you point the diamond through…" But I'm not trite, so I won't.

    Which reminds me – John Stott's big idea is probably the cross.

    Al – I don't think Matthias is "right" in the way they use the cross to solve all the problems. They're stuck in the paradox that while the answer to every question is "the cross" there is also a bridging answer and I think sometimes they miss it.

    It's like that Sunday School joke about the teacher who says "who can tell me what furry marsupial likes to eat gum leaves" and the student puts his hand up and says "miss, I know the answer is Jesus, but that sure sounds like a koala" – Matthias is almost (it seems) content to leave the child in his confusion, rather than actually explaining that the significance of the koala is that it's part of God's good creation (and that Koala's eat their own poo). That has been my problem with a lot of their apologetic material (like the science one – Unnatural Enemies – I read it as a young committed Christian looking for ways to show people that science and Christianity aren't incompatible and all I got was "science and Christianity deal with different questions, what you really need to know about is Jesus." I did read it ten years ago, or more, so my memory may be a little sketchy on the finer points of the argument.

  3. Oh. Good point Gary. I should edit my post so I don't get kicked out of college – but who to attribute that to? God perhaps?

  4. I find Clowney really helpful in thinking through a Christocentric reading of all of scripture without being reductionistic. Just to add another idea to the melting pot.

  5. The most inclusive and accurate big idea/summary I've seen:
    "A Bride for the Son, a House for the Father, a Body for the Son, and a Family for the Father" – Frank Viola

    "Traditionally, we have begun the Biblical story with the fall of humans in Genesis 3. The result is that the entire story places the salvation of humans and the redemption of the earth as being God’s goal. But those two elements, while part of the story, aren’t the beginning point nor the ultimate goal.

    Thus when we begin the Biblical story in Genesis 1 and 2 (which occurs before the fall) and in Ephesians 1 and Colossians 1 (which occurs before creation), the Biblical story is reframed from the standpoint of God’s ultimate desire rather than with the needs of fallen human beings."

    Frank Viola dot WordPress dot com
    My recent post 14 Thoughts

  6. Thanks Seumas.

    Some extra names and unifying theories to add to the cauldron… The elusive unified unifying idea is going to make me millions… of something.

    Now, if only somebody could explain Barth to me…

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