The Christian Story

Adam Greene hopes that BIBLIOTHECA, a Bible designed for reading, will help people rediscover and be enthralled by the grand story of the Bible.

This is a good thing, because as Roger Olson has pointed out:

People live from the stories that shape their identities.[1]

Metanarratives

We all construct a story. We subscribe to a metanarrative, which allows us to arrange, make sense of, and give significance to the events in our lives. This overarching story lends coherence to individual events, so that at the end of our life we don’t just have a collection of facts about ourself, but a picture of who we are and how much our life corresponded to that metanarrative.

To Joel B. Green, this underscores two fundamental truths:

the storied quality of distinctively human existence, together with the essentially hermeneutical nature of human life.[2]

In other words, we all construct stories to indwell and then interpret events to fit into this story. This story defines us and becomes the script by which we live.

This is seen in our self-understanding. Our understanding of who we are is derived from the numerous events that we have experienced. That is why we can say, when a person behaves in ways contrary to his previous life history, “That is so unlike him” and not merely, “He has never done that before.” We deduce something about his person based on the combination of his previous actions. And further, we evaluate those actions by the metanarrative we subscribe to.

So if we are an atheist and we leave our spouse for another person, we may view that as a noble thing  because we see it as contributing to our authenticity. These actions are good and justifiable because they make us truer to who we feel we really are. Yes, we would recognize that infidelity causes pain, which is a bad thing, but we would accept that repercussion so that we wouldn’t sacrifice a higher truth—”This above all: to thine own self be true.”[3] Without God, and without any absolute external authority, self-interest and self-fulfillment become our only standard. In a society filled with this kind of individuals, the last demand is for wholesale acceptance. Kevin DeYoung calls this the secular salvation story.

I think this shows that we don’t just experience reality, we shape it so that we can interpret it. And to interpret reality, we must have some larger framework to fit it in. This is our metanarrative. In the end, our metanarrative actually shapes us and determines how we live.

The Story of the Bible

The Bible as God’s story in union with man shapes our identities.

When we are born again we enter this story in media res (in the midst of things), through the gospel, which involves the retelling of the most dramatic part of the story thus far—the death of God’s Son at the hands of His creatures for their redemption. Most likely though, we enter this story without much awareness of the narrative up to that point. So, to situate ourselves and even construct a renewed understanding of who we are, we must go back and grasp the rising action of the Old Testament and also flip ahead to read its future consummation. Only by understanding the grand narrative of the Bible can we participate in its continuation and consummation (Rom. 12:2).

For Joel B. Green, narrative:

constitutes a theological claim about the coherence of the Genesis-to-Revelation story. It is the attribution to the sum of the parts of the Bible of a purposefulness that binds sometimes disparate voices into a single chorus… which then serves as a necessary theological context for interpretation. [4]

The beginning, middle, and end of the biblical story frame the entire biblical content in a non-negotiable context. To make sense of any one part, we must read it in light of these major plot markers. What was God’s purpose in creation? What is the significance of the person and work of Christ? What was God accomplishing in redemption? How does the Bible end? What is the significance of the New Jerusalem? Questions like these, since they address the three major anchor points of God’s story must always remain before us.

Green continues:

As a theological strategy for interpretation, this requires that these points of reference never escape our peripheral vision when reading any biblical text, even a section or book in which none of these explicitly surfaced.[5]

Once we grasp the Genesis-to-Revelation story of the Bible we can fit every individual story into this larger whole and understand how it contributes to the overall movement. The story of Adam and Eve in the garden matters to us. God’s dealings with Abraham have far more than a personal or national significance. God’s marriage covenant with Israel at Sinai is meaningful to believers today because we are now continuing this story.

Understanding the overarching story of the Bible however, is not just for our work of interpreting the text. We are called to live out the unwritten script of the final scenes. And since the beginning, middle, and end of the biblical story have already been written, to contribute to this story we must do so in ways commensurate with these reference points of creation, redemption, and consummation. The “what” of this story of God has already been written—the creating and redeeming God will become one with His regenerated, transformed, and glorified people in a marriage union of love and life for the full, eternal, and corporate expression of His glory. This is the New Jerusalem. This future is utterly certain, but this doesn’t rob the story of any of its dramatic suspense because the “who”, the “how”, and the “when” are still unanswered questions open to our participation.

The Bible invites us into participation in and partnership with Christ in carrying out this story to its end (Heb. 3:14). To do this we must inhabit this story, let it shape us, and then live it out. All this however, begins with reading.


 

1. Roger Olson, The Story of Christian Theology, p. 11
2. Joel B. Green, Narrative Reading, Narrative Preaching, p. 15
3. Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3
4. Joel B. Green, Narrative Reading, Narrative Preaching, p. 30
5. Ibid.

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