Theologians offer fresh perspectives on the gospels

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Theologians Reading the GospelsOn Tuesday, October 20, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary hosted “Theologians Reading the Gospels,” an event that brought scholars together to discuss theological research on the gospel scriptures. Guest speakers John Behr, Dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary and Professor of Patristics, and Steve McKinion, Associate Professor of Theology and Patristic Studies at Southeastern, presented their theological readings of the gospels, which were followed by a discussion with Dr. Charles Quarles, Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Southeastern. 

McKinion and Behr have been friends for nearly 20 years and have often found themselves on similar trajectories within their research into patristics and theology. 

To begin the discussions, McKinion presented his research on how the gospels should be read not as a midpoint in a longer story of redemption but a summary of God reconciling us to himself through Christ. “Often we treat the gospels as biographies of Jesus so that we might follow his ethics and do what he instructs,” McKinion explained. “I want to suggest that we can read the gospels in a different manner. The goal is not to learn about the life of Jesus but to discover that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God.”

McKinion proposed that the Bible is not a grand narrative with Jesus as the centerpiece. Instead, Jesus is the story. “What are the gospels doing then? They are going back to the Old Testament as they understand it to let us know that the one the scriptures describe is Jesus,” he said.

“When we read the gospels in this way, not as mere biographies but by describing Jesus by using in each instance some passage from the Old Testament, we have a window of the great picture,” McKinnion explained. “The Old Testament becomes the searchlight of the gospels.” 

Behr then presented his research that centered on the idea that scripture is cryptic, contemporary, harmonious and inspired. He asserted that the way we know Christ as the crucified and risen Lord is through the opening of Old Testament scriptures that point to Christ. Jesus opened these scriptures after his death, burial and resurrection. This is exemplified in the gospels through the disciples. “The disciples only know who Christ is after the event of the passion and do so by going back to the scriptures,” Behr explained. “The primary material for understanding Christ historically and theologically is not the New Testament but the Old Testament read through the light of the cross. 

Behr agreed with McKinion that the Bible is not one long historical narrative starting with the Old Testament and continuing with the New Testament. “What we have is scripture which is opened by the passion to show how it speaks about [Jesus] from beginning to end,” he said. “Because of the passion of Christ, it can be seen clearly that the gospels are a recapitulation of the scriptures.” 

Behr also warned that if we choose to view the Bible as a metanarrative, Jesus then becomes a plan b. In this way, it looks as though God took all the time from Adam to Jesus to come up with another plan. “The whole of the work of God culminates in Christ who is the image of the invisible God,” Behr argued. “We see what it is to be God. We see what it is for God to lay down his life for humans. Adam is only ever a sketch of this, a type.” 

Following McKinion and Behr’s presentations, Quarles engaged them in a roundtable discussion. Quarles described the discussions as thought provoking and posed several questions for further exploration of the topics. The presenters then took questions from the audience.

McKinion thanked everyone for attending the event and described it as an opportunity to respect scripture and the biblical community that it forms. “We come together to have these kinds of discussions because we really do believe that our way to know God and enjoy him and learn Christ and his way of life is through these scriptures,” McKinion said. “We are always a community of people formed by the book.”

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