The story has now hit mainstream.
Comparable to a successful movie or book franchise–perhaps like the James Bond of 007 fame–the idea that the Bible is primarily a book of narration, a grand story of epic proportion, has grown from its grassroots introduction a quarter century ago to become commonly accepted. Christians have been presented “God’s story” in holy script, a meta-narrative in which modern believers have entered as formative actors, granted the extraordinary right to write their own script of scripture.
With understandable sensitivity, regarding methods which may aide the constant challenge of reaching the lost for Christ, many churches have latched onto the new book put out by Max Lucado and Randy Frazee called “The Story”. The writers call themselves editors and give the book no author in order to convey the idea that this is really Scripture, just in a colorful and abbreviated form. In such shortened form, few would consider it a translation, but it is being compared to other paraphrases, like the popular “Message” by Peterson, and even handed out through evangelism campaigns in place of the fuller text for which it claims to represent as God’s story.
The whole of Scripture is condensed within this popular book into 21 chapters taken from the Old Testament and 10 chapters from the New. Avoided portions of Scripture are partially filled in with commentary to help bridge the gaps and enhance the impression that the Bible is primarily a multi-millennial story. Although, biblical stories like Job and Esther are quietly ignored, presumably because they don’t fit the newly manufactured pattern being promoted. The method is little different to similar efforts by modern scientists who suggest possible linking species between lower life forms and more advanced creatures, in order to convey the idea that evolutionary development is seamless and logical, even though the gaps in the hypothetical story cannot be proven. It is amazing how well a story and a few pictures can cause the absurd to appear plausible.
That may seem like a harsh comparison, but as you will see below, the link is not without reason. The attempt here will be to raise a flag of caution about swallowing the hook with the story bait. There is no doubt that Scripture contains many stories. For that matter, it is acknowledged that God has a grand plan being orchestrated out in human time and space. However, the idea that Scripture is mainly an overarching story has some well entrenched roots that when exposed, should reveal some serious concerns about this wave of popular notion.
The approach here will consider what God says about his own words in Scripture, then highlight some of the problems evident in “The Story”, and finally take a more careful look into the modern roots behind this idea, to help reveal why taking Scripture as story is deceptively attractive and very misleading.
This is not to imply that reading this book, or other similar approaches, will undermine one’s standing as a Christian. There is no need to be alarmist here. However, as nature teaches us, the frog can sit comfortably on his rock as the water begins to boil, but by the time he recognizes the heat, he is already cooked. It is the subtle and gradual shift of something acceptable (cold water, in this case) that caught the frog off-guard. In comparable fashion, many well-meaning Christians can expose themselves to comfortable and attractive ideas, but if they remain indifferent to the rising temperature, they will eventually lose the ability to discern how their entire environment has shifted. Hanging out in Sodom, does little to protect us or our loved ones. Indulging in this culture’s entertainments will distract a believer from remaining alert. Swallowing whatever is popular simply because others recommend it, even that which comes with a Christian label, is likely to lead to a serious case of spiritual ulcers. The call is to show some discernment.
The premise here is that rather than primarily a grand story narrative, Scripture is presented to mankind, and speaks of itself as primarily declarative.
“I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ” (Gal 1:11-12).
If I might add to Paul’s list, nor was he taught it through biblical stories, because that would conflict with what he declares here. Direct revelation from Jesus and now transferred into written word in the pages of the Holy Bible, that is how Scripture has been given and what it is. The authority of God transferred to Jesus (not just some of it, but “all authority in heaven and on earth”), then transferred to the apostles and prophets as the foundation for Christianity, and imputed not only through their written books, but injected with governing authority to communicate divine expectation through every word that proceeds from the breath of the Lord–that is how we get to the authority of Scripture.
The Word of God contains stories. It also contains commands, poems, historical records, lists, prophecies, advice, and revelations. As a whole, the Bible is a book that declares the will of God to man. It reveals God and speaks of his expectations upon his people. It announces who he is, what he has done, and what he intends to complete. He uses some stories to accomplish his communicated purpose, but that does not translate into his words being story. And, it certainly does not permit men to turn it back into stories.
There is a subtle shift taking place, and, as will be pointed out with more detail, the admitted intention is to undermine the authority-of-Scripture in both the text itself as well as over the lives of believers. Among the educated elite, the trend is to use the idea of Scripture as story to justify the preference of dismissing the historical record as authoritative as stated. In this way Genesis becomes fanciful and irrelevant against the advance of theistic-evolution. Adam, Noah, Abraham, and other “stories” are seen as fictitious inventions intended only to encourage moral thought. Nature becomes god, and life becomes something materialistically explained into existence, with a theistic nod to God elsewhere than here.
