I want to begin with a question. How would you to describe a typical Bible study or sermon? Specifically how do you think they would organize the content of the teaching? If you have never been to a Bible study or heard a sermon I have a question for you in just a second.
I think that most of what we experience is organized in several ways. First, you may have experienced biographical studies concerning a particular person, or group, in the Bible or in church history. Second, you may have experienced a study through a particular book of Scripture. Finally, most of what you have experienced probably revolves around a particular topic or series of topics.
Is this a fairly accurate assessment? Has anyone experienced anything that I have not covered here?
Now let me say that I think biographical preaching is very helpful. It is a tremendous blessing to see how individuals in the past have applied God’s Word, have carried forth His mission, and have struggled with the crippling effects of sin. At the same time a diet of entirely biographical preaching would shift our focus from the infallible Word of God to fallible man. Topical studies, when properly focused on what the text of Scripture has to say about a given subject, are also very helpful. However, Scripture comes to us in the form of poetry, wisdom literature, songs, narrative, epistles, and theological treatises. So we do the form of Scripture a disservice when we treat it as an encyclopedia or topical index. It would be best if your experience has been with expository studies through individual books of Scripture that aim to expose the meaning of the text and apply it in such a way that is appropriate for its meaning.
So if you have never been to a Bible study before, or if you have just pretend you have not, let’s say we are going to study this book called the Bible how would you think you would study it? Or better yet if you were going to join a book club how would you expect them to work through the book?
Exactly, you would read the book cover to cover. You would not break it down by topic or systematically examine the attributes of each character; rather you would learn all of these things in the context of the story that the author is telling. That is what we aim to do with the Bible over the course of the next two semesters; we are going to work our way through the narrative of scripture viewing it as a complete and unified whole. In short we aim to take in the whole panorama of Scripture as we trace the story it tells from beginning to end.
Realizing that our time together is limited we will not be able to read and discuss the entire Bible during this study so there is a lot that will not be covered, in some cases entire books will be skipped. But our goal is to trace the key events in redemptive history that will lead us from the creation account in Genesis to the new creation promised in Revelation. Feel free to ask any questions you want along the way and I will try to answer what I can within the confines of our study and I will post answers to lengthier questions on the website so that we can stay focused on this particular study.
For the rest of our time I want to explain some of the key terminology that we will be using and briefly explain the benefits of studying the Bible in this way.
I. Biblical Theology
The first of these is the term “biblical theology.” By this we do not mean theology that is biblical or correct but rather as author Graeme Goldsworthy explains that, “Biblical theology is concerned with God’s saving acts and his word as these occur within the history of the people of God. It follows the progress of revelation from the first word of God to man through to the unveiling of the full glory of Christ.” This definition points to several important aspects of biblical theology:
- First, biblical theology is concerned with the action undertaken by God to redeem rebellious humanity; in this sense it is synonymous with the phrase redemptive history.
- Second, it deals with, and when codified takes the form of, process; “its principle of organizing the Biblical material is historical rather than logical.” Unlike systematic theology which organizes biblical material thematically and topically biblical theology is organized chronologically as it follows the narrative of Scripture.
- Third, its content is the self-revelation of God, while its form may resemble that of a historical narrative its chief interest is God’s progressive revelation of Himself and His purpose over the course of history. Just as you will learn the characteristics or attributes of a character over the course of a film or novel in the same way God’s actions in the story of Scripture demonstrate His characteristics.
- Fourth, biblical theology deals with God’s word and so it is exegetical in nature; “its goal is the correct exegesis of the entire Bible so that each part of the whole is understood as it was originally intended to be.”
- Finally, its central focus is “the unveiling of the full glory of Christ.”
Within the field of Biblical Theology different individuals have taken various themes within Scripture to be the one theme which unifies the Old and New Testaments and the whole of redemptive history. Some of the proposed unifying themes are promise, covenant, the kingdom of God, and relationship with God. While all of these themes are important they all ultimately point to or are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. With this in mind Willem VanGemeren writes, “all blessings, promises, covenants, and kingdom expressions are reflections or shadows of the great salvation in Jesus Christ that is to come at the end of the age. In other words, the Old and New Testaments together witness to the great salvation as restoration.” He continues to explain that, “Old Testament saints and Christians share the common experience of receiving the grace of God in Christ Jesus. The enjoyment of the experience of salvation increases as God’s revelation clarifies the nature of the Messiah and the messianic age.” What we learn from this is that Scripture is telling one story and that story is about Jesus.
