Living in the Story

By Craig Bartholomew

 

 

From 21-23 October 1998 I was in London at a fascinating conference called Imagining Tomorrow II. Living in the Story.  This was the second Imagining Tomorrow conference organised by the British and Foreign Bible Society to help people rethink how we might open the Book for our culture once again. In Western culture the Bible has become a closed book for many, many people and for the last two years Bible Society has brought together Christian theologians, educationalists, media representatives, politicians, artists, etc. to explore ways of opening the Book once again.

 

Describing the message of the Bible as a 'story' does not for a moment mean that it is fiction or not true. 'Story' means that the message of the Bible has the shape that we most associate with stories; it has a beginning and a plot leading to a conclusion. Many scholars nowadays recognise that human communities at base are shaped by stories which give meaning to people's lives. Being a Christian means making the biblical story our story and letting it shape our lives. Lesslie Newbigin spoke of 'indwelling the story' - a lovely expression which focuses our responsibility to know and become at home in the biblical story.

 

And what a remarkable story it is that the Bible tells! This extraordinary God who speaks and brings the universe in to existence so that it is 'very good.' The same God makes humankind in his image and sets them up in the creation as his royal stewards with the responsibility of developing the hidden potentials of creation so that the totality increasingly resonates to his glory like a grand symphony. And you will know how it continues.... The relational breakdown resulting from the fall; God's gracious response starting with Abraham and leading to the Christ as God sets about recovering his purposes for his creation; the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, Pentecost and the initiation of the proclamation of Jesus to the end of the earth.... Leading to the return of Jesus and the ushering in of the new heavens and the new earth!

We live between Christ's proclamation of the presence of the kingdom and the final consummation of that kingdom at the end of the ages. And the way to life effectively in this in-between time is to develop a mind and lifestyle shaped integrally by the biblical story. Our identity, our aims in life, our standards, our aspirations must all by shaped first of all by this story and not just by the spirit of the age. What a challenge and what an exhilarating journey!

 

I can hear the questions ... what does art look like practiced in the context of this story look like at the end of the twentieth century? What does this story mean for contemporary South African politics? How do I relate my psychology to this story? How do I pastor within this story? So many questions! It is our life's calling to try to give some answers to them, but the important thing is to start by asking the questions! In his wonderful book on the possibility of Christian scholarship called The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship, George Marsden rightly says that the difficulty of getting people to think about the significance of religion for education is "aggravated by the difficulty of talking about something that is missing." (p. 77) In so many areas of life a distinctive Christian presence is simply not there and so it is hard to even see the difference it might make.

 

However, living in the story will force these questions to the surface, so that even in our very broken world in which a Christian presence is often missing we will dream dreams of a creation that acknowledges Jesus as LORD and Christ and is at peace. And this will lead us to make the small and sometimes large differences that we can in our areas in which we live and work - to light the candles around which our fellow human beings can warm their hands in the cold nights of life in the in between times.

 

Even so, come Lord Jesus!

 

The Big Picture Volume1 page 29

 

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