Trending the other direction into mainstream Christianity is the altered view of Scripture that holds no demands over our individual right to do what we please. As one pastor taught, “there are no commands in Scripture, just fatherly advice”–advice that might be helpful, but not something that compels or demands submission, let alone threatens punishment for choosing something different. It is the gentle-Jesus message, for which Hell is just a poetic way of suggesting that we look for more attractive options. As one of the most popular TV evangelists has stated, people just need good news that lifts them up and doesn’t make them feel bad. Stories sell big, and many are buying into this twist. Viewing Scripture as something designed to primarily relate stories appeals to the advanced as well as the elementary.
Stories don’t tell you what to do, they only share what others have historically done. When Scripture is demoted to the level of pure historical recounting, the word of God no longer is capable of compelling people to obey. It is nonsensical to obey a story. Stories never tell you what to do, they only relate what others have done. Stories are for reflecting upon and then moving forward as we want. Presenting the Bible as principally a grand narrative removes obligation and replaces it with independence. Scripture as story allows readers to form their own conclusions to a book that presumably has yet to write the final chapter.
Portions of God’s word can be taken out and presented to young children as Bible stories, but when the entire book is relegated to bedtime pastimes, the force of truth presented through Scripture gets cut off and replaced with cookies and a glass of milk. As one minister suggested, in his promotion of “The Story”, most people today only have a 9th Grade education, so they just can’t understand that leather-bound book, they need something that can speak to their level. I reminded him that many people in Jesus’ audience were completely illiterate, and neither he or Paul or Peter seemed compelled to change God’s words from what they had received from God. He responded by stating that most of Jesus’ followers left him, and even today many are leaving the Church, so we need a tool to reach those that the Bible is not attracting. His implication was that Jesus’ use of Scripture undermined his ability to keep his followers. The Holy Spirit has declared that Scripture, just as preserved, is beneficial for everything necessary for human growth and sharing the gospel (2 Tim 3:16). Reaching the lost does not require pureeing the Word into baby food.
Christians are commanded to become like little children, not to turn God’s preserved words into some infantile formula. This is not to suggest that only the original Greek should be spoken (or Latin as some prefer), nor does it advocate King James language only as many have claimed. Language ought to be understandable to those being reached, and there are many translations of Scripture that help make the words of God mentally digestible to the common person.
However, the further we drift from the source, the harder it becomes to reflect the original. That truth holds firm in many respects, but most clearly when handling the words of God. The Lord has declared (not narrated) that his words (including the OT) will never disappear (Lu 21:33; Mt 5:18). The Spirit guarantees that no amount of translating or denominational distortions or church splits will ever prevent the words of God from remaining somewhere, somehow, accessible and viable. This is the primary reason that twice within Scripture, mankind is strongly cautioned against adding to or taking away from the grouping that God has chosen to preserve as what he claims to have directly breathed out.
“You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you” (Dt 4:2).
“I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book” (Rev 22:18-19).
[My online Bible is set to the NASB version, my lap Bible is NIV ’84, so the quotes here are a mixture, purely based on whichever source I happened to be using at that moment.]
Those who add to or take away from the Bible, words that God has preserved as his own, and while doing so claim to still be presenting God’s word, are not only violating Scripture, they are being pre-declared, by the command of God, that their ultimate destiny will be the opposite of eternal life. That is not nice to say, but then that is not my opinion, it is simply what God announces with repeated clarity in his word, for those willing to humble themselves and hear.
Regarding how it represents itself, the individual writers used by God to form Scripture, all demonstrate this truth that God’s word is primarily declarative–a document of authority that announces the will of God in reliable, doctrine-forming, irrefutable statements of divine expectation.This is what history records, with divine interpretation per the biblical record, about the spread of what became NT Scripture and the church-growth it contributed toward:
“Now while they were passing through the cities, they were delivering the decrees which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem, for them to observe. So the churches were being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily” (Act 16:4-5).
Timothy, who was one of the ministers with Paul spreading the word in the above account, was later reminded by his mentor to “keep reminding them of these things [and] warn them…[in order to] present yourself as a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:14-15). The way we present Scripture directly impacts whether or not we will be shamed or commended. To this, the next sentence instructs him to stay clear of those who attempt to manipulate the word of God into empty story-like nonsense and “avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness…for they have wandered away from the truth“.
Take a look at any quote you like within the New Testament (NT) that references a passage from the Old Testament (OT). The suggestion to compare quotes here is to highlight how the early church viewed and used Scripture, such that it might clue us into how God expects his word to be taken. In spite of all the recorded story accounts in the OT, not a single quote in the entire NT, by any writer of the NT Word of God, relates a past event as some moralized story. All quotes are used to prove an authoritative (can’t be argued or improved upon) point, teach a God-received truth, remind believers of a divine expectation, apply a prophecy as specifically intended by God, or deliver a holy command. Unlike preachers today, who have not been given the divine authority to interpret God’s words with authority, the biblical writers quoted Scripture to declare God’s meaning and will. Revelation speaks of two final witnesses who will be granted such divine right of interpretive power, but that should not be expected from our pulpits or preachers today.
