Watching the Gospels and the Kentucky Derby

penningtonJonathan T. Pennington, Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction  (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012), 152:

I argue in the final chapter of this book that this diminished role for the Gospels is unfounded in light of church history and many theological considerations. But for now we can address this issue through an informative illustration of my experience with the Kentucky Derby. Rather than being merely foundational, past-era historical data, the Gospels are more like a television viewing of the annual Kentucky Derby horse race.

I am not a native of Kentucky, but having lived for several years in horse country and in the city of one of the world’s most famous horse races, I have come to appreciate the enthusiasm and hoopla surrounding the Kentucky Derby. Soon after I moved to Louisville, I was invited to a derby party, which I attended with much apathy to the supposedly exciting event; I went dutifully as a matter of fellowship, not personal interest. But as the horse races leading up to the derby race were shown, I began to see the thrill of those fast-paced two minutes. Finally, the actual derby race came, and rather than remaining apathetic, I found myself on the edge of my seat cheering passionately for my chosen horse.

derbyIt was all over in a matter of seconds (and I did not win). But then what happened next greatly struck me: after the live flurry of the actual two-minute event, the race was rebroadcast, but now with expert commentary and analysis, since the winner was now known. That is, once the race was completed and the commentators knew the outcome, then (and only then) were they able to provide insight into what was happening at certain points in the race—which moves at turn three or what action of the winning jockey in the last straightaway proved significant. The nonlive televised reshowing enabled the commentators to gray out the insignificant events and horses and highlight the winning horse and trace his activities throughout the whole race. This was all possible, of course, because they knew the outcome, which was uncertain at the time of the actual event. Indeed, it is often impossible in the midst of the race to predict who will win or even the general placement of any horse; many times a horse in the back of the pack surges to be the winner, and an apparent leader fails at the end.

[Note 19: In the 2010 race, the winner, Super Saver, pulled ahead only at the end, while the leaders (and favored horses) for most of the race ended up finishing in the upper teens in rankings, including my chosen horse, Line of David.]

This postevent television viewing is precisely what we have in the Gospel accounts: expert commentary and analysis of the events after their conclusion and based on knowing the final outcome and goal of the story.

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