The Faith of the Outsider: Exclusion and Inclusion in the Biblical Story

Frank A. Spina William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids March 1, 2005
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In the introduction Spina briefly outlines the “metastory” of the Old Testament: God created all things and His creation was good. However, His creatures quickly rebelled, with devastating consequences for themselves and the rest of creation. Spina argues that the central theme of the story is God’s making a way to redeem His rebellious creatures and restore His creation. The means by which God decided to “fix the problem” was by choosing a special group of people for Himself (i.e., Israel). This choosing action automatically creates inclusion and exclusion. If some are chosen, some are not chosen. Herein lies the difference between “insiders” (those chosen to be in a redemptive relationship with God) and the “outsiders” (those who are not chosen to be in a redemptive relationship with God).

Spina uncovers two common errors related to this theme, errors that obscure the grace of God: viewing election as an indication of inherent superiority of God’s chosen people, and deeming election as an end in itself designed to benefit the chosen to the exclusion of the rest of the world. The biblical text, Spina shows, debunks these two errors by repeatedly pointing out major flaws in its “best insider” characters and by recording stories in which grace extends to (and is displayed by) “outsiders” and is not displayed or understood by the insiders. These ironic contrasts emphasize the unconditional nature of God’s grace, and the ultimate purpose of election, which is to be a means of extending redemptive grace to the outsiders.

Spina’s thesis is that the stories of outsiders in the Bible give readers a more sophisticated look at God’s grace as they contemplate its radically unconditional nature and the ultimately inclusive purpose of God’s exclusive election. These stories include Esau and Jacob, Tamar and Judah, Rahab and Achan, Naaman and Gehazi, Jonah, Ruth, and the woman at the well.

As each of the stories unfolds, the reader is surprised (or ought to be) that the unchosen son, or woman, or Gentile acts in ways more consistent with God’s grace than the chosen son, the firstborn Jew, the prophet’s servant, or the disciples of Christ. This theme consistently proves Spina’s thesis that God’s election is unconditional and is for the purpose of mediating grace to those outside the covenant community.

Spina is a master of narrative exposition. He pays careful attention to the nuances of the original language, richly adding Hebrew (or Greek) color to the story. Always observing both the immediate and broader contexts, Spina masterfully brings out the contrasts and foils that modern readers so often miss as they stop reading at “chapter breaks.”

Spina explicitly states that he wrote this book with a broad audience in mind—from lay people to college students to scholars. He provides details for both scholars and beginners, and he makes these details optional by his use of both footnotes and endnotes. He does not seem pedantic to more advanced readers nor does he fly over the heads of beginners. Likely this is attributable to his clarity and the universal portability of story. No wonder God chose to communicate primarily by means of stories!

—Daniel M. Blosser with Glenn R. Kreider

October 1, 2007
 

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Oct-Dec 2007 vol. 164 no. 4 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

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