No Scripture is of any private interpretation (2 Pet 1:20-21). God will not tolerate those who abuse his words by presenting them as a story different than he presents his own declaration. Nor will he allow listeners or readers to approach his words as they might a good novel, from which they take what they like of the story and do with it as they feel inspired. As Peter prefaces this above declaration, “and we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it” (v.19)–not as something you can interpret as you like, but as something declared upon you, under which you and I must submit and obey. As he later announces about those false teachers who “secretly introduce destructive heresies…[and] in their greed [like for book sales or for church growth] these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up”, they have “left the straight way and wandered off”, and have “turned their backs on the sacred command [speaking of Scripture] that was passed on to them”. They are like dogs that “return to its vomit” (2 Pet 2:1-22; bold added). Peter says such teachers “despise authority”, which includes efforts at undermining the authority of Scripture.
This despising of authority may seem unlikely coming from someone like Lucado, but he is not the one who came up with the idea that Scripture is a grand story. He is simply capitalizing on a trend. That concept, what it means, and how it has been taught throughout large sections of Christianity, has a well established history, that if you are not familiar with, you might want to stay tuned to the evidence below. It is the authority of Scripture that is being undermined–a replacing of the need to submit to the words of Jesus, with a repackaging of Scripture into commonly accepted vignettes that have the appearance of being God’s word, but which have been separated from their authority over our choices.
Jesus declared that the one with the greatest faith of all those in Israel–those who were known as the people of God–was a Centurion foreigner. The Lord had just delivered the greatest sermon ever recorded, to which the audience recognized that he spoke with an authority that escaped all the other teachers of the Bible (Mt 7:29). The apostle Matthew records, immediately after this, that a Centurion requested that Jesus heal his paralyzed servant. “Just say the word”, he responded to Jesus. He was convinced that his servant would be healed, because he too was a man of authority, and he understood that such authority is conveyed through declared words. That great faith, in the authority of the words of Christ, is being replaced with the idea that the Bible is primarily a grand storybook. Faith is being undermined, and the word of God being marginalized, when we accept the idea that Scripture informs us rather than compels us.
It seems Matthew doesn’t want us to miss the significance of this authority thing, so he follows up with another shocking account. A storm appears on the verge of drowning all the disciples while Jesus slept on the boat. Upon being woken, the Lord stands up, and speaks to the storm…and all becomes still. “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” That is what happens when that which is under the authority of Christ responds to his declaration–they obey! But that is not possible with stories by themselves–stories recount and inform, they never demand adherence or submission–that only comes from those who recognize that when Jesus speaks through his living word, they are bound to hold to his teaching and do everything he says.
The way the Apostles used Scripture demonstrates that their view was more comparable to that of Scripture as declaration, than of story. Even when Paul relates a longer account, like that of Sarah and Hagar (Gal 4), he is doing so to declare the truth that their history “represents two covenants”–something the historical story makes no mention of at all–in other words, he is relating an event to prove a point. He is not sharing a story and then suggesting a possible moral lesson, like is often done with stories. Instead he is announcing a divine fact, a truth that comes from God himself and has absolutely nothing to do with opinion or suggestion, “for it is written” he declares.
The early martyr Steven, when speaking before the religious council that was judging him, extemporaneously presents a long recounting of the history of Israel, what could be identified as a story, but his point is very clear just before the priests come unglued and stone him to death (Act 7). Within his speech are sprinkles of quotes from the OT, each one used to build toward a pronouncement of judgment. This is not some drama act, from which the audience will be allowed to walk away with their own thoughts and ideas taken from a story. In conclusion, he reminds them that they had been given the words of God in the form of a law but they refused to obey it (v.53). Notice that his entire recounting of history was to declare judgment against them, that they had Scripture but refused to view it as something they must obey.
Sounds familiar doesn’t it?–It’s all just a grand story, but stories don’t judge and they certainly aren’t commands that we must apply. Be careful of what you allow, my friends. Remember the Snake was the first to question whether God’s words really had to be followed as stated: “Did God really say …” (Gen 3).
So let us take a more direct look at Max Lucado’s Story and see how it measures up to the Word of God that it claims to present. Over the years, I have appreciated the skill and writing of Lucado. He has a style that speaks like creamy peanut butter and jelly on soft bread. He doesn’t tend to tackle the more challenging theological issues, but for the young in Christ and those in need of a gentle reminder, Lucado is a master. He is also extremely popular and successful.
Generally speaking, due to the ongoing inclination of our human tendencies (nature), worldly measured success can not only have a significant detrimental impact on our own humility before God, but it can also reduce our Spirit-dependency for discernment. I have no reason to suspect the former with what is publicly evidenced with Lucado–his person and his writing still project what appears to me to be a humble spirit. However, his recent book, co-edited with Randy Frazee, raises several strong concerns.
