3. The God Who Creates

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Introduction

After reviewing the entire history of redemption we will go back to the beginning and spend the next months working our way through the great story of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation.

“The movement from creation to restoration is one organic development whereby God works out his plan for the redemption of a new humanity from all the nations (Rev. 5:9; 7:9). Creation, in a real sense, is the preamble to the history of redemption.”[14]

The relationships and purposes established at creation are critical for understanding all that follows as the rest of the story focuses upon the realization of these purposes and the restoration of these relationships through Jesus Christ.

I. Creation in Context

The first thing we must look at is the cultural/historical context of creation. The Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, was written by Moses sometime after the exodus from Egypt and sometime before his death. “The biblical accounts of creation are tantalizing for modern-minded people because they refuse to address the questions we want answered.”[15] This is because “when God revealed the creation story, he revealed it first to Israel. The Israelites were concerned not with twentieth-century scientific presuppositions and models but with who Yahweh is.”[16] Because of this we begin with the understanding that this story is primarily about revealing Israel’s God, who has brought them out of bondage in Egypt. This will be the primary focus of this study. I have added an addendum at the end which discusses evolution and questions on that subject can be asked on the website.

Not only does the account of creation aim to reveal God it also aims to refute all other deities and creation accounts; it is notably polemical or argumentative in tone. During their slavery in Egypt the Israelites would have become very familiar with the Egyptian gods and creation accounts, not to mention those they would encounter during their journey to and conquest of the Promised Land. We will begin the history of redemption with the narrative of creation, a narrative that aims to both reveal the creator and to refute all rival deities and their narratives.

II. The Accounts of Creation

There are two creation accounts in Genesis. The first, Genesis 1-2:3, focuses upon God as the sovereign who commands the world into being. The second account, Genesis 2:4-25, focuses upon God as He carefully crafts and shapes the creation as the place where He will dwell with man.

Hopefully you took time over the past week to study through the first two chapters of Genesis because now we are going to read through each of these accounts and share our observations.

III. The God Who Creates

A. His Name

Everyone here has a name right? Does anyone know what their name means?

While the meaning of an individual’s name has little bearing on our relationship with them, the names of God used here are of particular significance.

  • The first, used throughout Genesis 1, is Elohim, a word used throughout the ancient Near East for God.
  • The second, introduced in Genesis 2:4, is Yahweh, is the name which God introduced Himself to Moses in Exodus 3 and the name used by Israel to refer to the God who brought them out of slavery.
  • In Genesis 2:4 we find these two names joined together to form Yahweh Elohim. This “makes the powerful point that the same God who rescues Israel from slavery is the God who has made all things, the creator of heaven and earth.”[17]

B. His Word

“Creation is not only a question of beginnings, but of purpose and relationships.”[18] We will now turn our attention to God and His Word in creation.

  • First and foremost God creates by His Word (1:1). Many would expect Scripture to begin with a defense of God’s existence; however, as God’s authoritative and inerrant Word His existence need only be declared.
  • Second, He establishes and governs relationships by His Word (1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26, 28-29).
  • Third, He pronounces blessing by His Word (1:22, 28, 2:3).
  • Fourth, He determines purpose by His Word (1:26, 28-30).
  • Fifth, He communicates by His Word (1:28-30).
  • Sixth, He reveals by His Word and man is dependent upon this revelation (2:16-17). Man already knew that every seed bearing plant was acceptable and intended to be eaten; however, man was dependent upon a revelatory act of God to know that he was not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (2:18-19).

IV. Creation as Eschatology

Eschatology simply means the study of last things. Creation is eschatological in the sense that it points beyond itself and towards the great end for which God has created it. This is helpful because it serves to remind us that God will not be surprised at the fall of man, rather He has anticipated it and has been planning something far greater all along. There are two aspects of creation which are particularly eschatological.

A. The Cultural Mandate

The cultural mandate is mentioned in both creation accounts,

“And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth’” (Genesis 1:28).

“The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15).

Clearly this is applied specifically to the earth and the garden as man is to fill it, subdue it, have dominion over it, work it, and keep it. However, “besides gardens, we also cultivate relationships, manners and forms of worship. We harness animals and the forces of nature. We formulate and develop ideas and traditions . . . culture covers the whole range of human society.”[19] This will be discussed more next week as we study what it means for man to be made in God’s image, but at this point it is clear that this designed purpose looks forward to a creation that has been filled, subdued, worked, and kept. For this reason it should not come as a surprise to find that story of redemption begins in the garden and ends in a city.

