Each of these words mentioned above, have an original context. A context surrounded with real life realities, cultures, circumstances and images that were intimately united to the words themselves. Whenever there is a cultural and contextual gap from the one it was once delivered in, there are frequently missing components to the bigger picture - the meta-narrative in which they find themselves in.
The last several days we have been meandering about what "church is" and "what is the gospel". We have concluded that much of our current understanding is the byproduct of our cultural context and not necessarily that of biblical precedence. This doesn't in and of itself make our understandings anti-biblical, but it does warrant ongoing reflection and consideration.
When a Jew living in the First Century heard the word "gospel," what was their understanding? What about the word "repentance"? Was their initial mental image that of an altar at the front of a church? Was it even a religious (as we know it) image that moved to their frontal cortex? Or, was a First Century Jew's first image of "repentance" that of a political and revolutionary nature? Or, consider the "kingdom." I've never lived in a land where there was a king. Are the implications of this word greater than my King Arthur ideology?
Jesus was a real person. He lived in a real place. He was surrounded by very specific cultural influences. The time and culture in which He lived very much influenced what words, images and stories He choose to utilize while communicating. We must never forget this. Therefore, it would seem, that for us to gain a better - more complete understanding of the message(s) He communicated, most notably the "Gospel," it would serve us well to first ask ourselves:
- How did the first hearers of these stories understand and interpret them?
- What cultural and contextual elements is the author leaning on to communicate and why? And, so forth.
Yet, for most of us, it is a challenge to know which archives of historical data to peruse through to begin our search of a grander historical and cultural understanding of the First Century, thus the words that Jesus spoke. Last summer I facilitated a learning environment with about 25 people, where we tracked through about 150 years of history. Our primary focus of study was 50 years before Jesus was born to about 50 years into the history of the early church. We we're looking specifically for the historical, cultural, social, political and spiritual backdrops of the life and message of Jesus. In preparation for this learning environment I spent quite a bit of time rummaging, searching, researching, reading, reading, and some more reading.
Throughout the conversation I was often asked as we neared the end of our 16 week study, which books and resources would be helpful for continued study and understanding. It would have been ideal to have a piece of scholarly, thorough, and yet not-too-laborious to navigate through that would enable one to gain an accurate big picture perspective. I was hard pressed to find ONE. I gave out a list of recommends, but there was recently a book published by a friend of mine that, had it been in released last summer, would have definitely made it to the top of the recommended list.
The Book is Static: Tune Out The "Christian" Noise And Experience The Real Message Of Jesus by Ron Martoia.
Static takes a fresh look at such biblical terms as "salvation, kingdom, repentance and gospel." The books publisher, Tyndale House, summarizes the book by saying:
Tyndale House is right in what they say, however I think they don't say enough. It is a serious issue that we use "words" that individuals "outside the church" don't understand without our knowing. But I think there is another issue, if not even more serious than the former and that is that we often use "words" inside the church, that people inside the church don't understand, but because they've heard these words so often, they've become conditioned by familiarity to think they know the meaning, without fully understanding -- and without knowing that they don't know."Words communicate. Christians often use words to communicate to others; however, these words aren’t understood by many of those outside the church. We can be so absorbed in our 'christianese' that we don’t realize others don’t understand the jargon and cannot figure out what it is we mean by what we are saying. Static readers will become aware of what we are saying so we can re-focus our thinking to communicate clearly to those outside the church."
One of the greatest tragedies
is to not know something
and to not know that
you don't know it.
is to not know something
and to not know that
you don't know it.
Ron Martoia in his book Static does an awesome job at trimming away unnecessary baggage, while presenting a clear and easily readable picture of the words, their original context, theological implications and how we can effectively communicate them in the world we find ourselves.
Additional Recommended Reading in this genre:
Historical & Political Climate
- Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Order by Richard A. Horsley
- Desire for the Everlasting Hills by Thomas Cahill
- Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelly
- The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament Era: Exploring the Background of Early Christianity by James S. Jeffers
Jewish Cultural Context of the First Century
- Sketches of Jewish Social Life by Alfred Edersheim
- As A Driven Leaf by Milton Steinberg
- Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith by Rob Bell
- Strange Scriptures that Perplex the Western Mind by Barbara Bowen
- The Bible Lives Today by Barbara Bowen*
- Through Bowen Museum with Bible in Hand by Barbara Bowen*
*Barbara Bowen Books are hard to find
The Person & Message of Jesus
- The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is by N.T. Wright
- Jesus & the Victory of God; The Resurrection of the Son of God; and The New testament & the People of God by N.T. Wright - (These three are a BIT more academic in nature).
- The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others by Scot McKnight
- Turning to Jesus: The Sociology of Conversion in the Gospels by Scot McKnight
- The Secret Message of Jesus by Brain McLaren
- The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey
- God Came Near by Max Lucado
- Finding the Lost Cultural Keys to Luke 15 by Kenneth Bailey
- Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes by Kenneth Bailey
- The Cross & the Prodigal by Kenneth Bailey
Engaging the Scripture
- Eat this Book: a conversation in the art of spiritual reading by Euguene
- The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story
by Craig G. Bartholomew & Michael W. Goheen
- God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible by Vaughan Roberts
- The Art of Reading Scripture edited by Ellen F. Davis & Richard B. Hays