Book Review: Conflict In Mark (Kingsbury)

Conflict in Mark: Jesus, Authorities, Disciples
Conflict in Mark: Jesus, Authorities, Disciples by Jack Dean Kingsbury

Jack Kingsbury’s book The Conflict of Mark handles the interaction and conflict throughout the book of Mark from four different groups or persons.  He quickly identifies Jesus as the protagonist and the religious authorities at the antagonists.  The two other parties are the disciples and the crowds, which at times seem to be bystanders on the sidelines of the narrative.

Kingsbury spends a great deal of time fleshing out the relationship of Jesus to the other characters in the text and focuses on two primary ideologies in the book of Mark.  They are: the conflict over authority and the identity of Jesus.

Authority and the conflict over authority develop into one of the major themes of the book of Mark.  As Kingsbury notes, the conflict begins very indirectly and proceeds to become more direct all the way up to the point of Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion.  Essentially the conflict boiled down to a difference in two different worldviews.  The religious authorities think the way of humankind and Christ thinks the ways of God.  The inevitable result is that as these two worldviews (or we could loosely state, the two epistemological frameworks) collide, Jesus proves more and more that he is Israel’s true shepherd and the hypocrisy, false presuppositions and man-centeredness of the religious authorities is exposed.  Inevitably what happens is that the religious authorities begin to find themselves having holes in their worldview and system.  Through the ministry and teaching of Jesus he essentially triggers the conflict when his teaching and actions rub against the establishment.  Slowly but surely Mark exposes to the reader the indirect hostility and conflict coming from the religious authorities until it is moved to a more direct conflict in the later portions of the book.  As the conflict moves from indirect to direct discourse between the protagonist and antagonists the religious authorities aim to undercut the authority of Jesus by testing the source of his authority.  This now leads us to the second issue of that Kingsbury brings forth and that is the identity of Jesus which is the basis and source of his authority.

The identity of Jesus is revealed to the reader in the beginning portion of the book of Mark; Jesus is the Son of God.  However, this opening declaration is the inside knowledge that the reader possesses.  In the narrative though, Kingsbury argues for a three stage progression of Jesus’ identity.  Kingsbury calls this a progressive disclosure of Jesus’ identity.  The first stage is the revelation of Jesus as the Messiah which happens through Peter’s famous confession.  This confession from Peter is certainly correct, however, it is an insufficient confession, thus leading us to the second stage.  In the second stage of the progressive disclosure we are taken to the blind beggar’s confession of Jesus being the Son of David.  Here too we have a correct announcement of Jesus’ identity, yet this confession is insufficient just as the previous confession.  Finally, we narrow down to the 3rd stage where Christ is crucified and at the climax of the story we hear the Roman centurion say, “Truly, this man was the Son of God.”    

Essentially, the conflict of the cross is the full and direct conflict manifested in the bloody death of Christ.  Yet this conflict of the cross is also the climactic scene for the progressive disclosure of Jesus identity to reach its fulfillment.  From this ending confession of the centurion, Kingsbury says that one can, ”look back over the whole of Mark.  He or she can see that Jesus is the Son of God not only as one who authoritatively preaches, calls disciples, teaches, heals and exorcise demons but also, and especially, as one who journeys to Jerusalem, and in perfect obedience to God, suffers and dies for the sins of all.”

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