B. The Sabbath Rest

Having completed and declared His creation to be good “he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done” (Genesis 2:2). The word used here for “rest” is the same word from which we get “Sabbath” and it implies more than just a ceasing of labor; moreover it also speaks to an enjoyment.[20] God has both ceased his labor and is now enjoying what He has made.

Verse 3 records, “So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” God only declares the seventh day holy, or set apart, in anticipation of the future Sabbath Rest in the Holy City presented at the end of redemptive history.

Conclusion

From this week forward I want to begin concluding by allowing you all to discuss how we can apply tonight’s study as individuals and as a church.

Excursus A: Evolution Theistic and Atheistic

I. The Nature of Scripture

We noted above that the primary purpose of this text was to reveal God. As a whole Scripture is not a scientific textbook, it is revealed history and future; because of this, we cannot expect Scripture to answer the smallest detail of every scientific inquiry, because its primary concern is the revelation of God and not the satiation of scientific inquiry. However, what Scripture does reveal, scientifically or otherwise, it does so authoritatively, inerrantly, infallibly, and clearly.

II. The Nature of Science

Science is not equal to revelation. Science is not raw data but raw data interpreted. Science is primarily based upon observation and the world which science observes has been profoundly affected by the fall. Observation alone cannot account for or explain the systemic effects of the fall and because of this, it is always subject to correction by the Word of God.

III. The Question of Evolution

Evolution can be classified into two main categories, theistic and atheistic. On the one hand atheistic evolution is purely naturalistic and therefore denies the possibility of any supernatural deity; this clearly stands at odds with a biblical worldview. Theistic evolution on the other hand holds that God created by means of evolutionary processes. This is problematic on several accounts. First, such an interpretation relies heavily on a poetic interpretation of the first two chapters of Genesis while interpreting the remaining chapters literally. Having already noted the polemic structure of this text one must come to realize that it aims to both reveal the creator and to refute all rival deities and rival creation narratives, even modern ones. Second, theistic evolution provides an insufficient answer for the problem of evil and death. Within theistic evolution death is the means by which evolutionary change occurs and natural selection takes place. Contrary to this the Biblical account presents death as the result of sin. Because of this theistic evolution must be rejected as an inadequate explanation of how the world came into being.

Excursus B: Basic Categories for Alternate Theories of Creation

  • Paganism: Meaning “earth religion” and its basic assumption is that the universe eternally self-exists alongside God (Pantheism, Panentheism, Wicca/Witchcraft, Satanism, Dualism, and Mormonism).
  • Deism: The basic assumption here is that an intelligent designer created the universe as a self-sustaining and self-operating system, in which He is no longer involved.
  • Naturalism: The basic assumption here is that there is no creator only a self-existing and self-evolving/functioning material order.
  • Rejection: The basic assumption here is that the material is evil and should not have come into being (Gnosticism, Buddhism, and Hinduism).

[14] VanGemeren, The Progress of Redemption, 40.

[15]Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 90.

[16]VanGemeren, The Progress of Redemption, 40.

[17]Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen, The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 30.

[18]Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 92.

[19]Brian J. Walsh and J. Richard Middleton, The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1984), 55.

[20]Ludwig Koehler and Walters Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, ed. and trans. Johann Jakob Stamm, Benedikt Hartmann, Ze’Ev Ben-Hayyim, Eduard Yechezkel Kutscher, Philippe Reymond, and M. E. J. Richardson (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill Academic Publishers, 2001), s.v. “שׁבת.”

2. The Gospel as Metanarrative

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Introduction

If you where to explain the gospel to someone, where are some places in Scripture that you might start? Maybe in one of the gospels or in Romans, what are your thoughts?

Would anyone begin in the Old Testament?

That is where we are going to begin. We are going to give an overview of this study by looking at the gospel in the Old Testament. If we were to look at each of the four gospels we would notice that Matthew begins by giving a genealogy from Abraham to Christ, Mark begins by quoting several Old Testament prophets concerning Jesus and John the Baptist, after the baptism of Jesus Luke provides a genealogy from Jesus back to Adam, and John begins with the creation of the universe. From this we can see the importance of the Old Testament to the writers of the four gospels and the early church.

Would someone read Luke 24:13-35 for us?

“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).

What does he mean by this? What does it mean to begin with “Moses and all the Prophets?”

Exactly, Jesus began in Genesis, which was written by Moses, and then explained everything written about Him in the Old Testament.