Critiquing another servant of Christ is not something to be taken lightly. I am inclined to assume the best, and I think there are many indicators that both writers are sincere in their compilation of “The Story”. They likely are trying to be-all-things-to-all-people in the hopes of saving some, as the Apostle Paul spoke about his own efforts in sharing the gospel, but alteration of Scripture in an attempt to make God’s words more palatable is a very dangerous attempt. I believe the evidence indicates that Lucado has lost some discernment in his attempt to claim that he is sharing God’s story by cutting-and-pasting Scripture.
It is right and biblical to willingly adjust our own preferences and comforts to come along side others when sharing the Gospel. The challenge, however, is how to adjust our approaches to meet their needs, without either compromising the truth, or simply acting like the culture might prefer. Remember, it is their needs-before-God that ought to trigger our adjustment toward them, not their wants (like to be entertained). Entertainment is a powerful way to pump up attendance, but it dramatically distracts everyone away from addressing them at their point of true need. It is all too common, for well meaning evangelicals to change music, clothing, building, language, and whatever else might make a new person feel awkward when entering a church or church activity, when in reality, such things may have little influence on bringing them to Christ and ultimately end up simply being a stumbling stone for believers who are conditioned to live, act, think, and desire everything that the surrounding culture finds attractive.
The most compelling evidence against accepting the culturally popular approach of “The Story”, as noted previously from both Deuteronomy and Revelation, is that God commands that his words not be tampered with. It is one thing to translate or paraphrase, but when we teach that God’s communication can be contained in a form of our own choosing, by removing what he divinely ordained, we cross a line that the Lord declares has eternal consequences.
People don’t like to be confronted with their sin. They especially shy away from anything that might suggest condemnation if they don’t obey. One of the most referred to events in all of Scripture involves God’s judgment against the ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Lucado chose to avoid that story in his Story. God recorded it. He also inspired other writers to repeatedly refer within Scripture (about a dozen times) to that event as a continual reminder to people that God will destroy those who rebel against him. God declares judgment. Lucado chose to avoid the awkward, perhaps in keeping with his soft bread style. It appears that Lucado’s Story is not compatible with the elements of harshness of God’s story. We may not like all that God has to say, but selectivity in removing what he states from this Word removes the life and deadens the truth.
Approaching people in ways they can relate to can be helpful in sharing the gospel, but altering Scripture is not about our style, method, or approach. Changing God’s word, including picking attractive pieces out of Scripture, to form a document that might appeal better to others cannot transform. Invariably such efforts will introduce human error and actually deceive readers away from God’s truth.
For example, Lucado states that Abraham and Sarah reasoned that “as far as he and Sarai knew, God didn’t specify that Sarai would be the mother “. This is stated as a fact in God’s Story, edited by Lucado and Frazee, but that is not in Scripture. This is an interpretation that is added to the words of God. Although it is possible that they may have reasoned something similar, the Story claims this as something part of God’s story, when the Bible never says such a thing. This is adding to the holy text, while claiming it belongs to God. It is something man, in this case Lucado and Frazee, “made up”, and it begins to present a different gospel than the one Paul was so careful to teach, as quoted above out of Galatians.
In another case, under the “If I was the Devil” chapter, the reader is encouraged to confront Satan as follows: “But I’m not the devil so good for you” and “take that Satan”. When we alter God’s words to present them in a way we feel will sound good to others, our casualness can bring us into rebellion against his holy word. The biblical book of Jude reminds Christians not to mock the Devil, and become like those “men who speak abusively against whatever they do not understand” (Ju 8-11). Perhaps if Lucado had kept the Sodom links within his Story, he would have read one of those numerous accounts, which show up in Jude, of God reminding his people to “contend for the faith”, and he would have been more careful not to teach his readers to speak flippantly against any authority, including the Evil one.
It is true that Scripture can be difficult to relate to. Many find it challenging to understand what is presented in the Bible. Often new readers get bogged down trying to read through books like the two Chronicles. However, it is not the text of the individual books that is the problem, as if rewriting them in highly interpretive language, or repackaging them in story form, will suddenly make everything clear. No amount of linguistic massaging can improve the word of God.
“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better” (Eph 1:17).
It is an act of God opening the spiritual understanding of a reader that causes truth to be recognized. Revelation is what the lost need, in order to “know him better”, not reducing Scripture to story. The truth is that without the indwelt Spirit of God in a person, nothing of Scripture can ever be understood (1 Cor 2:11). God won’t allow it.
“The Story” is presented as a great tool for evangelism, small group study, and even church preaching. Scripture is just a big story, so it is assumed, so shifting the plot, reducing some of the actors, or adding a few tidbits of creative expression ought to be no big deal. Jeremiah warns against listening to preachers who speak stories from their own minds that don’t actually come from the mouth of the Lord (Jer 23:16-18). This is not a condemnation against fictional writing, but a warning against those who claim to represent God’s words without actually limiting themselves to every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.
