In his most recent post, Andrew Perriman summarises his very challenging perspective on understanding the New Testament, theology, the fall of western Christendom, and what this all means for the church today. He gives 3 summary points:
- that the main narrative trajectory of the New Testament lands at God’s judgment of the world of Greek-Roman paganism and the inauguration of a new age in which Christ is confessed as Lord by the nations;
- that that new age of European Christendom is now being brought to an end by the combined forces of rationalism and pluralism, much as the age of second temple Judaism was brought to an end by the forces of empire;
- that one of the moves that the church has to make in response to the current crisis is to recover a sense of the historical dynamic of the New Testament in relation to Israel’s story and to reconsider how that dynamic gives impetus to the church today.
The New Testament texts are historically the product of a dispersed and diversifying community. On the one hand, the Gospels show clear literary signs of having emerged out of complex processes of communal reflection and transmission. On the other, the Letters and Revelation are to varying degrees occasional communications between the leaders of the Jesus movement and the churches, addressing particular circumstances and contexts. In other words, the texts are part of an internal dialogue that took place during a period of about thirty years after the death of Jesus (notwithstanding some critical debates about dating and authorship).
As the church moved beyond the New Testament period, however, the texts inevitably became something different. They became a consolidated and authoritative account of what Christianity was all about—a process which ended with the formalization of the canon. The texts ceased to be the literary material of a historical dialogue and became instead essentially theological documents, or documents whose main practical purpose was to furnish data for theological debate, systematisation, and teaching.
I encourage you to read the full post, and Perriman’s books, especially his work on Romans (The Future of the People of God: Reading Romans Before and After Western Christendom). Be ready to either a) completely dismiss his writings because it so strongly challenges our normative western, reformation-based theological perspective or b) take up the challenge of engaging with this most thought-provoking material given to us through the pen of Perriman.