I. Metanarrative and Worldview Revisited

Thinking back to last week’s discussion on we need to look at five questions that every worldview must answer. These questions also form the basic outline for our study of the storyline of the Bible. They are as follows:

  • Creation — How did we get here?
  • Fall — What went wrong?
  • Redemption — Can it be fixed?
  • Consummation — Where is it going?
  • Application — What now?

So let’s have some fun here and answer these questions as if we were characters in The Lord of the Rings. Is someone a big Tolkien fan and wants to answer them all or should I divide up the questions?

  • Creation — How did we get here?

“Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.”

  • Fall — What went wrong?

“One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.”

  • Redemption — Can it be fixed?

Yes, by destroying the ring in the fires of Mount Doom.

  • Consummation — Where is it going?

I think this question varies depending upon the various races in Middle-earth so I am not going to attempt an answer.

  • Application — What now?

We must journey to Mordor and destroy the ring.

II. The Gospel as Metanarrative

Now if we take that same framework and apply it to the Bible we will see both the metanarrative, the grand story, of Scripture and the worldview it presents. Furthermore, we need to pay special attention to note how Jesus is the unifying center of the Bible.

A. Creation — How did we get here?

In what way does creation relate to Jesus?

In Genesis 1:26 God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” So we see Jesus as a part of the Trinity in whose image man is made. If we turn to the New Testament we learn in Colossians that “For by him [meaning Christ] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” (1:16).

B. Fall — What went wrong?

Is Jesus related in any way to the fall and if so how?

Exactly, Jesus comes to redeem humanity from the curse of the fall. Jesus comes as the second Adam to give life where the first Adam brought about death.

C. Redemption — Can it be fixed?

1. Seeing the Gospel in the Garden

Continuing to look at Genesis 3 do you see the gospel mentioned there, perhaps in verse 15?

Yes, Jesus will conquer Satan and undo the curse.

2. Seeing the Gospel in the Flood

Can someone summarize the story of the flood? How would we see the gospel there?

God in His grace provided a way for Noah, and his family, to be spared from the wrath to come. In the same way we see that in Christ God has provided a way for us to be spared from the wrath to come.

3. Seeing the Gospel in the Calling of Abraham

Will someone read the calling of Abram in Genesis 12:1-3? How do we see the gospel in this account? Someone read Galatians 3:8 to see what Paul has to say about this event.

We see here that the gospel is proclaimed to Abraham and to the Patriarchs after him in the form of the Abrahamic Covenant whereby God promises to bless the nations through Abraham, specifically through Jesus a descendant of Abraham.

4. Seeing the Gospel in the Exodus

The narrative of the exodus is spread over fifteen chapters, which we do not have time to read, so will someone give us a synopsis? What are the key points? The exodus is rich with messianic foreshadowing what strikes you as the most vivid pictures of the coming messiah?

Clearly the Passover lamb points us to Jesus, the Lamb of God, through whom we have redemption. Even the Passover feast has been given new meaning in the Lord’s Supper, or communion, as it now reminds us of the death of Christ on the cross.

5. Seeing the Gospel in God’s Covenant with David

Someone read II Samuel 7:8-17. In what way do these promises point to David’s son Solomon and in what way do they point beyond Solomon to Christ?

This text is first fulfilled in Solomon and ultimately fulfilled in Christ. In I Kings 10:23-25 the wealth and wisdom of Solomon are recorded and so we see that God does establish Solomon’s kingdom. In I Kings 6-9 we see the building of the temple and so we see that he indeed does build a house for God’s name. However, this is not the ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy because we read of the descent and death of Solomon in I Kings 11, the division of the kingdom between Judah, the Southern Kingdom, under Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, and Israel, the Northern Kingdom, under Jeroboam I in I Kings 12, and then eventually both kingdoms fell and were carried off into exile; Israel in II Kings 17 and Judah in II Kings 24-25. So at this point we are left with a fairly dismal picture for what was promised to be an everlasting throne.

6. Seeing the Gospel in the New Covenant

In Jeremiah 31:31-34 we read of the promise of a New Covenant where God will write His law upon His people’s hearts and remember their sins no more. In Hebrews 8-9 we read of how the old covenant, specifically the Mosaic Covenant, which we did not discuss, has been superseded by the New Covenant because Jesus has secured our redemption, a redemption that was anticipated and foreshadowed by the Mosaic Covenant and its sacrificial system.

