Professor’s New Book Explores the Grace-Filled Stories of “Outsiders” in Scripture
ESAU. RAHAB. NAAMAN. RUTH. What do these Bible characters have in common?
They are “outsiders” in the biblical narrative
who help us to better understand the grace of God, says Seattle Pacific University Professor of Old Testament Frank Spina. His new volume, The Faith of the Outsider: Exclusion
and Inclusion in the Biblical Story (Eerdmans,
2005), examines a powerful scriptural motif that, until now, had not been written about in book form.
The Old Testament is the story of Israel, “the ultimate insider community,” explains Spina in the introduction to The Faith of the Outsider, which was written for pastors, laypeople,
and university students. “For reasons known only to God, Israel was chosen to be the means for the world’s salvation and blessing.”
It is in the “exclusive” context of an elected Israel that the stories of outsiders — such as
a disinherited son, a Canaanite prostitute,
an Aramean military officer, and a Moabite widow — are so surprising. Sprinkled throughout the Old and New Testaments, such stories reveal people who wittingly or unwittingly advance God’s agenda and often demonstrate more faith than the insiders do.
Spina calls these stories “foretastes of glory divine” and says they show that even before God fulfills his plan in Jesus, there are outsiders
coming into the fold. God’s exclusive election,
he argues, has an inclusive purpose.
The stories also highlight the fact that exclusivity in the Bible is not a function of superiority, but grace. “You can’t get more scandalous than grace,” states Spina. “The outsider stories say, ‘Don’t think that you’re elected because God has good taste; it’s because God is gracious.’”
The Faith of the Outsider brings together 10 years of research for Spina. SPU students and Northwest church congregations were his first audiences for the material, which bears the scholar’s signature emphasis on story. Story, he says, is the method the Bible uses most often to talk about God’s involvement in human life.
“The stories point us to something beyond themselves, namely divine action,” he notes. “You can’t use clinical, scientific language to talk about divine activity. In some sense, our grandmothers were better at this than we are, because they read the Bible with an eye to the story. That’s why they could sing the hymns of the church and recognize the allusions.”
In all, The Faith of the Outsider explores seven different biblical figures: Esau, Rahab, Naaman, Ruth, Tamar, Jonah (prophet to outsiders), and the New Testament’s woman at the well. One thing that has surprised readers
about these “outsider” stories, says Spina, is their candidness:“You’d never make up stories like these just to make the chosen look good.”
Editor’s note: Faith of the Outsiders can be purchased
at barnesandnoble.com or amazon.com.
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