5. Autonomy and Alienation

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Introduction

As we have studied the account of Creation and the imago Dei it should become clear that what is described there does not totally correspond to our present experience of reality. Indeed this disparity is the reason for our second worldview question, “What went wrong?” Answering this question is critical to making sense of the world in which we live and understanding how God will fulfill His creational purposes. This is the question we aim to answer as we examine the fall of man, the spread of sin, and God’s subsequent judgment.

I. The Fall in Context

Again we come to this text with the realization that it was written by Moses sometime after the exodus from Egypt and sometime before his death. This narrative is just as important for ancient Israel as it is for us. It explains why, in light of God’s good creation, they experienced 400 years of death and slavery. It reinforces their solidarity with Adam and the whole of humanity. We noted earlier that the creation narrative allowed Israel to understand that the “God who rescues Israel from slavery is the God who has made all things, the creator of heaven and earth.”[33] In the same way this narrative connects us and Israel before us, to Adam and Eve in a way that we are subjected to the curse and plagued by the same fallen nature just as they were. With this as the intent of the text we must realize that this text does not address all of our questions concerning the origin of evil and the serpent.

II. The Account of the Fall

In Genesis 2:16-17 we read, “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’” Here we see that man “was to learn the good in its clear opposition to evil, and the evil in its clear opposition to the good. Thus it will become plain how he could attain to this by taking either fork of the probation-choice.”[34] Ultimately, we find that man chose to know good and evil and by becoming evil. They rebelled against God and His Word “not by consciously making Satan their new final authority, but by taking that function to themselves.”[35]

Would someone read Genesis 3:1-13?

Because of the role of the Word of God in creation, it is not surprising then that the fall of man is a result of the questioning and doubting of this word.

In what ways is the encounter between the woman and the Serpent an assault upon the Word of God?

There is a brief addendum at the end of this chapter which discusses this dialogue in slightly more detail.

Would someone read Genesis 3:14-24? In what ways does God curse the Serpent, the woman, Adam, and creation?

III. The Fall and the Imago Dei

“Though man is still in the image of God, in every aspect of life some parts of that image have been distorted of lost.”[36] Structurally man’s mind and heart has become darkened (Romans 1:21; 2 Corinthians 4:4) and his conscience has been seared (1 Timothy 4:2). Functionally man fails to exercise dominion and rather than mastering creation, he is mastered by it; as Geerhardus Vos explains, noting the climactic nature of the curses found in Genesis 3 he translates it as, “thy hard labor will finally slay thee.”[37] Relationally man has been alienated from and is hostile towards God (Romans 5:10; Colossians 1:21; Hebrews 10:26-27), a hostility that not only sets man against man (Romans 1:28-31) but also sets a man against himself (James 4:1). The effects of the fall upon the imago Dei are pervasive; man does not cease to be an image bearer, and yet every aspect of that image is distorted by sin and the curse.

Profoundly affected by the fall, man is something less than human; he is something less than what he was created to be. Man is by default an image bearer and yet the image he bears is distorted and corrupt; it is an idolatrous image bearing witness to a false God.

IV. The Outworking of the Fall

Rather than simply examine Genesis 3 and the curse described there we need to recognize the narrative form of this text and continue reading to see the pervasive effects of the fall among the descendants of Adam and Eve.

A. Cain and Able

“Strangely, at first, the serpent seems to be right: Adam and eve do not immediately die. Or do they? One of the things this story should do is to make us reflect long and hard on just what ‘death’ means.”[38] This is very true and it should cause us think, yet death does come and it comes relentlessly and with great violence and horror. Immediately after the curse we read in verse 21 “And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.” The very animals which Adam had previously named were slaughtered to cover their shame with that death and bloodshed entered God’s creation.

Turn with me and read Genesis 4:1-8. The relational effects of the fall are clear as we see that by this point animal sacrifices are a normative way of interacting with God. Then as Cain slaughters his brother Able, as one would slaughter and animal, death comes violently upon mankind. Turning to chapter five the genealogies echo the horror of this reality:

  • “Thus all the days that Adam lived were 930 years, and he died.” (Genesis 5:5).
  • “Thus all the days of Seth were 912 years, and he died” (Genesis 5:8).
  • “Thus all the days of Kenan were 910 years, and he died” (Genesis 5:14).
  • “And he died” verse 17.
  • “And he died” verse 20.
  • “And he died” verse 27.
  • “And he died” verse 31.

