I have decided to post the final chapter of my book, Turning Points: Pivotal Moment in God’s Story, with the hope that the reader will see the concrete benefits of knowing the Bible from the vantage point of its major turning points.
Around five years ago, I presented the material in this book to a retirement home in Upland, CA. One Monday morning, a new resident entered the room while we were waiting to begin. Some of the residents registered their displeasure when they saw him, and a few whispered something to their neighbor. I thought, here’s trouble.
I began class by briefly surveying the Story of the Bible by means of the Six Acts. We were ready to begin our study of Act 4: The Story of Jesus.
Our visitor raised his hand, and asked if we were going to discuss Jesus’ marriage to Mary Magdalene, and the little girl born of that union, and how the three rushed off to what is now modern day France. The open display of disgust on the faces of some was obvious, but the man was not put off by their contempt. In fact, he seemed to be further fueled by it.
I told him that he raised some interesting issues, but that we would not be discussing them in this class because our explicit purpose was to retell the Story of the Bible, and the particulars he mentioned are no part of that story. I also told him that I would be glad to discuss those sorts of things with him after class, or when we came to a close of our study a month or two later._ He did not stay after class was over to discuss the issues he raised.
Consider the benefit of this approach. Restricting our study to the Story of the Bible allowed us the freedom to politely affirm that the incidents the old gentleman brought up were no part of the Story as told in the Bible, and that our purpose was to study that Story.
It is profoundly important that we get that Story told first. It has a right to be heard. It protects us from being distracted by theories that circle around it like buzzards waiting to eat the left overs.
There is a time and place for theories and for exploring possibilities, but there is a time for reading or learning the Story as told in the Bible as well. Theories and possibilities can, sometimes, be very distracting.
I would like for you to consider some other benefits.
The Problem of Evil
Consider the problem of evil. The Bible affirms that God is infinite in His power and infinite in His goodness, and yet sin and suffering exist. The atheist debaters of the past few decades affirm that the God of the Bible cannot be both infinite in His goodness and His power because sin and suffering exist. There is an implied, unspoken proposition in their “argument”: A God who is infinite in power and goodness would eliminate sin and suffering. But, because sin and suffering exist, God cannot be both infinite in power and goodness. He lacks infiniteness in one or both qualities—they claim.
We usually try to meet the atheist in his own philosophical camp, but who says we must meet him on his own terms? Consider how a knowledge of the narrative of Scripture addresses the issue. The middle of the Story—the account of Jesus’s life, death, burial and resurrection—answers the question of whether the God of the Bible addresses the issue of sin and suffering.
Paul affirms that “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3). In summary fashion, the issue of sin is addressed, but what about the problem of suffering? The writers of Scripture argue that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead addresses the problem of suffering. When the righteous are resurrected in the last day, John affirms that God, “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
The problems introduced in the beginning of the narrative (Genesis)—the problem of death and corruption—are resolved at the end of the Story by means of the resurrection, that is, our resurrection from the dead.
Now, let’s take a look at how a familiarity with the Story assists us in addressing some of the issues surrounding the subject of origins. A shop owner I am acquainted with introduced me to a friend of hers. The shop owner’s friend happened to be a professor at the University of Riverside, California. While we were shaking hands, the shop owner informed the professor that I was a preacher. The professor was taken back a bit—much like you might expect someone to respond if they were being introduced to a vampire.
The professor regained his composure, took a friendly posture, and began informing me that when he was younger, he attended an evangelical church until he went to college and studied biology. He got a little carried away with his passionate tirade against the Bible, and championing the power of modern day science to provide man with “real” answers. He caught himself and apologized. He seemed genuinely embarrassed. He asked me if I was offended. I told him I was not.
He asked me what my thoughts on the creation/evolution debate were. I told him I would not want to begin a discussion with the controversy, but rather with rehearsing the Story of the Bible.
Here is my proposed strategy. First, tell the entire Story unapologetically. Do not tweek it or deconstruct it. In so doing, we get to tell the end of the Story which brings the narrative full circle. The end of the Story tells us we regain what was lost in the beginning. It makes sense of the beginning in the same way the beginning makes sense of the end. Each places the other in perspective. I am convinced that some might be so overwhelmed with the beauty and sublimity of the Story as a whole that the issues we sometimes get stuck on, will pale in significance.
