To some of you, this might be a pointless blog post. Understanding the Bible as one continuious story might be natural to you. But for many in the conservative Evangelical (and Catholic) world, we have never conceived of such an idea. Everything from systematic theology to dispensationalism has caused us to see the Bible a periods of human history in which God dealt with people, but to see the continuous flow of these events is a rare occasion. This has a lot to do with, as I said, a rigid dispensational theology that divides the Bible into different dispensations and separates Adam, Israel, Jesus, and the Church as completely different characters with completely different roles in God's plans for the cosmos. Any type of "replacement" language regarding the Church and Israel is severely looked down upon. This makes it nearly impossible to see the flow and continuity of the Biblical plot.
Last night as I was reading through J.R. Daniel Kirk's newest book, "Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul? A Narrative Approach to the Problem of Pauline Christianity", his explanation of the narrative flow of scripture finally clicked. This has been a long time coming, admittedly. I have been reading a lot of N.T. Wright and Scot McKnight who are both avid Narrative theologians and have written extensively on the subject. I have also been mentored by a postmodern professor of theology at my college who is also a huge story over system guy. I have blindly claimed narrative theology as the way to go, mainly because all the influences around me were saying so. But now I finally get it. It's really not hard. Unless your mind and theology has been shaped in Conservative Evangelical Fundamentalism. Which isn't a bad thing. The systematic approach is just fine- I just think that the narrative approach is more historical and gives a bigger picture of the Gospel. But to each his own, eh?
Anyways. Here is my simplistic understanding of the Narrative plot of the Bible.
Chapter 1: God Creates: God creates the universe and reality as we know it. He makes plants, animals, and humans as the pinnacle of it all. God's plan is for humans to rule and reign as God's divine agents over this creation he has given into their hands. He creates "Adam" which is Hebrew for "man" and gives "man" divine dominion.
Chapter 2: Man Falls: Humanity, as represented in Adam and Eve, are overcome with the desire to rule. They aren't satisfied being subjected to God. Though they are the most powerful beings in the creation save God himself, they desire more. So in an act of defiance, man rebels against God and is exiled out of the land that God has given them dominion over and the plan that God has destined for them. God promises to redeem humanity and restore them back to what he designed for them.
Chapter 3: Israel Chosen: After the fall of humanity, God doesn't give up. He calls a particular group of humans, the people of Israel, to be his stewards of the cosmos. He promises them that if they are faithful, they will receive a land of prosperity, just like Eden, and will be used to bring the world back to God's purpose and plan for it. He promises Israel the blessings he gave to Adam and Even. Israel takes this anointing and runs with it- right into exile. The same sin Adam committed, Israel commits. God has mercy on Israel time and time again, seeking to restore them. But they keep turning away and being exiled from the plan God has for them. So God promises to come himself and do what humanity obviously is incapable of doing.
Chapter 4: God Comes: After Israel's continual falling, God comes down as a human and as a members of the people of Israel. In the person of Jesus Christ he lives the life and has the power that all humanity was meant to have. He shows the world what it looks like to be who God intended for them- a Son or Daughter of God with divine authority. He proclaims that he is beginning a process of restoring creation and humanity back to it's original design and proclaims that it is beginning with his coming. By Jesus coming to earth, heaven and earth are colliding into one reality. Jesus lives as the second Adam and the New Israel. Jesus then dies on the cross to earn forgiveness for his creation. But he doesn't stay dead. He rises again, birthing a Kingdom and the recreating work of God and invites all humanity and Israel to come back to him and begin the process of recreation- becoming children and heirs of God. This is the pivotal turning point of the narrative.
Chapter 6: The Church: Jesus begins a new community that becomes known as the church. The church is made up of all humanity- Jews and Gentiles alike, who place their lives under the obedience and Lordship of Jesus and live as committed children of God. All are invited to be a part of this group of redeemed and recreated rebels. All they need is faith and commitment to Jesus. By entering through the waters of Baptism, those who are part of the church are united as family with Adam and Israel, Adam's people being cleaned by the great flood and Israels people crossing through the waters of the Red Sea to the land God had promised them. The Church is the final group of people- all people whom God will spend eternity with in the new creation. God invites all to come and offers them true life in the New Creation if they would come. When they do, they are made part of the Kingdom and given the Spirit of God to live in them and empower them to be agents of recreation and Kingdom building on the earth as they live.
Chapter 7: Forevermore: One day the Church- composed of all who had faith in God in Adams day, Israel's day, Jesus day, and the Churches day will be united with Christ and united with each other in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb which is the beginning of Jesus Kingdom being fully and finally established. Sin is banished, evil is damned, sickness is destroyed, and hell is closed. This new creation is free from any chance of falling back into exile. Those who are members of the Kingdom will live full lives reigning with Jesus over the cosmos, creating, serving, living, loving, and expanding the rule and reign of Christ. This is the the fulfillment of what God desires for humanity. This is salvation. This is our destiny. Those who chose, however, to reject the reign of God will be sentenced to hell, by there own choice in rejecting God's rule and reign, and will be eternally excluded from their destiny by there own choice.
Chapter 8: Mystery and Majesty!
It all makes so much sense. This is the Gospel. This is what Jesus meant when he said he hadn't come to abolish the Jewish Scriptures but to fulfill them. This is what Paul means when he says Christ is the firstborn among many siblings! This is what Paul means when he writes that all creation is groaning while it waits for the children of God to be revealed! This is what Abraham expected when he was promised that all nations would be blessed through Him. This is what Peter was saying when he calls Christian "a chosen nation and royal priesthood." This is what Paul meant when he tells the Church at Corinth and Galatia that "Abraham is their father". This is what Mark and Matthew meant when they say that the Jesus story was written about in the prophets and the law. It's one story. And we can be a part of it. God has called us to participate in the theodrama of life. The ending has been written. A goal has been set. We are called to tell this story, live this story, and expect this story to come to it's fulfillment through Christ's work in and through the Church. We are how the Kingdom will come. We are God's heirs. How amazing?
Isn't God great? Isn't this realization stunning? Can I get a witness!
"Jesus Have I Loved but Paul?" by J.R. Daniel Kirk
"The King Jesus Gospel" by Scot McKnight
"How God became King" by N.T. Wright
Until next time.
Grace & Peace-