How to understand the book of Acts

My friend, Brian McLaren is a wonderful teacher of the Bible, and his vision of how some well known books should be understand within the broader framework of what God is doing in history has been personally very helpful to me.

He recently put an outline of the book of Acts on his blog – read it here, or a copy of it below:

… From childhood, I was taught to read Acts as a manual for ecclesiology … to prove that our denomination was the only true and biblical one, of course (a common theme in Protestant Bible reading). But now I read Acts as a missional account of how Jesus continued his work – his Spirit alive in the bodies of growing numbers of his followers who constitute – quite literally – his body on earth.

And the message is the same – the message of the kingdom (or reign, or commonwealth, or sacred ecosystem, or new love economy, or regeneration network, or creative community, or …) of God. You could think of it like this …

Acts 1: The risen Christ teaches the apostles, as he always has, about the kingdom of God. The apostles learn to stop waiting for the kingdom to appear in the future, and instead, wait for the Spirit who will empower them to live in the kingdom here and now.

Acts 2: The Spirit comes – and demonstrates that God is not monocultural and monolingual, but that God speaks all languages, and God is concerned with the poor and rich alike, everywhere … a profound, revolutionary discovery!

Acts 3: Peter demonstrates how the Kingdom begins with those who have been marginalized and excluded (kept outside the gate) by conventional religion – starting with the physically handicapped.

Acts 4: Peter and John demonstrate how the kingdom of God boldly challenges human regimes to face their violence and exclusion.

Acts 5: The apostles boldly demonstrate that nobody can lock up or box up God’s message of love and power.

Acts 6: The kingdom of God transgresses old borders of ethnicity, religion, age, sex, and class through “the deacons” …

Acts 7: The kingdom of God again confronts conventional religion with its refusal to accept “new light” and its addiction to violence to solve its problems, and Stephen demonstrates a courageous, nonviolent response.

Acts 8: Through Philip, the kingdom of God crosses from “the orthodox” to the “semi-orthodox” – the Samaritans, and it refuses to become a business venture. Then it spreads to the racially, religiously, and sexually other in the Ethiopian eunuch.

Acts 9: Saul, an angry agent of violent religion, is converted to Jesus and his way of joy, peace, and love. His name is changed to Paul.

Acts 10: Peter discovers that the old “clean/unclean” dualism of his inherited religion is passé in Christ. He eats and stays with Gentiles … and they are added as full-fledged members of this growing global movement.

Acts 11: The church in Judea struggles to accept these radical innovations – but does. Only when the movement becomes multi-cultural are its adherents called “Christians.”

Acts 12: Peter demonstrates (again) that you can’t chain and silence the radical message of God’s transforming and reconciling love.

Acts 13: Paul debuts as a messenger and ambassador of the commonwealth of God to Gentiles (outsiders/the unorthodox/etc). The religious elite persecute, but the message spreads all the more.

Acts 14: Paul and Barnabas, rejected by their inherited religious leaders, refuse to be co-opted into another religion, but declare, “We are just human beings like you!”

Acts 15: A conservative resurgence from “headquarters” seeks to domesticate this radical new movement, but wiser heads prevail and it continues to expand.

Acts 16: The kingdom of God confronts a colony of the kingdom of Caesar, beginning with the socially marginal (women) and powerless (a slave girl), and confronting all levels of society with a message of liberation (a better translation for “salvation”).

Acts 17: The kingdom of God engages with Greek philosophy (the philosophy that animates the Roman empire) on its own turf in Athens.

Acts 18: The conflict between the religious elites and the new movement of God’s commonwealth reaches a climax: Paul turns to focus on “outsiders” (Gentiles) exclusively.

Acts 19: The kingdom of God confronts the religious-industrial-complex of Ephesus.

Acts 20: Paul attends to succession planning – encouraging local leaders to own the mission and message as their own, and to focus – not on money and power, but on the weak and vulnerable.

Acts 21 – 27: Paul returns to Jerusalem, is rejected again by the religious elites, and appeals to Rome. En route there, he survives a variety of challenges on land and sea and speaks to a variety of people – from kings to commoners – about Jesus and the kingdom of God.

Acts 28: Paul is under house arrest in Rome, the center of the kingdom of Caesar. There, as everywhere, he speaks to people about Jesus and the Kingdom of God.

Around the world today, as Christians of all stripes and styles gather, may we re-center ourselves in this primal good news of God’s reign, commonwealth, sacred ecosystem, regenerative community.

Source: Brian McLaren’s blog

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