The History Channel’s mini-series called The Bible was a huge hit. The premiere telecast ranked as cable TV’s most-watched show this year. Producer Mark Burnett said one of the reasons he produced the mini-series was to help tackle biblical illiteracy globally—especially among younger people. In this ten-episode mini-series, the viewer is given a sweeping survey of the major Bible stories.
Just like any mini-series, if you watch only one of the episodes, you’ll learn a few Bible stories, but you’ll miss how those stories are meant to fit with all the other stories that happened before and after. In other words, you’ll miss the overall plot of the story, the one greater, unfolding story that begins in week one, ends in week ten, and encompasses all the other stories. But even if you faithfully watch all ten episodes and understand all the individual Bible stories, you can still miss the overarching plot.
Ed Clowney writes about this common problem:
“There are great stories in the Bible…but it is possible to know Bible stories, yet miss the Bible story…The Bible has a storyline. It traces an unfolding drama. The story follows the history of Israel, but it does not begin there, nor does it contain what you would expect in a national history…If we forget the storyline…we cut the heart out of the Bible.” ((Edmund Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament,Inter-Varsity Press, 1988.))
Although the Bible consists of a wide variety of historical narratives (stories spanning generations) and many other types of literature (laws, poetry, lyrics, prophecies, letters, etc.), many don’t realize that, at its core, the Bible is one, greater unfolding story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Former missionary to India and author Lesslie Newbigin wrote about his strange encounter with a Hindu scholar who rebuked him for not communicating more clearly to people the unique “story in the stories” found in the Bible:
“I can’t understand why you missionaries present the Bible to us in India as a book of religion. It is not a book of religion–and anyway we have plenty of books of religion in India. We don’t need any more! I find in your Bible a unique interpretation of universal history, the history of the whole of creation and the history of the human race. And therefore a unique interpretation of the human person as a responsible actor in history. That is unique. There is nothing else in the whole religious literature of the world to put alongside it.” ((Lesslie Newbigin, A Walk Through the Bible, Regent College Publishing, 2005.))
So what is this one “story in the stories?” What is this unique interpretation of the universal history of the human race? The essence of this story consists in the reality that God’s creation of both mankind and the world, now ruined by the fall of man into sin, is being restored through the person and work of Jesus Christ. The good news is that both fallen humanity and the fallen world are now in the process of being re-created by God’s Holy Spirit, through His Church, into a Kingdom of God, where one day Christ will return and make all things new in a new heavens and a new earth that will last forever.
The reason it’s so important for us to know this one overarching story of God’s purpose and plan for humanity and the world is because, whether we realize it or not, all of our lives are constantly being shaped by some story. And there are several stories or worldviews (e.g. naturalism, relativism, dualism, etc.) that are competing to be the story that shapes our lives. The way we understand the purpose and meaning of our lives depends on our understanding of the human story. Newbigin writes,
“The way we understand human life depends on what conception we have of the human story. What is the real story of which my life story is a part.” ((Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1989.))
The more deeply we understand God’s unfolding purpose for humanity and the world, the more deeply we’ll understand God’s unfolding purpose for our lives. That’s because the only way to make any ultimate sense out of our individual life stories is to understand how they fit into God’s one unfolding story revealed in the Bible. God means for this story to so captivate our minds and hearts, that we’re drawn, by his Spirit, into its plot to find our vital place in it.