B. The Flood

Would someone read Genesis 6:11-14 and 7:17-24? Has anyone ever been in a flood?

The only thing I could liken this to would be the tsunami in 2004 or hurricane Katrina and the stories and pictures of devastation and heartache. The problem of sin grew so severe that God killed every living thing on the earth save Noah, his family, and the animals on the ark. Can you imagine the horror of this? Can you imagine people who knew Noah beating on the side of the ark as the waters rose in search of salvation and finding none? Can you imagine the stench when the waters subsided and they exited the ark?

What does this teach us about sin, humanity and God?

C. The Tower of Babel

Continuing on through the Genesis text we arrive in chapter 10 we read a genealogy which describes the various clans and nations that came from the son’s of Noah and spread abroad on the earth. In chapter 11 we find that humanity has one language and has gathered together to build a tower and make a name for themselves so that they will not be scattered over the face of the earth. “Name in Scripture stands for identity. With this city and tower, the people have sought a false identity, a reputation built on human autonomy (11:4).”[39] God thwarts their rebellion again His command to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” by confusing their languages and scattering them over the face of the earth.

Conclusion

The reality of sin and God’s subsequent judgment sets the stage for man’s redemption and the restoration of the imago Dei. We will return to these same texts next week as we see how God’s mercy is mingled with His judgment as we learn to see these passages as both words of warning and words of hope.

What did this narrative teach Israel? What is it teaching us? How does this affect our understanding of creation?

Excursus A: Examining the Dialogue between Eve and the Serpent

At some point following the completion of creation the man and the woman are approached by the serpent who immediately begins to cast doubt on the word which God has spoken. He begins by asking, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’” (Genesis 3:1)? In his initial inquiry, the serpent not only aims to bring God’s Word into question he also distorts the word which has been spoken. The woman then replies and corrects the serpent; however, she then adds to God’s prohibition against the tree of the knowledge of good and evil saying, “neither shall you touch it, lest you die” whereas God’s prohibition was only against eating its fruit. Now that the woman has both responded to the serpent’s attempt to cast doubt on God’s Word and added to that Word herself the serpent directly challenges God and His Word. He says to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4-5). Then the woman saw that the tree was good for food, which should not be surprising as God has declared all of His creation to be good, took and with her husband ate and their eyes were opened.

[33]Bartholomew and Goheen, The Drama of Scripture, 30.

[34]Vos, Biblical Theology, 42.

[35]Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 104.

[36]Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 444.

[37]Vos, Biblical Theology, 48.

[38]Bartholomew and Goheen, The Drama of Scripture, 43.

[39]Ibid., 53.

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4. Those Created to Bear His Image

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Introduction

Of everything that we will be studying during this series there are few topics more important than defining what it means for man to be made in God’s image. Few subjects are as central to both God’s redemptive and reconciliatory mission and our purpose within this metanarrative as the imago Dei. “The Bible does not begin with the Fall but with Creation: Our value and dignity are rooted in the fact that we are created in the image of God, with the high calling of being His representatives on earth.”[21]

I. The Imago Dei in Context

It is important to understand the function of images in the ancient Near Eastern cultural context into which this word was spoken. “In the ancient world, images were viewed as representatives of the entity they designated. . . In addition, images were often thought to represent and even mediate the presence of the one who is physically absent.”[22] Even more “the psalmists and the prophets make no distinction between the images and the gods they represented―not because they did not know that such a distinction was there in the minds of pagan worshipers but because ultimately there was no such distinction in reality.”[23] This is because “they are both human constructs. In worshiping them, we give allegiance, we attribute power and authority, we submit ourselves to something that we ourselves have created.”[24]

Last week we noted that Genesis was written by Moses sometime after the exodus from Egypt and sometime before his death. What shocking event occurs after Israel arrives at Mt. Sinai? Would someone read Exodus 32:1-4?

In what way is this event, and all forms of idolatry, related to our discussion above?

The true horror of idolatry is not merely that it aims to overthrow the rule of God and substitute His presence with an object fashioned by human hands but it necessitates that we forsake our role as His image bearers as well.[25]

II. Examining the Text

Since we are going to spend most of our time examining one passage the verses have been included below. Would someone please read it?

