About the Blog: The Stories of God

Venice: Saint Mark basilica Judgement mosaics

Hello people,

Thanks for checking out His Glory in Our Story.   Here are the bullet points of the purpose for creating it:

 

THE GOAL:

  • There is a tremendous need for proclamation and teaching of Scripture in the Hindi language that is accessible to normal people.  The primary goal was to provide a resource for engaging the stories of Scripture in common, highly readable Hindi.  This required that I write it initially in English and hire a friend to do the translation work for me.  The internet opened the opportunity to publish both.
  • My goal for this project was to teach the beautiful theological truths of the Bible through the stories…not teaching about the stories, but through the richness of the stories themselves.  Narratives are the main genre used by Scripture to communicate God’s message, but we tend to take the stories and turn them into facts or propositional truths.  As valuable as those truths are, there was a reason God chose to use stories…the use of narrative was as much a part of God’s divine communication as the words themselves.  When we disregard the genre and turn it into a point chart, we truncate the meaning of the text.  Stories engage both the intellect and the affect (or emotions) to engage the whole person.  They exhibit God’s truth in the complexities of real life through characters we meant identify with…and not only as examples of truth, but as our own forefathers…spiritual fathers and mothers who went before us and love the same Lord, that are very likely looking down on us, and that we are going to meet someday face to face.  That is the fullness of reading Scripture.  They are meant to become models for us, the archetypes that function as immediate, powerfully motivating images in moments when we have to make decisions.
  • Consider the story of Moses at the rock (Exodus 17:1-7) and the way Moses chose not to lash out at the children of Israel at the moment they were going to kill him.  Instead, in a breathtaking moment of surrender and trust, Moses turned to God and appealed to Him on their behalf.  When a leader has deeply processed that story and identified with Moses, that image will provide a significant alternative pattern of behavior, a different storyline to follow, when he faces opposition.  We can talk all day long about what it means to be a servant leader, but Moses showed us in the deep complexities of life with all the emotions and personal threats that are involved.  We need the stories, and we need help to interpret them through deeply engaging the progression of each story and the way the divinely inspired authors chose to depict the characters in them.

THE CONCERN:

  • A concern I have (that might amount to a second goal) is to argue for the goodness of God, or rather the magnificent beauty of God, that we often miss because we have forgotten the art of deeply engaging the stories.  Many of the works of God in Scripture seem strange, obscure, or just plain wrong to us because we don’t understand how to read the story.  In the West, we look at Scripture through our limited, 20-21st century lenses, whether those lenses have a been influenced by a rationalism, positivism, postmodernism, individualism, pragmatism, or de facto atheism, (etc., etc.) frame of reference.  We have treated the stories of Scripture as if they are only good for children in Sunday school.  As much as we talk about context in biblical training institutions, the past few centuries have lead us to worship rationalism to the neglect of the fullness of what context means because we privilege logical abstractions over the realities of the heart to such a degree that real engagement of the heart disappears. The stories convey God’s truth with all of the complexities of how He ordained to make humanity…with all the messiness of emotions, will, desire…family and national loyalties, the power of honor and shame, the deep need for relationship, the gasping abyss of loss.  Stories create a context for human psychology as well as historical trajectory…of psychology as a powerful, complex force within the historical trajectory…to provide a longitudinal understanding or exhibition that grasps together all the complexities of what it means to be human in relationship to God.   They illustrate how the beautiful propositional truths of Scripture really work in the midst of complex, messy humanity.
  • Over the past few centuries, in our best attempts to support the spread of the Gospel across the globe, we have exported our biases and distortions as well.  Cultures where narrative is a very natural and intuitive form of communication adopt our methods and miss out on a chance to encounter the narratives as God provided them.  The mission community is making huge strides in correcting that error.   My own inability to understand the biblical stories hindered my faith for years.  Resolving my own questions changed everything about my ability to worship and live for Christ.  It created a compelling desire to make that knowledge available to others.  It appears to be a common theme in the workings of God to bless His beloved in the very way they sought to serve others. Writing out what I was learning in this short story/blog format and going through the editing process has been a deeply transforming activity, and has confirmed in my heart the importance of meditation on the stories.

