God’s Big Story – an introduction to Biblical Theology

This week’s podcast was all about God’s people dwelling in God’s place or presence.  You can listen to the podcast:

We were looking at Biblical Theology.  If Systematic Theology is about taking the whole teaching of Scripture, synthesising and systematising it into specific teaching topics or doctrines, then summarising them, Biblical Theology is about tracing the story of God’s redemptive plan through Scripture to see how it unfolds.

The point is that although there are lots of different stories in Scripture, there is in fact a unifying narrative that holds it all together.  By the way, people who refuse to accept that Scripture is God breathed often fail to accept that there is an intentional unifying narrative.  How could there be?  The story is about God, people and land/place.  Graham Goldsworthy sums this up as

“God’s people … in God’s place … under God’s rule.”

Graeme Goldsworthy, “Gospel and Kingdom”, 54.

But what kind of story is it?  Well, on the podcast we observed that there are really two options when it comes to stories.  They are either tragedy or comedy.  Tragedies finish with things far worse off than at the beginning for the main characters, think Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet.  Comedies on the other hand might present the protagonist or hero with great challenges and struggles, even suffering and setbacks along the way but they offer the ultimate happy ending. Life is better at the end than the beginning.  Think of how Shakespeare marked this out by finishing his comedies with a wedding feast as in Midsummer Night’s Dream.[1]

In the Bible we find examples of Comedy and Tragedy in terms of unique storylines.    Genesis 1-11, and the book of Judges are tragedies, they show the pitiful downward descent of humanity when we fail to have God as our king.  Job, Ruth and Esther are comedies as we see God’s intervention to redeem and rescue. Job may be plagued with affliction, oppressed even by his friends, need God’s rebuke but he is restored and receives back double what he lost.  Ruth even ends with a Shakespearian wedding feast.  So, what kind of story is the whole Bible telling? There are I think enough clues there for you to work it out.

So in Scripture, we can trace that theme of God’s people in God’s place.  We do that in a little bit more detail on the podcast and I’m planning to return to some of the specific parts of the story in a few future posts but in summary, what we tend to see is that:

  1. God’s blessing means that his people are gathered in his presence.  This is represented by places including the Garden of Eden, the land of Israel and eventually the new heavens and the new earth.
  2. To be in God’s place is to be where we can worship him, enjoying and glorifying him.  It’s where God offers provision and protection. This means that there are boundaries set to the place. In the Garden of Eden there was a limit set on which trees the first couple could eat from.
  3. God’s people are to subdue and to fill the place that God gives to them.  This was the whole of creation for Adam and Eve, then for Noah. It was specifically the land of Canaan for Abraham.
  4. Judgement for sin is death.  A big aspect of death is to do with exile.  If blessing and life is all about God’s people living in his place, then curse and death means being banished from God’s place, from his loving, covenant presence.  Adam and Eve are banished from Eden, the flood means that people are banished from the earth itself, Abraham at times takes himself into exile such as when he goes down to Egypt.  After King David, when the nation of Israel falls into sin and rebellion, they experience exile to Babylon and Persia.

From there, we can see how the Gospel sits at the centre and fulfilment to the story and how Jesus is the solution.  In becoming human, Jesus is not just becoming a generic creature. He becomes God’s people.  Jesus is the obedient son, the righteous second Adam but he experiences rejection, banishment and exile, crucified outside the city, he tastes death. However, this means that in his body on the Cross, he becomes the Temple, he becomes the place where we can be reconciled to God.  It is in Jesus that God’s people are in his place, in his presence, under his rule and blessing again.

This means that we now live in an in between time – the now and not yet. In one sense we are Gpd’s people in God’s place as we have the Holy Spirit with us.  In another, we are exiles, strangers who are not yet at home.  We look forward to the day when Christ will return and the new creation will mean that we will live for ever in his presence.

In future posts I’m planning to talk a little bit more about some detailed examples. I’m also going to share the next instalment of “Being Human” where we’ll trace the specific theme of being God’s people – a Biblical Theology of humanity. We’re going to draw out some practical application from this too.

Oh and by the way, if you’ve not spotted it yet, the Biblical story is comedy not tragedy. It finishes with a wedding feast. 

[1] For more on this theme see Peter Leithart, Deep Comedy or Glen Scrivener, Divine Comedy -Human Tragedy. Note “comedy” classically refers not to humour as in stand-up or sit-com but to this type of narrative.  I assume that the word’s usage was narrowed down from the idea that such a story brought pleasure and happiness. 

%d bloggers like this: