Tell Me the Stories of…
Since the Bible was not written by a single author and has been redacted, edited, abridged, added to, subtracted from and retranslated beyond count, it is difficult to read it as a single narrative. It’s scope in theology, culture, time and politics takes it beyond anything Leo Tolstoy or James Michener ever wrote. It lends itself better as a book of quotations or short essays, a compilation of stories or dissertations put together by an editor trying to reach a niche market. Pastors try to make some form a of narrative by having a theme and connecting the Epistles or the Wisdom Books to the current Gospel that is featured in the lectionary year. Unfortunately dear Mrs. Brown, whose dutifully sits in the third row from the back every week, is the only one who hears all the sermons. The more inconsistent attendees who missed the sermon on 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 last week, don’t have a clue what the message this week on Romans 10:8b-13 is about. The narrative can be enhanced through a weekly Bible study, attended by the unfaltering Mrs. Brown, however this does not reach a broad enough audience. Every minster wishes their congregants would invest the same level of passion to the Biblical narrative as they do to “Game of Throne” or Royals baseball.
In “Christian Missions” Wright quotes John Stott, “Many people are rejecting our gospel today, not because they perceive it to be false, but because they perceive it to be trivial.”[i] Presented as a non-narrative tract the Bible seems irrelevant. The challenge is to create a story which connects to modern life and people’s real issues. Christopher Wright states, “We began this chapter asking why the first Christians were so indomitably mission minded – determined at all costs to spread the good news about Jesus Christ to every corner of the world they knew.”[ii] For Jewish followers of Jesus there was a direct connection between the Hebrew scriptures and the messianic message of Christ. This was the next and perhaps final stage of God’s purpose for their people. As Wright argues since they knew their scriptures they understood that they were part of a continuing narrative. “They saw that story as the story of God’s own mission, and they saw their own part in the story, participating in its last great act, as “God’s co-workers” (1 Cor. 3: 9).”[iii]
Yet the Apostle to who Jesus entrusted the Great Commission knew only the Tanakh and armed with this knowledge they began teaching to their own people in Israel. Yet from the beginning they reached out to the ‘Hellenized” Jews, many of who had forgotten the Aramaic language of Israel. Historian Justos Gonzales writes “Those Christians whom Acts called “Hellenists,” while being Jewish, showed a degree of openness to Hellenistic culture. Since they were the first to be persecuted in Jerusalem, they were the first to be scattered throughout the neighboring towns, and thus they were also the first to take the Christian message to those areas.”[iv] Emphasizing this knowledge they were able to connect local and foreign Jews to the old scriptures which led many to the acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah. For the early Jewish followers of Jesus the narrative was a linear progression flowing through the history of their people.
What about the gentiles who did not know the Jewish Bible? What brought them to follow Christ and reject pagan beliefs? Christians today are only aware of the Jewish God through the OT. There are no Jewish voices that effectively interconnect the stories of God “Chosen People” to the contemporary Christian church. The antagonism between Jesus and the Pharisee seem to severe that connection. We have no real sense of the disciple’s Jewish identities. For modern followers of Christ the mission to proclaim the Gospel began in Acts and not in Genesis. However the Apostle did not know the stories of the New testament because they had not yet written them. Paul, Peter, Barnabas, Silas and others did know the stories of their people and became living witnesses for the non-followers of their time. Non Jews were first told the story of Gods people because that is what the Apostles and their disciples knew best.
Drawing upon this narrative the early Christians began to connect the ancient tales with contemporary issues. They did not recite history or report long past events, they told stories. Those stories drew people to hear and learn more about the God of the Hebrews and to connect their own lives to the narrative of the gospel. When we “preach” to people the scriptures become trivial but when we tell stories the people hear the compelling tales that connect them to others, they have a shared experience with people from other lands, time and culture. The narrative of the Bible becomes their story, God their God and Jesus their savior.
Each chapter of a novel compels us to continue to the next, an episode of “Game of Throne” has us waiting anxiously for the next and every win, or lost, by the Royals keeps us focused on the World Series. All these thing will have an end yet it may be incorrect to “summarize” the gospel since that implies a definitive resolution or summation. God’s story does not end and we are caught up in the narrative. We become a part of the story doing our part to carry the gospel to another time, place and people.
[i] Wright, Christopher J. H.; Wright, Christopher J. H.. The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission (Biblical Theology for Life) (Kindle Locations 561-562). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
[ii] Wright, Christopher J. H.; Wright, Christopher J. H.. The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission (Biblical Theology for Life) (Kindle Locations 580-581). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
[iii] Wright, Christopher J. H.; Wright, Christopher J. H.. The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission (Biblical Theology for Life) (Kindle Locations 582-583). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
[iv] Gonzalez, Justo L. (2010-07-25). Story of Christianity: Volume 1: The Early Church to the Reformation (The Story of Christianity) (Kindle Locations 791-794). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.