EPISTEMOLOGY: 

Narrative is all the rage in many circles, including those that would seek to diminish the ringing truth of the Gospel.  Some might be rightfully concerned about whether those ideologies guide the writing of this blog.  They are not, but I thought I might clarify where I’m coming from.

  • The concept of narrative has been a major zeitgeist in academia for awhile now.  It seems to be a correction on the overreaches of scientific positivism and rationalism and the way these reduced the many of the fields of scholarship to an analysis of human reality according to the rather crass lenses of evolution and survival of the fittest and abstract categories.   That cultural fantasy could only last for so long before the truth of who we were made to be as a race reasserted itself.  Life is endowed with rich meaning and teleological purpose.  Humans are inherently meaning making creatures because we are made in the image of the God whose goodness endows reality with a surplus of Meaning.  As Augustine declared, our hearts our restless until they rest in Him.  We can see from Scripture that narratives are a way to incorporate, communicate, and interpret meaning, or truth, in the complexities of life with God as the central, guiding character.
  • For many of the same reasons that narratives are powerful for Christian spiritual growth, narratives prove to be a helpful paradigm for secularists trying to move away from the crass vacuum of meaning in the developments of science and rationalism in the West.  (If you want to see an example of the earlier emergence of this secular line of thinking, check out Jerome Bruner’s very lucid and engaging Acts of Meaning and Actual Minds, Possible Worlds).  I probably shouldn’t admit this, but as someone studying the integration of Christian theology with the field of education, I am rather enjoying watching the rationalists (who have ridiculed our faith system based on their presumptions about their own objectivity for the past two or three hundred years) receive a well deserved comeuppance by the next generation of their intellectual peers.  (What a bummer to base your confidence on the progression of human knowledge only to have the next progression of secular intellectuals reject your life’s work).   However, constructivism and postmodernism are equally problematic as modernism.   They bring a host of issues that I don’t think we have even begun to understand in terms of their ultimate impact on society.
  • It is my prayer that as Christians stand in truth we will have increasing ability to speak to the cynicism and lack of stability (moral, epistemological, etc., etc.) created by postmodernism and constructivism.  Their proponents are rightly depressed about the lack of answers that Enlightenment rationalism and positivism promised to provide now that we are a few hundred years into the project.  Christians have something truly meaningful to believe in that is actually true and squares with the reality that really is.  It is imbued with hope because it never put it’s hope in the capacities of humanity and/or science.
  • Members of the Jewish and Christian faith systems have been saying all along that that this world is objective and good but also fundamentally messed up because of the Fall.  This tempers both the excesses of modernism and post modernism.  We also aren’t shocked by the problems inherent to our reality or the human inability to make all things well (as with the many versions of utopianism).  We also don’t despair because we have a living Lord who is good, powerful, and loving.  He is the reason for a wild, broad-sweeping hope that allows us to eschew skepticism and in many ways return to an innocence and joy that is not the same as naiveté.  We pursue truth and seek to live lives of obedience that will naturally lead to acts of meaningful generosity and compassion within the spheres that God ordained for us to have influence.  We trust the rest to Him with the peace of knowing that solving the world is simply not the task of humanity.
  • For a much more scholarly treatment of these concerns in terms of theology, I recommend Lewis and Demarest’s Integrative Theology, Grudem’s Systematic Theology, or Shedd’s Dogmatic Theology.  In terms of the biblical narratives, go to N.T. Wright’s The New Testament and the People of God, Vanhoozer’s Is there Meaning in this Text and The Drama of Doctrine, Meir Sternberg’s The Poetics of Biblical Narrative, Ryken’s A Complete Literary Guide to the Bible [the introduction is particularly helpful] and The Literature of the Bible, and Osborne’s Hermeneutical Spiral.  For a shorter treatment and introduction to these issues, go to Osborne’s discussion here: Osborne, G.R. (2005). Historical narrative and truth in the Bible. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48(4), 673-688.
  • My concern for the evangelical community in the West is that it unintentionally got a little too caught up in rationalism…from what I understand the 17th century got a little crazy about doctrinal precision (building on the work of more measured thinkers like Luther and Calvin) and we have never quite recovered.  I recognize that these are broad generalizations.  Nonetheless, there are some important things we have neglected and major oversights that have diminished our witness, most regrettably perhaps in the way we have conducted mission work.  By isolating concepts into abstract concepts, I fear we might have lost the plot (pardon the pun) when it comes to honoring God’s Word as He gave it to us rather than an extreme dependence on Aristotelian/Thomist systems of categorization.  By moving back towards a stronger emphasis on the biblical theology that should properly undergird and support systematic theology, and by addressing the truths that emerge from the narratives in the context from which God ordained they would emerge, I think we can recapture the wisdom of God in giving them to us that way in the first place.  We don’t have to lose the beauty and clarity of the systems our brilliant theologians have worked so hard to develop…rather, a strong biblical theology and a greater focus on narrative will deeply enrich our understanding of them.

