An Increasingly Common Analogy

I’ve read it in various books and heard it in several lectures. N.T. Wright has used it. Stan Grenz has used it. Keith VanHoozer has used it. John Franke has used it. Michael Horton has used it. And others as well. And I like it.

It usually runs something like this: living out biblical theology is like performing a drama. Our life in Christ is analogous to a group of Shakespearean groupies who have discovered a five act play by Shakespeare. It was previously unknown. But the problem is that the last act is missing. We only have the first four acts. The last act is lost. Suppose, however, these scholars, actors, etc., want to perform this play. How can they perform it without the last act? They will have to improvise. In order to do so, they have to “live and breathe” the works of Shakespeare. They will know all his other works, thoroughly know this present play, understand how his mind works, etc. With their “Shakespearean mind” they write and perform the final act as they imagine Shakespeare would have written it.

The analogy is something like this: we have Scripture which bears witness to the mind of God in Christ. We have the first act-Creation. We have the second act–Israel. We have the third act–Christ. We have the fourth act–the early Church (Acts & the Epistles). We are the fifth act (as the analogy typically goes). And we currently perform that fifth act as best we can imaginatively enter into the mind of God in Christ. We live out that mind–we perform the fifth act on the basis of the first four acts.

I like the analogy. I think it is quite useful. There is a sense in which we do not have a script for living in the 21st century as Christians. We don’t have a script that tells us how to deal with gene therapy, nuclear war, software ethics, etc. We encounter many issues in the contemporary world that are not addressed in Scripture. Consequently, we seek the mind of God in Christ, and then seek to live out of that “mind” in the present.

But I would like to adjust the analogy a bit. While we are living out the fifth act, we do have the sixth act. [Or, I prefer to say we are living in the 4th act as the video describes, and the fifth act is the new heaven and new earth.] What we are missing is not the end, but the time between Christ and the end. We know what the ending of the story is. We know how the drama climaxes. The act we are missing is the one between the fourth and sixth–between Christ in the Early Church (Acts and Epistles) and the Eschaton (the New Heaven and New Earth). [Or, as in the video, we are missing the last part of the fourth act, which is where we live.]

Consequently, we learn how to perform the present story of God through drawing on the mind of God in the past and the future. We know God’s intent (creation) and we know God’s goal (eschaton). We know God’s acts in history (Israel) and we have seen God in Jesus. Knowing God in Christ, we perform his story in the present. We are the fifth act. We are the body of Christ in the world performing the drama of God in a way that is consistent with divine intent (creation), goal (eschaton) and history (Israel and Church)–consistent with the one who embodied God in our midst, Jesus Christ.

Theology is only significant if it is performative. We must “do” the truth rather than simply intellectualize about it. The goal of theology is practical–to shape a people into the image of God, but not just in their thinking, but in their life. The transformed life is the performative truth of the story of God.

7 Responses to “An Increasingly Common Analogy”

  1.   Amanda Says:

    I’ve heard this analogy used pretty often, and I agree that it does have many useful applications. I think Mark Black may have used it in his NT Herm. and Exegesis class.

  2.   Dee O'Neil Andrews Says:

    I like that analogy a lot, as well. As John Alan Turner says in his blog post today at In His Big Grip, churches need to quit praying for vision and start praying for strategies, or in other words, to get to work “performing” as Christians, as you say.

    I agree.

  3.   daniel greeson Says:

    i love that analogy.
    in fact I was watching a movie the other night… “The Reckoning” and it kind of talked about this. (click for info

    A troupe of players enter into a town, they usually do typical Bible scenes, like the Fall, or the crucifix, or something. but they stumble into the town while a woman is being excused of a crime and is sentenced to death.
    The troupe decides to not tell the old stories from the Bible but to tell truth in that location through that specific event. They have an interesting discussion about biblical authority actually.

    I recommend the movie.

  4.   dagwud Says:

    I’m not surprised by your words about the importance of theology, but I’m glad you wrote them. I laugh a little when I tell the people who graciously sit while I preach/teach that we don’t name our doctrines like some others do, but we need to know soteriology, ecclesiology, eschatology, etc.

    History and Theology have so much to do with each other, yet we have absorbed history, idolized it, and have forgotten its bedfellow.

    We base what we do on what we believe – and what we don’t do on what we don’t believe. I’m concerned that we don’t believe much.

    I’m grateful for my recent theological studies.

    I have to constantly remind myself, though, that truth doesn’t set me free. Applied truth sets me free.

  5.   Milton Stanley Says:

    I like this five-act paradigm much better than the one I typically hear described in the CofC!

  6.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    And there are actually six acts…and there were originally six in our history, too! 🙂

    Our original six were: faith, repentance, baptism, remission of sins, gift of the Spirit and eternal life.

    They look a bit different now, don’t they?

  7.   Milton Stanley Says:

    They sure do. Now it’s all the stuff we do and nothing in there about what God does.

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