I grew up in the church. I grew up hearing the Bible stories from the Old Testament and the New Testament of the Christian Bible. And then after college and the Army, I went to seminary where I learned how to study the Scriptures in the original languages (Hebrew and Greek). I began to learn and grasp all of these amazing theological topics (what theologians call “Systematic Theology”): how God has revealed Himself in and through the Bible, the Trinity, humanity’s sin and depravity, how we are saved through the person and work of Jesus Christ, the essence of the Church, the end times, etc. I even earned a degree that entitled me to be called a “Master of Theology.” But… I never fully grasped the larger story.
So I graduated from seminary, moved to Portland, and started connecting with young guys in one-on-one discipleship relationships. I typically took them through the book of Ephesians. And we’d get to chapter 3 with all of the “mystery” of the church stuff… how God has now revealed Himself to the Gentiles (that’s us). But in explaining it to these guys over coffee, I had to go back to the Jewish story in the Old Testament, and I started having to wrestle with how it all fit together. After a lot of wrestling, studying, and prayer, it started to make some sense. There was a larger story. What I began to see most of all was the centerpiece of the story… the person and work of Jesus Christ. My vision of who God is, how He has revealed Himself and how He has worked, is working, and will work began to blossom. It started to finally make sense. I began to see the larger story–the Story of God.
Through this process of discovering how God has revealed Himself in His grand story, I now have a greater understanding of how the different sections and books of the Bible serve the larger story of the Bible. When I’m in the book of Genesis, I understand how it begins the larger story. When I’m studying the life of David in 1 & 2 Samuel, I understand how His kingship looks forward to the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. When I’m studying the book of Revelation, I now have a greater understanding of how all the Bible is finally fulfilled by what happens at the end when time is no more.
My hope for you is that you will see the big picture… the larger story… that you’ll understand more of who God is and how He has revealed Himself. I also hope and pray that the Story of God gives you greater understanding of the different parts, stories, and eras of Biblical history and that you’ll see how the Bible does tell a larger, unified story. And most of all, my deepest desire for you is that you might see how the Story of God shines the spotlight on the person and work of Jesus Christ… the supremacy of Christ in all things… so that you might see and savor Him above all else.
So as we begin this introduction to the Story of God, let me give you the big idea of the whole story… what this larger, grand, epic story of God reveals to us:
The Story of God is the story of the God who creates and re-creates
for His glory and for our good.
To help us understand the larger story, we need to ask us three questions: (1) Who needs theology? (2) Who needs story? and (3) What is the Story of God? The answers to these questions will lay some of the foundation and framework for us as we dive deeper into the story.
Question #1: Who Needs Theology?
When most of us hear the word theology, we immediately think about how we can yawn and still be polite about it. “Theology” seems so academic, so intellectual, so removed from everyday life. But wait a minute… let’s define “theology.” Theo = God. Logos = word. Words about God… thoughts about God… the “study” of God. Here’s the bottom line about theology. Your thoughts on God (your theology) are your most important thoughts because they determine everything else in your life. What you think about God… how you understand who He is and what He has, is, and will do… will shape everything in your life. Put another way, everything in your life is an explanation and exposition of what you believe about God. Every thought you think, every word you say, every decision you make expresses what you believe or what you do not believe about God. That’s why theology is vital and critical for our lives. We all need theology.
Question #2: Who Needs Story?
“We have become aware of the importance of story for our lives as individuals and for our shared life together. Next to the basic needs for physical survival, story is essential to life. It is how we make sense of our lives. We interpret our lives as though we are in the middle of a story that has a beginning and strains toward a conclusion” (David Rhoads, Mark as Story)
Here’s a couple of reasons that I’m drawn to story in presenting a grand theology in the Story of God:
1. We live in a story-telling culture. God’s Word never changes but how we present and share His Word and His story in a specific culture does change. We live in a story-telling culture. That’s why we’ll spend billions of dollars each year to go see movies and to see, hear, and experience stories. That’s why we’ll buy and check-out millions of books from bookstores and libraries, many of them novels, to read and experience stories. That’s why we’ll spend many hours with friends and family telling stories of our lives. We live in a story telling culture. So there’s something about telling the Story of God in a way that resonates with our culture.
