Some of you may be wondering why so many people are talking about the Bible’s storyline lately. What’s the big deal? Why is it so important for Christians to be able to connect the dots of the Bible’s grand narrative? Here are four reasons.
1. To Gain a Biblical Worldview
The first reason we need to keep the biblical storyline in mind is because the narrative of the Bible is the narrative of the world. The Bible doesn’t just give us commands and prohibitions. It gives us an entire worldview.
We all live according to a worldview. A worldview is the lens through which we see the world and make decisions. It’s like wearing a pair of glasses. You don’t think about looking at your glasses when you have them on. You look through them to see the world around you. Everyone has a worldview, even people who are not Christians.
Unfortunately, there are many Christians who do not have a Christian worldview. They may display some of the religious trappings of Christianity, but they demonstrate by their choices that they are living by another worldview.
The storyline of the Bible is important because it helps us think as Christians formed by the great Story that tells the truth about our world. It is vitally important that people know the overarching storyline of the Bible that leads from creation, to our fall into sin, to redemption through Jesus Christ, and final restoration in the fullness of time. If we are to live as Christians in a fallen world, we must be shaped by the grand narrative of the Scriptures, the worldview we find in the Bible.
2. To Recognize and Reject False Worldviews
A few years ago, two sociologists studying the religious views of young people in North America coined the phrase “moralistic therapeutic deism.” Those are three big words that sum up the following five beliefs of many in our society today:
- “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.” (That’s the “Deism” part. God created the world, watches things, but doesn’t do much in the way of intervening in human affairs.)
- “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.” (That’s the Moralistic part. The goal of religion is to be a nice, moral person.)
- “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.” (That’s the Therapeutic part. The most important thing in life is to be happy and well-balanced.)
- “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.” (Now, we see the Deistic view of God combine with God’s therapeutic purpose. He exists to make us happy.)
- “Good people go to heaven when they die.” (Salvation is accomplished through morality.)
Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. “Moralism,” for short. Our society is awash in this worldview. Even longtime church members are not immune to it.
So, if we are going to be effective witnesses to the gospel in our day and age, we must put forth a biblical view of the world that counters rival worldviews. Just think, if you were called to be a missionary to India, wouldn’t you first study Hinduism to see how it affects the culture and the people’s view of God there? Wouldn’t part of your strategy be to show how Christianity counters the Hindu worldview? Likewise, if you were called to be a missionary to Iran, would you not study the worldview of Muslims and see where Christianity and Islam diverge? A good missionary knows what Christianity teaches as opposed to what the dominant worldview of the culture says, even if that worldview is the moralistic therapeutic deism of the United States.
3. To Rightly Understand the Gospel
Another reason we need to know the story line of the Bible is because the gospel can quickly become distorted without it. The story of the Bible gives context to the gospel message about Jesus.
Too many times, we think of the gospel as a story that jumps from the Garden of Eden (we’ve all sinned) right to the cross (but Jesus fixes everything). On its own, that works fine in communicating the systematic points of our need for salvation and God’s provision in Christ, but from a biblical theological perspective, it doesn’t do justice to what’s actually in the text. Once a person becomes a Christian and cracks the Bible, they’re going to wonder what the big deal is about Israel and the covenant, since that storyline takes up roughly 75% of the Bible. Getting people into that story is important. As D.A. Carson says, the announcement is incoherent without it.
I once spent significant time witnessing to a coworker, one of those “all religions lead to God-consciousness sort of guy.” He and I went back and forth on the gospel. Eventually, he admitted that he believed Jesus had been raised from the dead bodily. Yet his explanation of the resurrection was this: God raised Jesus from the dead because He’d been unjustly condemned, and His purpose in rising was to demonstrate His God-consciousness so He could beckon us to learn from Him. In other words, Jesus was still just Master Teacher and not Savior and Lord. My coworker got the bare facts of the announcement right, and yet the story he was working from was wrong. The story line affected the announcement to the point where he really didn’t believe the gospel at all.
We need the biblical story line in order to understand the gospel of Jesus. Otherwise, sharing the gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection is like coming into a movie theater at the most climactic moment but without any knowledge of the story thus far. You will be able to discern bits and pieces of the story, but you won’t understand the full significance of what is happening unless you know the backstory.
4. To Keep Our Focus on Christ
There has been a lot of talk in recent years about making the gospel announcement of Jesus Christ front and center in our preaching and teaching. As our society becomes increasingly post-Christian, it is critical for us to not assume lost people know who God is, what He is like, and what He has done for us. We need to be clear in what we teach, with a laser-like focus on Jesus Christ our Savior. The biblical storyline helps us do this.
Every story has a main character. The Bible does too. It’s God. Specifically, it’s God as He reveals Himself to us in the Person of Jesus Christ.
Here’s what happens if we learn individual Bible stories and never connect them to the big Story. We put ourselves in the scene as if we are the main character. We take the moral examples of the Old and New Testament as if they were there to help us along in the life we’ve chosen for ourselves.
But the more we read the Bible, the more we see that God is the main character, not us. We are not the heroes learning to overcome all obstacles, persist in our faith, and call down fire from heaven. We’re the ones who need rescue, who need a Savior who will deliver us from Satan, sin, and death. It’s only in bowing before the real Hero of the story that we are in the right posture to take our place in the unfolding drama. Bearing in mind the big story of Scripture helps us keep our focus on Jesus, and off ourselves.
Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, a pastor, contributor to Christianity Today, and the author of Counterfeit Gospels, Holy Subversion, and Clear Winter Nights. Trevin lives with his wife and children in Nashville.
[This is an excerpt from Trevin’s new book, Gospel-Centered Teaching. Used with permission from the author.]