Cool story bro (or 3 Reasons from Ephesians Why Knowing the Christian Story Matters)
I think it was those modern day Wordsworths, commonly known as 1D, who eloquently said:
The story of my life / I take her home / I drive all night / To keep her warm / And time is frozen (the story of, the story of) / The story of my life…
So, what’s the story of your life? Story is a bit of a buzzword at the moment. Just watch most TED talks. “Just tell a story…” is often top of the list in terms of effective communication advice.
I suppose it’s unsurprising really. After all, we all love a good story, and we all have a story. Not only that but we all instinctively ‘tell’ a story. We might not think about it in such clearcut ‘where am I going?’, ‘where am I now?’, and ‘where am I from?’ categories, but sit us down and get us talking, and most of us would articulate some sense of history and some sense of hope or dream or concern for the future.
And these stories shape how we think about our place and purpose in the here and now. As the writer Trevin Wax has pointed out, “the story of your past and your vision for the future radically impacts your present.”
But not only do we have our own stories. We also have cultural stories.
Over the last few centuries these have perhaps been more tied to national or social class identity: This is who we are. This is where we came from. This is where we’re headed. Interestingly, there’s been a bit of suspicion towards the idea of ‘over-arching’ metanarratives (or, simply put, ‘big stories’) in recent decades. Post-modernism is infamous for telling us all ‘big stories’ are just powerplays and in reality there is no story. And yet, as is often pointed out, this is in itself a ‘big story’, begging the question why should we believe the ‘no-story’ more than any other?
(By the way, if you want a stimulating introduction to some of our current cultural stories, I’d commend Trevin Wax’s talk from The Gospel Coalition’s National Conference, Discipleship in the Age of Richard Dawkins, Lady Gaga, and Amazon.com: Grounding Believers in the Scriptural Storyline that Counters Rival Eschatologies. Ok, it’s a long title, but it’s a brilliant introduction to the idea of ‘rival narratives’. He particularly explores how the values of the Enlightenment, Self-expression and Consumerism are not just ‘values’, but actually alternative ‘big stories’ of the world. And yet they’re often so subtle and engrained in our thinking, that we don’t question their ‘telling’ of reality.)
So where does all this leave Christians?
I’ve just spent a week with some friends digging into the apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and one of the unavoidable things about the letter is how unashamed Paul is about telling his readers about God’s story. Or, to put it differently, the letter unpacks God’s plan.
Not a plan in the sense of wishful thinking, but in the sense of what God is bringing about in his world: past, present, and future.
Indeed, arguably ‘Ephesians’ is more of a ’round robin’ letter, rather than just being written for one specific church. In that sense it was probably Paul’s ‘standard’ discipleship resource that he sent out to young churches, which only further underlines the importance he placed on establishing Christians in God’s story.
And in a nutshell Paul is writing to persuade them that God is the ultimate story-teller, in that it is God who is directing history and the world according to his purposes. These purposes are underway, and so it makes absolute sense to align our personal stories with his big story. And at the heart of this big story – its past, present, and future, is Jesus Christ. You perhaps see this most succinctly put in Ephesians 1:10:
…a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in [Jesus Christ], things in heaven and things on earth.
Anyway, after a week chewing Ephesians over, here are 3 observations as to why knowing the Christian story matters:
- You need to know God’s story to fully grasp God’s love for his people. Paul evidently wanted the Christians he was addressing to know God’s love. He prayed that they would know its height and depth and width and length (Ephesians 3:14-21). And yet we can’t shortcut an experience of God’s love without first immersing ourselves in God’s plan. Paul spends three chapters laying out what God is doing, and it is this which is meant to lead to being blown away by God’s love for his people. Miss the story, and you’ll always struggle with the immensity of God’s love. The plan reveals the love.
- You need to know God’s story if living as a Christian is to make any sense. Ephesians is often described as a book of two halves, with the last three chapters laying out what it means to “live,” or to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling” that Christians have (4:1). But this emphasis on ‘Christian lifestyle’ doesn’t make any sense unless you’ve grasped what God has done. Especially when Christian ethics is perceived as being outdated and even immoral, it’s vital we go back to the story that drives it. From marriage to the workplace, when you know the plan, then suddenly you start to see why Christians are called to live and think a certain way.
- You need to know God’s story if you’re gonna stand. Ephesians is a letter that finishes with a repeated call to ‘stand’ (6:11, 13, 14). In other words, Christians face the real prospect of giving up. As such Christians need to be pro-active if they are going to keep going in their faith. And what does it look like to be pro-active and stand? Essentially to “put on” the realities of God’s gospel plan. The famous ‘armour of God’ passage is effectively Paul’s way of saying you need to make God’s story your story. If you don’t know God’s story, you don’t stand a chance. Own it for yourself.
Agree? Disagree? How do you think we should engage with the ‘story’ phenomenon?