Believers are called upon to expose the sham of empty sounding words promoted within the church (Eph 5:6,11). They may have a form of godliness and sound like something God might say, but when it has been intentionally altered to present a different story than preserved by God, then it denies the power inherent in true Scripture. All Scripture is breathed directly from God, and when taken as a whole, it is profitable for everything needed for Christian development, including reaching the lost. Timothy was instructed to consistently read the word of God in public forums–those places where the lost can be reached. There was no need to simplify the Bible, just a faithfulness to keep sharing it as recorded by God.
That has not been done by Lucado, and “The Story”, which is presented as if it is of God, distorts the declaration of God. The words of God are spirit and they are life, but when added to and taken away from what the Spirit has preserved, it no longer is capable of conveying the truth, let alone life.
To this point, we have looked at a sampling of what Scripture has to say about itself and about those who alter what is contained in it. We have also considered a few examples of blatant violations in Lucado’s book. The most revealing problems, however, belong to the roots of the claim that Scripture is just a grand story. To understand what Lucado means by “God’s Story, your story”, one must look back over the past 25 years to see what is actually meant by these terms.
In 1989, an emerging theologian wrote a paper that in many ways has swayed subsequent generations to champion his bias that Scripture is primarily narrative. Although not likely the first to suggest such an idea, his impact has significantly altered the landscape of biblical interpretation across the globe. Over the past quarter century plus, NT Wright, an Anglican priest and historical theologian in England, has led the charge at changing the Christian belief in the authority of Scripture. His words have not only set the stage for a radically new approach toward how Christians view the role of Scripture in their lives, he has also etched the definitions regarding what is actually meant by claiming that Scripture is a story.
His article, and how it compares to what Scripture declares about and within itself will be summarized below. This is not intended to be a critique of Wright himself, but of his theory that the Bible was designed to be a grand story rather than a declaration, a recording of commands, a revelation of divine will, or any type of authoritative document. His flag-raising about the misuse of authority and how many throughout history have abused others under their concept of biblical authority, is agreed and applauded. We all need to be reminded to check our tendency, as God lamented through his prophets, “my priests rule by their own authority and my people love it this way”. However, that misuse of Scripture does not allow us to then flush the holy word out with the dirty water of megalomaniacs within the church.
In Wrights view, Scripture is an unfolding story, from which each person takes up their acting clothes, runs onto the grand stage of life, and creatively writes their own next books of Scripture. Through this analogy, he suggests that the Bible is like the first 4 acts of a play, which are not designed to be repeated, only extended from, and the fifth needs to be written by us as we see fit: “and who would then be told to work out a fifth act for themselves“. That is what is meant by the phrase “God’s Story, your story”. As his article makes very evident, stories have no compelling authority. In terms of the Bible, they are purely historical events from the distant past that only influence our starting-point in working out our own version of Scripture . In this way, Scripture is not a document that must be obeyed, kept, or necessarily submitted to–it is just a suggested guide, what he calls a witness.
As a teacher and historian, Wright excels at digging down to the very heart of a matter. Few can debate easily against him, and I have no intention of pitting my own limited skills against his learned excellence. The confounding of the mighty is not something to expect before Christ returns.
And yet, the word of God is worthy of honor, even from little children, and in spite of whatever others may say in contrast. It is not to the wise and educated that God has chosen to reveal his truth, but to those willing to humbly accept his declaration at face value. Education and scholarly studies are great tools, but they are also easy replacements for trusting the Lord, and instead turning to human reason, worldly philosophies, and personal talent.
It is humanly common, that whatever our training, background, or special skill may be, we tend to interpret life through our own lens. History professors are inclined to interpret everything as history and to value that discipline of study as preeminent over all others. The online Dictionary.com defines history as: “a continuous, systematic narrative of past events“. As a historian, that is exactly what Wright has chosen to turn the word of God into: “the Bible actually is—a book, an ancient book, an ancient narrative book”. He has followed the natural tendency in man to remake everything into our own image; in his case, to remake Scripture into what is most central to his passion: grand stories. That kind of thing is idolatry.
Rather than Scripture being a narrative document, although it does contain narration, it is suggested here that the evidence within the breathed words of God refute such a historical bias in favor of divine declaration. Instead of a collection of books that are intended to offer a story of grand proportions, like one of Aesop’s fables, the Bible has been infused with inherent authority and must be taken as governing over the affairs of men, by direct and even individual pronouncement, contained in the words themselves.
The text of Wrights lecture and paper can be viewed at: [http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Bible_Authoritative.htm, as of 7/2014].
As even a cursory glance will show, the vast majority of his presentation is based on human reasoning, (as he himself states at the outset) as something formed by experience at teaching and preaching and thinking, rather than per what the Book actually states. In fact, with about three exceptions, no Scripture is even referred to, other than as indirect references. Not one statement is acknowledged from the holy book itself about itself. In true, worldly, scientific fashion, the document is essentially ignored on the grounds that if it is un-authoritative, as Wright imagines, then there is simply no sense in listening to what it has to say about what type of document God intends it to be. To be accepted in university settings and by modern scholarship, such a conclusion must be formed from extra-biblical sources, historical “facts”, or philosophical reasoning–tools that man can manipulate, rather than methods that require faith, submission, or humility.
