It’s with a heartfelt thanks to Adrianna Wright of IVP that I write this review of Timothy Gombis’ book The Drama of Ephesians: Participating in the Triumph of God (IVP, 2010). This book has been a real transformational book for me (maybe it has deal the deal for me) – I have been in process for some time now in coming to see and understand the whole of Scripture, and especially the New Testament, as not just doctrine or sets of propositional truths (these are there) – but as (and even more so) narrative or story. Within this story there is a key theme: redemption.
The Scriptures are the narration – the drama, if you will – of God’s redemptive acts in salvation history. Through these redemptive acts in history God invites us to participate in them, even performing them along with him, to be co-actors in the story of redemption, what Gombis will call “the great drama of redemption.” God is inviting us to live out his purposes for redeeming humanity and the creation through our participating with him in his triumph over the powers and authorities of this present evil age, whom he defeated in and through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
So, then, Gombis sees Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (Yes, he believes Paul wrote it) not as a doctrinal/polemical treatise but as drama. He writes in part:
There is nothing wrong with people coming to Scripture with the aim of doing what it says – if only we had more of that! My objection to this general approach to Bible interpretation is that we are not rightly reading Ephesians if we view it as a collection of facts or theological truths that need to be extracted, removed from their contexts and arranged in to a doctrinal system in another setting [e.g., a systematic theology]. Ephesians is not a doctrinal treatise in the scholastic sense of the term. It is, rather, a drama in which Paul portrays the powerful, reality-altering cosmos-transforming acts of God in Christ to redeem God’s world and save God’s people for the glory of his name. A narrative approach to Paul’s letter, therefore, is far more appropriate that a scientific approach. (15)
…and a lot more inviting approach! This matches Gombis’ aim for the book:
My aim is to discern the ways of God with his people. This book reads Ephesians asking, How does God intend for the gospel dynamics in Ephesians to overtake our lives and our world and to redeem them for his glory and for the good of his beautiful but broken world?…. my ultimate hope is that Ephesians will move into our lives and reorder everything with gospel hope and resurrection power (10-11).
So, given the approach to reading Ephesians as the drama of God’s triumph over the powers Gombis starts by seeing Ephesians 6:10-18 not as a lesson about how to protect oneself from the devil but as a lens through which the rest of the letter is written (and not to the individual believer but to the entire gathered church) – God has defeated the powers and authorities of this present evil age – praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms – so therefore – as the redeemed people of God stand firm together against the powers though they are ultimately defeated continue to try to subvert God’s plans and keep the world in a broken corrupted state! (btw: Gombis argues Paul is not thinking here of the outfit of a Roman Legion but of the divine warrior as described throughout the OT and especially Isaiah 59:15-19, where else would he quote from right? :-))
Additionally, he calls us to live out (perform) the role of the divine warrior (working to overcome oppression and injustice – and the effects of “the powers” in this world through subversive (Holy) living) in our own cultures not by winning but by losing – by living in humility and weakness (recognizing our faults and limitations and our total dependency on God) and in cruciformity to Jesus Christ, who himself did not win by winning but by losing, through his death on the cross.
Also, through the drama lens, passages such as Ephesians 2:1-10 become not doctrinal treatises explaining how people get saved but rather a narrative exposition of the outcome of God’s triumph (defeat) over the powers and his bringing us into the story to participate with him in the redemptive drama to redeem creation and make a people for himself and to the glory of his own name!
Passages such as Ephesians Chpts 3-5 are not just rules and things not to do in the Christian life and standards by which to judge others – but parts of the script for us to live out redemptively (even improvisationally) in our relationships with each other that by in large are ways we go about “truthing in love” or instead of speaking the truth in love (which get way too abused), living out in love as we participate in the triumph of God over the powers and in redeeming the world to the way it was intended to be.
Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, Teachers, then, are not offices to exert power and control per se, but servant roles (spiritual giftings) people play in helping the communities of faith live out the redemptive purposes of God in their lives – they are like coaches and directors who are helping the people play out their roles as God’s redeemed people in their own specific situations (improvising the script (Scripture)) and even within the community of faith itself – rooting and cheering each other on or bring direction and correction to better live out their roles and participate in God’s triumph over the powers.
Follow? 🙂 See yet how it works? It’s really a wonderful approach.
This is not the ordinary commentary but a good supplement to the commentary (the trees) to help see the broader picture (the forest) of God’s plan for redemption of all creation. We need both approaches.
This is a book every pastor, teacher, and or Christian NEEDS to pick up and read – one I would say is a great pastoral theology and one of my best read books of 2010!
Suggested Reading to further investigate this theme:
I want to continue developing this idea of the drama/story of redemption so I might be reading though Richard Hay’s book Conversion of the Imagination (Eerdmans) soon (which I have) and am thinking I will be picking up Vanhoozer’s The Drama of Doctrine (WJK) and perhaps Bartholomew and Goheen’s The Drama of Scripture: Finding our Place in the Biblical Story (Baker).
Any other books you have read that touch on this theme?