My name is Matthew Hartke. When I was fifteen I sold all of my video games and used the money to buy a scary-looking anthology of ancient writings with the words “Holy Bible” stamped on the spine. It seemed like a relatively insignificant decision at the time, but looking back I can see how it set the course of my life. As I read that Bible I found myself challenged, stimulated, and bewildered. I had read maybe two books at that point in my life, but as I stumbled through the Old Testament I became more and more interested in questions of interpretation and historical context, which eventually turned me into something I never could have imagined: a person who reads books. I am now pursuing my BA in biblical and theological studies. 

This blog is a place for me to ponder the details of the Christian story, the story contained in that old anthology called the Bible, as I continue to work through my beliefs in the tumultuous climate of the 21st century.

The idea behind “Fifth Act Theology” comes from this article by N. T. Wright, as well as from his books The New Testament and the People of God and Scripture and the Authority of God, in which he compares the Bible to an unfinished Shakespearean play. Here’s a snippet: 

Suppose there exists a Shakespeare play whose fifth act had been lost. The first four acts provide, let us suppose, such a wealth of characterization, such a crescendo of excitement within the plot, that it is generally agreed that the play ought to be staged. Nevertheless, it is felt inappropriate actually to write a fifth act once and for all: it would freeze the play into one form, and commit Shakespeare as it were to being prospectively responsible for work not in fact his own. Better, it might be felt, to give the key parts to highly trained, sensitive and experienced Shakespearian actors, who would immerse themselves in the first four acts, and in the language and culture of Shakespeare and his time, and who would then be told to work out a fifth act for themselves.

Consider the result. The first four acts, existing as they did, would be the undoubted ‘authority’ for the task in hand. That is, anyone could properly object to the new improvisation on the grounds that this or that character was now behaving inconsistently, or that this or that sub-plot or theme, adumbrated earlier, had not reached its proper resolution. This ‘authority’ of the first four acts would not consist in an implicit command that the actors should repeat the earlier pans of the play over and over again.  It would consist in the fact of an as yet unfinished drama, which contained its own impetus, its own forward movement, which demanded to be concluded in the proper manner but which required of the actors a responsible entering in to the story as it stood, in order first to understand how the threads could appropriately be drawn together, and then to put that understanding into effect by speaking and acting with both innovation and consistency.