The Bible as Story

Here are the notes for the sermon I delivered today at Bellingham Covenant Church. Again, these are just the notes, so they may seem cryptic at times.

(Hebrews 1:1-2, Acts 17:22-33)

Intro: This short sermon series (three weeks) draws on the book “The Blue Parakeet” by Scot McKnight. The title comes from a bird that he saw in his backyard one day… …he calls “blue parakeet passages” the parts of the Bible that we are uncomfortable with and don’t know what to do with.

Today’s sermon is about how to read the Bible in the right way so there aren’t passages that we ignore because we’re uncomfortable with them. The best way to do this is to see the Bible as Story.

The Big Story: Creation (Genesis 1-2), Crack-up (Genesis 3-11), Covenant Community (Genesis 12-Malachi), Christ Redeems (Matthew-Revelation 20), Consummation (Revelation 21-22).

Reading the Bible as a Story is difficult, because it means that we need to know the Bible. It has to be in our bones. It has to shape our imaginations, and how we see the world. But that’s hard, and Scot McKnight in his book points out five shortcuts we take around reading the Bible as Story:

1. the Bible as Lawbook: People come to the Bible saying, “Just tell me what to do.” The Bible does have laws in it, but when you treat the Bible as lawbook only, you distort it. Laws are ALWAYS in context. They are expressions of how the people of God are to live at a particular time in history. Examples: Exodus 20:2 – “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” Matthew 5:1-2 “His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.”

2. the Bible as Catalogue of Blessings and Promises – When you read the Bible as catalogue of blessings and promises, there are a lot of passages that are useless, like Job or Ecclesiastes or anything about exile. Or anything in the New Testament about persecution. When we treat the Bible as a catalogue of blessings and promises, we don’t know what to do when life gets rough.

3. the Bible as Rorschach Inkblots – The Rorschach test is a series of inkblots, where the psychologist asks you what you see. When we read the Bible like this, we see what is in our head. Republicans think Jesus is a Republican. Democrats think Jesus is a Democrat. We see what we want to see, and ignore everything else. People who read the Bible like this open the Bible and say, “Tell me I’m OK.” They don’t want to be challenged. But the Bible should challenge us.

4. the Bible as a Puzzle – These people cut out certain verses and organize them in stacks. In the end, the Bible doesn’t have to be read, because they already know what it says. If you read the Bible like this, you end up having to bend over backwards to explain away passages that don’t fit in with your puzzle. These people put the Bible in a cage.

5. the Bible through the eyes of a Maestro – There are two main maestros in the Bible: Jesus and Paul. The Reformers read everything in the light of what Paul said. Martin Luther wanted to cut James out of the Bible because he was reading the whole Bible through what Paul said. We have to embrace each biblical author in order to get a sense of the whole Story. Each biblical author told his part of the story in his day in his way, and we need to listen to each of them to get a sense of what the Story is about.

We just read two passages that show the Bible is a story.

The first one is the author of the letter to the Hebrews saying that God speaks in various days in various ways. He spoke in Moses’ days in Moses’ ways, in David’s days in David’s ways, and so on.

The Bible is a big Story, but in every age there are different expressions of it. It is a Big Story made up of little stories. God always speaks in a way that people can understand. Now God speaks to us in our day in ways that we can understand. He’s not too proud to come down to our level; he has never been too proud to do this.

The key to these stories is Jesus. He is the ultimate revealing of what God is like.

The second passage we read is Paul telling the Story to one group of people – non-Jews in Athens – in a way that they can understand.

The next time you read the book of Acts, focus on all the different sermons. You will see that Peter, Stephen, Philip and Paul preach basically the same story, but they tell a slightly different version every time so that the people they are speaking to can understand it. When Peter speaks to Jews, he draws on the Jewish scriptures (our Old Testament) to show that Jesus is the Messiah prophesied in those scriptures.

Here, when Paul talks to Greeks, he quotes Greek poets in verse 28. But he’s not saying, “What you believe is OK.” He speaks to people in a way that they can understand, but he challenges them by criticizing their idolatry and talking about Jesus’ resurrection.

These two passages (and many others!) show what reading the Bible as Story is all about. It is about understanding that the Bible is a Big Story that is made up of little stories held together by that Big Story. And the only way to make sense of the blue parakeets (the passages that we don’t understand or that make us uncomfortable) is to set each in the context of the Big Story.

In closing, I want you to take away a few points about seeing the Bible as a Story:

1. In order to know the Bible’s story, you need to spend time with the Bible. No Shortcuts! Otherwise it won’t make sense, and there will be blue parakeets flying all over the place.

Example: Scholars say that the book of Revelation contains over 500 allusions to the Old Testament, and not one of them is a direct quote. It never says, “Isaiah said this,” or “The Psalms said that.” John assumed that his audience would get his references. If we don’t know the Bible, including the Old Testament, we won’t understand how each book fits into the whole.

You can read through the Bible in a year if you read about four chapters a day, or in two years if you read two chapters a day. Study Bibles are very helpful for background information.

2. The Story continues. The last two chapters of the Bible, Revelation 21-22, tell about the end of history, and we’re not there yet. That means the church is part of the Story, and you and I are part of the Story.

If we want to make sense of our stories, we need to know the Big Story. When we know the Big Story, we will be better able to understand how our stories fit in.

The Story continues in the church. “Sola scriptura” doesn’t mean we should only have the Bible. It means that the Bible trumps tradition and can correct it. If we act like we are the first people to ever be able to read it correctly, we have made a mistake. This is how cults get founded.

3. When we share the Story with others, we need to do our best to tell the story in a way that people can understand.

Peter spoke to Jews one way in Acts 2, and Paul spoke to Greeks a different way in Acts 17. And they both told the story differently from the way the Old Testament prophets told it. They were telling the same story, but in different ways so that different people could understand it.

Telling the story so people can understand it does not mean that we take the plot out of the story. We need to say, “Your story gets some things right, but here’s a story that gets everything right.” This is offensive to some people. We should be humble and say something like, “There are some things I don’t know about the Bible’s Story, but what I do know is true.”

When we share the Story with other people, we need to listen to them and do our best to figure out what parts of the Story will grab them. In all this, we trust the Holy Spirit to open people’s hearts. We can’t do that. All we can do is tell the story the best way we know how: as the story of God’s rescue mission to save a hurting and broken world.


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