A Theology of Mark: The Dynamic between Christology and Authentic Discipleship is part of the Explorations in Biblical Theology series published by P&R. What I have read in this series so far has been very good. I am not familiar with Hans F. Bayer as an author but am familiar with other professors who also teach at Covenant Theological Seminary. I also have an ongoing love/hate relationship with scholarship on the Gospel of Mark. Was Mark written first? Did Mark actually write it? Did Mark write with a plot in mind? Did Mark deliberately develop characters? Did Mark write for oral performance? Did Mark write for the first Christians? And so the questions mount up. I find all of this fascinating but ultimately of little use to me or, say, the young men I help teach the Bible to on Saturday mornings. So when I saw this book on the theology of Mark with a focus on Jesus and discipleship, after much prayer and advice from wise Christians, I bought it (at the Evangelical Book Shop, Belfast)
The book is split into 2 parts - (1) Mark as Biography and Message of God's Eternal Rule and (2) The Dynamic between God's Messiah and Authentic Disciples. Part 2 makes up the bulk of the book. Issues about the formation and origin of Mark are in an appendix. Another appendix looks at Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship and Mark 8:34. I have not yet read the appendices. Bayer starts by pointing out that while many people rightly look to Jesus for salvation, they do not focus enough on his view of discipleship.
This book is an attempt to remedy this situation. Though there is value in other approaches to discipleship, our purpose here is to explore a more comprehensive approach-that of Jesus with his own disciples ... many readers will be surprised-perhaps as surprised as the original band of disciples. (p. 1)He goes on to say:
We will argue that Jesus teaches, exemplifies, and above all enables "pattern-imitation" among his followers rather than simply calling for a simplistic, self-generated "copying of Christ". (p. 12)
But why Mark's Gospel? Well, the theme of the identity of Jesus and what it means to follow him come out very clearly in Mark.
The twelve initial companions of Jesus, chief among them Peter, were indeed taken by surprise, as John Mark's presentation of Peter's account reveals. The account is honest, self-critical, transparent, and unadorned. The group with which Jesus works admits to disbelief and the inability to comprehend key aspects of his person and teaching. The Master is portrayed as incomprehensible and yet deeply personal, puzzling yet captivating, awesome yet the harbor of profound hope. What has been revealed about the purposes of God in the Old Testament is brought by the disciples' Master to a perplexing yet exhilarating realization. In the wake of this realization, preconceived expectations held among Jews in first-century Palestine are shattered to make room for the unexpected yet deeply biblical appearance of "him who is to come." In the end, the profound claims laid upon Mark's readers are a consequence of the eminent stature, sacrificial commitment, and transforming power of the Master, as well as his knowledge of the human heart. (p. 1-2)
Chapter 1 - Mark as Biography and Memorized Witness Account - addresses the type of document that the Gospel of Mark actually is. As with many Greco-Roman scholars, Bayer states the Mark (and the other synoptics) fits best the general genre of ancient bios. This is not to say that Mark sat down and said "I shall write in the genre of X" but that when modern scholars look back at a bunch of writing about influential people or heroes, they recognise certain common features which can be classified into genre X.
Chapter 2 - Mark's Structure, Purpose, and Flow of Thought - deals with what has often frustrated me with other works I have read about Mark. Did Mark really have a structure in mind with character development and plot? Or did he simply write about what he knew in the way he thought or was told it happened? Bayer brings out many useful features of Mark such as a "conspicuous element in the section 8:27-10:52 is the fact that each of the three predictions of Jesus' passion and resurrection (8:31; 9:31; 10:32-34) is followed by an instruction in discipleship (8:34-38; 9:32-50; 10:35-45)" (p. 21). He also notes the bipartite structure of the Gospel (with 8:22-26 as a transition section). Pages 24-30 go on to provide an excellent short overview of the flow of thought in Mark. But what is the point of all this?
Based on these observations, the ultimate purpose of Mark is to legitimize Jesus' universal and authoritative call to discipleship (see the narrative repetition of this theme and the fact that the audience of Jesus splits into followers and opponents as the narrative unfolds). The two-fold outline ... demonstrates that the central effort in presenting this call is to narrate the identity, action, teaching, and severe testing of Jesus. This fact already indicates that discipleship in Mark is essentially a function of the eminence of the Master's person, deeds, and teaching, not of a certain code of conduct for the disciples. (p. 24)Quite so. But I'm sure this could have been stated in a more straightforward way. In fact, this is one point I could raise on numerous occasions. The language is a tad academic without needing to be so. I suppose this has made me read more carefully.
Chapter 3 - Mark's Thematic Framework: The In-Breaking of God's Eternal Rule - is very important and focuses on his kingdom (Mark 1:15). "The kingdom is to be expected on earth but not mediated by a mere human (such as David). Rather, the incarnate Son of God, fulfilling human and divine aspects of Old Testament kingdom expectations, eternally rules as messianic King over his people worldwide" (p. 38).
The main meat of the book is in Part 2. Chapter 4 - Witness to the Unique Person of Jesus - presents Jesus in light of the disciples "fixed set of expectations and scriptural interpretations, taught for centuries by synagogue teachers all over Israel" (p. 42). To put it bluntly, Jesus shatters the disciples expectations. Bayer addresses the messianic secret and the conflicting expectations of the Messiah at the time of Jesus.
The people of Israel thus had a fixed plan for their Messiah, and the Messiah had to fit into that plan (cf. John 6:15) ... As soon as Jesus acts remotely like the expected messianic figure, he will be the spark which may cause a political uprising. While the atmosphere is pregnant with a particular expectation of political liberation, Jesus, as the eternal Son of God, is sent for a broader messianic purpose that includes the totality of the Old Testament anticipation of liberation by God ... The root problem of human alienation from God and self has to be dealt with above all else." (p. 47)
Now, with Chapter 5 - Jesus' Fundamental Challenge to the Twelve and to All Disciples - the real challenging material starts. Bayer has been very helpful up to this point as he treads familiar territory through Mark's Gospel. Chapter 5 marks a shift in gear. It is a long chapter and conceptually profound. In light of this I am splitting this review into two parts.