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Acts: The Official Soundtrack
A Review of Mission of the Triune God
The song Life Logic is consistently inconsistent in its structure, artist John Guerra tiptoes over the edge of his song, encouraging beats to appear slightly earlier than feels natural and then others a little too late. The result is disconcerting, John manages to convey his confusion about his own life not simply through his lyrics, but by forcing the listener to wrestle with an uncomfortable, almost dizzying, experience. If you do listen to the song, you’ll recognise that it almost feels like you’re listening to two songs at once. You’ll also be in good company, as I know that Patrick Schreiner, the author of The Mission of the Triune God: A Theology of Acts, has done so too. He mentions in his introduction three albums that assisted him in his study, but what becomes clear throughout the book is a soundtrack that doesn’t appear on any of the albums, but was nonetheless present throughout. That soundtrack is, of course, the book of Acts. “Psalms are songs,” you may be thinking, “and the Song of Solomon of course, but Acts?” Well, Schreiner says, “because the Father’s plan can also be described as his “orchestration,” I have capitalized on the musical theme and begin many chapters with a musical illustration.” What struck me while listening to Life Logic was how often interpretations of the book of Acts mirror the make-up of this song. Interpreters have a song they want to sing, whether it be the song of the Spirit, or of the Church, maybe they see it as primarily about the continuation of the works of Jesus or proof of the continuation of the gifts, but this ends up feeling off though somehow. It’s not entirely wrong, but it’s not quite right either. In comes Schreiner, followed by an orchestra, not focussing solely on one particular theme but the whole and their source. When played together, these pieces no longer seem out of place, but find their place.
A little while back a friend and I were in the Tate Modern art museum in London, they’d treated me to a trip there for my birthday. I adore modern art. You’ll probably fall into one of two camps here:
Yes me too [INSERT SARCASM HERE], I saw a toddler paint a piece the other day… “modern art,” bleh
I’m totally with you! Such depth!
I’m firmly in the latter camp. My friend was not.
By the time we left, after I’d explained what I personally loved about certain pieces, spending time conservatively with a few rather than consuming liberally, they were able to say that they’d had a genuinely good time, that they appreciated there was more behind the styles than they’d previously thought, and that they’d probably have a different approach in the future. Can you imagine if they’d been shown around by an expert!
If Acts is a piece of art, Patrick Schreiner is an expert connoisseur.
We’re always thankful to God and history for granting us great theological minds who had the artistic finesse to give us great hymns, like Toplady and Newton, or great works of fiction, like Lewis and Peterson, but on this occasion, I’m thankful to Schreiner for putting those same skills to use by writing this book which sits at the intersection of commentary and poetry. Bringing those skills to the table, it’s unsurprising then that Schreiner has such a tremendous skill for drawing together difficult themes and helping us to see, or hear, how they fit in place.
The soundtrack of Acts is not one to be taken lightly. If the Gospel soundtracks were written by Howard Shore, Acts was written Hans Zimmer. There are repeating strains that appear again and again, parts and solos which seem to suggest that this or that are the central themes and, like the movie Inception, the debate still rages on today as to exactly what the takeaway was meant to be.
Take a step back.
What do we know so far?
God has a plan, the Trinity has always had a mission. As Schreiner puts it:
“God the Father orchestrates; through Christ, who lives and rules; and through the empowering Spirit; causing the word to multiply; bringing salvation to all; forming the church; which witnesses to the ends of the earth”
Now this is Schreiner’s explanation of the Mission of the Triune God in Acts, but… is that really where that began? This book was not written in a vacuum, but is part of the whole, one book of 66. I put forward to you this (Italics mine):
God the Father orchestrates, everything that was and is and ever will be is under his control and wisdom. “Listen to this, O Job, Stand and consider the wonders of God. Do you know how God establishes them, And makes the lightning of His cloud to shine? Do you know about the layers of the thick clouds, the awonders of one perfect in knowledge?” (Job 37:14–16)
Through Christ, who lives and rules, he creates Adam, both first and final, he sends Joseph, the beloved son, deliverer, Moses, Prince, Shepherd, David, first of the line of Kings, man after God’s own heart, Patriarchs, Judges, Priests, Prophets, Kings, Types. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were created through him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. In him was life,[a] and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, and yet the darkness did not overcome” (John 1:1-5)
and through the empowering Spirit; see Saul, the Prophets, Ezekiel,
causing the word to multiply Moses, Joshua, Solomon, the Psalmists, Josiah
bringing salvation to all; Isaiah 53:4-6
forming the church, and I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it (Matt 16:18)
which witnesses to the ends of the earth, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed by your offspring because you have obeyed my command (Gen 22:18).