BIBLICAL AND THEOLOGICAL SCHOLARSHIP:

While writing these blogs, I had access to some of the best possible biblical scholarship.  If you are worried about accurate interpretation, these blogs fall well within the range of accepted evangelical orthodoxy.  You may not agree with everything, but I would suggest that what you disagree with should probably fall under the Romans 14 lesson of showing grace to your sister in Christ about the nonessentials.

THE LOGIC AND THE FORMAT:

I sought to depict a number of things through the writing.  I wanted to highlight the metanarrative and the ways the smaller stories contribute to it while also giving due attention to the beauty of the smaller stories.  For each section on the blog, the backstory is given and referred to as it should be appropriately engaged along the way.  For example,  Story 1  in the Gospel section starts with the big picture of the Bible (Creation, Fall, Covenants, Day of the Lord, etc.) so that by the time we get to the beginning of the Gospels (Story 7) we have a grasp of the Old Testament background and the context that Christ was living in. I also wanted to lay out the Creation-Fall-Redemption storyline while also focussing on the centrality of Christ Himself and the importance of the Trinity.  Special attention was also given to highlight the places where the stories exemplify the major doctrines and provide a way for the minds of mere humans to reconcile some of the seeming paradoxes such as the sovereignty of God and the moral responsibility of humanity, faith without works that works, etc. (And if that idea bothers you, take it up with Grant Osborne.  He’s the one I got it from and he is waaaay smarter than me.  He’s also a solid evangelical, so we are back to the Ro. 14 thing.)  I tried to identify stories according to 1) where the arc of the story ends in resolution, 2) the place where there seemed to be a natural pause if the story was too long, or 3) where the paragraphs showed a natural break.

THE GRAMMAR:

From some of you, it might drive you a bit crazy that I break a number of the rules of grammar, but I assure that I am not doing this out of ignorance.  Well, at least for the most part.  While I recognize the importance of structure and rules, I also find that these things can create a sort of rigidity to the language that in itself communicates something, a tone, that did not support my goals.  Currently we have a situation where stories are either told in overly simplistic language for children’s books or the rather wooden, highly formal descriptions of academic tomes with a lot of technical language.  While I am very grateful for these resources, if they replace actual engagement with the stories themselves, or if there is no treatment of how to deeply move into the stories, then our resources greatly hinder people from even considering approaching the stories in the way they were meant to be read.  In a sense, our publishing habits become a poor teaching model for poor study and devotional habits.  Therefore, I specifically set out to write in an accessible language that would sound natural if it was read out loud to be enjoyed in groups.  I should properly write “do not” and instead choose “don’t.”  I should not start words with “And” or “But” or “So,” yet I do if it helps create a sense of natural flow.  I also have fun with the fact that I can choose what to capitalize…why not capitalize “Him” when  it refers to Jesus…or any other term when it designates Him (such as the Son, the Teacher, or the Friend?)  I have no idea why we capitalize Hell but not Heaven, so I correct that.  I have many run on sentences, use periods to elongate points…and far too often, no doubt.  Such are the prerogatives of writers in the digital era.