D. Consummation — Where is it going?

Where is all of this going? We read of man’s creation, his fall into sin, and the various covenants which God has established in anticipation of their consummation. If we would turn to Revelation 22:1-5 we will see the great end which all of these covenants anticipate.

Will someone read that for us?

Let us think back through our notes for tonight and see how this section of Scripture points us to the fulfillment of all that we have studied. Looking back to the fall of man and the cursing of creation we read in verse 3 that “No longer will there be anything accursed.” Also in verse 3 we see that man’s relationship with God has been restored as “his servants will worship him.” Looking back to God’s covenant with Abraham we see that indeed the nations are blessed as verse 2 tells us of the tree of life whose leaves are for “for the healing of the nations.” Thinking of God’s covenant with David and the promise of an everlasting kingdom and throne we read of “throne of God and of the Lamb” in verse 1 and verse 5 closes with the promise that God with His people “will reign forever and ever.”

E. Application — What now?

We stand between the giving of the New Covenant, in Christ, and the consummation of the covenants at His return. “We stand.” Did you catch that? This is not just the story of Israel or the church. Yes, it is God’s story, but it is also the story in which we dwell. So a critical aspect of application is discovering what it looks like to live out this story and discerning where we have read contradictory aspects of false stories in.

John 20:21 helps us answer the question “what now?” Will someone read that text for us? How does this text answer our fifth worldview question?

There is a lot to be learned from this text and we will devote a significant amount of time studying it at the end of this series. But now at the risk of extreme oversimplification we will look at Christ’s paradigmatic statement, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). If we are sent by Christ just as Christ was sent by the Father then we must be about the task of seeking and saving the lost. Looking back to the title of this series we see that not only must we indwell God’s story but we must also embody His mission to seek and save the lost.

Conclusion

Are there any other questions before we conclude? That was a very brief overview of the metanarrative of Scripture. We will spend the rest of our time breaking that story down into smaller narratives and seeing how they fit into the larger whole. Next time we will be diving into the story of creation and looking at both its message and its context within the history of God’s people. Take time to familiarize yourself with Genesis 1-2 as we will spend the next two sessions studying this text.

1. Biblical Theology, Metanarrative, and Worldview

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Introduction

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.”[1] 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.”[2] 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.”[3]
  • Finally, its central focus is “the unveiling of the full glory of Christ.”[4]

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.”[5] 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.”[6] What we learn from this is that Scripture is telling one story and that story is about Jesus.

II. Metanarrative

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?’”[7] 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.”[8] 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.

III.Worldview

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.”[9]

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.”[10]

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.”[11]

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.”[12] 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.”[13] 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.

Conclusion

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.

[1] Graeme Goldsworthy, According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991), 32.

[2] Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1948), preface.

[3] Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 35.

[4] Ibid., 32.

[5] Willem VanGemeren, The Progress of Redemption: The Story of Salvation from Creation to the New Jerusalem (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1988), 26.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, 2nd ed. (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), 216.

[8] J. Mark Bertrand, Rethinking Worldview: Learning to Think, Live and Speak in This World (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2007), 103-4.

[9] James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog, 4th ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2004), 17).

[10] D. A. Carson, The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 194.

[11] Ibid., 502.

[12] N. T. Wright, “The Book and the Story,” The Bible in Transmission Summer (1997).

[13] David Mills, “Enchanting Children: Training Up a Child Requires a Well-Formed Imagination,” Touchtone Magazine December (2006).

The Mission of God, Islam, and Beyond

On Sunday mornings we are doing a class entitled The Church, the Gospel, and the Ends of the Earth; these are my notes from those classes.

I. Introduction

One of the things we did overseas was organize various trips where churches would send college students over to various cultural experiences we had planned.  So we had students rooming with Muslim college students engaging in various cultural and academic projects and at one point one of the students, who was also a religious leader at his school, confronted his roommate and said, “I know why you are here.  You are here to convert us.  If you were anyone else I would have you arrested and immediately thrown out of the country.”  This student was a spiritual leader on his campus and he did not turn us in to the authorities.  Why would he do this?  He didn’t turn us in because of their relationship.

We live in America our perspective of Islam is skewed because of events like 9/11 and the recent bombing in Boston.  But we have to step out that American paradigm and view this through the lens of the gospel.  If you remember anything from this morning remember the importance of relationship.  I am not going to break Islam down theologically today; if you want resources on that let me know as I have written much on that topic.  I want us to look at how the gospel speaks to the Islamic worldview as well as several other worldviews.  But if you want to understand Islam theologically make a friend, talk to a Muslim, and find out what they believe.

