It is a boon to evangelicals that we have so many great books on biblical theology these days. In the ruins of modernism’s historical-critical method (and its evangelical cousin: a narrowly conceived grammatical-historical method), we are rediscovering the power of narrative and seeing afresh the world-shaping power of the biblical plotline. I would venture to say that there is hardly a theologically-minded evangelical around today who isn’t at least vaguely familiar with the common rubric biblical theologians use to describe the biblical storyline: creation, fall, redemption, and new creation (Perhaps more well-rounded is Bartholomew and Goheen’s description of the Bible as a six-act drama: creation, fall, redemption initiatied in Israel, redemption accomplished in Christ, the church, and the final consummation).
And yet there are some limitations to the storyline approach to Scripture. I am not suggesting something less than reading the Bible along its redemptive-historical plot movements, but I am suggesting that a storyline approach isn’t a panacea. It is possible to read Scripture in terms of “redemptive history” and an overarching “storyline” and still be insufficiently Christo-centric.
It happens when Christ is conspicously absent (or at least underemphasized) in our “biblical theology of _______” treatments. We can talk about, for instance, a biblical theology of the presence of God and move from Eden to the tabernacle to the temple to the church and ultimately to the new Jerusalem and totally miss the dominant Figure at the center of the biblical narrative whose “tabernacle-ing” and “temple-ing” presence holds all of the other pieces together (John 1:14; 2:21).
It happens when Jesus becomes just another event (even if the climactic event) in a story that is really about something else: Abraham or Israel or cosmic redemption or whatever. It happens when Jesus just shows up in our biblical theologies as a means to some other end. (Don’t misunderstand; we do need to understand Abraham, Israel, and God’s purposes for the cosmos, if we are to understand Christ aright. But the reciprocity between the OT and the NT—between promise and fulfillment—is asymmetrical. Christ is the interpretive key. Everything else services him hermeneutically.)
It happens when we fail to to see how every text is already, immediately related to Christ as the Savior who is overturning our Fall and Curse at every point in the story. It is precisely this immediacy of Christ that enables the NT authors to say things about the OT that would be lampooned as fanciful allegory were they not inscripturated (think, “and the Rock was Christ,” 1 Cor. 10:4). The NT authors don’t always feel the need to travel down a long and winding, redemptive-historical road to get to Christ. No matter where we go in the biblical narrative, Christ is already present. Like Aslan, he’s already on the move, and he isn’t waiting for us to map out a biblical-theolgical plotline for him to travel along. He’s already there.
Again, I am not suggesting that we should give up reading the Bible in terms of redemptive-history and its overarching storyline. But we should remember that Christ isn’t merely the climactic event of the biblical story; he is the story.
5 thoughts on “Christ and the Biblical Storyline”
This is great stuff. He is great stuff!
Are there any books/authors you recommend who articulate this “He is the story” theme particularly well?
Yes. And this is but one part of the beauty of Schreiner’s “The King in His Beauty.” Schreiner is intentional about repeating over and over throughout his treatment of the OT how the overarching narrative points forward and is ultimately fulfilled in Christ. Good thoughts.
This is the way the early church fathers read the Scriptures—Christologically!
Hi Luke, can you unpack a little further for me what it means to say Jesus IS the story? Do you mean that Jesus is IN the whole story (e.g. the Rock)? Or do you mean instead that Jesus is the telos/purpose of the story (i.e. not a means to another end)?
While you would probably say yes to both these, I’m feeling like there is a deeper hermeneutical principle that you are also commending that I’m having trouble sinking my teeth into. My gut says you really mean that one does not even understand the story (or its parts) until one understands Jesus. That he is the interpretive key.
That seems right, yet how far should we take that? Is the entire story utterly unknown to pre-incarnation Israelites and Jews? …or even modern-day Jews? That would seem too strong to say. Would you then say they get the plotline, but not the climactic fulfillment? Yes, but you seem to want to say that’s not strong enough.
If I’m making sense, help me!
Great questions, Anthony. You guessed it; my answer is “all of the above.” Christ is certainly in the whole story, in the sense that the Second Person is always active in God’s creating, sustaining, and redeeming acts. But additionally, Christ is, as you helpfully summarize, the goal, or telos, of the entire story. He is not just the hinge that takes us from Israel to the Church or from the temple to the New Earth. All things were created through him and *for him* (Col. 1:16). He is the purpose and goal of literally everything in the cosmos and that includes everything in the Bible. The ultimate end of all things is the glory of the Lamb who was slain (Rev. 5:12). Everything else serves that end. Hermeneutically, this means that there is a sense in which every biblical text is immediately related to Christ. I think this is what grounds the kinds of figural readings we see in the NT (and in the Fathers).
I would not want to say that the story was “utterly unknown” to OT saints. They (at least some of them) understood the revelation that was given to them. But the OT is a story without an ending. Once the mystery is revealed, the whodunnit novel has to be read in a different light. As Warfield memorably put it, the OT is like a room richly furnished but dimly lit. Only in the light of Christ can we see what was there all along.