Do not misunderstand me. I am not advocating sacrificing truth for beauty or sublimity. The issues surrounding the beginning are important: creation versus evolution; the days of creation; theistic evolution versus progressive creationism versus biblical creationism. I have drawn my own conclusions about them all. But if I may suggest, let’s put first things first. What harm would it do to simply ask someone like the professor if we can first tell him the Story? He seemed like a nice enough person. If he had had the time, I think he would have said yes.
My opinion is, if we can find people who will allow us to outline the whole Story, it will help to make sense of all its parts—creation included. Even if a person struggles with questions concerning the beginning in contrast with what they believe science affirms, the impact of God being the Creator, Ruler and Redeemer of all creation, will not be lost.
The Old Testament
When I was young and ignorant, I used to argue that the church should not bother with the Old Testament. After all, it is called “Old,” and “old is mold,” isn’t it? Truth be told, I was such a poor reader that this was simply an excuse to eliminate three-quarters of the entire Bible. But when you consider the entire Bible from the vantage point of the Story being told, starting in Genesis and ending in Revelation, the Old Testament contains the first three acts (as they have been outlined in this book).
Who among us would ever suggest that we should begin reading any one of Shakespeare’s plays in Act 4? Why, then, should we recommend only reading the last 3 Acts of the Bible?
Here is another way to look at it. When I was young, my parents bought me a stereo record player for Christmas. In those days, that was high tech. When we played the demo record that came with the player, we were treated to its distinct stereo feature. When we spread the speakers apart, and set the needle on the record, we would hear the word “ You” out of the left speaker, the word “ain’t” from the right speaker, “heard” from the left speaker, “nothing” from the right speaker, and “yet” from the left speaker. “You …ain’t …heard …nothing …yet,” bouncing from left to right. Imagine turning one speaker off. All we would have heard are the words “You… heard… yet,” or “ain’t…nothing…”
Reading the Bible is like listening to stereo music. Through one speaker we hear emphasized the “Testament” or “Covenant” aspect of it. We have been very good at distinguishing between the Testaments. But I think we may have had the other speaker turned down or off—the other speaker being the story or narrative dimension of the Bible. Both speakers need to be heard in balance. Emphasizing the “Testament” dimension to the exclusions of the story dimension, perhaps we have failed to see the value of studying the Old or First Testament.
My precaution, of course, is that we do not emphasize the story or narrative dimension to such an extent that we fail to distinguish between the Covenants. My point is that turning the narrative speaker on, we will hear the practical value of studying the Old Testament. We will learn to see the continuity between the two as well as the discontinuity that exists between the two Testaments.
Studying the Bible from beginning to end, keeping the narrative dimension before us, helps answer fundamental questions asked about the biblical worldview. When considering any worldview, we seek answers to questions like “Where are we?” “Who are we?” “What went wrong?” and “What is the solution?”
Christopher Wright, in his book, The Mission of God, suggests the following answers (Wright, Christopher 55, 2006):
“Where are we?” Answer: We inhabit the earth, which is part of the good creation of the one living, personal God, YHWH.
“Who are we?” What is the essential nature of humanity? We are made by YHWH in God’s own image, one of God’s creatures, but unique among them in spiritual and moral relationships and responsibility.
“What’s wrong?” Why is the world in such a mess? Through rebellion and disobedience against our Creator God, we have generated the mess that we now see around us at every level of our lives, relationships and environment.
“What is the solution?” What can we do about it? Nothing in our selves. But the solution has been initiated by God through his choice and creation of a people, Israel, through whom God intends eventually to bring blessing to all nations of the earth and ultimately to renew the whole creation.