In Wrights words, “When we tell the whole story of the Bible, and tell it (of course) not just by repeating it parrot-fashion but by articulating it in a thousand different ways, improvising our own faithful versions, we are inevitably challenging more than just one aspect of the world’s way of looking at things (i.e. its view of authority and power). We are undermining its entire view of what the world is, and is for, and are offering, in the best way possible, a new world-view, which turns out (of course) to be a new God-view.”
“Improvising our own versions”, that confront and undermine the authority around us, Is Wright’s idea of how Christians ought to use Scripture. He suggests that this is about challenging the “world’s way of looking at things”, but I would suggest he fully intends to apply this unregulated remaking of Scripture to apply as a direct shot across the bow at the Church’s way of looking at things, turning personal interpretation into a way to undermine authority of any kind that makes one feel restrained, and justifying it by calling it God’s story.
However, if we are to begin with a more biblical approach of trusting what it says about itself, we will come to a very different conclusion, one that strongly upholds the belief that holy Scripture is reliable and authoritative in what it says and how humans are duty-bound to submit to every word. Of course, part of what makes interpretation such a challenge is that, although the entire cannon of 66 books is presented as God’s declaration of his will to man, not every book or passage is addressed to all humans equally.
If this distinction were better understood, there would likely be less struggles and conflicts between those who think they must obey the word of God and those who prefer to view the words as more general influence in story form. For example, God’s command to Adam that he not eat of the forbidden fruit off of one particular tree, is not some fictional story. It was a specific command of declared expectation with extreme consequences for rebellion. And yet, that command about fruit does not apply to anyone other than Adam and his wife. No Christian is expected to look around for a forbidden tree. We can certainly apply it figuratively, but the command was not given as a figurative story. It simply applied to Adam and no one else since then, for dwelling in the Garden of Eden was blocked when they were kicked out.
Perhaps the most blatant and violated difference in accepting commands, by those who don’t recognize the distinction between commands that apply to them and ones that don’t, is between the Old Covenant law given to ancient Israel as a nation, and the New Covenant of faith in Jesus given to Christians. A great deal of proof can be offered on this difference (as documented in the book “Wineskins“), but in short, God made a covenant with the twelve tribes of Israel that applied only to “all of us who are alive here today”, to their direct physical descendents, and to anyone who chose to live among them (Dt 5:2-3). The OC law only applies to physical Israel, and has since been replaced before God by the NC, for all peoples who submit to Jesus in faith regardless of race, where Scripture declares that “he sets aside the first to establish the second” (Heb 10:9). The point here is that all of Scripture is authoritative, but it does not all hold authority in the same way to the same group of people at the same time.
This does not turn the Bible into a bedtime story. The authority of Scripture for Christians is founded upon what is written by the apostles and prophets (Eph 2:20)–meaning the original apostles who were given the words of God by “revelation, as I have already written” (4:3), and the OT prophets who Jesus defines as those from Abel to Zechariah (Mt 23:35-37). In other words, the OT still speaks authoritatively to Christians, not through the OC law, but rather through the ancient prophets.
Wright’s proposed view, and that which has been aggressively promoted especially through the Emerging Generation churches over the past decade, is that the idea of “authority of Scripture” is just a shortened way of saying the “authority of God”. At first glance this seems reasonable, in that no writing can be authoritative, if the One with inherent authority doesn’t extend that influence to the writing itself. Wright then reasons that one must contemplate in what way God exercises his authority, to which one tangent of his conclusion is that the holy book does not contain authority in itself.
One of the few scriptural references made by Wright, involves a heavily interpreted passage about the OT prophet named Micaiah. The way he interprets this account is central to his thesis and is something he refers back to about four times in his lecture. False prophets were encouraging Ahab the king contrary to what Micaiah advised. As is often done by false teachers, they attempt to make it look like their advice is biblical by referring to things of God, but which don’t actually apply in this case. Wright however, suggests that Micaiah believed that those false ministers might actually have both Scripture and reason on their side. All the prophet apparently had was a private meeting with God that spoke things contrary to Scripture. Wright implies that Scripture can’t have authority, since God rejects it, and through Micaiah, he speaks a different word. But that is entirely injected into the story, and no where does God or Micaiah ever indicate that Scripture must be ignored and rejected whenever one gets a private meeting with God that says things contrary to what is recorded.
