Friday, July 01, 2011

The Gospel is a Story

The Gospel is not just a series of facts to which we yield our assent but a dramatic narrative that re-plots our identity. - Michael Horton
So I'm reading and journaling through the Gospel of Mark slowly. Very slowly. I don't know how long I've been doing this, but I just finished chapter 1.

Here's something I'm beginning to realize. The gospel is, at least in one significant sense, a story. The gospel is not a set of theological propositions. The gospel may have many aspects, but any time you boil it down to mere theological propositions, it is no longer the gospel. The propositions may be important, they may be helpful, and they may be true and weighty, but they are not the gospel. They are, I would say (snidely), transliterations of the gospel into sem-speak. Most people I know who have been in seminary, training to be preachers, speak sem-speak. They act like they've got a fish on the line every time they open their mouth, but really it's just a textbook.

I'm not suggesting the gospel is only a story and nothing more. But the four documents in the NT that are specifically known as "Gospels" are narratives about who Jesus was and what he did and what he said. I'm not dismissing theological education at all, only suggesting that if Jesus thought sem-speak was the best way to communicate the riches of the gospel, well, that's how he would have talked.

But I was going to say, in the Gospel of Mark you run across this word gospel right away, in verse one, and you realize that Mark is calling the whole narrative, this story you are about to read, the gospel. Then again, you soon find out that Jesus, when he starts his ministry, is preaching something that he refers to as the gospel, and it's not the same as the story Mark is telling.

Jesus is announcing good news about the availability of the Kingdom of God. So that's the gospel too. A crazy announcement about the Kingdom of God. But it's an announcement that happens within the context of the story called "gospel," and it is an announcement that ramifies considerably as the story unfolds. In other words, all stories start somewhere, and that's where Jesus starts. It's his "point of entry" into something that will--at its center--have the words and deeds of Jesus. His story.

So you see we're back to a story again. A story about what Jesus did and said. And accomplished. What I'm trying to get away from as I read Mark is the tendency to separate each passage into a life-lesson or even a glorious message of encouragement, but to see it as a piece of the whole, which is a narrative. A story.

Now every part of this story has implications for life, and I'm not dismissing that, only sometimes I think we stray far and wide in the realm of "application," leaving the story behind. Some of the best preaching I've ever heard has been nothing more than a humble retelling of the gospel story.

And here's the clincher: I think when we leave the story behind, we leave the subject of the story behind. In a sense we leave reality behind, and go off into our own heads. We leave behind the living Jesus in favor of preaching-opportunities, injunctions, advice, corrective measures, critiques of "the world," imperatives, "Daily Bread" type encouragement, and a whole host of other things.

And we find ourselves sifting through all these derivative things, endlessly.

As for me, I'm just trying to "hear" the story again, fresh.


dle said...

"Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written."
—John 21:25

I don't think this is mere hyperbole on the part of John. I think that story gets written and added to whenever someone comes to Christ. Your story and my story get written into the ongoing story of the Gospel and how it changes lives and builds an imperishable Kingdom.

For that reason, your story and mine matter. "He told me everything I've ever done" are not just the magnetic words of the woman at the well; they can be ours in our own form. "He saved me from a life of purposelessness" or "He restored my broken family" are just as much the words of the Gospel story as the words of the woman at the well, even if those are our stories today and not the words of someone in Palestine AD 31.

That's the beauty of the Gospel story. Those are the words that fill the books that threaten to overwhelm the world with wonder.

Lore Ferguson said...

Love this. Thanks.

Erin Hope said...

wow. I was just talking to nate about this a few days ago. I realized something cool later that day too:
Everyone's vocation (when stripped down) is to be a story-teller.
We're all to continually retell the Jesus' story over and over....the means by which we go about doing that will probably look different for everyone.... But isn't that cool?

Bob Spencer said...

Dan and Erin, you two are saying about the same thing, methinks. And you're both wonderfully onto something. Wherever Jesus is, his story continues. In and through us. So when Luke says at the beginning of Acts that his earlier account was all about "all that Jesus BEGAN to do and teach," it sort of implies that Acts, the story of the apostles after Jesus ascended, is the story of all that Jesus CONTINUED to do and teach. Through his followers. So his story continues in our stories, or our stories are caught up into his, if we are united to him in spirit. A wonderful truth. And also a truth that I suppose should make us stop and wonder if we really living as if we were confidant that all this is really true.