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Israel's story- applied to me?

Having finished the first, I am working my way though the second of NT Wright’s Christian Origins series and find it an exhilirating, mind and spirit expanding process. I had been hoping to find some padding in the text,which I could skip, but no luck so far (I’m at page 300, only 360 to go).

The controlling story is of course Israel’s exile and exodus and the way in which Jesus recapitulates that in final and definitive form.

I wonder whether the story of Israel is a fruitful template for the individual Christian’s spiritual journey? I could see how my own life could be interpreted as disobedience, exile (into the pain of idolatry of many sorts over many years), the call from God to travel back into his kingdom and then working through that in response to the story of Jesus.

Does this seem plausible to anyone? Has NT Wright or anyone else written on this?

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Metaphorically speaking

Paul, I think Wright does somewhere talk about the world being in exile as a universalization of Israel’s exile - perhaps it’s part of the ‘as Jesus to Israel so the church to the world’ argument. Does anyone know where?

To my mind there is something very biblical in the prophetic reuse of types and metaphors as a way of making sense of new circumstances - provided that it is done in the Spirit and not on the basis of whim or fancy (OK, I know, that begs a lot of questions). It can be a very powerful way to explore one’s own experience. Metaphor is descriptive but it can also be a heuristic device - it opens things up, it helps us to understand things better.

There are two potential problems, however. The first is that the original type or metaphor or narrative can easily get distorted in the process (arguably there are examples of this in the Bible, but that is another question). We take, for example, the story of Israel’s exile, we apply it to our own lives in the way you have done - but then subtly we reverse the process: we begin to reshape the original story according to our own experience of alienation and we lose the particularity of Israel’s story. Key aspects of the exile story are likely to be suppressed because they don’t fit the personal narrative. It is a covenant people that is judged and exiled, and as Jesus interprets things, the exile will end with great tribulation for Israel. Do these details show up in your reuse of the template?

Much of Wright’s work is an attempt to undo the distortion of scripture that comes about when we read it in the light of our own experience or of ecclesiastical and theological tradition. For example, the parable of the prodigal son has traditionally been interpreted in individualistic terms as the sinner who goes away from God, makes a mess of his life, then repents and is reconciled. This reading is not implausible but it may not be what Jesus intended. Wright’s argument is that the parable is a retelling of Israel’s story, the ending of exile. I think that in the future, when we use the parables in devotional and pastoral contexts, we will have to be much more aware of the historical weight that they carry.

The second problem is that we can easily draw false conclusions on the basis of a rather creatively applied analogy. To give a broad example, one frequently hears bland messages of optimism, encouragement and hope for the church or for individuals today drawn from passages in the prophets that have much more to say about judgment on a faithless and ineffectual people. Some situation in the present may be like some situation in the past, in the Bible, but that does not necessarily mean that the outcome will be the same. God is not obliged to respect the logic of our analogies.

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