Here is a segment of Wright’s interpretation: “Micaiah had stood in the council of the Lord and in that private, strange, secret meeting he had learned that even the apparent scriptural authority which these prophets had, and the apparent tradition and reason, wasn’t good enough; God wanted to judge Ahab and so save Israel.” According to Wright, “scriptural authority…wasn’t good enough”. That is pure abuse and mis-interpretation. In context, the false prophets were the ones mis-applying Scripture for their own agendas. It was not an issue of Scripture being unreliable. Repeatedly Wright encourages his readers to become like Micaiah and follow whatever you hear in your private meetings with God, even if it defies the commands of Scripture. This is how Wright defines the idea of “your story”, and it is the same concept being promoted now by Lucado.
This is what Jesus declares about the words recorded in his name: “the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life” (Jn 6:63). Notice that he doesn’t suggest that what he says only points back to his authority. He clearly states that the words themselves are spirit-filled and alive–something that we have already noted requires the Holy Spirit to interpret correctly. No amount of scholarly education or experience, of itself, can ever relate to those words rightly, since those words are spirit.
Some may want to imply that Jesus was using that phrase figuratively to convey something other than the uniqueness of his recorded words, but he defines what he means in his own words, when he stated: “He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day” (Jn 12:48). That “one who judges” is none other than the actual words themselves, preserved to the last days. The Lord specifically separates his own authority from that which inherently resides in his recorded words, by noting that he does not need to judge, since the words themselves have been infused with that divine authority to judge and even eternally condemn those who refuse to bow to what he says. This truth can never be sustained by narrative accounts of historical events; it can only be recognized by declarations that contain inherent authority in the words of Scripture themselves.
Just as a professing believer will need the Spirit of God to recognize the truth contained in God’s preserved words, so Jesus also taught that unless a believer grasps onto and lives according to his teachings, they cannot be accepted as a Christian and they will never be set free in truth (Jn 8:31-32). What we are commanded to keep, is not spoken as a relationship, though that is there, but specifically to keep his declared words.
When his own authority was rejected as demonic, Jesus specifically turned the attention away from bringing honor to himself and phrased his expectation in the following terms: “I am not seeking glory for myself…I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death” (Jn 8:51). The attention is on submissive obedience to his words–words that declare God’s will, commands, expectations, and revelation, not words that tell a story. Living out a story, like some high school stage play, does not save a person from death; only obedience to authoritative statements are said to accomplish this.
In our Lord’s own interpretation, his reason for coming to earth, was “to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (Jn 18:37). This declared testimony of truth is contained in his words, but many have preferred to follow Pilates retort to this authority in identifying what is right, by asking “what is truth” (v.38). For his words to be truth itself, they must be capable of exercising supremacy over other words which cannot stand at the same level of significance. To claim truth is to demand authority. The words are truth, according to Jesus. They are a testimony, not a story. They have the divine power to judge on their own.
These last few verses are taken from John’s Gospel, and although readers will have to look at other writings by Wright to discover this detail, Wright does not accept John’s Gospel account as reliable Scripture on par with the Synoptic Gospels. Such dismissal is common with modern scholars, but it is only in rejecting his Gospel that they think they are free to suggest that the Bible has no authority in itself–as claimed by Wright, as promoted by the fast growing Emerging Generation churches, and as mainstreamed by Lucado.
Wright dismisses the presence of commands and similar authoritative statements in Scripture as incidental to the main thread and claims that story telling has always been a key way to help people learn truth. Consider this quote from Wright:
“Story authority, as Jesus knew only too well, is the authority that really works. Throw a rule book at people’s head, or offer them a list of doctrines, and they can duck or avoid it, or simply disagree and go away. Tell them a story, though, and you invite them to come into a different world; you invite them to share a world-view or better still a ‘God-view’. That, actually, is what the parables are all about. They offer, as all genuine Christian story-telling the [sic] does, a world-view which, as someone comes into it and finds how compelling it is, quietly shatters the world-view that they were in already. Stories determine how people see themselves and how they see the world. Stories determine how they experience God, and the world, and themselves, and others. Great revolutionary movements have told stories about the past and present and future. They have invited people to see themselves in that light, and people’s lives have been changed. If that happens at a merely human level, how much more when it is God himself, the creator, breathing through his word.”
Sounds attractive, doesn’t it. According to Wright, Jesus new that stories really work. But that is based on human reasoning. It assumes that because our kids love bedtime stories, that Jesus must have learned that stories are the best way to put an audience to sleep. The problem here is that Wright relies upon human philosophy rather than seeking the word of God on this issue. The Word tells us that God invites to his heavenly supper, but many will refuse to come, so invitation is not as compelling as Wright suggests. In Jesus case, “what works” has absolutely nothing to do with the method of story telling. In fact, Jesus consistently altered his methods in speaking, healing, what cities he traveled to, what he did, who he ate with, and so on. His random patterns prevent the natural tendency to try to pin down a method that “works”. In terms of Scripture, what actually works is surrender to Jesus in Faith and being enlightened by the Spirit while obeying God’s word. But the attractiveness of story telling as a method remains deceptively alluring to those who don’t want to bow under authority.