II. The Challenge of Islam

In a way the challenge of Islam is no different than the challenges we face with any other worldview.  At the same time international politics and the reality of terrorism do present a challenge, not so much for us as followers of Christ, but for us as Americans.  So we must view these issues through the lens of the Gospel.  Albert Mohler addresses this tension in a recent article asking,

Do American Christians really believe that Christianity benefits by being associated with all that America represents to the Muslim world?  To many Muslims, America appears as the great fountain of pornography, debased entertainments, abortion, and sexual revolution.  Does it help our witness to Christ that all this would be associated in the Muslim mind with “Christian” America?  Beyond any historical doubt, the United States was established by founders whose worldview was shaped, in most cases quite self-consciously, by the Christian faith. . .  But America is not, by definition, a Christian nation in any helpful sense.[1]

It is important that we not let our United States citizenship become an obstacle when proclaiming the Gospel.

III. Communicating the Gospel through Culture

A lot of what missions and evangelism is about has been framed in terms of communicating cross-culturally.  The missionary must bridge a cultural gap between themselves and their hearers.  However, in the incarnation Jesus does not bridge a cultural gap.  He becomes a Jewish man and communicates the good news through that Jewish culture.  We too are called to incarnational ministry and I want to look at how we can communicate the gospel through culture.

Robert E. Webber writes, “In a world of competing stories, we call evangelicals to recover the truth of God’s Word as the story of the world, and to make it the centerpiece of evangelical life.”[2]  That is why our current preaching series is entitled “Luke, The Truth: Our Savior, Our Story.”  This story, this gospel that bridges from creation to recreation, shapes the whole of our existence.  And furthermore this story is not simply our story; this is everyone’s story, because it is God’s story.  It is the narrative of God’s gracious redemption set forth before the foundation of the world.  Because this is God’s story we can communicate the Gospel through culture rather than treating the Gospel as if it is a foreign element that must be forced into culture.  As the elements of the Gospel are already imbedded in culture, though we have become experts at suppressing them, we must learn to communicate the story of redemption in a way that undoes all rival stories.

Now let’s break this down into something really simple.  Every rival narrative, every culture can be understood in terms of three tensions.[3]  Does anyone know what two tensions characterize the western worldview?  What about a South American or African animistic worldview?  What about the worldview of a Japanese business man and a Muslim Imam?  So these three tensions of guilt and innocence, power and weakness, and honor and shame explain the worldview of any culture you will come into contact with.

A. Guilt and Innocence

As westerners we are concerned with right and wrong.  We frame the Gospel in terms of penal substitutionary atonement and the central theme of all our evangelistic methods is our guilt, it is about justice and forgiveness in Christ.

But the other themes are there too right?  Can anyone give me an example of honor and shame in western culture?  No matter how many times Pitbull and Ne-yo sing “we might not get tomorrow, let’s do it tonight” and all the freedom brought about by the sexual revolution if you go to any university in America, that still has separate men’s and women’s dormitories, there will likely be a path in between them known as the walk of shame.  So no matter what we do to suppress it these themes are embedded in who we are as humans.

B. Power and Weakness/Fear

Can anyone give me an example of a power and weakness, or power and fear, worldview?  I really tried to bring this theme out when looking at the temptation of Christ.  Jesus overcomes for us and liberates us from our fears; He has triumphed over our enemies at the cross.

C. Honor and Shame

I can distinctly remember pacing near that bus stop for an hour waiting for our friend to arrive so we could go to the market together.  He has promised to meet us there and continued to reassure me via text message that he was on his way.  Unfortunately I was thinking like an American I didn’t understand what was happening.  So I called and informed him that it would be dark soon and we needed to go, basically I was hungry and wanted food, he assured me he was on his way.  I asked him where he was and then I found out that he was working on a school project four hours away.  I brought shame upon my friend, I called him out for breaking his promise.  He would rather maintain his honor, by insisting that he was coming, than endure the shame of admitting that he forgot about his project and would not be going to the market with us.  It didn’t bother me, but I am sure that conversation bothered him a lot.

