Aligning our Expectations is the first entry in a four-part series where we explore some thoughts about coming to the Bible to be transformed.
Early on in my experience at Penn State, I met a couple who wandered into our weekly group meeting one night named James and Erin. I have a distinct memory of that night because both James and Erin had very different - yet such powerful - encounters with Jesus. Both were searching for answers better than the ones they had been told by Western Culture and in some cases by the Church. Erin was a hurting Christian, James an open Agnostic. They were hungry to experience Jesus.
I remember working through lots of their questions over the next few years on a variety of topics. Some answers I had and others I didn’t. But as I reflect on our time together, I continually recall a number of assumptions they had about God because of assumptions they had about the Bible. There was a particular conversation where James told me that he wished the Bible was written like a science textbook because then it would be easier for him to believe.
I come back to that conversation somewhat regularly because it reminds me that we come to the Scriptures with a set of assumptions about what the Bible does and doesn’t say. This affects the way that we view everything from politics to education, to food sources, to how we raise our children. In the academic world, we talk about these questions under the banner called worldview. Everyone has one, and everyone uses it (whether they’re aware of it or not.)
One of the CCO’s deepest passions is to help college students to examine their worldview in an effort to align it with the way the Scriptures tell us God sees the world. For Christians, seeing the world in the same way Jesus does - in its brokenness and its potential - is paramount. The reality is that our culture does a great job of shaping our worldview, in many cases better than our churches are.
Just like James and Erin, we need to (continually) reorient our eyes. Jesus taught us that the way that things appear isn't always the way that they are. When His disciples asked Him why He taught in parables, Jesus said that they couldn’t see what He was talking about because they didn’t see or hear in the right way.
Imagine being one of the 12, maybe like Peter, who just wants to understand what Jesus is teaching and so you inquire only to be met with a response akin to, “You don’t understand because you don’t even understand. Don’t you see what’s going on? Can’t you hear it?”
What Jesse and Erin needed - and what we need as well - was the right way to see things. Have you ever noticed the hidden arrow in a FedEx logo? Once you see it, you can never not notice it. Take a look for yourself, it's between the capital E and the X:
What’s the right way? Two to Four parts…
The Bible tells lots of small stories, but there is a greater, overarching story which encompasses all of the smaller ones. We call that the full Gospel, or the 4-Part Gospel.
Through the CCO, I discovered a richer and more robust Gospel than I thought possible. I discovered another two chapters of the Story: Creation and Restoration. If you’re unfamiliar with the Four-Part Gospel narrative of Creation | Fall | Redemption | Restoration, then you can find an explanation here. I wouldn’t be able to do an explanation justice in such a short window so I won’t attempt it. What we need to know are the following things:
- All things belong to God, not just our “spiritual lives.”
- God is making all things new; He is restoring all things!
- The Bible helps us to situate us in God’s story.
In the grand narrative of the Bible, we find a God who creates in grace, redeems through grace, and restores by grace. Understanding the story of the Scriptures means learning about the undeserved favor of God for us, in spite of us. The conclusion of the Scriptures sees this gracious God condescend to save us, and rejoin us to be with us. We read the words in Revelation chapter 21:
“Behold! God’s dwelling is with humanity, and he will I’ve with them. They will be his peoples, and God himself will be their God He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away.”
This is the end to which history is headed. We measure our present circumstance by the place we’ll end up. If things are tragic now, then don’t fret because our God is making all of those things come untrue (to borrow the words of author J.R.R. Tolkien.) Are things good now? The Apostle Paul tells us that we cannot even imagine the richness we have in the Gospel (Eph. 3)!
In the same way, once you see the full Gospel and its four chapters throughout the Bible, you cannot un-see it! You also begin to see the world around you using those four chapters. You begin to see the inherent worth of people as created in God’s image. You begin to see the brokenness of our world as something more than individual criminals and “bad people making bad choices. You start to see the rampant, systematic, and carcinogenic effect of sin and death.
But you also have hope. You have hope because you see the empty tomb of Jesus and know that He conquered sin and death. You ask the brokenness of the world, “Oh death, where is your sting‽”
This then liberates the Church to ask, “How long, oh Lord?” We know that the restoration of all things is coming. We ask how long will it take? We yearn and lament for the Kingdom of Heaven to come in its fullness, where death will be no more.
We read the Bible to be transformed by it so that we see the world as Jesus taught us to.
Why does this matter?
I’ve grown up being taught and shaped both formally and informally to believe that truth can be obtained in a marketplace; nothing is better or worse but simply just is. All truth claims are value-neutral, and therefore I can choose whatever I want. I heard the term used to describe my generation I think fitting: The Mosaic Generation. I think its highly accurate because my generation has learned to piece together meaning and truth from what suits us in the same way an artist might assemble a mosaic. This is our bias.
The story of the scriptures is definite. It doesn’t leave room for, that’s-just-true-for-you-isms. As such, I have a tendency to search for my own meaning from that text, to uncover what I want it to say rather than to wisely seek its meaning.
James’ bias was to read Genesis like a science textbook. He was disappointed when it didn’t provide the answers he was looking for.
What’s difficult about both of our situations is that we both sought a certain type of information or answer we thought would satisfy our concerns. What we found instead what was we needed. We found the true story of a God that loves us, and gave his son for us in order that we might be reconciled back to him. We didn’t deserve any of that, yet freely we received. It is in this truth with which I must approach all parts of my daily life. These things anchor my soul.
What truth anchors your soul? Here are a few questions to consider as we move forward with understanding the Scriptures together:
- What is the first thing you (would) teach someone about being a Christian if they asked?
- What are the non-negotiable for you when it comes to being a Christian?
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking a look at some other pieces we need to understand the Bible holistically and practically. Feel free to let me know what you think down below, or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading!