The Story question for January 15th

The last four chapters of The Story chronicle the birth of the Church as the heir to the ministry of Jesus in the world. Chapter 28 is basically Luke’s recording of significant events in his Acts of the Apostles, beginning with the birth of the Church through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost – 50 days after Easter and ending with the conversion of Saul, who as the chief persecutor of Jesus’s followers is implicated in the death of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. A significant story covered is that of Peter and his dream pg 402. Can you recall the gist of this and what do you think it means? 

Chapter 29 focuses on the missionary journeys of Paul after his eventful conversion on the road to Damascus pg 399. The Council of Jerusalem pg 411 is mentioned in summary. Nevertheless, this is an important event. Why? What was its result? 

Paul’s activities follow a pattern. On arriving in a new town he goes to the synagogue and preaches to the Jews and the group of gentiles known as the God-fearing. They had not converted but lived following the Law of Moses. By and large, the Jews reject Paul, but it’s the gentile God-fearers for whom it’s a short step from being attracted to Judaism to accepting Paul’s message of greater inclusion in God’s Salvation. Paul provokes a lot of opposition: from Jews who see him as a danger to Judaism; Jewish Christians who see his message as competing with their insistence Christians following the Law of Moses; and pagan temples that see his message draining away their followers both in terms of numbers and economic pledge.

Chapter 30 explores how Paul’s perfect storm of opposition leads to his capture by the Jews as he takes an offering to Jerusalem. Paul as a Roman Citizen appeals to be sent to Rome for trial. He journeys to Rome and as he does he writes his significant letter to the Romans. In Rome, Paul is martyred along with Peter.

Outside the Gospels, the bulk of the N.T. is taken up with Paul’s letters to his various churches. Not all the letters bearing his name are from his own hand. Why do you think letters claim his authorship when it’s clear from analysis of themes that they address concerns of a later period in church development than Paul’s time? Sometimes it’s unclear what the arguments in the letters are fully about because we only get one side of the conversation – Paul’s. It’s a bit like listening to someone conversing on their mobile phone at the next table, you hear only one side of the conversation.

Paul’s letters span a period from the late 30’s and 40’s through to the early decades of the 2nd century. In all of Paul’s letters, there is an assumption that tension between Christians and the political authority of Rome can be worked out, one way or another. Paul himself is more subversive, borrowing the imperial title Kurios or Lord and giving it to Jesus, an act of treason. Later writings claiming his authorship counsel not only a practical obedience to civil authority but an honoring of civil authority as given from God. This accommodationist approach works only so long as civil authority does not prohibit Christians practicing their faith.

Chapter 31 focuses on the writings of John of Patmos who wrote the 1st and 2nd letters of John and the Book of Revelation. This is a completely different style of writing, known as apocalyptic, which means being concerned with the struggle and final victory of God at the end of time. This different approach represents a time of intense persecution, which has closed the door to any reasonable accommodation with civil authority. The intensity of the struggle these Christian communities in the undergo in the present time is projected into a future in which in the final battle they will be vindicated and rewarded with victory as recompense for their present suffering. Can you put yourself into this apocalyptic mindset once you know its purpose and function?


The final question as we complete our communal reading of the Story is this:

What will you do with The Story? How will it influence the writing of your own faith story?


The Story questions for December 18th

The Story covers the life of Jesus by dividing it up into discrete themes: birth, ministry, the man, son of God, hour of darkness and resurrection. This is to my mind unfortunate in that it dislocates the unfolding of events within the flow of time. The gospel writers understand the interdependency of events located within time to be the point – a point lost by The Story’s treatment of Jesus.The overall narrative of ministry is reduced to a tedious succession of soundbites. Maybe this is not surprising as The Story is a work of Evangelical Christianity, where proof texting – taking passages out of context is more familiar to readers.

In the light of the world in which we find ourselves two pertinent questions arise from our reading of chapters 25-27. The first one is what does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus? Jesus tells his followers that to be a disciple one must take up one’s cross, deny ones-self and follow him. So to the question what might this look like for us in our context?

Most of us manage our lives guided by our worldview, i.e. how the world looks to us. The question arises: why do we embrace our particular worldview – what does our worldview say about us? 

Finally, given that Jesus’ worldview appears to be a costly challenge of speaking truth to power – does speaking truth to power appear within the scope of our worldview – and if so – do we imagine it comes without a price tag?

Next time in January we will draw our community reading of The Story to a close as we review chapters 28-31 – the beginning of the Church.



The Story questions for October 16th

Reading The Story: The Bible and one continuing story of God and his people –while greatly simplifying the actual Bible has the advantage in that it clarifies the narrative thrust of the continuing story of salvation for Jews and Christians. At chapters 19-21 we can now begin to see the various element of the narrative of God’s relations with us. At the conclusion of our community reading at Easter we will return to a grand summary or overview.