Wright is not alone in thinking that Jesus’ parable story telling was about helping people understand better. I just heard last week, a minister state the same theory, that the reason Jesus spoke so many stories was to help people understand what he was teaching. This was in a church that prides itself on upholding the word of God. (It also happens to be from within a church that is using Lucado’s “The Story” as a church-wide study). But to those who have ears to hear, may I suggest that we recall that Jesus was asked this very question, and his answer appears to be the exact opposite.
The apostles came to the Lord, after he had told a story to the crowds, and asked him “‘Why do you speak to the people in parables?’ He replied,
‘The knowledge of the secrets of the Kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them…This is why I speak to them in parables: Though seeing, they do not see, though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them'” (Mt 13:10-15).
Jesus spoke to the crowds, to the “lost”, to those being evangelized, to those he was healing and telling about God, with stories so that they would think they understood but would actually NOT UNDERSTAND. When it comes to the truths of God, stories are not intended to make it easier for people to get it. Quite the opposite. Such stories make the audience smile and think all is known. They were never designed to reveal truth.
Stories don’t make the word of God clearer, they obscure it. That is what the Bible says about itself. They are attractive notions that blind the audience from understanding truth. Only by obeying the declared revelation of God’s will, through the power of the Spirit of God, will anyone be capable of seeing truth. Per our Lord, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (Jn 14:15).
In fact, Jesus told his faithful disciples that there would come a time when he would no longer speak with stories like this, and would instead tell them clearly about his Father (Jn 16:25). Preachers who want to reach the lost, or who feel called to teach the word of God to Christians, need to follow the example of Christ. That example is not to tell stories, but rather to emulate: “For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me” (Jn 12:49-50). That is what Scripture is–the command of God declared in written form, and divinely preserved with the authority to demand our obedience and to judge our ultimate willingness to submit to what it says.
The following is the command of God regarding what to teach, how it ought to be viewed, and how it differs from what is becoming commonly accepted as just a big story. Consider that “myth” means “a traditional or legendary story” (per Dictionary.com).
“I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (2 Tim 4:1-4).
We must speak the Lord’s commands with careful attention to both what he declares as well as how he directs us. Jesus spoke with stories to prevent people from understanding God’s truth. He spoke with commands and clear statements when he wanted people to understand. That pattern has not changed within the Church.
As Peter declared, he wrote two letters to remind Christians to maintain right thinking. “I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles” (2 Pet 3:1-3). What he is saying is remember the words preserved in the OT and NT books of the Bible. There are scoffers coming, he tells us, who will follow their own story-line…”but they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed…” (v.5). The word of God spoke creation into existence. There is a great story about it, but don’t listen to the scoffers who suggest that, even though God’s word caused matter to suddenly exist out of nothing, the written form now has no power or authority.
The real question at hand is whether or not you and I are willing to submit to the authority of Scripture, spoken and preserved by God, which can establish you in Christ. “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you” (1 Cor 11:23)…not a story, but his declared truth. You have a choice. You may take his words in an unworthy manner, or you may obey “the following directives” (v.17). Communion, symbolized through the bread and cup, is about accepting all that the Lord has done on our behalf. That event culminated on the Cross, but it is prophesied, recorded, defined, and applied to believers within the pages of the 66 books of the Bible.
By holy declaration, God prophesies that his words will never disappear; however, he also states through his prophets that in the end times a famine of hearing the word of God will occur (Amo 8:11). The word will remain, but preachers will stop preaching it and “Christians” will stop accepting it. I believe the evidence is that promotions, like contained in Lucado’s “The Story” are contributing to the fulfillment of that declared prophecy. It intentionally alters the words of God, while still claiming to be God’s story. It is not just Lucado who is trying to attract readers to his ideas, or the Emerging Generation churches (not discussed here, but certainly influential in the spread of this doctrine), or the Anglican priest and historian Wright that stand alone in this slide away from living “according to every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord”, but also those churches, ministers, small group leaders, and individual Christians who willingly buy “The Story” and promote it in their churches. As another prophecy states: “those who listen, will be as guilty as the leaders they consult” (Eze 14:10).
Paul concludes his theological treatise to the Roman Christians on how they ought to view the combination between the gospel declared by Jesus through the apostles (NT) and the ancient Scriptures scribed by the prophets (OT) which together form the eternal command of God. As you can read for yourself, his description does not allow for the scriptural writings to be taken as story. The Bible and its writers all document the same truth; the word of God is a revealed proclamation conveying the eternal expectations of a holy God to all people in order that the faithful will know how to act by obey, rather than play.
“Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the commandment of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him–to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.” (Rom 16:25-27).
As the Lord concluded the greatest sermon ever recorded: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man”…who survives the storms and remains grounded on the Rock for eternity (Mt 7:24-27).
As spoken by an angel from the throne of God, while concluding the declared vision of Revelation, “I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God! (Rev 22:9).