Tuesday, March 05, 2013

The Bible as Story

This post is a slightly longer version of a column that originally appeared at MWR.

When I was a kid in the late 1970s, I loved the 1960s television series Star Trek. A friend and I transformed junk we found in our garages into tricorders and communicators and spent hours pretending to captain Federation starships. We even attended a small Star Trek fan convention.

That convention was miniscule compared to the film and TV conventions today. The largest and most well-known is the annual San Diego Comic-Con, which draws more than 130,000 fans and collaborators in pop culture ranging from comic books, film and TV to video games and webcomics.

What draws so many to gatherings like this? In part, the stories. People caught up in them enjoy sharing their enthusiasm and passion with others who feel the same. Many long to participate in the stories themselves.

Whedon/photo by Gage Skidmore
Writer and director Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Toy Story, Avengers) put it best. Talking to an auditorium packed with 4,000 fans of his science fiction series Firefly, he said: “When you’re telling a story, you are trying to connect to people… . it’s about inviting them into a world. And the way in which you guys have inhabited this world, this universe, has made you part of it, part of the story. You are living in Firefly. When I see you guys, I don’t think the show’s off the air. I don’t think there’s a show. I think that’s what the world is like… . The story is alive.”

I wish more of us felt that way about our own Story.

Stories have great power to shape us. They fill our imagination, thoughts and emotions. They help us find meaning in life and influence how we see the world and how we act in it. Shared stories are particularly powerful this way.

Historically, the Bible is such a story. But while modern generations have unprecedented access to the Bible, many of us simply don’t read it. And while doctrine and faith statements are important, they lack the compelling power of the Story itself.

The way we approach Scripture may also affect our enthusiasm. We tend to take it in bits and pieces, losing sight that, as Sean Gladding puts it in The Story of God, The Story of Us, “there is a Story contained within all the stories, poetry, prophecy and letters that the Bible comprises.”

That’s how the early church and apostles saw it. In The King Jesus Gospel, Scot McKnight points out that the apostles lived and presented the gospel as a larger story (Acts 2:14-39, 10:34-43, 13:16-41, etc.). “[T]he gospel is all about the Story of Israel coming to its resolution in the Story of Jesus and our letting that story become our story. To come to terms with this story-shaped gospel, we will have to become People of the Story.”

“To become a gospel culture we’ve got to begin with becoming people of the Book,” says McKnight, “but not just as a Book but as the story that shapes us.”

For the Story and its Author — to whom it always invites — to shape us, we must let it, from beginning to end, fill our imaginations, thoughts and emotions and influence how we see and act in the world.

As we become people of the Story, we’ll find the Story actually is what the world is like. The Story really is alive. We’ll gather together because we long to share our passion and love for God and his Story. As Gladding puts it, we will be drawn into and our lives shaped “by the Story in such a way that you find yourself caught up in the mystery and the wonder that is the life of God’s mission in and to our broken world.”

In addition to the books referenced, here are two resources to aid approaching Scripture as story: The Story of Jesus, NIV (Zondervan) and Knowing and Living Your Faith (Kindred Productions and Christian Press), a study of the International Community of Mennonite Brethren Confession of Faith.

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