IV.  A Complete Gospel

The gospel speaks to these three tensions.  Jesus bears the wrath of God so that God can justify the ungodly, He becomes sin for us so that we can become the righteousness of God.  Just as God clothed Adam and Eve in the garden God covers our shame, He will not put those to shame who believe in Him.  He has triumphed over our enemies in the cross and He has been given all power and authority and we will reign with Him.  So at the end of the day my central encouragement to you is not that you go read a book on apologetics and find out all the answers to the really hard questions in life.  No, my encouragement is that you start a conversation and make a friend all the while knowing that not only does the gospel answer those hard questions more importantly it answers the questions that matter.  So get to know someone, know what their questions are, what their struggles are, and then explain how the gospel makes us righteous, covers our shame, and overcomes our enemies.


[1]R. Albert Mohler Jr., “The Challenge of Islam—A Christian Perspective,” Southern Seminary Magazine 81.3 (2013): 28.
[2]Robert E. Webber, Who Gets to Narrate the World? Contending for the Christian Story in an Age of Rivals (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 120.
[3]For a more in-depth discussion of this please see Roland Muller, Honor and Shame: Unlocking the Door (n.p.: Xlibris Corporation, 2000).

A Biblical Theology of Mission

On Sunday mornings we are doing a class entitled The Church, the Gospel, and the Ends of the Earth; these are my notes from last Sunday’s class on a biblical theology of mission.

I. Introduction

Last week we looked at the goal of missions, namely the glory of God.  This week we are going to trace the theme of mission through Scripture as it builds from God’s promise of redemption in the garden to the nations basking in the glory of God in the New Heavens and the New Earth.  This task of tracing a theme as it develops through the narrative of Scripture is called biblical theology.

What is Biblical theology?

The easiest way to explain biblical theology is to show you how it works.  If we were to begin reading in Genesis we would immediately learn that God exists and He creates (1:1).  Then we would see that this pre-existent Creator-God exists as a Spirit (1:2), a Spirit who speaks and indeed He doesn’t just speak but by His word He speaks creation into being (1:3).  This speaking Creator-God is good and can subsequently declare that His creation conforms to His inherent goodness (1:4).  Later on we see that this God is relational (1:26ff).  Further into the story we learn that this relational Creator-God is gracious (3:9ff).  That is biblical theology.

A. Two Definitions of Biblical Theology

  • “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.”[1]
  • “Biblical Theology deals with the material from the historical standpoint, seeking to exhibit the organic growth or development of the truths of Special Revelation from the primitive preredemptive Special Revelation given in Eden to the close of the New Testament canon.”[2]

B. Five Key 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.”[3]  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.”[4]
  • Finally, its central focus is “the unveiling of the full glory of Christ.”[5]

What is mission?

Since we are looking at a biblical theology of mission we will not begin with a definition but will look at how this theme organically develops along the Bible’s storyline.  The storyline of Scripture can be understood within the framework of the following five points which each ask a critical question.

C. The Storyline of Scripture

  • Creation — How did we get here?
  • Fall — What went wrong?
  • Redemption — Can it be fixed?
  • Consummation — Where is it going?

II. Biblical Theology in Overview

A. Creation — How did we get here?

Last week we discussed that the goal of mission is the glory of God and so we begin in Genesis with the created world perfectly reflecting the glory of God, after all everything that God made was good.  In particular God created man as His image-bearer to both reflect and enjoy His glory as His representative and the mediator of His presence who would care for His creation.[6]

B. Fall — What went wrong?

But then something goes terribly wrong; man rebels.  Rather than reflect God’s glory man seeks to rival it.  Rather than represent God’s authority and rule man seeks to live by his own authority and to exercise his own rule.  Because of this the whole of creation is stricken with a curse.  This ground which once brought life will now bring hardship, pain, frustration, and death.  The harmony of God’s good creation is shattered and man is now at war with creation, with his fellow man, even with himself, and ultimately with God.  This perfect picture of God’s glory has become a cosmic revelation of His judgment and wrath.

C. Redemption — Can it be fixed?

1. Seeing Mission in the Garden – The Adamic Covenant

Man does not seek out God in repentance; he does not attempt to atone for his sins.  No, man hides from God in the garden.  This is still man’s tendency (Romans 3:9-18).  From this narrative it is clear that man is both unwilling and unable to turn to God in repentance on his own accord.  God must intervene and intervene He does.  “God comes into the Garden from without, seeks out Adam, and both judges and shares the redemptive promise with him . . . God was on a mission to Adam.  He had no other man to send, so he sent himself.”[7]   God is a missional God.  He seeks out rebellious man to redeem him (Genesis 3:9).  God promises and provides for redemption (Genesis 3:15).  By the shedding of blood God covers their shame (Genesis 3:21).  And it is God who provides a means by which rebellious humanity may enter into relationship with him (Genesis 4:1-5).

