I’m not a fan of puzzles. The thought of sitting at a table for hours on end, arranging jig-saws together only to tear it apart and put it in the box, sounds pointless. However, my grandparents always had a puzzle on their dining room table. I have fond memories of sitting down with them and trying my best to fit a few pieces together. When you first dump out the puzzle, the thousands of pieces appear overwhelming. The task of fitting them together into a whole seems impossible! However, there is one important tool that helps the overwhelmed amateur—the picture on the front of the box. There you see the overarching picture that guides you as you attempt to assemble those small pieces together.
I’m convinced that one of the reasons for the biblical illiteracy in our churches is that pastors and teachers have failed to show our people the front of the box. The Bible is a collection of 66 different books, written by various authors, in various styles and genre, over a period of centuries. The Bible is like a puzzle, with a sundry of different pieces. However, each of those pieces fit together to provide an overarching picture, a meta-narrative of the cosmos that explains who God is and how we fit into God’s story. Those with a meager understanding of the Scriptures have a hard time understanding what the Bible is even about. To them, the Bible seems to be a random collection of stories, none of which fit together. Thus, many simply don’t read the Bible, thinking it’s irrelevant. Those who do, tend to divorce a few verses that seem immediately practical from their context (Jeremiah 29:11 anyone?). So, when a pastor ascends the pulpit to expound on a section of Scripture, the pastor largely assumes the congregation knows how this piece fits into the overall narrative of the Scriptures. However, that is a mistaken assumption. Unless we tell them the grand story of the Scriptures, they will not fully appreciate the entirety of God’s word and receive it as truth. Until we provide Christians with the picture on the box (aka the meta-narrative), they will struggle to know how to assemble the pieces of the biblical text.
The Plot Line of Scripture
So what is the plot line of the Bible, this meta-narrative that helps us make sense of the individual parts? Well, the basic plot line of the Scripture is creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.
— Creation. The one and eternal God creates the heavens and the earth and uniquely fashions human kind in his image. God has created a good world, a world that brings him glory. God intended his world to be filled with his image bearers, bringing global worship to himself.
— Fall. The first man and woman, Adam and Eve, succumb to the temptation of the serpent to be like God. They disobey God’s command and the entire cosmos spirals into corruption. The relationship between God and man is fractured due to human sin. The man and woman are cast out of the garden, but with the promise of a future deliver who would crush the head of the serpent.
— Redemption. God begins his sovereign plan to bring redemption to humanity. His original plan for global praise will not be thwarted. He calls Abraham and sets apart a people for his own possession through whom he will bring his deliverer. God elects the people of Israel as his own, and establishes his covenant with them. Yet, they prove unfaithful continually. Nevertheless, God’s covenant love and sovereign purposes endure. The redemption of God would come through a son of Abraham, a son of David, the Lord Jesus Christ. This Jesus, who is God in the flesh, comes into the world to save humanity. By his righteous life, he fulfills the demands of the Law for us. By his substitutionary death, he’s punished in our place. By his vicarious resurrection, he’s risen for our hope. By faith in Christ the king, our relationship with God is restored and we are forgiven of our sins. Jesus then commissions us, as citizens of his kingdom and members of his family, to proclaim the Gospel to the nations until he returns again.
— Restoration. At the end of the age, Christ will return for his church, vanquish his enemies, and establish his reign forever. Heaven and earth will collide as the New Jerusalem descends. God will restore the world from the brokenness of sin, and his original purposes in creation will be restored. The earth will be filled with worshipers of God from every tribe, language, and nation, and the king will receive his glory as we behold his beauty.
Giving People the Puzzle Box
What are some practical ways you can help your church understand the story of the Scriptures? If you are a pastor or a teacher, here are some ideas.
— Teach a four week sermon series on those four points mentioned above: creation, fall, redemption, restoration. Help people understand the story of the meta-narrative of the Scriptures by telling them briefly and succinctly through a short sermon series.
— Read and study the field of biblical theology. If you don’t know much about the field of biblical theology, for the sake of your Bible invest some time reading in this area. It will help you grow as a teacher of the Scriptures. Check out these few resources to get you started: Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church: A Guide for Ministry by Michael Lawrence or From Eden to the New Jerusalem by T. Desmond Alexander.
— Train your people to share the Gospel through a meta-narrative approach. Consider using tools like The Story to train your people how to share the Gospel. Not only will it make them more effective evangelists, but it will help them grow in their own understanding of the Scriptures.
— Consider starting a theology group at your church to read a book on Biblical Theology. My church does this, as each week I lead a breakfast group through Thomas Schreiner’s The King in His Beauty. Each week everyone in the group reads an assigned chapter, and then we get together and discuss it.
The Big Picture
The more we can do to help our people understand the grand story of God’s love, the better off they will be. Many Christians feel paralyzed by the Bible, because they dump the puzzle pieces onto the table and they don’t possess the picture on the lid. The field of Biblical theology can help pastors and teachers provide their congregation with an overarching framework that helps the paralyzed open up their Bibles and read for themselves. Giving them the big picture of the Bible will only help them see the bigness of God, his glory, and his love for us.