“It is possible to know Bible stories, yet miss the Bible story.” – Ed Clowney
Increasingly we find ourselves living among a biblically illiterate people. Every day the people around us swim in a postmodern sea and find themselves drowning in emptiness, relativism, and confusion with no orientation to the “The Grand Narrative” of the truth of world around them.
One of the main tasks we have as believers if to communicate the gospel with absolute clarity and simplicity. Before we are able to do this we need to be able to show people the context in which the good news of Jesus Christ was delivered. This is why it is extremely important to understand the meta-narrative or overarching story of the Bible in which the gospel is to be told. Understanding the outlined story of the Bible is very helpful in directing conversation toward the gospel.
Most popular evangelism courses and gospel summaries do well to explain the good news of Jesus Christ, but often fail to explore the context in which that good news is delivered. The gospel is central to, and yet part of, the grand story laid forth in the Bible. The Bible is best understood as a single story, “a story set in real history. It is a historical saga – an epic. And the story is amazing.”
It’s important to remember that the whole story, or the ‘grand narrative’, of redemption is essential for properly understanding the gospel message and is thus vital a tool for communicating the gospel itself. The gospel is central to human history and is the climax to all of redemptive history. Therefore, in studying the gospel and evangelism one should begin by seeking to grasp God’s overall plan and his specific work in Jesus Christ to bring salvation.
The following outline of creation-rebellion-redemption-restoration is a framework to understand the human situation. These four points in the story are “pegs on which to hang a gospel conversation; [and] they might not even be dealt with in order.” However, intimately understanding these four points of the “The Grand Narrative” will allow you to guide a conversation while keeping it focused on the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“The Grand Narrative”
The following is just a simple outline of the grand narrative of history and redemption: much like what you will find in Mark Dever’s article on the plan of salvation in the ESV Study Bible, and the tract “The Story.” I encourage every believer to know the story well, put it in your own words, and think though how you might use “The Grand Narrative” to point to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The story begins with God, who has always existed. God spoke this world and all that is in it into existence: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. . . . God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” God created human beings in his image. They were created to reflect God’s beauty and to worship him. Our first parents once lived in paradise and enjoyed unhindered fellowship with God. When God’s work of creation was complete he declared that it was “very good.” So, in the beginning all of creation was in harmony, and everything was “as it should be.”
Although the first people God created, Adam and Eve, had complete freedom to live in intimacy and trust God, but they chose to rebel and turn away from him. In doing this they rejected God’s created order. Because God designed that Adam would represent the entire human race, his rebellion was catastrophic not only for him but for us: “one trespass led to condemnation for all men.” Like a virus, sin entered the world. With sin came death, disease, natural disaster, violence, and all other evils that plague our world. Our fellowship, as a human race, with God was broken. Therefore, instead of enjoying His holy pleasure, we all now face His righteous wrath.
Through this sin, we all died spiritually and the entire world was affected. God also cursed the world over which humanity had been set to reign as His representatives. “The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it.” Evidence of our rebellious hearts is that we all individually sin against God in our own lives: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We see the effects of rebellion all around us, “things are not as they should be.”
God would have been perfectly just to leave matters there, with all human beings under his holy judgment, but he didn’t. God instead set in motion his plan to save his people from sin and judgment and set free the entire creation from its subjugation to sin and the curse. Over the centuries God prepared the way for his Son Jesus to enter the world. Jesus is a true and pure man, who conquered where all others had failed, and who would bear the penalty for our sin and die in our place: “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.” Christ did what we could not do to offer us what we do not deserve.
The best-known verse in the Bible summarizes the required response to this good news: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” To “believe in” Jesus includes both a complete trust in him for forgiveness of sins and a willingness to forsake one’s sin or to “repent”: All who truly “repent [or turn from their sins] and believe [in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins]” will be redeemed and restored to a right relationship with God. To “believe in” Jesus also requires relating to, and putting trust in, Jesus as he truly is—not just a man in ancient history but also a living Savior today who knows our hearts and hears our prayers.
God not only rescues lost sinners but will one day restore all of creation. We read in Romans 8:21: “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” The heavens and the earth will “pass away” and be radically transformed. We read of the glorious culmination of this in the book of Revelation, where God’s people, the redeemed, are brought into the presence of God to live forever. This is life as it should be, literally as it was meant to be.
The gospel is what brings us to a right relationship with God. In that relationship we will experience what it is meant to be truly alive, truly human, we will see how things are meant to be. In the gospel of Jesus Christ we are granted to experience reality as God intended, it is the magnificent step awaiting the return to God’s created order.
Thoughts and Questions
When in conversation with people it is very likely that you will get on a subject that will allow you to orient the discussion to the “The Grand Narrative.” Here are some questions and comments that could help aim your discussion towards the ‘The Grand Narrative.’ These are just a few suggestions. In conversation with someone be wise enough to make your own connections that are relevant to the discussion and need.
- There are plenty of examples around us of evil and suffering. Why do you think our world is the way it is?
- It’s interesting to watch the evening news: one story is about murder, another is about someone helping out a neighbor. Why are human beings, as a race, so inconsistent?
- There is so much pain in our world. Don’t you long for the world to be a better place?
- Many people try to be good citizens, and even religious. But, do you think behavior modification will really fix the deepest problems of humanity?
- The literature scholar C.S. Lewis once wrote that the story of Christianity is the only ‘true myth’, in the sense that it is not only a beautiful story but it is also true. Isn’t there a part of you that wants this story to be true?
- All of us want to be happy, but we find different ways to fulfill that desire. But, do you find in yourself desires that nothing in this world can fulfill?
Again, knowing the context of the gospel is important for evangelism. But we need to make sure we actually get to the gospel personally:
“The grand story of creation, [rebellion], redemption, and [restoration]…tells me what God is doing and how he’s doing it. But how is that good news for sinners like you and me?”
The grand story of redemption is bad news for unrepentant rebellious people who have not placed their faith in Christ. In the context of redemptive history we look towards a time of judgment and wrath, along with the good news of renewal and re-creation. So, how then do we move from ‘cosmic news’ to ‘personal news’? Without the personal call to repentance and faith – we are not doing evangelism. Heed this warning given by Greg Gilbert:
“When you understand and articulate it rightly, the creation-[rebellion]-redemption-[restoration] outline provides a good framework for a faithful presentation of the biblical gospel. The problem, though, is that…[it]…has been used wrongly by some as a way to place the emphasis of the gospel on God’s promise to renew the world, rather than on the cross.”
Therefore, in the next post we will explore the personal response to the Gospel…
- The Unfolding Mystery, 11.
- A comprehensive explanation of historical experience or knowledge.
- In theological literature this would be categorized in the field of “Biblical Theology.”
- Mark Dever, What Does God Want Of Us Anyway?, 24.
- Scholars would call the overarching story a “metanarrative.”
- Phillip Jenson and Tony Payne, Telling the Truth, 107.
- Gen. 1:1, 27.
- Gen. 1:31.
- Gen. 3:1–7.
- Rom. 5:18.
- Rom. 3:1–20; Eph. 2:1–10.
- Gen. 3:17–19.
- Rom. 8:20.
- Rom. 3:23.
- 1 Cor. 15:3.
- John 3:16.
- Mark 1:15.
- 2 Pet. 3:7–13; Rev. 21:1.
- Rev. 21:1–22:6.
- Michael Lawrence, Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church, 95.
- Greg Gilbert, What is the Gospel?, 106.