The second term we need to define is the word “metanarrative.”
Here is a simple question. Can someone tell us what a narrative is?
Yes, it is a story.
Ok so from that does anyone know or can someone guess what a metanarrative would be?
A metanarrative is an all-encompassing grand-story within which all other stories exist. Our world has no shortage of metanarratives; naturalism and evolution provide a metanarrative as do the major world religions. We even have fictional metanarratives like those found in Star Wars or The Lord of the Rings. Stating the profoundly important role of narrative Alasdair MacIntyre writes, “I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question “Of what story or stories do I find myself apart?’” Whether we find ourselves within the metanarrative of naturalism where everything is the result of naturally occurring processes, or the metanarrative of Hinduism where everything is an illusion created by an impersonal reality, or the metanarrative presented in Scripture where everything is created by, through, and for Jesus Christ radically affects the way we understand and conduct life. These are not mere belief systems or ideologies these are profoundly different ways of living life.
Despite the fact that we live in a world where there are numerous competing metanarratives we must realize while “creation, fall, and redemption are the story of the Bible, but they are also the story of the world in which we live.” We see this fact most powerfully demonstrated by the sermons in Acts. We could look at Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 where he describes the relationship between Jesus and David; or at his sermon in Acts 3 where he relates Christ to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; or at Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7 where he gives a sweeping overview of the entire Old Testament story as it relates to Christ; or we could turn to Acts 17 where Paul explains the history of the world from its creation to the final judgment. In all these cases we see that the early church understood that despite the various metanarratives used to explain the world in which they lived only one actually told that story and that was the story they proclaimed.
A third term we need to define is “worldview.” In his book, The Universe Next Door, James W. Sire defines worldview as:
“a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true, or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.”
From this definition we see that worldview is similar to metanarrative but is much more as it also deals with ones entire system of understanding and thought. Amazingly though everyone has a worldview one may or may not be aware of what that worldview is, the worldview may be false, and one may even operate out of several contradictory worldviews.
IV. Goals for this Study
Speaking on the subjects of biblical theology, metanarrative, and worldview D. A. Carson explains,
“the fact remains that the Bible as a whole document tells a story, and properly used, that story can serve as a metanarrative that shapes our grasp of the entire Christian faith. In my view it is increasingly important to spell this out to Christians and non-Christians alike—to Christians, to ground them in Scripture, and to non-Christians as a part of our proclamation of the gospel.”
Later in this volume he continues,
“the good news of Jesus Christ is virtually incoherent unless it is securely set into a biblical worldview. . . . [By] tracing out the rudiments of the Bible’s plot-line . . . One is simultaneously setting forth a structure of thought, and a meta-narrative; one is constructing a worldview, and showing how that worldview is grounded in the Bible itself. One is teaching people how to read the Bible.”
From this several clear goals for such a study become apparent.
- First, we gain an appreciation and understanding of the unity of the Bible and God’s mission in human history.
- Second, we will see how important this metanarrative is, and all metanarratives are, in giving shape to our lives.
- Third, this better equips us to study the Bible as it guards against various abuses by giving us a grasp of how individuals books and texts fit within a unified whole.
- Fourth, this equips us for the task of evangelism as we begin to move beyond our understanding of evangelism as the explanation of competing truth-claims to an understanding that evangelism is a clash between competing metanarratives and worldview systems. N. T. Wright explains that “when we read the Bible in its own terms, as an overarching story, we soon discover that this metanarrative challenges and subverts several other world views.” Even more I would argue that the biblical metanarrative challenges and subverts all other worldviews.
- Fifth, we live in a world in which various metanarratives and narratives are presented “so steadily and so relentlessly that is pushed us into agreement without our even noticing we are being moved.” Stories are profoundly powerful and we must be able to discern how they shape us intellectually and emotionally or we run the risk of reading our biblical convictions into a contradictory worldview system.
That was a lot for our first session. Next time we will be briefly overview the entire Bible beginning in creation and concluding at the new creation. There will be much more opportunity for discussion so come prepared to talk.