Over the last number of months, I have had a surprising number of conversations with pastor friends about the perceived pressure to preach something other than the Truth discerned in the Bible. My friend Helen down close to NASA, told she could never use the word “justice” ever again from the pulpit despite how weighty a theological concept it is.
Or Lynn, asked the day before Easter, “You’re not going to preach the resurrection again are you?”
Or Alan, who pastors a church with a huge overseas mission budget but doesn’t feel like he can talk to his congregation about being on mission in their city for fear the offering basket will dry up.
All of these pastors understand how counter-cultural the Story of God really is. Which is why – on one hand – there is so much pressure to conform; and, on the other hand, so much Biblical encouragement not to conform.
In the late 70’s, in the midst of growing fears, oil embargoes and economic boom, Walter Brueggemann introduced generations of committed Christians to “the prophetic imagination.” “The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception that is alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us.” Walter Brueggemann, pg 13, Prophetic Imagination. A task that sounds about as easy as separating a bowl of spaghetti from its sauce.
But only the narrative of God- God’s story we know from the Bible – can provide “a powerful Gospel-based critique of modern capitalist culture,” as one fellow Mennonite World Review blogger put it.
That’s what Karl Barth, the great Nazi-era European theologian, highlights for us through his translation of Romans 12:2. He says, “Do not fashion yourselves according to the present form of this world, but according to its coming transformation, by renewing your mind.”
This my friends is the power of God’s Story, which is “living and active, sharper than any two edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow.” (Hebrews 4:12). This is a much more important question than What is the Bible? The answer to the question Why the Bibl?. The Bible is because it and it alone provides us the antidote we need to the lies and temptations around us. The Bible is because only God’s Story can help us to see an alternative, preferred future where joy, peace and celebration reign.
Brueggemann goes on to say that “the church has no business more pressing than the reappropriation of its memory in its full power and authenticity.” We must recover our memory.
Why? Because the Bible reveals to us God’s story, clarifying who and how God is, and what God is up to in our world. Our memory of the Bible is important not because it is more information about God, trivia items worth knowing. But because it invites us to see ourselves as characters in that story. Ordinary you and normal I are as much a part of the story as Abraham, Esther, Nebuchadrezzar or Mary.
So this summer we’ll remember God’s Story by exploring it in 5 Acts. Our place in God’s story is in Act 5, a context which calls for a specific way of being that differs from the other 4 Acts in God’s story. And this story calls us to hope, as Karl Barth suggested, we see our world not as complete at this time, but “according to its coming transformation.” We know there is more to the Story. And so we hope! And we pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Houston.”
And astonishingly, we are invited to participate in the coming transformation of our world. Jesus said, “if any want to follow me let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) In other words, we participate by becoming members of God’s movement, members of God’s story.
We participate by re-membering ourselves to God’s Story as good news for us. Paul says in Romans 8 that “we are children of God…. And you have received a spirit of adoption, so when we cry “Abba Father!” it is God’s Spirit bearing witness with out spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.”
And we participate by remembering ourselves to God’s Story as our way of being in the world. “Do not let the world squeeze you into it’s mold.” Instead, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus: do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourself. Let each of you look not to your own interests but to the interests of others.” (Phil 2) “Don’t react violently against the one who is evil (Matthew 5:39).” “Don’t repay anyone evil for evil.” (Romans 12:17) But instead Jesus gives us a new commandment, “As I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
And this is what separates Re-membering God’s Story from remembering the Alamo, remembering the Titans, or even remembering our own proud genealogy. Only God’s story can transform us in to the image of Christ.
Move beyond a devotional approach, where the Bible is a smorgasborg with thousands of entrés and spiritual snacks to meet your needs.
Move beyond an info-trivia approach, where information about the Bible is more important than formation in the story of the Bible.
Move beyond your sophistication and belief the Bible is too primitive to make meaning anymore for you or your modern sensibilities.
Move beyond your past hurts associated with the Bible and those who have interpreted it exclusively or with violence.
And enter God’s Story. For here is where you are.