A Doubter’s Guide to the Bible Review: it’s all about grace
A Doubter’s Guide to the Bible Review: Chapter 3 – Life in Three Dimensions: the Blessings of Father Abraham
The third chapter of John Dickson’s A Doubter’s Guide to the Bible explores the implications of Genesis 12:1-2. Dickson speaks very highly of the promises made to Abraham here in which ‘it is impossible to exaggerate the significance of the promises made to Abraham’ (p.53).
Dickson claims that these promises ‘mark the reversal of the three diminishing elements of human existence’:
- Spiritual element: the search for God
- Social element: relationships with one another
- Physical element: the connection with the environment
Dickson unpacks each in turn.
The nature of biblical theology?
The chapter is pivotal in understanding the message of the Bible and Dickson does a good job of explaining the significance and implications of Abraham’s promises and how they find their fulfilment in Jesus. He draws sensible theological conclusions from the promises to Abraham.
I agree with Dickson’s understanding of the promises, mainly because I am familiar with the concepts. Though, I do wonder if more needs to be said to the ‘doubter’ who doesn’t realise that the Biblical narrative involves transformation? This ‘transformation’ is known as ‘biblical theology’ where the same theme is transformed or transposed into a different key. e.g.. the promises of physical land to Abraham find their completion and fulfilment in a ‘spiritual’ (yet still physical) heaven. Hence the promise is ultimately unfulfilled in one sense, but is very much fulfilled and completed in a more satisfying and wholesome way.
Dickson is appealing to this narrative structure of the Bible and what he says is clear. Yet I do wonder if further explanation is required? Thus explanation of why we can see ‘promises fulfilled in Jesus’ in a different sense to the way they were promised to Abraham. Or similarly, further explanation of how Dickson can claim that ‘the Promised Land is no longer theologically significant at all’ (p.62). Further explanation may help to avoid some potential confusion.
Hence a question for the ‘doubting’ audience, how do you understand the concept of ‘fulfilment’ within the overall biblical story and this idea of ‘biblical theology’? Do you appreciate the idea of ‘transformation/transposition’ within the biblical narrative? Would be very keen for thoughts.
It’s all about grace
One of the other things to comment upon in this chapter was Dickson’s exploration of ‘grace’. Dickson says, ‘Even the great patriarch [Abraham] the father of Israel, was not chosen for his goodness, and neither so goes the Christian story, is anyone’ (p.54).
Dickson goes on to explain the difference of the Biblical story to other religious understandings of ‘salvation’. Namely, ‘The structure of relationship with God in a typical religious framework is: obedience first, favor second. The structure of relationship with God, found in the call of Abraham and then throughout the Bible, is: favor first, obedience second’. (p.59).
I agree with Dickson’s assessment of the biblical narrative. It is all about ‘grace’ and I was wondering if this was your understanding of the Christian message? Perhaps it’s not your experience of Christianity at all – i.e. to understand it as primarily a message about favor first?
Dickson has targeted his message of this chapter at the ‘ignorant’ doubter – he is outlining the message of the Bible. Hence, in this chapter there is less to critique for the more hostile ‘doubter’.
This chapter was helpful and clear and well written in it’s explanation of some very important biblical themes. However I am unsure of how ‘doubters’ understand how the whole Bible fits together and may not quite understand Dickson here.