We all have a worldview, a basic set of beliefs through which we look at the world. Worldviews are so basic to life, that we usually don’t think about them. But we think about everything else through them. The significance of a worldview can be illustrated by imagining how different our perceptions of life would be if we took the atheist’s or agnostic’s posture concerning the existence of God rather than the biblical view of God. Do you suppose your life would be any different if lived as an atheist? Mortimer Adler writes,
More consequences for thought and action follow from the affirmation or denial of God than from answering any other basic question. They follow for those who regard the question as answerable only by faith or only by reason, and even for those who insist upon suspending judgment entirely (Adler 391, 1986).
As one writer put it, God did not leave us a theory on atonement. He left us a meal. The just shall not live by one theory of atonement or another, but by faith in God, and in what He did through His Son on the cross. N. T. Wright observes,
The first thing to say is that theories of atonement are all, in themselves, abstractions from the real events. The events—the flesh-and-blood, time-and-space happenings—are the reality which the theories are trying to understand but cannot replace. In fact, the stories are closer to the events than the theories, since it is through the narratives that we are brought in touch with the events, which are the real thing, the thing that matters. And it is through other events in the present time that we are brought still closer: both the Eucharist, which repeats the meal Jesus gave as his own interpretation of his death, and the actions of healing, love and forgiveness through which Jesus’ death becomes a fresh reality within the still broken world. (Wright, N. T. 94-95, 2006).
The Mission of God
The Bible tells us about God, and about man’s condition before his Creator. It tells us about God’s plan to redeem mankind. Man’s redemption is a major part in God’s mission.
Our understanding of God comes primarily by means of God’s actions as Creator, Ruler, and Redeemer, as explicated in the narrative of Scripture, rather than by abstract theories or systematic theologies. God’s actions are recorded in the Bible fundamentally through the narrative.
I am not suggesting that other portions of the Bible, like the poetry, or prophets or epistles, are not of value. All Scripture is profitable (2 Tim. 3:16). Poetry reflects on God and his works in a different way—through images which are the primary building blocks of poetry. The prophets and epistles expound on the narrative portions or implicitly rely on them at almost every turn. The church’s sense of mission in life should take its cue from God’s mission.
The authority for our mission flows from the Bible because the Bible reveals the reality on which our mission is based (Wright, Christopher J. H., 2006, p. 54).
Some presentations of the gospel are more abstract than concrete because they rely heavily on theories of atonement rather than on the Story on which it is all based. When our preaching is primarily focused on justification and justice, we don’t need the Story. We don’t even need the Old Testament for that matter. I have even seen this done in a 20 minute Bible study in which the only point made and defended was the necessity of baptism. Jesus was not preached at all. It was not very effective even though facts from the Bible were presented.
But when we preach the narrative of the gospel—the death, burial, resurrection and appearance of Christ (1 Corinthians 15)—salvation follows. Peter preached Jesus on the day of Pentecost. He preached the gospel, which consisted of Jesus being a man “attested” by God with “might works and wonders and signs that God did through Him”: His crucifixion (2:23), His resurrection (v 24), His exaltation (v 33). Peter concludes, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (v 36). The audience cried out, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (2:36). Peter said, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (2:38). As one brother put it, verse 36 comes before verse 38.
Acts 8:35 says of Philip,
he opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized’ and he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.
Notice, Philip told the eunuch, “the good news about Jesus.” In the very next verse, the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized.” Baptism is the means by which people enter the kingdom of God where Jesus reigns as King of kings and Lord of lords. (See also Gal. 3:26, 27.)
When you preach the narrative, the gospel as it centers on the story of Jesus, you also get salvation.
Much more could be said. Perhaps other benefits come to your mind. I am simply wanting to give you a feel for the value of knowing the story or narrative dimension of Scripture. The Story plays a major unifying factor in the 66 books that make up the Bible. God is the unifying character. He reestablishes Himself as King, and builds His kingdom. Through the cross He reveals the answer to man’s problem, which is the story’s unifying theme.
My goal is to get you to study your Bible in light of the Story it tells.
(You can order the book in paper back at amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Turning-Points-Pivotal-Moments-Story/dp/1495238849/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1416864317&sr=8-1&keywords=turning+points%2C+pivotal+moments
It is also available in kindle format as an ebook. If you order the paperback, the ebook is free.