Sydney Carton went to a far better rest than he had ever known. Jane Eyre heard the voice of her old master. Alexei helped his brother Dmitri escape. Raskolnikov found grace with Sonya. Jean Valjean became a father to Cosette. Bilbo found the ring. Frodo carried it to Mount Doom. The man and the boy carried the fire on the road. Jeeves saved the day, repeatedly, as Bertie’s keeper. Harry faced down Voldemort, laying down his life for his friends.
These events that take place in great stories only make sense in the context of the wider narrative in which they’re set. In the novels, these events are powerful, thought provoking, moving, beautiful. But if you haven’t read the stories and don’t know the context, they mean very little.
Jesus accomplished an exodus in Jerusalem. He came as the lamb of God. He called himself the bridegroom. He spoke of his death in terms of the tearing down of the temple. When he died on the cross, dead people came out of their graves.
Like the events in the novels, these things about Jesus make sense when read against the back-story that gives them meaning. It can be hard to see the big story of the Bible because the narrative thread is harder to pick up than it is in most novels.
When I first started reading the Bible, it puzzled me that though this book was the one inspired by God, it seemed to me that other books were so much easier (and seemingly more fun) to read. Those other books seemed so much easier to understand. Often those other books were putting life’s big questions right on the surface. Reading other books was like picking low-hanging fruit. Reading the Bible was like searching for diamonds in a desert.
The problem was not with the Bible. The problem was with me and my expectations. For all the fun and ease I found in stories, I couldn’t find answers. I couldn’t find Truth.
If our fingers learn to feel the Bible’s narrative thread, we can follow that thread through the desert to the diamonds. We will feel the power and beauty of the descriptions of Jesus in the Gospels because the notes they sound will resonate in music our ears have learned to hear. The imagery will communicate rather than confuse. We will come away thinking the biblical authors were not only inspired but of subtly brilliant, no more thinking other writers tell better tales. We will come to see that the best of the world’s writers have merely sought to capture something of the shimmer on the Bible’s pages.
This is what biblical theology is for: to take you to Truth, to lead you all the way to God.
If you understand biblical theology, you won’t think that Homer, Virgil, Dickens, and Hugo were better storytellers than Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. You won’t think the Gospels rough and rude. You’ll see how they’re carefully crafted, structurally sound, climactic presentations of a story far more significant than any novelist invented.
If you come to understand biblical theology, the Bible will explain not merely what God has done in Christ but the whole world and its fullness, including but not limited to the world’s great works of literature. Better: you will learn the insight of the men of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.
Best: if you come to understand biblical theology, it will be because you will have come to know God. You will understand what the Spirit inspired the biblical authors to write, and if the Lord has truly made you a biblical theologian, you will see how your life fits in the Bible’s big story, the true story of the world. You will have learned the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors, embraced it, and begun to apply it to your own life.
Becoming a biblical theologian is an epic task worthy of every human being. It goes beyond the mere reading of books on the topic, though that will aid those who join this quest. It requires a lifelong study of the Scriptures for the glory of the Father in the power of the Spirit by faith in the Son.
Are you ready to begin your journey? This is an adventure that will take you into the real world, the world of the Bible. And my prayer is that once you’ve been there, you’ll never want to be anywhere else. Count the cost. Bring your Bible. Join me for THINK|13.
This post also appeared today on the College Park Church Blog.