2. God reveals Himself through a Grand Story. There is a flow and a story in the way God reveals Himself in the Bible: creation, the fall, the patriarchs, Israel, the coming of Jesus, the church, end times, etc. We are much better served if we understand the Story. There is a type of formal theology called “systematic theology.” That’s the way I was trained in seminary. I learned theological “systems.” I learned theological categories: The Bible, the Trinity, Sin, Salvation, the Church, End Times. Understanding these categories and their content is very important. But as I’ve formed my theology over the years, I gravitate toward the grand narrative… the grand and glorious story of God.
3. Jesus told stories. I know that Jesus did much more than tell stories (we call them parables). He used other forms of communication as well. But one of His most effective means of communication tended to start with, “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning (then He tells a story)”… “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among robbers (then He tells a story)”… “A man had two sons (then He tells a story).” Some of the most powerful, thought-provoking, heart-grabbing teaching moments in Jesus’ earthly ministry happened when He told a story.
4. The Truth of the Story. Some of you hear the word “story,” and you might think “tale” or “once upon a time”… a fictional, made-up story. The word “story” does not in any way negate the full truthfulness of what the Bible reveals. This story is God’s story, and it reveals the very character, nature, and actions of our God. This story is God-breathed and it shapes everything in our lives, in our church, and in our world. When we see the word “inspired” it means “God-breathed.” He breathed His very character and life into the Word of God, the Bible, and it is His and it is true. The Holy Spirit, the Author, guided the various and different human authors of the Bible as they were penning this story over some 3000 years. This story is fully God’s and in being fully God’s, it is fully truthful. This is the story that will shape our lives… so we all need this story.
Question #3: What is the Story of God?
“The story of God is the story of the God who creates and recreates for His glory and for our good.” That’s the key theme that I will return to over and over and over through this series. When I say “for His glory,” here’s what I mean: the story shines the spotlight on Him… His power, His majesty, His supremacy, His goodness, His grace. He is the Creator, the Author, and the Hero of the story. This story is first and foremost about Him. That’s why it’s called “The Story of God.” Secondly, this story “is for our good.” We are in the story. God created us in His image (we’ll talk about that in two weeks). And as the Creator and Author God who wrote the story reveals Himself, His desire is to draw us in to see His glory, His splendor, His supremacy. And seeing Him for who He fully and truly is brings our ultimate good, our ultimate joy, and our ultimate meaning and purpose. This is the most important story in the world for us. This is the story that gives shape to everything else in our lives and in our world.
I’ve chosen six major “chapters” in the story:
1. Creation. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This statement begins the entire story. Before the beginning there was God. The spotlight, the power, the supremacy in this story is on God. He is the Creator King. And the creation story also reveals the creation of humanity, the crown of God’s perfect creation.
2. Chaos. So the first humans Adam and Eve, the crown of the Creator’s work, are in perfect communion with God their Creator King. And then one day, tempted by Satan, they believe a lie. They chose to believe that they could do it better than their God can. As a result, chaos, sin, and death now enter the story as humanity attempts to dethrone God and enthrone ourselves. Now there is separation between God and humanity. But even in Chaos, there is a seed of hope, a glimmer of light of what God will do, for His glory and for our good.
3. Covenant. Remember, this is a story of creation and re-creation. God’s grand and masterful plan to bring His creation back to Him for His glory and for our good. Covenant comes from the Latin “co- (together)” and “-vene” (come).” God says, “Let us come back together.” He begins that coming back together through revealing Himself to the people He calls for Himself, namely Israel. And all of the covenants in the OT point to the coming of God Himself, Immanuel, God with us, Jesus Christ.
4. Christ. The promise and the person and work of Jesus Christ, God Himself, in Jesus’ incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension back to heaven takes center stage. All of the houselights are down, and the spotlight now brightly shines upon Jesus Christ and His utter beauty, power, and supremacy.
5. Church. As Jesus goes back to heaven, He calls us to be His people to live in life-transforming community, to be on a passionate mission to tell of Him, His story, His hope, and His supremacy to the nations. Jesus’ words “You will be my witnesses” shapes us and sends us.
6. reCreation. And in the final and ultimate reCreation, we as Christ-followers will be with Him forever. That’s what is so glorious about reCreation. Not the “no more death and sorrow” part (even thought that is wonderful and filled with hope). Not the reunification with all of our loved ones who loved Jesus who have gone before us (even though that will be amazing). Not because we won’t struggle with sin and life anymore (even though that will be very relieving). reCreation is glorious and good because He is there and we are with Him forever. Heaven is heavenly because He is there. He is the reward. He is the good news. God is the Gospel.
The Story of the God is the story of the God who creates and recreates
for His glory and for our good.