Dr. John B. MacDonald
Slideshow image

As we explore what it means to live God's ‘Story’, I begin by proposing two problems and a solution.

Problem #1

We don’t know God’s ‘story’. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say most of us don’t know much about God’s ‘story’. By comparison, we do know a lot about other stories.

The Lord of the Rings is one of the best-selling novels ever written with over 150 million copies sold.[1] Actually it’s a series of three novels: The Fellowship of the Ring followed by The Two Towers, reaching the climax and resolution in The Return of the King.

Having read the series and watched the movies, I can’t imagine just reading the last thirdThe Return of the King. Even though it may be the most satisfying, how can we understand it without the first two-thirds? The audience would be plagued with questions: Who is the king, where did he come from, and why is he important? What are the rings? Who is Sauron, or Gandalf, or Gollom? What is a hobbit, an orc, or a nazgul?

This is not unlike the Bible. Of course, I’m not making a comparison between the content of Holy Scriptures and a work of fantasy fiction. However, how many of us only read the New Testament (NT)?

The NT is the last third of the Bible. Although it is the climax and resolution of the whole ‘story’, what about the first two-thirds?

By ‘story’ I don’t mean fiction. For example, if I asked you “What's your ‘story’?” you would select and arrange various events and experiences from your life and tell me something of your personal history. I use ‘story’ in this sense – select events, characters, places and experiences woven together to tell us something of God’s salvation history with humanity.

Reading the NT is similar to only reading The Return of the King. You miss the first 70% of the ‘story’. The result is you will be plagued with lots of questions: Who is the King, where did he come from, and why is he important? What are sacrifices and why are they important? Who are the Samaritans and why are they distained? Who were Abraham, Moses, David, Daniel and a host of other important historical figures? And so it goes.

Not only do many ignore the first 2/3rds of the Bible, they don’t read any of the Bible very much at all.

Recently, Faith Today reported that “since 1996 there’s been a dramatic decline in regular Bible reading (from 28% reading at least weekly to just 11%) ... . Specifically, only 5% of Canadians report reading the Bible daily, just 14% at least once a month, and weekly Bible reading is down by 60%.”[2]

Similar statistics prevail in the United States, Australia-New Zealand, and Europe.[3]

Not knowing God’s ‘story’ results in another problem.

Problem #2

We don’t live in God’s ‘story’, or at least, most of us don’t live in it very much. As we’ll see, there is a direct relationship between knowing God’s ‘story’ and living it.

Some of us have experienced what it is to be drawn into a story. We’re watching a good movie, or reading a well-crafted novel, and all of a sudden we’ve climbed inside and we’re living there.

There is a sense in which we all live our lives in a ‘story’ of some kind. Each ‘story’ has its own plot, values, goals, and purpose.  Examples of such ‘stories’ include the American Dream, “Goth,” or whatever.

How does it work?

With the American Dream, for instance, there is a general plot of “rags to riches,” a story of success and prosperity.

This plot dictates values that include hard work, economic prudence, and accumulation of wealth.

In turn, these values result in certain attitudes and behaviors:

  • how time is used (e.g., "time is money");
  • how wealth is acquired and used (e.g.," it’s mine; I’ll use it the way I want");
  • how other people are treated (e.g., are they hardworking, incapable, or poor);
  • even how God is imagined (e.g., “if I live ‘right’ god will make me wealthy and healthy”).

I may be overstating things a bit – but you get the idea. The ‘story’ a person chooses to live in shapes how that person lives.

What about God’s ‘Story’?

If we don’t know God’s ‘Story’ how can we live it? And there’s the problem.

Solution #1 – Getting to know the ‘Story’

As we begin to know God’s ‘story’ better we will live in it better.

Ed Stetzer, a research professor, puts it this way:

There is much research that shows the correlation between spiritual maturity and reading the Bible. In Brad Waggoner’s book The Shape of Faith to Come, which is based on a LifeWay Research study, and in George Guthrie’s Read the Bible for Life material, we see that reading the Bible is the best predictor of spiritual maturity. In other words, if you are in the Bible, you are growing spiritually.[4]

 Followers of Jesus are called to live in God’s ‘story’. As we listen to, or read, the Bible we begin hearing, seeing, and touching that ‘story’ – and it isn’t long before we begin to climb into it.

We get a sense of the plot: God is at work reconciling humanity to Himself. We recognize what is happening to people as they live their imperfect lives.

We discern God’s values and goals: hearts and lives that become clean, and free, and joyful in a renewed relationship with the Creator through Jesus Christ.

We experience his purpose: forgiven people becoming more and more like Jesus Christ.

As we live in that ‘story’ we begin to find that our thoughts, words, and behavior are more and more shaped by that ‘story’ – shaped to the extent that we find ourselves desiring to ‘walk’ as Jesus ‘walked’ (1 John 2:6). The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) becomes less a fanciful, unreachable, unreasonable standard for super-saint-like living, and more an expression of real Kingdom life ‘here and now’. 

Where to from here?

I suppose I’m going to have to follow this up. Next week I propose a practical way of getting to know the ‘story.

Until then, may I recommend that you pick up a Bible – make it a translation that is easy to read, something like the New International Version or the New Living Translation – and begin to read it.

“Where should I start?”

Well, why not start at the beginning – Genesis 1, page 1. Read a couple of chapters a day, or just one a day, until next Friday.

In the next post, I’ll map out the “Historical Backbone of the Bible” – a shortened format to get the gist of the ‘Story’. 

                        NEXT 

[1] Vit Wagner, “Tolkien Proves He’s Still the King,” Toronto Star April 16, 2007.

[2] See www.FaithToday.ca May/June 2014, pages 49-50.

[3] For example, Barna Research Online, “Religious Beliefs Vary Widely by Denomination,”
www.barna.org/cgi-bin/PagePressRelease.asp?PressReleaseID=92&Reference=B, June 25, 2001.

[4] See full article at http://www.lifeway.com/Article/Exchange-Bible-reading-leads-to-spiritual-growth . Emphasis mine.

 

Photo credit:  The Lord of the Rings is a trademark of the Saul Zaentz Company d.b.a. Middle-earth Enterprises (“SZC”) under license to New Line Productions, Inc. © 2011 New Line Productions, Inc.  

Don't Miss Out! Keep Updated.

Signup below to stay in the loop with 'living theology'.

Subscribe

Want to follow Jesus more closely?

Get your FREE copy of "Listening Well to Matthew."

Claim