(FYI: This could have been an awful lot longer)
This is why I loved this book. This book is not about Acts alone, it’s about God, his plan, and the fulfillment of that plan, one which did not find its beginning and end between “In my first book, O Theophilus…” (Acts 1:1) and “Boldly and freely he proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 28:31), but from eternity past. Oh that we would grasp that. Oh that we would read this book.
Go and Read
Before I wax lyrical further (this isn’t a promise that I’ll stop, just me admonishing myself) I should move on to how you should read this book if you choose to pick it up.
Here are the three ways in short:
Beat the book to bits
“Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies”
Remember: Christ is Lord
Beat the book to bits
I have this book on Logos (like an eBook) but from what I’ve heard and can tell the physical version of this book is not made to withstand a lot of damage. It will look battered before it even gets to your door.
That. Is. Not. A. Bad. Thing.
What that means is that you will not feel bad about chucking this in a bag, taking it with you, making sure it’s on your person and that you do not forget it. It means you can stick post-it notes throughout, highlight and underline, thoroughly beat the book to bits and make it your own. This is the kind of theology you wrestle with, do the same with the book.
“Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies”
Schreiner puts to bed certain views of Acts when it comes to centrality, he makes clear that the Mission of the Triune God is central and other themes draw from that well. He even goes so far as to say things like: “Any reading of Acts that neglects the Christological culmination of this work will be skewed from the start.” In the wrong hands though, that’s could be used as a fist against people with other views, rather than a hand drawing people in to know God more. Schreiner is also clear to make sure we know that the reason that most views become central are not because they don’t appear at all in Acts, but because of over-emphasis. Love those you disagree with, whether that’s Schriener or others.
Remember: Christ is Lord
There is really no sense in you reading this book (or any book) unless it draws you into worship, by bringing you closer to the Lord.
“Christians carry the aroma of death in their very bodies so that others might live. We must be willing to be shamed so that others might live. We must be willing to follow our suffering servant.”
Are you willing to be convicted to stink like you’ve been crucified if you read this book? You are after all the body of Christ. Finally, remember Christ is king and his love and reign endures forever.
“Jesus did not get taken by a cloud to go rest in heaven because his work was finished. Sitting implies he is free from all disturbance and opposition. His bodily work on the earth was complete for a time, but now he rules from heaven—where God resides. He directs the affairs of the world from this exalted position. But the ascension also affirms the church is a waiting people (1:11). They await his return and the consummation of his rule upon the earth (Ps. 110:1)… The ascension of Christ is thus critical for any reading of Acts because if the resurrection proclaims the life of Jesus continues, then the ascension declares the rule of Jesus forever. The Messiah’s ascension provides the foundation for the geographical mission, the sending of the Spirit, the conquering of the devil, and his continued work as prophet, priest, and king.”
I’ve read a few books so far this year which have prompted me to think, “we need more books like this.” This is one of them. (Thankfully I’ll be reading an reviewing another in the series ‘The Joy of Hearing"‘ next week.) I love commentaries, I really do, in fact the number of commentaries I own probably dwarves any other type of object in my possession, but they can be so dense at times that I’m reluctant to recommend them, not because they aren’t good, but because so much time will be spend deciphering them that it leaves no time for worship.
As you know, this newsletter is primarly about two things:
Discipleship - Training of Christian primarily within the context of the local church
Doxology - The worshipful response of our hearts in worship to God for the good gifts he’s given us, most notably the gift of his Son.
This book exists if only because it is something that I know if people read, and really read, with the hearts and minds they will find themselves reading their Bibles more, gaining understanding of their Bibles and being encouraged to read their Bibles, knowing that there is such purpose and mission behind the book of Acts and the Bible as a whole. Few things would delight my heart more.
Grace and Peace,
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