The New Testament: Introducing the Way of Discipleship

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Topics: Theology & Religious Education. Ages: Adult. Resource Types: Books.

Review & Commentary

One thought on “The New Testament: Introducing the Way of Discipleship

  1. Review

    The most significant development in recent New Testament scholarship is the discipline of understanding the biblical text in context. It is vital to understand the text in the historical, political, economic, and social context out of which it arose and to which it spoke. If the context is ignored, the text will be misinterpreted.

    This book, consisting of eight essays, is an introduction to the books of the New Testament focusing on deepening our understanding of the way of discipleship and linking it to the challenge of discipleship today. Each author provides the basic information about authorship, date, historical context, and the purpose and structure of the books. They also provide resources for further study. The authors are scholars, faith-based activists, and popular educators. They are Catholic and Protestant, ordained and lay, female and male and from different cultural traditions, bound together by "trust in the One revealed by Jesus and the Way of discipleship, which is both our heritage and our invitation."

    The initial essay makes the case that it was the "expansion and consolidation of world wide empire" which was the context of the New Testament. The social disintegration of Palestine and the Greek cities of the Hellenistic world, which resulted from political domination and economic exploitation by Rome, was the catalyst for frequent protest movements and revolts in Palestine, rooted in the Mosaic covenantal principles of justice. The Jesus movement, the mission of Paul and other early leaders stood in that prophetic tradition.

    Matthew, Mark, and Luke share an understanding of discipleship, which emerged from the life and ministry of Jesus proclaiming the Kingdom of God. Discipleship was a commitment to live in the Kingdom of God and challenge the existing political/economic/social order. To be a disciple of Jesus involved making a commitment to strive for the creation of an alternative society founded on the justice of God. The author of the essay on The Gospel of John, stresses that the Christian way "is concerned not with a ‘personal relationship with Jesus’ but with a communal ‘conspiracy’ to become children of God." For John, discipleship involved the rejection of the domination system of Rome maintained by violence and a commitment to create a domination-free community "birthed through the gift of agape."

    The Acts of the Apostles is regarded as a "fairly conservative book, supporting the existing order" and also as a "rather subversive piece of literature." The author of the essay writes, The agenda of the book is "to present and promote a form of Christianity that stands firm in its conflicts with the surrounding society, but does not seek such conflicts, and even sees much good in society."

    The theme of the seven letters of Paul is "God’s Justice against Empire." The author writes, that Paul’s letters "show him struggling for the mutuality of the poor against powerful social code that legitimized inequality, subordination, and exploitation." The three Deutero-Pauline Letters of Colossians, Ephesians, and the Pastoral Epistles present a conservative turn in the early church which "reflect a process of formalization of church structures and an overwhelming concern for the guarantee of stabilization." Hebrews, James, I Peter, 2 Peter, and Jude called the General or Catholic Epistles do not share a common theme. The author of the essay poses a question, which arises out of the reading of the epistles and presents a challenge for our day, "Could we imitate the passion of these writers, if not their polemic, to combat materialism, consumerism, and militarism around us and within us?"

    The Book of Revelation, is of the genre of apocalyptic literature which was a "powerful vehicle for expressing the call to remain loyal to God alone." Addressed to an urban audience, Revelation is an anti-imperialist vision of John addressed "largely to persons all too comfortable ‘passing’ within the local imperial environment." The author of the essay writes that the book opens and closes "with a message of concrete, pastoral concern to real communities of discipleship, not abstractions or prophetic predictions awaiting a future fulfillment." He poses a question, which highlights the discipleship theme of the book, What does it say to us to day? He writes, "rather than being a ‘Sunday morning thing,’ the life of discipleship is both a liturgical celebration of joy which proclaims God’s exclusive reign and a life lived day by day in that recognition." And that involves being engaged in "the concrete practice of covenant-based economic and social relationships."

    The book, based on contemporary biblical scholarship, is a guide for those wrestling with what it means to be a disciple in 21st century America, which is awash in religiosity. It is a prophetic book about a collection of prophetic books called the New Testament.

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