This is our first glimpse of mission in Scripture, this is the defining moment for everything that follows.  From the Genesis narrative it is clear that “Mission is not ours; mission is God’s.  Certainly the mission of God is the prior reality out of which flows any mission that we get involved in.  Or, as it has been nicely put, it is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world but that God has a church for his mission in the world.  Mission was not made for the church; the church was made for mission—God’s mission.”[8]

Earlier we defined biblical theology and now we must add one more aspect to our understanding of it.  Biblical theology is Missional theology as God’s self-revelation of Himself through the narrative of Scripture is missionary activity.  God is the ultimate missionary, He makes Himself known.

Is Old Testament Mission Centripetal or Centrifugal?

There is a lot of debate about the distinction between OT mission and NT mission.  It is argued that the OT presents mission as the nations coming to Israel, centripetal mission, while the NT presents mission as the church going to the nations, centrifugal missions.  This is both unhelpful and fails to grasp mission as presented primarily as an act of God and secondarily as a response of God’s people to His mission.  Furthermore mission is always both centripetal and centrifugal.  God sends Himself, His Son, His Spirit, and His church and simultaneously God calls His people to a nation, a land, a city, a temple, and ultimately to Jesus Christ.  The going out and the calling in are inseparable throughout the full biblical narrative of mission.

2. Seeing Mission in the Flood – The Noaic Covenant

As man multiplied and filled the earth, rather than imaging God and representing His rule, man was characterized by self-worship and rebellion.  Indeed “every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).  And in this context God seeks out Noah and redeems him from the wrath to come.  In God’s covenant with Noah (Genesis 6:17-22; 8:20-22; 9:8-17) we see the scope of God’s mission.  Just as the curse touched the farthest regions of God’s creation so God’s mission reaches as far as that curse is to be found.  In the flood we see both God’s judgment upon the curse and foretaste of the New Heavens and the New Earth.

3. Seeing Mission in the Calling of Abraham – The Abrahamic Covenant

In what first appears to be a dramatic narrowing of God’s mission God calls Abram and establishes a covenant with him and his offspring (Genesis 12:1-3, 7; 13:14-17; 15; 17:1-22; 18; and 22:1-18).  But this is not a narrowing of God’s mission.  God is not abandoning the nations for the sake of Israel.  He is not blessing Israel at the expense of the nations.  No, He has called and will bless Israel for the sake of the nations.  The cosmic scope of His mission remains as the means by which He accomplishes this mission narrows its focus upon the singular seed of the woman, the offspring of Abraham, and as we will see later the descendant of David in whom God’s mission finds its fulfillment.

4. Seeing Mission in the Exodus – The Mosaic Covenant

Through a series of events recorded in Genesis 37-Exodus 1 the mission seems to be lost and it appears that God’s people have been forgotten and enslaved.  But this too was all part of God’s mission to make Himself known (Genesis 15:13ff.).  God demonstrates His redemptive might to the nations as He rescues His people from pharaoh and brings them to His mountain.  God then establishes a covenant with his people (Exodus 19-24) and declares that they are to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.  Beyond God’s mission it is clear that His people, “Israel definitely had a sense of mission, not in the sense of going somewhere but of being something.”[9]  God has both a mission and a people for this mission He is making Himself know through Israel.  As a holy nation they will demonstrate God’s character and as a kingdom of priests they will mediate His presence.

5. Seeing Mission in Judgment and Restoration – Deuteronomic Covenant

The failure and faithlessness of God’s people is nothing new.  From Noah and Abraham to the constant grumblings of Israel in the Exodus this is a theme that runs through Scripture.  So as Israel prepares to enter the Promised Land God establishes another covenant with them in addition to the Mosaic Covenant (Deuteronomy 29:1).  This covenant promises both blessing for obedience as well as curses for disobedience.  But God’s mission would not fail.  He will make Himself known among the nations in Israel’s victories, as His people dispossess their enemies, and in their failures as He disciplines His people, and ultimately He will make himself known as He restores them in their eventual repentance.  This covenant gives Missional understanding to everything that follows in the history of Israel.