ART AND MUSIC:

The artwork is all taken from dollorphotoclub.com and Adobe Stock.  I chose the art based on how well it highlighted the theme of the story.  I am learning to enjoy the way all kinds of images from all kinds of eras and traditions can illustrate the universal concepts in Scripture.  It has been amazing to observe the way an artist portrayed Christ iconically through a mosaic in the Hagia Sophia verses a stained glass from medieval Europe verses the black and white block prints of the post-Gutenburg world.  So many souls across time that have loved the same Savior.  The music is an unexpected, huge blessing for me in relation to this site.  In my technological ignorance I hadn’t realized how easily I could link to Youtube.  In my search for each story, tried to find the most visually appealing version of the song.  Sometimes that didn’t work out so well. However, adding music has been one of the greatest joys of this project.  It is so incredible to prepare a story about Jesus and fall in love with Him again (or more in love with Him?)…and then spend time listening to the words my spiritual brothers and sisters have written in their adoration of Him.  It is the only kind of falling in love where more than two is healthy and welcome.    I am sure I lean heavier on certain artists and definitely on some of the more well-known ones.   I enjoy using some older compositions (the Messiah) and artists (Keith Green, Michael Card) there is no way I’m going to change it…we can just consider it a part of the whole retro-fad thing going around.  Some things deserve the title of a classic.  If anyone has a good suggestion for a song for a particular post, let me know, I’d be totally delighted to check it out.  We live in an era with some amazing, wonderful developments in Christian music and it is fun to take advantage of legally.

THE HARMONY OF THE GOSPELS:

Every story from all four Gospels are represented in these blogs.  I put them together as a harmony (using the NASV and NIV harmonies as my sources).  For the stories that appear in more than one Gospel, I took all of the details and combined them to provide the fullest description of the situation.  (I know, I know…this is a violation of the fact that each divinely inspired author included the details for each story that they wanted to highlight to convey their particular meaning, and each author had a different emphasis.  I acknowledge this as a real weakness, but I couldn’t see any way around it.  In my defense, I have provided links at the top of each story to take readers to each of the texts where the stories appear so they can read them for themselves.  My only hope is that by being transparent about the weakness, it will highlight the importance of each version of each story in each Gospel so that readers will check them out on their own.  Or perhaps someone else will develop a similar blog where each Gospel is taken on it’s own so that the emphasis of each author is given a robust treatment?)

THE MISSION:

This project originally started after spending some time overseas as a missionary.  Resources for studying the Bible in developing countries are few.  What they do have is often written in a format that is a better fit for western, literate cultures.   Narratives are an extremely effective way of conveying concepts in many regions of the world, which the divinely inspired authors of Scripture seem to understand given that over 50% of the Bible came in the form of stories.  The Gospel section that I am now blogging has been translated into Hindi, the national language of India.  There are whispers of translating it into Mandarin and Spanish.  The Genesis section is undergoing translation now.  Please pray that the Lord will bless our efforts!

  • RESOURCING: If you or anyone you know would like to use these lessons as a resource, please feel free to do so, but please let me know so I can enjoy what the Lord is doing!  I think they’d be a fine way for Sunday School programs to help parents teach their kids at the pace of a few lessons a week or for a Christian school to use as Bible homework.  I have included a “print” button at the bottom of each story.  This will create a printable version for you that should work directly with your computer.  However, make sure that you only print the pages you really want…the mechanism adds parts of the website that you might not need for each story.
  • FUTURE PLANS: The Gospels are the first section of the biblical narrative to be blogged here because the story of Jesus is…well, important.  Unto salvation.  It is also incredibly beautiful and often misunderstood.  However, the Torah, Isaiah, Daniel, Acts, Ephesians, Thessalonians, and Romans are also completed in the same format and will eventually find their way online.   Some headway has also been made with the Book of Revelation.  (Should “book” be capitalized?)  At some point I hope to work through the Old Testament narratives starting with Joshua so that the whole narrative of Scripture is represented.  So stick around!

 

  •  CONTACT: My contact information in on the website or I can be reached at jennygrace777@hotmail.com.

Many blessings,

Jennifer Grace

IMG_0147

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: