The Jesus of the Gospels
Alex's prior blog post on the importance of memorizing from the gospels rang especially true for me. It always seems easier to memorize from the epistles because they contain pithy summaries of the Christian faith; or from the Old Testament because it is rich in poetry and powerful, unambiguous statements from the LORD and his prophets.
The narrative, parabolic content of the gospels often seems less worthwhile memorizing because one has to commit an entire story to memory. Why memorize an entire story that appears to only make a single point? Why memorize the parables when we can memorize Paul's digested conclusion in an epistle?
I'm currently reading the 2nd volume in N.T. Wright's series, Jesus and the Victory of God. I highly recommend this series. Those of you who have followed the public debate between John Piper and N.T. Wright might harbor some reservations about Wright's theology. I, for one, have been both impressed by the civil tone of their debate and distressed at my inability to fully grasp their differences.
While you might not agree with every point that N.T. Wright makes, I can assure you that your understanding of Jesus will be tremendously advanced by following his carefully constructed arguments. Even the introductory sections on how we have arrived at our current thinking about Jesus is illuminating and worth grappling with. I had never realized how influential the Jesus Seminar really was, or how much the theologians in their ivory towers shape our theology.
How does this relate to the value of memorizing the gospels? I would contend that to fully appreciate the nuances of Wright's argument for understanding Jesus in a distinctly Jewish context, it is critical, or at least exceptionally helpful, to have some portion of the gospels memorized. When I came to the section in his book on the Sermon on the Mount, my understanding was greatly increased by having the complete sermon in my head. Memorizing the Sermon on the Mount inevitably requires starting with the structure of the sermon. As I memorized Matthew 5-7, I began to wonder why it began with the Beatitudes? Why does it end with the parable about the 'house on the rock"? What should we make of the selection of the six antitheses early in the sermon?
Reading his commentary on the other parts of the gospels made me regret not spending more time memorizing and reflecting on the gospels.
Over the past 50 years there has been so much disagreement as to who Jesus was and what his aims and beliefs were, that many of us have retreated to the epistles for our understanding of theology. Reading Wright has renewed my appreciation for the incredible continuity between the Old Testament, the gospels, and the epistles.
If the thought of reading four 700 page books is daunting, you might want to start with Simply Jesus, Wright's latest book which distills his many years of thinking about Jesus into 250 pages. I haven't yet read it, but intend to.
John Piper has written a great response to one aspect of N.T Wright's thinking: justification. The book, The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright is also available for free PDF download. If you would like to understand what the brouhaha is about, I would recommend reading both books. Whichever side you find yourself agreeing with more, you will probably learn a lot from both of them.
The purpose of this post is to reinforce the value of bible memorization coupled with deep bible study and broad reading. Those who know me will attest to my love of good-spirited debate as a means to get closer to the truth but, in this case, my primary point is that memorizing the Bible facilitates our understanding of theology and, ultimately, its application to our lives.
Have any of you read Jesus and the Victory of God or Simply Jesus? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.