Saturday, July 7, 2012

Graham Twelftree on Luke on Mission with an aside on academic prose

One book that I hope to dip into more deeply before teaching Acts this fall is Graham Twelftree's People of the Spirit: Exploring Luke's View of the Church (Grand Rapids: BakerAcademic, 2009). Here is an appetizer from Twelftree's concluding chapter (pp. 214, 216-217):
  • "As Luke sees it, God is a missionary, Jesus is a missionary and so is the Church. Embodying Jesus so that he continues his mission is, for Luke, the prime function of the Church....[N]ot to be 'on mission' is to cease being the Church." 
  • "Luke raises the possibility that the Church would have had a greater impact on society if it had taken his view seriously, concentrating on proclamation accompanied by signs and wonders, and giving care to each other to the extent that outside observers would want to join the community of believers." 
  • Luke "places a far greater store on the quality of the community of believers than is generally recognized. If the quality of relationships and care among Christians approached the order proposed by Luke, I suppose that the Church could hardly accommodate or assimilate those who sought to belong to it."
  • "The purpose of the Church is the mission of proclaiming, and demonstrating in signs and wonders, the good news of God's salvation in Jesus so that others -- everyone -- can be saved and join the caring, joyful community of believers preparing for the return of Jesus."
I considered adopting People of the Spirit as a course textbook because of its provocative suggestions about applying Acts to the present and because it models one way of answering the central hermeneutical questions we will consider during the semester--namely, how is the narrative of Acts designed to shape Luke's audience? How do we as readers distinguish between reported event and normative example? Does Luke write nostalgically about a golden past age? Is he presenting an ideal to which the church should conform? Or does he simply celebrate the unique events of the church’s foundation narrative?

 In the end I decided in favour of Luke Timothy Johnson's Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church primarily because I prefer Johnson's writing style. (This may seem like a minor issue, but quality of prose ranks high on my list of criteria for textbooks not only because I want my students to complete the readings, but also because part of my job is to help students care about writing well--and I assume that providing exceptional models is one way of working towards this goal.)

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