The message of the Bible in one sentence

 By Andrew Perriman
 
Hermeneutics and narrative

Dane Ortlund, Senior Editor at Crossway Books (Bible division) recently asked 25 scholars and pastors to sum up the “message of the Bible in one sentence”. You can read the contributions, some of which are really quite good exemplars of the genre, on his Strawberry-Rhubarb Theology blog. I have two rather contradictory reactions to it, one essentially postmodern, the other much more “modern”—or as I would prefer to call it, “hermeneutically correct”.

My first reaction is that the notion of 25 all American, all evangelical, all male (“brothers”), and all white (correct me if I’m wrong) scholars and pastors endeavouring to extract a single “message” from a massive compendium of ancient religious texts cries out for deconstruction on all sorts of levels. The contributions range from the blinkered (Leland Ryken) to the sentimental (Ray Ortlund) to the tentatively emerging (Greg Beale), but what they give us is the only slightly faceted theological lens of a narrowly constituted religious subgroup. Only Gordon Hugenberger is imaginative enough to subvert the exercise—and should be applauded for it:

The message of the Bible in one sentence is that genuine truth, unlike every human philosophy, is far too luxuriant, too enthralling, too personal, too all-encompassing, too sovereign, and too life-changing to be reducible to one sentence (or, as Einstein once put it, the challenge is to ‘make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler’).

My second reaction is: Hey, can I have a go too! My contribution—from a white, male, non-American, and I suppose post-evangelical perspective—is somewhat influenced by the recent series on the missio Dei and perhaps only makes sense against that background. But it reflects my deepening suspicion that evangelical theology has overlooked the massive theological and historical significance of a narrative theme that runs from the thwarting of the Babel project through the clash with Babylon to the pronouncement of judgment on “Babylon” and the proclamation of the reign of Christ and of those who suffered and were vindicated with him. So here is the core storyline in a sentence:

The one true god of an obscure and cantankerous Middle Eastern people eventually, after numerous set backs and no small amount of suffering on the part of that people, overcomes the pagan empires that conspired against him for so long—and the rest is history.

If we then want to translate that story into a “message”—or perhaps better a historically meaningful statement of “good news”—I would suggest something along these lines:

The long conflict between the one true creator God and the pagan nations, culminating in the victory of Christlike communities over Rome, has fundamentally transformed the nature and status of his “new creation” people in the world.

If anyone else wants to have a stab at summarizing the message of the Bible in one sentence, post it in a comment below. If you can do so without simply reinforcing the grip that white, male, American evangelicalism has on our understanding of the Bible, so much the better. If no one posts, I’ll assume this is just a lost cause

 

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