Chapters 19-21 recount the period when the exiles return to rebuild first the Temple, then the city walls and finally redefine the boundaries of acceptable religious observance, three key stages that take place over a century or so, quite a long time for reestablishing Judah and Jerusalem.

Chapter 19 gives us the first installment in this story of rebuilding. Cyrus the Persian king allows the first group (43,000+)of exiles to return with the Temple treasures plundered by Nebuchadnezzar in 586. Was Cyrus just generous or what other political and economic reasons might he have had for allowing this return?

The chapter gives a good feel for the resistance to this endeavor among the remnants originally left behind and the other peoples who had established themselves in the region. The heroes of this period are Zerubbabel, of the royal line who returns not a king but governor of the new province of Judah. He is assisted by the prophets Zechariah and Haggai who strengthen the people to face the opposition of the other peoples around them.

Chapter 20 takes us back to the Persian Empire where it seems personal and community courage in the face of persecution. Who is the hero of this story a story of reprieve for the exilic community from genocide?

Chapter 21 recounts the next wave of exiles to return home – probably spurred on by their recent near miss with extermination. Ezra the priest and scribe of the Law is commissioned by Artaxerxes to lead the next wave of returnees. The task now seems to focus on the rebuilding of the walls of the city and Nehemiah, a new governor is the man who leads this process in the face of considerable local opposition. What measures does he take to keep the rebuilding going while providing some armed protection for the process?

While Nehemiah takes care of the civil aspects of reconstruction – a process that requires ingenuity and incredible political skill, Ezra, who genealogy is provided to authenticate his authority as priest and scribe attend to the task of calling the people back to true observance. What does he do? 

Ezra is a significant historical figure. He is introduced as both priest and scribe, with an emphasis on his role as scribe – a new office. Ezra marks the fruit of developments in the structure of Judaism during the exile period that paves the way for the later emergence of the scribal movement. The emphasis of a renewed religion is not only on the Temple cult and its priesthood, but on the expert interpretation of the Law. This is the beginning of a developmental direction that leads to the Pharisees and the rabbinic movements. As a result, the way the Jews understand their relationship with God takes a new direction that paves the way for the coming of Jesus, the next big shift in the Story of Salvation.


The Story Questions for September 18th  – Chapters 16-18

After the death of Solomon and the splintering of the Davidic Kingdom in two, chapter 16 deals with the events leading up to the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel to the Assyrians in 722. The ruling classes of Israel were sent into exile, an exile from which they would never return. This left only the southern kingdom of Judah, standing alone, having escaped falling to the Assyrian army because King Hezekiah at Isaiah’s urging remained true to the Lord. In chapter 17 we learn of the events 200 hundred years later when the Babylonians who had succeeded the Assyrians as the great empire of the Middle East were now the ones at the gates of Jerusalem. Finally, Jerusalem fell in 586. The ruling classes together with the Temple priests were taken into exile, but this time, an exile from which they would eventually return to rebuild Jerusalem and its temple. Chapter 18 deals with the experience of the captives in Babylon and the focus is on the story of one man, Daniel. Focussing on Daniel is a rather curious way of covering the exilic period, but gives a flavor of how the Jews prospered in captivity and came to exercise considerable influence in the Babylonian court. Chapter 18 ends with the fall of the Babylonian empire to the Persians, under whom the Jews continued to thrive. It was Cyrus the Persian emperor who eventually allowed the exiles to return to Judah.

These three chapters cover the period of economic corruption, tyrannical leadership, and foolish political maneuverings on the international stage by both Jewish kingdoms. But the greatest sin was the way with the exceptions of Hezekiah and Josiah, the kings abandoned the covenant with God. Pride led them to see themselves as more important than God, rather than God’s ministers for justice and peace. In abandoning the practice of true religion, they committed the age-old mistake that permeates Israelite history. Into this prolonged period of crisis the great prophets (Isaiah – there are three prophets bearing this name, Amos, Micah, Hosea, Jeremiah and Ezekiel arose as God’s messengers to confront the evils of the times and call the kings back to the covenant with God.

There is one key question around which we will build our conversation. Although the prophets failed to appreciably change the course of historical events, being ignored by the rulers and people, can you see them bequeathing a longer term legacy?  If so what are the elements of this legacy?


The Story Questions for August 21
Chapters 13, 14 and 15

Chapter 13  is the vividly told story of David’s son Solomon, one of Israel’s greatest, wealthiest and wisest kings. But there is a disturbing undercurrent of trouble ahead. Solomon builds the long promised Temple for the Lord, sparing no expense and requiring massive amounts of labor and resources. In response to Solomon’s prayer of dedication of the Temple God reiterates God’s promise to David of a home and a legacy, but puts a single condition on the blessing: There shall be no worship of idols in Israel.

