Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Nerd Stuff: Metanarrative

This is an article I posted on the Equipping Journal webpage of my church's site. I repost it here because I am a nerd, and if you are reading this, then you are probably a nerd, too.


Maybe you’ve heard the word “metanarrative” before. It’s a five dollar word that educated types like to throw around to make other people regret they didn’t spend tens of thousands of dollars on a post-graduate degree. (And yes, I’m one of those guys. Sorry.) Metanarrative just means Big Story. It’s the Story behind and above the story. You might say the metanarrative of the Lord of the Rings is the triumph of Good over Evil in spite of human frailty and temptation to power. It’s not just about hobbits and elves and rings—it’s about you and me and the struggle between Good and Evil we find ourselves in every day.

The Bible has a metanarrative. There is a Story behind all the stories of the Bible—behind all the books and poems and laws and prophecies there lies a Big Story that holds them all together. The Big Story of the Bible is just like any other story. It has plot, characters, settings, moods—even occasional pyrotechnics! In order to see the metanarrative of the Bible you have to pull back so that you can see, as it were, the whole Scripture lying open in a scroll before you. When you see the whole Bible you find that the plot is this: Creation; Rebellion; Redemption Pursued; Redemption Accomplished; ReCreation.


“In the beginning, God.” That’s how the story starts. The first actor on the stage and the first one to speak is God. It all starts with him. He creates everything and calls it good. And then he creates humans and calls them very good. In the beginning, it’s all good.


Well, that didn’t last long. By the time you get to the third chapter of the Bible humans are screwing things up by rebelling against God. It’s not all good anymore. In fact, it’s very, very bad. Now that humans have sinned (which is basically rebelling against God), they have invited death into creation as a consequence. And it’s not long before brothers start killing each other. Things spiral quickly into chaos until God regrets creating humans in the first place, so he sends a catastrophic flood to start over with the only good family left on earth. But, of course, that doesn’t really solve anything, and it isn’t long before humanity is back on the same path it was pursuing before the flood.

Redemption Pursued

Then along comes this old fella named Abraham, and God decides that he’s going to undo everything that humanity has done through this guy and his descendants. Long story short, Abraham’s descendants become the nation of Israel, whom God establishes through their great, triumphant exodus from slavery in Egypt. (By the way, the Exodus is the most important event in the Old Testament, so you would do well to study up on it.) God’s intention is to redeem the whole world from sin and death and evil through Israel. But you probably already know how this story ends—not good! Israel winds up becoming just as sinful as everyone else, so there’s no way that they can fulfill their role as the hope of the world. God’s going to have to do something else—something drastic.

Redemption Accomplished

Jesus. Because the people God chose to be the vehicle of redemption for mankind failed to live up to their end of the bargain, he decided to do it himself. So God sent his son Jesus to become a human. (I know you’ve heard that a million times, but think about it. Think about it again. God. Became. Human.) Jesus came and did what Israel had failed to do—keep their agreement with God. And the thing is, when God became human, we killed him. Jesus was crucified like a brigand or criminal. But then he rose again! He came back from death, and his resurrection is the victory over sin and death that we had been waiting for all this time! The redemption that God had promised would come way back when we first rebelled finally happened in Jesus’ death and resurrection.


But that’s not the end of the story, because now Jesus is busy making all things new—that means me and you. God is at work ReCreating the cosmos, and he’s starting with us humans, the people who sent everything into this downward spiral in the first place. Someday, when he decides the time is right, Jesus is going to come back and judge everyone, and that judgment will be the ultimate act of ReCreation, because when he has judged he will ReCreate everything—not just you and me but the heavens and the earth as well. (If you think our world is beautiful now, just wait until Jesus gets to work and Yosemite Valley is the least beautiful place on earth.) Then he will come down here and live with us for all eternity.

That’s the metanarrative of the Bible. The Big Story. All the little stories are just retellings of the Big Story (Scot McKnight calls them wiki-stories), and the Big Story is what holds them all together. And now it’s our turn. It’s our turn to find ourselves in the story (hint: we’re in the ReCreation part) and tell wiki-stories of the Big Story, and to live out the implications of the Big Story so that the world can know that there really is a Storyteller behind and above it all.

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