6. Seeing Mission in the Monarchy – The Davidic Covenant

As His people struggle to live as a holy nation and a kingdom of priests God appoints a king to represent His rule, both to Israel and the nations.  Despite his many failures David “typified theocratic kingship”[10] and became the standard by which future kings were judged.  God establishes a covenant with David (II Samuel 7:8-16, 23:5; Psalm 89:34-37).  The covenant with David echoes many of the promises made to Abraham and so it becomes clear that the cosmic restoration pictured in the flood and the blessing of the nations promised to Abraham would come through the eternal kingship promised to David and his offspring.

7. Seeing Mission in the Prophetic Hope – The New Covenant

A Brief Outline of the Prophetic Hope:

  • Reconciliation with God – Throughout Scripture God promises that if His rebellious people would turn to Him in repentance then He will return to them as their God and will gather them as His people (II Chronicles 7:13-14; Jeremiah 30:8-22; 31:1; Ezekiel 34:30-31).
  • Return to the Promised Land – Furthermore, they are also promised a return to and the expansion of the promised land (Isaiah 54:1-3; Jeremiah 30:3; Ezekiel 34:11-16).
  • Reestablishment of Davidic Kingship – There is also an emphasis upon the renewal of the promises of the Davidic Covenant with particular emphasis placed upon the rule of the Davidic King (Jeremiah 23:5-6; 30:9; Ezekiel 34:23-24).
  • Rebuilding of the Temple – Also included in the emphasis upon the renewal of the promises of the Davidic Covenant is the promise that a new temple will be built within a New Jerusalem and that God’s glory will return and He will dwell among His people forever (Ezekiel 40-48).
  • The New Covenant – However, the most significant occurrence during this time is not the prophetic word concerning covenant renewal but the promise of a new and better covenant whereby the people will be indwelt by the law of the Lord and will dwell with Him in an eternal city (Jeremiah 31:31-40).

All of this is brought about by the mission of Christ.  Just as God seeks out rebellious Adam and Eve in the Garden so Jesus comes to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).  Jesus inaugurates the New Covenant, in Jesus we are reconciled to God; He is the Promised Land, the Davidic king, and the new temple.  Jesus fulfills the mission of God!

D. Consummation — Where is it going?

In Revelation 22:1-5 we will see the great end towards which all of God’s mission is working.  This passage points us to the fulfillment of all that we have studied.  Looking back to the fall of man and the cursing of creation we read in verse 3 that “No longer will there be anything accursed.”  Also in verse 3 we see that man’s relationship with God has been restored as “his servants will worship him.”  Looking back to God’s covenant with Abraham we see that indeed the nations are blessed as verse 2 tells us of the tree of life whose leaves are for “for the healing of the nations.”  Thinking of God’s covenant with David and the promise of an everlasting kingdom and throne we read of “throne of God and of the Lamb” in verse 1 and verse 5 closes with the promise that God with His people “will reign forever and ever.”

E. Application — What now?

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?’”[11]  We stand between the giving of the New Covenant, in Christ, and the consummation of the covenants at His return.  This is not just the story of God’s mission this is also our story and subsequently our mission.

I left out a critical aspect of the New Covenant mission of God above.  The same God who seeks out man in the Garden, the same God who sends His Son, also sends His Spirit to indwell His church, and just as God sent His Son, in the power of the Spirit, God now sends His Spirit-empowered church out to call the nations to glorify God.  This mission is not new, indeed it is very old, as “what blossoms and flourishes in the New Testament proclamation of the Gospel to convert all persons to discipleship to Jesus Christ is anticipated in the Old Testament’s proclamation of the goodness and grace of God.”[12]  And like Israel we too are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (I Peter 2:9).


[1]Graeme Goldsworthy, According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991), 32.
[2]Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1948) preface.
[3]Ibid.
[4]Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 35.
[5]Ibid., 32.
[6]Stanley J. Grenz, “The Social God and the Relational Self: Toward a Trinitarian Theology of the Imago Dei,” in Trinitarian Soundings in Systematic Theology (New York: T & T Clark, 2005), 88.
[7]Francis M. DuBose, God Who Sends: A Fresh Quest for Biblical Mission (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1983), 57.
[8]Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006), 62.
[9]Wright, The Mission of God, 504.
[10]Willem VanGemeren, The Progress of Redemption: The Story of Salvation from Creation to the New Jerusalem (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1988), 222.
[11]Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, 2nd ed. (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), 216.
[12]Patrick D. Miller Jr., “’Enthroned on the Praises of Israel’: The Praise of God in Old Testament Theology,” Interpretation 39 (1985): 8.