In the preceding post, I argued (contra Gordon Clark and various others) that the object of saving faith is the Person Jesus Christ, not merely a proposition or set of propositions about Him. Among my theology-wonk friends — and there are many of them — this point usually provokes a particular response. “So it doesn’t really matter what propositions I believe as long as I’m looking at Jesus?” they ask incredulously.
Well, of course it matters. We’re talking about a particular person here, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Adam, Son of Abraham, Son of David, supposed son of Joseph. As with any particular person, not all things are true about Him. He had a certain height, and not some other height. Eyes of a certain color; hair of a certain length; born in Bethlehem and not in Gaza, born to Mary and not to Elizabeth, suffered under Pontius Pilate and not under Nero, and so on. Certain claims about Him are true, and others false.
We are called to represent Him, and to do so according to His nature. Because He is the Truth, we represent Him truly. We must therefore be faithful to what we’re given about Jesus. We must say of Him the things Scripture gives us to say. We must tell the stories Scripture gives us to tell. We must be true to the volume of material Scripture gives us to present. When we don’t have time to tell the whole story — which, let’s face it, is almost all the time — then we try to summarize or tell a piece of it that’s particularly important for this person at this time. There’s nothing wrong with that; Jesus Himself does it all the time, as do the apostles, and we have them for a pattern.
But we should not confuse telling a small piece of the story with “boiling it down to essentials,” as though we could do without the rest of it. If we’re to be faithful to what God actually gave us, then we’re going to overflow with stories, poetry, songs, parables, proverbs, and much more. We’re introducing people to a Person, and that process proceeds by addition, not by subtraction. You don’t get to know someone by paring away all that is not essential to the person; you get to know someone by adding more and more: different situations, different angles, different facets of the personality. Trying to do it the other way around is trying to live in a world God just didn’t make. We can’t view the abstract proposition as “the essence of it all,” because God didn’t give it to us that way, and we must truly represent what God gave us.
Now God did, in some places, give us abstract theological propositions; they are also an essential part of communication — a point I will take up shortly. But those propositions come in a cocoon of stories. Apart from the story context that they elucidate and from which they take their meaning, the propositions are not even false so much as utterly useless, completely without referent in the real world. Just try to explain “By grace you are saved through faith” without telling a story. I dare you.