  • What do you think are the signs that trouble is on the horizon?
  • Tradition has it that the wise Solomon was the author of Proverbs, excerpted here. What do you think is the overall lesson/perspective of this book, part of the collection known as the Wisdom Books in the Bible? How do you feel about this perspective?
  • Compare/contrast David and Solomon—two very great and very different kings.

Chapter 14 chronicles the painful (and perhaps confusing) division of Israel into Northern (Israel) and Southern (Judah) kingdoms; with Israel initially being ruled by Jeroboam, and Judah by Solomon’s son Rehoboam. God has remained faithful to the promise not to destroy the house and legacy of David by making sure that part, but not all, of David’s original kingdom (including the promised Jerusalem) remains under control of David’s line. But all is not well with either of the warring kingdoms.

  • The previous chapter had a generally favorable view of King Solomon. Even though events in this chapter take place after his death, do you think that view has changed in this chapter? How? What might account for this change?
  • The single theological theme behind the troubles of the Northern and Southern kingdoms is their refusal to worship the one God and to turn from idols. What do you think accounts for the people’s inability to adhere to this single requirement?

Chapter 15 introduces us to God’s messengers and troublemakers, the prophets, with a focus on Elijah and Elisha.

  • The prophets are God’s representatives to the people. Some of the things they say and do in the name of God conflict with the image of a loving compassionate God. How do you feel about this? Why do think this tension exists?



July 17th, In chapter 9 we encountered the story of Naomi and Ruth. We noted that suddenly after wading through rather formulaic and not very attractive story lines in chapters 7 and 8 the quality of the narrative in 9 suddenly deepens. Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz are characters we can relate to. They feel human to us and we recognize ourselves in them. Of course, the reason for the sudden deepening of the narrative lies in the fact that Ruth is the great-grandmother of King David. The closer we get to David the more detailed and complex the storylines become. The characterizations emerge more and more as multidimensional people.

Chapter 10 tells of the birth of Samuel. We see an important detail in the transmission of authority. Eli the priest and his wastrel sons are replaced by Samuel who is not a priest but a prophet. There is this alternating tension in pre-Kingdom Israel between priest and prophet, with leadership passing back and forth between these offices.

  • What do you think is the difference between priest to prophet?
  • What does Hannah’s song pg 131 remind you of in Luke’s gospel?

The Story gives us a very brief summary of Samuel’s life because the thrust of the narrative is leading us to a major change in the Hebrew Community -the calling of Israel’s first king in the person of the very handsome but not very competent Saul.

  • Throughout this period with whom is Israel in constant conflict; forming the backdrop to the key events?

Chapter 10 ends with Samuel telling Saul that his time is up, but Saul does not intend to go quietly.

Chapter 11 relates the call of David and so we fast approach the historical period during which the ancient oral traditions of the Israelites to form the backbone of the Torah are first written down in the form of a great history of origin. The theme is the Hebrews now have a King like the other nations around them, but they now also need an official history.Enter stage right, David the shepherd boy. Samuel anoints David as king and the first external manifestation of David’s kingship is his defeat of the Philistine giant, Goliath. Saul becomes murderously jealous. Jonathan, Saul’s son defects to David – and therein lies another more concealed story.

In chapter 12 we encounter David as a very recognizable human being. He is a great man, a might leader, but also a very human and fallible man.

  • Discuss how you feel about David.
  • What do the stories: Bathsheba, the welcoming of the Ark, the rise and fall of Absalom – tell you about David?
  • How do you feel about David and the image of fallible greatness?

The Story now hurries on and the next three chapters, 13-15, describe the fate of David’s kingdom.

June 19th. At the end of Chapter 6 Moses has addressed the people with a proposition that they can choose life or death. This really means they can choose the Lord or turn away and face destruction and sets the theme of the struggle that permeates the following chapters. Moses then dies and an epoch comes to an end. From now on, God will have no companion, as he and Moses were companions. No human being will ever occupy the intimacy with God that Moses enjoyed – that is, from a Christian interpretation, until, Jesus. The authority of Moses passes to Joshua, the war chief.

Chapter 7 -concerns what is known as the Conquest of the Land. Remember that these ancient stories were part of an oral tradition, much later written down at the time of the founding of the unified Kingdom of David. The Davidic editors of these stories seem to have had a kind of repeating framework in mind. So much of 7 and 8 echo the dynamics of the relationship between God and the people reminiscent from the 40 years in Sinai. Now begins the story of a nation, but it still moves in 40-year cycles.

  • Do you accept the grand military campaign as depicted?
  • Note repeating themes: the crossing of the Jordan compare to the crossing of the Red Sea; the grand summary pp 100-101 and a new covenant with the people and then Joshua dies and another epoch ends.