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 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 1:26-28).

“The Hebrew word for ‘image’ (tselem) and the Hebrew word for ‘likeness’ (demût) refer to something that is similar but not identical to the thing it represents or is an ‘image’ of.”[26] In the case of idolatry there is no distinction between an idol and the god or gods it represents; however, there exists a clear distinction between Yahweh Elohim and those created to bear His image.

Before we begin examining the content of the imago Dei what are some preliminary observations you have concerning its content? This is helpful as we are able to study Scripture as a group and then check to see if our observations were correct. In short we are learning how to study the Bible by studying the Bible.

III. A Survey of Positions on the Imago Dei

Over the course of church history three major positions concerning the imago Dei have emerged.

A. Substantive View

The substantive view roots the image of God as primarily consisting in one or more of man’s physical, mental, or spiritual attributes. Many of those supporting a substantive perspective have advocated that the image resides in several different areas of man’s substance of these are man’s physical body, soul, rationality, intellect, holiness, and/or righteousness. This is often done by arguing that “the likeness consisted of the moral qualities of God, whereas the image involved the natural attributes of God.”[27]

B. Functional View

The functional view defines the imago Dei according to how an individual acts, namely, the way in which one functions as an image bearer. The proponents of this perspective almost unanimously focus on the function of man as God’s vice-regent who exercises dominion over creation. It has been described as seeing “the image of God as the royal function or office of human beings as God’s representatives and agents in the world, given authorized power to share in God’s rule over the earth’s resources and creatures.”[28]

C. Relational View

The relational view posits that “the human person is imago Dei in that he or she has been created to relate with God and with other humans in community.”[29] It is argued that,

“it is essential and natural to man not only to be with God but also, on the horizontal level and in analogy with this togetherness with God, to be with his fellow-man: not in isolation . . . there can be no I without the Thou, no man without the fellow-man, any more than there can be any man without God.”[30]

D. Critique

In critiquing these three positions it must be concluded that taken by themselves they are too narrow in their construction, rather they must be viewed as a unified and interdependent whole.

Does anyone have any observations as to why this is the case?

The substantive view necessitates that these qualities bear themselves out functionally in the context of relationship. For example man’s holiness impacts the way he functions as a vice-regent and how he relates to God, his fellow man, and creation. Man cannot function apart from his numerous substantive qualities any more than man could function without relation to anything. In the same way man cannot properly relate to God, his fellow man, or creation unless his substantive qualities function in a particular way.

IV. Viewing the Imago Dei Holistically

“We are not merely the image of some divine attributes; we image God himself, who is inseparable from all his attributes. . . All of God’s attributes describe his control and authority, and all equally describe his presence in the world.”[31] There are substantive, functional, and relational aspects to this that must be held in balance if one is to properly bear God’s image in this world.

V. The Imago Dei as Eschatology

The entire telos and purpose of humanity is caught up in the imago Dei. Man was created in the image of God; this image was damaged in the fall, is subsequently being restored via progressive sanctification, and will be completely restored in glorification. This theme which will be prevalent through the rest of our study as we examine Abraham, Israel, Jesus Christ, and the Church with all of it pointing us forward to “the eschatological community of glorified saints.”[32]

Conclusion

In what ways is this directly applicable to your life as an individual and our lives as a church, both locally and globally?

Selecting the material for this lesson was exceptionally difficult. This topic is very dear to me and there is much more that I would have loved to cover but time will not allow. If you are interested in learning more on this topic I will post a link to an article I wrote, from which most of this material is derived (see here).

[21]Nancy R. Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 87.

[22]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.

[23]Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006), 151.

[24]Ibid., 153.

[25]Walsh and Middleton, The Transforming Vision, 61-65.

[26]Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 442-43.

[27]Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 522.

[28]J. Richard Middleton, “The Liberating Image? Interpreting the Imago Dei in Context,” Christian Scholars Review 24.1 (1994): 12.

[29]James R. Beck and Bruce Demarest, The Human Person in Theology and Psychology: A Biblical Anthropology for the Twenty-First Century (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2005), 143.

[30]Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics: A Selection with Introduction by Helmut Gollwitzer (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1961; reprint, Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), 187-88.

[31]John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, A Theology of Lordship (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2002), 396-97.

[32]Grenz, “The Social God and the Relational Self,” 88.

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).