Imbibing the theodrama by reading Scripture is critical to the development of our theological sensitivities. One of the more important dimensions of this maturing understanding of the theodrama is the concept of redemptive-historical movement within the drama itself.
The theodrama is progressive; it is telos-oriented or goal-oriented. Watching the movement of the drama toward the goal through the various movements of redemptive history is quite instructive and formative for biblical-theological thought. It is a significant part, I think, of theological hermeneutics. It provides, in fact, a critical insight into the continuity and discontinuity of the biblical story (e.g., between Old Testament and New Testament) and highlights the plot line of the metanarrative itself.
Below is a “relatively simple” approach (or method) to reading Scripture with our eyes open to the redemptive-historical movements within the drama.
1. Inductively discover the flow of Redemptive History through reading and exegesis. Consistent, extensive and intensive exposure to the biblical text is necessary. There is no substitute for reading chucks of the biblical text such as reading whole books at a time or reading pericopes in a sitting. Reading a chapter a day is fine and good, but sometimes we miss the flow by breaking our reading into arbitrary (yes, that is what chapter breaks are for the most part) divisions. When reading, seek to be in tune with or watch for the redemptive cycles present. The metanarrative cyle of Creation, Chaos (Fall), Redemption is repeated throughout Scripture.
2. Identify the key events of Redemptive History. What are the peak events of redemptive history throughout the Biblical narrative? Peak events are turning points, beginning points or closures in redemptive history. Some of them are quite obvious, e.g., Creation, Exodus, Sinai, Conquest of the Land, Building of the Temple, Exile, Restoration, Incarnation, Resurrection, Pentecost. Others are more moderate in character, that is, they participate in the larger moments but are nevertheless formative for how faith is experienced by a community. For example, the table experience of Israel on Sinai in Exodus 24 is a significant moment in redemptive history that shapes how Israel experiences assemblies and fellowship offerings in the rest of its history.
3. Identify the key texts which explicitly interpret these events. The narratives of the events themselves, of course, are interpretative. They give their own significance to the events. However, within Scripture, other texts also interpret and apply (perhaps even reapply to different contexts) the significance of the event. How do the texts frame the event and interpret them (including later texts)? Creation is narrated in Genesis 1-3 but is also poetically interpreted and applied to Israel in Psalm 33. The Exodus is narrated in Exodus 1-15 but it is also interpreted in Deuteronomy 5-11. The Building of the Temple is narrated in both 1 Kings 8 and 2 Chronicles 5-7 with different emphases and varied meaning, but the moment of the Ark’s resting in the dwelling place of God is poetically celebrated in Psalm 132. The death of Jesus is narrated in the Gospels (each with their own unique take on the significance and meaning–just think of the different “words from the cross” in each Gospel), but the meaning of the death of Jesus is also interpreted and applied in Romans. And the list could go on…and on…and on.
4. Discover the central theological themes through exegesis. What theological themes are evidenced in the interpretation of the event in the various contexts and literary genres? For example, when we examine the prayer of Solomon at the temple dedication in 2 Chronicles 6 we see themes like sin, grace, forgiveness, and the orientation of the human heart. The building itself, though not without significance, is symbolic of these themes and the concrete way in which Israel experiences these themes. The Temple has sacramental significance. It is God’s gracious presence in Israel; God is present in grace, mercy, reconciliation, and forgiveness. This is what the Temple represents in the theological interpretation offered by Solomon’s prayer.
5. Integrate the theological themes into a redemptive-historical matrix. How does the event and its attached interpretation fit into the whole of redemptive-history? For example, what is the redemptive-historical significance of the building of the temple. As God’s gracious, forgiving and reconciling presence in Israel, it represents the loving-kindness of God to the people of Israel. It is a testimony of God’s basic orientation toward Israel. This presence is analogous to God appearing to Jacob at Bethel, to Moses in the burning bush, etc. It is the testimony of God’s love. Other themes, of course, could be developed as I am merely illustrating.
