The Meta Narrative of Scripture

The meta-genre of Scripture is narrative.  The Bible is the narrative of “God’s works in our world on our behalf.”  (John Calvin)

I recently asked a group of college students to write out for me a brief definition/explanation of what is the meta-narrative of the Bible. I purposefully used the word “meta-narrative” because so many are unfamiliar with it, and I wanted them to go look it up and find out. About a week later they sent me their responses, and while they did a pretty good job following what I asked, no one fully answered the question. So I thought I would write what I understand the grand narrative or meta-narrative of the Bible to be. Of course, each of these areas that I will discuss can be talked about for days and days- I have only a few moments! Getting to the point, a good one line definition of what is the meta-narrative of scripture is given in the following: The essence of the Christian religion (the story of the bible) consists in this, that the creation of the Father, devastated by sin, is restored in the death of the Son of God, and re-created by the Holy Spirit into the kingdom of God.  – Calvin

Image

The image above nicely sums up the entirety of Scripture. God has had a plan from the very beginning, and that plan was to enjoy his creation. Genesis talks about how God walked in the garden in the coolness of the day. This paints a real picture of God enjoying what he created. Shalom was established, and God was present. The Westminster Shorter Catechism question 1 says that the “chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever”. Man was created to enjoy God, and God created everything so that he might enjoy it- sounds like a perfect plan to me. Even though scene two happens (I will discuss what each scene means in the picture above) God’s plan was/is still the same- to enjoy his creation. The Bible is the story of how God, in spite of the fallenness of Man and the corruption of his creation, reconciles his people and his creation back to himself, so that shalom is established once again.

The picture above is what is often recognized as the biblical worldview. Each “scene” is labeled as the following: Creation, Fall/Rebellion, Redemption, Restoration/Consummation. We abbreviate this C-R-R-R.

**Much of this is credited to the great minds of John Calvin, Herman Bavinck, and Albert Wolters.

Begin with Creation. Genesis outlines creation.  Genesis 1:31- 2:3 says, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done”. There is a lot you can unpack in these few verses, but what I want to emphasize is that God calls his creation good. Everything about what He created was perfect. Notice the first picture in the biblical world view above- everything is plush, and in order functioning as he intended. Creation and everything about it is inherently good. Even Adam was perfect in every way. He walked in the presence of God and was not consumed.  Adam was holy- he was righteous in every way.

The next picture or scene in the meta-narrative is Rebellion or Fall. Genesis 3 records for us the Fall of Mankind. “Now the serpent was craftier than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”  And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” (Gen. 3:1-7)  If you didn’t notice, sin/rebellion was not one of the things that God created in his good a perfect creation. Sin does not belong in the structure of God’s created order. Sin is an alien intruder, a parasite. Just like any parasite, it infects. It has infected God’s good creation. Though touched by sin, the world (as creation) is still inherently good (e.g., Psa.24:1; 1 Tim.4:4-5).

Human beings are responsible for infecting creation. God is not to blame for the evil that is now present in creation. Berkouwer, a famous theologian says it this way, “The biblical a priori is that God is not the source, the cause, or the author of man’s sin”. You may ask yourself how did man throw all of creation out of kilter-so to speak? Imago Dei or the Image of God. Adam (mankind) was made in the image of God, and he was given dominion or authority over all of creation. Man is the representative head over the earthly creation. Therefore, he was the federal head or in simpler terms “the president” of all of creation. So as Adam goes, so goes all that he governs- namely creation. Sin results in Adam’s alienation from God, from other human beings, and from the very ground from which he came. This is bad. But the story doesn’t end here. The remainder of the OT is about God bearing with the sins of a rebellious people and showing them unmerited love.

The next scene is Redemption. The hope of God’s restoration. Grace was very present in the Old Testament, in spite of what some theologians say. God described his character as “a God who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…” (Exod. 34:6-7) And he was exactly who he said he was. He proved himself over and over again to his people- even after they continued to rebel and break his covenant. When we come to the New Testament, we see grace revealed in flesh, in the God-man Jesus Christ. Grace covers sin.  Its goal is removal and restoration; the removal of sin and the restoration of creation. Grace accomplishes two things: it restores creation and it restores humanity. Herman Bavinck, a great systematic theologian, says this about the restoration of creation, “Christianity did not come into the world to condemn and put under the ban everything which existed beforehand and everywhere, but quite the opposite, to purify from sin everything that was; and thus to cause it to answer again to its own nature and purpose…[…] Christianity does not introduce a single substantial foreign element into the creation.  It creates no new cosmos, but rather makes the cosmos new, It restores what was corrupted by sin.  It atones the guilty and cures what is sick; the wounded, it heals.” Calvin says, “Christ came not for the destruction of the world, but for its deliverance.”  Bavinck goes on to say, “In his redeemed state what was lost in fallen man is restored.  Redemption is God’s act, not the sinner’s.  Because fallen man lacks both the objective power to earn God’s grace and the subjective power even to turn to Him for grace, salvation must be God’s gift.  Salvation is not a de novo (literally from new or afresh) creation, but a renewal or restoration of that trust which existed in purity in unfallen man.  Even though trust in renewed man is God’s gift, it is not something contrary to his nature.” “It is beyond the powers of his nature as sinful man; but is something which belongs to human nature as such, which has been lost through his and which can be restored only by the power of God.  In this sense faith remains natural even in the renewed sinner.”

The fourth and final scene of the biblical grand narrative is Re-creation/Restoration or Consummation. The goal of redemption is the recreation of the cosmos into the kingdom of God (Matt.19:28). Christ will renew all things. Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection are the central and crucial component of this final scene. Often times, Christian jump straight to Jesus. The student I asked about this had no problem with the gospel- in fact, they jumped straight to the gospel. I’m not reducing the importance of the gospel (it is the climax of the story) and the work of Christ, but the biblical narrative is kind of front loaded. Jesus’ work comes towards the end. If you don’t set up the beginning correctly, you lose the weight of what Jesus really accomplished. “God’s honor consists precisely in the fact that he redeems and renews the same humanity, the same world, the same heaven, and the same earth that have been corrupted and polluted by sin”. Calvin

Wolters writes, “upon the invasion of sin into the world through the disobedience of our first parents, God commits himself to the defeat of the forces of sin and death that oppose his good rule and damage his creation.  In short, redemption always takes place in reference to and as the restoration of creation.  It is only as God is the Creator that he is the Redeemer.  Redemption is nothing less than the holy jealousy of the Creator God for his creation”.   “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psa.124:8).  Our Redeemer can be none other than the one who with power, wisdom and delight in the works of his hands made us in the first place. God will be faithful to his creation! This is something to rejoice about!

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