Hinge Books in the Story of Redemption: Darrell Bock on Luke-Acts
With 52 chapters between his Gospel and Acts, the Gentile physician Luke wrote almost 30 percent of your New Testament. That's more than John, Paul, or anyone else, for that matter. Add to that the fact that Luke and Acts function as crucial "hinge books" in the story of redemptive history, and it's easy to see the significance of the latest installment in Zondervan's Biblical Theology of the New Testament series.
Written by Darrell Bock, The Theology of Luke and Acts: God's Promised Program, Realized for All Nations also relates to The Gospel Coalition 2013 national conference (April 6 to 10) theme, "His Mission: Jesus in the Gospel of Luke." We're excited to gather in Orlando to hear eight plenary addresses and one panel reintroducing us to Jesus as recounted by Luke.
I corresponded with Bock, research professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary, about the significance of Luke-Acts, whether Jesus and Paul agreed about the gospel, distinctive themes, and more.
Among evangelicals, what do you think is the most commonly misinterpreted passage in Luke? What about in Acts?
I think it's better to say these books are often underappreciated, even though Luke (as the author of Luke-Acts) writes more of the New Testament than any other writer, including Paul. Frequently overlooked in both books is the idea that the gospel is about new life that the Spirit of God gives us. This theme begins in Luke 3:16 and appears in many texts in one way or another (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4-5; all of Acts 2; 10:44-48; 11:15-18; 13:23-24). For Luke, the sign of the arrival of Messiah and the new era is the arrival of the Spirit sent to indwell and enable the new community to be faithful to God and carry out his mission.
According to Luke, did Jesus preach the same gospel as Paul? How do we make sense of the apparent differences between the two?
Yes, I think he did, but this is because we often fail to clearly define Paul's gospel. Paul spoke of the gospel as the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16). Romans 1-8 tells the full story, which we often stop telling with justification. When we make the gospel only about the cross and forgiveness and justification, we fail to tell why it's good news for what all of that provides---namely, a new life lived in the power of and response to the living God, one that's part of the complete reconciliation of creation God will one day bring about.
So for Paul the point of the gospel is that forgiveness of sins leads to the provision of an enabled life in God's Spirit. Just read Romans 6-8 for that part of the gospel. For Paul, this new life is a crucial part of the gospel story. This also means the gospel of the cross and the gospel of the kingdom, often pitted against each other, actually fit together. Just thinking Jewishly gets us here. This is the new covenant, not only to forgive sins but also to put the law of God inside of people---what Ezekiel pictures as being washed and cleansed so the Spirit can indwell a clean vessel.
What major biblical themes are uniquely picked up and developed---or perhaps even brought to a climax---in Luke and Acts?
There are several. How God regards the poor and those in need. How God respects women and those on the fringe. How God was always looking to include Gentiles in his plan. How we should live ethically so that repentance involves not only God but also how we treat others (see Luke 1:16-17 for starters). How the program of God points to the Christ as the bringer of the enabling Spirit. How the coming of the Spirit begins a new phase in God's program for which the disciples had to wait in order to be ready to carry out God's mission. How God's mission was accomplished by simple people simply being faithful to God. How God's people cared for one another and worked for an appropriate unity with each other. These are but a few of the key themes.
What are the chief lessons and applications from Acts for a New Testament ecclesiology?
The key application most churches today need to give attention to involves how to engage in mission. Appreciate what the gospel is about. It's about a new kind of enabled life from God rooted in his grace and forgiveness. Here's the answer to man's problems far more than, say, politics. Without a new heart, people in society don't change.
Just look at Ephesus in Acts 19. The different way believers lived and cared about others was the visible testimony to the fact God had changed them, and the church encouraged people to engage and share the gospel in ways that pointed to the new way Jesus brings. Acts stresses how God directs the key moves that allowed Gentiles to become equal members in the new community. This shows how each person in Christ is important to God and his church. God acts to bring people to himself, but he often works through us as his agents. So faithfulness is a virtue modeled and emphasized throughout the book.