6. Integrate the theological themes into a theological flow within the Biblical story. As we reflect on the themes of reconciliation, grace and forgiveness, how do these themes appear through the metanarrative of the story of God? The temple is but one concrete expression of something that we see throughout God’s relationship with humanity. Whether it is the grace Noah received, or the grace Abraham received, or the forgiveness David experience in the sancturary, or God’s gracious response to the prayers of Jehoshaphat, etc., we come to see this is the character of God who is slow to anger and rich in mercy.
7. Apply the theological themes in a Christological Context. How are the theological themes of these redemptive-historical events fulfilled (or interpreted) in a Christological (or “new covenant”) context? The temple presence of God in Israel, for example, finds fulfillment in both the incarnation of the Logos who as God dwells (lives) among his people in the flesh and also in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ (the indwelling of the Spirit).
This is a controversial biblical-theological step. I think it is quite legitimate and reflects a canonical hermeneutic–one that reads the whole canon in the light of the climactic mighty act of God in Christ. In other words, how do I think Christologically about the Old Testament? The unity of redemptive history and the climax of that history in Christ yield a Christological application.
The unity of redemptive history is theocentric, but also Christological. The various lines of the biblical story converge at a Christological point (cf. Luke 24:32, 44). The OT was written “about” Jesus. This was characteristic of Jesus’ 40 days of teaching, and Jesus refers to the whole of Scripture. Christological application is the unity of Scripture.
This is evidenced in the preaching in Acts: “all the prophets” (3:18-24; 10:43; cf. Acts 13:27; 17:2-3; 26:22-23). Redemptive-historical themes taken up in the history of Israel find their climax (fulfillment) in Christ. Thus, it is not only appropriate to think theologically about those themes in the context of their Hebraic setting, but also in the context of their Christological setting. It is a both/and, but it is also a type/fulfillment as well.
This should not be mistaken for finding Christ under every rock in the Old Testament. On the contrary, it is not a search for Christ in the Old Testament but rather teasing out the redemptive themes in the Hebrew Scriptures in terms of their Christological fulfillment. Whether it is presence, grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, atonement, etc., these grand theological motifs in the history of Israel–known through redemptive-historical events and prophetic interpretation–find their final (telic) and climactic reality in the Christ Event.
This does not mean that the theodrama is Christocentric in antagonism to theocentrism. Rather, quite the opposite is true. The theodrama is God-centered–it is divine action that redeems humanity. But it is Christocentric in terms of the means by which God accomplishes the redemption of humanity. God redeems his cosmos through Christ by the Spirit.
8. Apply the Christological reflection to contemporary needs. How should this Christological fulfillment (interpretation) be applied to modern needs and questions? Setting the biblical-theological themes in a Christological context provides a way of applying those themes to those who who live in the Messianic age (the “last days”) and who follow the Messiah as disciples. The presence of the Holy Spirit, for example, is grounded in Christ’s ascension to the right hand of the Father after having made purification for sin and poured out the Spirit into our hearts. The presence of the Spirit is the sanctifying and transforming work of God to conform us to the image of Christ.
The Point: If we read something in the New Testament in isolation from its roots in the Hebrew Scriptures, then we will miss something. We will miss the larger significance of the point in the theodrama. We might miss the theocentric character of the point as we default to a Christocentrism (or even a Christomonism). Further, we might miss the theological character of the point as we isolate the text in order to fit it into some constitutional “pattern” rather than the seeing it as part of the theodrama. Consequently, a redemptive-historical perspective on the theodrama is, I think, practically essential for gaining a wholistic perspective on any significant theological topic if we are to apply and embody it fully in our own contexts. Redemptive history–through an inductive reading of the narrative where the metanarrative is visible–provides a fuller understanding of the mighy acts of God and how they shape us for and call us to participation in the the theodrama, the grand story of God.