Recently I've begun reading Scot McKnight's recent Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church. In his third chapter, "Tell Me the Kingdom Story," McKnight draws our attention to an important (and much discussed) topic, the storyline of Scripture.
This chapter grabbed me for a couple of (overlapping) reasons. First, this topic aligns with a major component of the Brookside Institute Bible Basics class, where we spend three sessions diving into the structure and storyline of the Bible. Second, grasping the storyline of Scripture can transform the way we approach and read Scripture - this topic really is that big of a deal. Therefore, I figured it's worth interacting with Scot a bit here about this topic - both to help me think about it more clearly and to leverage some things Scot says I don't want us to miss.
Overview and Analysis
I resonate with the way McKnight frames the importance of understanding the storyline of Scripture: "...we need to learn to tell the story that makes sense of Jesus. Not a story that we ask Jesus to fit into. No, we need to find the story that Jesus himself and the apostles told. To use the common idiom, If Jesus was the answer, what was the question?" Or, as McKnight asks with even more focus, "If Jesus was the answer, and the answer was that Jesus was the Messiah/King, what was the question?" (p. 22)
To fast-forward through much of the chapter, McKnight goes on to present two ways of understanding the kingdom story that have been presented as an answer to this question, the C-F-R-C Story (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation) and what McKnight is advocating - what he calls the A-B-A' Story. This A-B-A' story proceeds via movement from Plan A where God rules the world through his elected people (but where God is the one and only King) to Plan B where Israel wants a human king (which, according to McKnight, shows that Israel wants to usurp God's rule), ultimately to Plan A' (Plan A Revised) where God once again establishes his rule over Israel through King Jesus.
As I read through the chapter, McKnight's revised approach to the storyline (from the dominant C-F-R-C model to his suggested A-B-A') seems to be driven by some good - and legitimate - concerns: his desire to maintain the uber-centrality of Jesus, his concern that kingdom has become too individualistic, and his desire to understand sin as usurping authority (rebellion?). For what it's worth, I too want to maintain the uber-centrality of Jesus. I too want to maintain that the kingdom has implications for individuals AND the people of God corporately. I too want to understand sin in the big and bold ways Scripture presents it - sin is not simply a misstep, but is selfish rebellion against the good and gracious rule of a sovereign God. Assuming I'm understanding McKnight correctly, I agree with him on these things.
I just think these same emphases can (and should) be brought into the C-F-R-C model (or some slightly nuanced version of it). Instead of trying to fit C-F-R-C within the A-B-A' schema (which McKnight suggests), I'd suggest the opposite: taking the strengths of his A-B-A' schema and making sure they're brought out in the C-F-R-C model. This means nuancing the C-F-R-C model a bit. As simple and helpful as Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation might be, we as evangelicals (and especially those of us who teach!) need to press beyond a simplistic four-word summary and understand (and communicate!) what these words "Creation," "Fall," Redemption" and "Consummation" (or restoration, or re-creation) really mean. For example:
To sum up, I like the elements McKnight wants to emphasize - I just think we can do that within the existing C-F-R-C framework, and that that framework still allows us to do this in the best ways. (For more on this, see especially The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story by Bartholomew and Goheen, or sign up for "Bible Basics: An Important Class about God's Word" next time it comes around.)
Appreciation (Or, don't miss this stuff)
OK. Enough "critical analysis." Now, let me move on to a few points McKnight brings up towards the end of the chapter that I don't want us to miss. Knowing that followers of Jesus are to "live into" the biblical story (even if I might communicate that story a bit differently than McKnight - see above), how can we lead people this direction, and stay pointed in this direction ourselves? What are some practical ways we "live into" this true story of the world? Here's where I simply want to reinforce a few of the things McKnights brings up:
First off, McKnight clarifies how we should understand "living into" the biblical story (his terminology is "ever-deepening discipleship into the story":
...this is not about becoming Bible students. But is is about the simultaneous act of being both mastered by the Bible's story and mastering that story for ourselves. It is my conviction that if pastors and preachers and teachers do their job on Sunday mornings and in Sunday school [or Brookside Institute!] classes or Bible study groups, the average Christian should be exposed every three to five years to the whole Bible story. In the course of a life a person converted prior to age twenty-five should encounter the breadth of the Bible's story at least ten times - that is, if the local church takes seriously its task of reading the Bible and teaching the Bible in light of the kingdom story. (p. 37, emphasis original)
McKnight then goes on to offer three practical ways we can move in this direction. While I may not apply every sub-application he suggests, I'm in total agreement with the big categories he brings up. The following headings are inspired directly by McKnight pp 38-39, though they may not necessarily be verbatim quotes (that's me giving credit where credit is due); any explanation underneath is mine.
If we're to be people who "live into" and "live in line with" the Bible's story, these are three things we need to be doing:
1. We need to preach [and teach] from the whole Bible and not just our pet passages.
This means we both plan our teaching/preaching to cover the scope of God's Word, and periodically look back (and ask others) so we discern what our "pet passages" or "pet themes" might be.
2. We need to encourage everyone in the church to read the Bible regularly.
We encourage them to do this, and then we equip them to do this. (Check out our Institute class called "Bible Basics" or these posts on online study helps and studying the Bible on your own for more on this.) And then we keep encouraging them to do this. (And by the way, this assumes we are faithfully immersing ourselves in the Bible as teachers as well!)
3. Don't isolate theology [or cultural engagement, or ethics, or other Christian teaching] from this biblical storyline
Even if you're not preaching through one specific, defined passage of Scripture, be intentional about intersecting with the biblical storyline in whatever you teach. "Where does this intersect with the biblical storyline, and how does it do so?" is a worthwhile question to ask both while we're studying and as we present.
Help me understand how you're processing this post on the Bible's storyline - your comments on any (or all) of these questions would be helpful!
If you liked this post, you may also be interested in "Bible Reading, Speedboating, and Scuba Diving."
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