Chapter 8 -covers the next period known as the reign of the Judges and corresponds with the Book of Judges. It begins with the same formula that Exodus uses as the transition from Joseph to Moses – a generation grows up who has no memory or knowledge of the past. This is a period when ostensibly the Israelites are the conquerors, but of course, the Canaanites have not gone anywhere. So it’s a mixed picture of cohabitation of communities alongside each other. The Israelites forget all the God has done for them. They seem to have settled in very nicely to worshiping the gods of the Canaanites – gods of tangible life events and seasonal cycles. Of course, you can predict the consequences – Yahweh -God punishes them and they become weak and easily oppressed by their neighbors. The Judges rise up at the time of crisis to call the people back to Yahweh. These are stories of communal assimilationist, and separatist tensions.

  • Time and events seem to move in 40-year cycles? What do you think 40-years symbolizes? Hint – why did God consign them to wander for 40 years in Sinai before letting them into the new land?
  • Are you surprised to find that one of the Judges is a woman? What’s your picture of the role of women in this period?
  • Think about these stories being written down during the reign of King David. Now note any similarities you see in the calls of Gideon and David.
  • Why might Samson’s fight against the Philistines matter to the Davidic editors?
  • What later births does the birth of Samson echo for you?

Chapter 9

Seems to start a very different kind of story. In the story of Ruth and Naomi, we have a new kind of narrative about the relations between Israelite and foreigner. To me, this is a story that conveys a much more sophisticated understanding of inter-communal relations.

  • In Ruth how is the concept of the foreigner treated?
  • Note the complex emotional ties and relations that seem absolutely familiar to us in ways that the earlier stories don’t convey. Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz are characters we can identify with and there is a deep humanity on display here.
  • Discuss things you note about this picture of agrarian social life conveyed through the story of Ruth.
  • Who is Ruth in relation to David? Could this be why her story more humanly and emotionally complex?

The quality of the narrative seems to me to be of a different order as we move from chapters 8 – 9. My thought is that this is a reflection of the reading back into an old story of more contemporary social relations current at the time of the stories being recorded. This relates directly to question 4.

In summary, these chapters concern the complex issues of assimilation and segregation played out in the struggle to be faithful to the austere and demanding religion of Yahweh amidst the temptations of the nature-based religions of the Canaanites. It’s the struggle of the people’s fidelity to the promises God makes with them, and their desire to take an easier more materially rewarding path like the one their neighbors follow. The Canaanites have a materialistic religion, whose gods are tangible, and who make much more everyday sense within the cycles of the seasons.

An interesting question for me is if you put the question of religious identity to one side, is there actually any difference between the Israelites and Canaanites? Maybe they are one people, but with different collective memories?

May 15th.  Chapters 4 through 6 follow the themes of deliverance, nation-forming and fulfillment of the promise. Reading The Story is having an effect upon us. Many of us don’t warm to what we are reading, and have strong reactions to the image these chapters portray of God. It’s the visceral response of the reading upon us that I am particularly keen for us to explore with one another.

Chapter 4 – note the opening lines on pg. 42 about the death of Joseph and the rise of a new Pharaoh ‘to whom Joseph meant nothing’. We learn of the call of Moses, his struggles to accept the call and the events of the exodus. Note the events in the Desert of Sin on pp. 55-57. Note the comparison with how Chapter 6 opens.:

  • Why do you think the story repeats itself?

Chapter 5 is about nation forming and describes how God sets up a primary relationship with the Israelites in the form of a covenant. We refer to this covenant as the Ten Commandments but it is much more than this. Note the summary at the bottom of page 63. In this chapter, we can see how the wondering confederation of tribal units begins to weld itself together around a common set religious practices and community structures. In chapter 5 we read of how because of the length of time Moses was away from the people on the mountain with God, the people began to feel God had abandoned them:

  • What was their response?
  • What did God do?
  • How do you feel about what Moses interacted the Levites to do? 

After the incident with the Golden calf,:

  • What does God do (hint see the summary on pg. 69) and
  • what can we read into this? 

Chapter 6 -after a year encamped at the foot of Mt Sinai the people are instructed through Moses to move on. We read a repetition of the grumbling we first read about in Chapter 4:

  • How does the repetition of the earlier story lead to a new conclusion and does this help us to see why it’s repeated?
  • Why do you think God punishes Miriam and not Aaron?
  • How would you describe the dynamics of the relationship between God and Moses – and between God and the people?
  • Why do they have to wander for 40 years when they seem to be almost in constant proximity to the land of Canaan?
  • Having just witnessed Linda’s ordination to the priesthood, not how Moses commissions Joshua.
  • What do you feel as you read the words in Moses’ farewell speech? 

In chapter 7 – we will go on to learn about the conquest of the land of Canaan. This raises many questions for us. In chapter 8 and 9 we will learn about the problems of assimilation and evolving attitudes towards the foreigner.