According to Robert Webber in a book called Ancient—Future Worship, “Worship does God’s story.”¹ By that, Webber means that worship is a narrative of cosmic proportions, “worship gathers to sing, tell, and enact God’s story of the world from its beginning to its end.”²
This means Christian worship leaders and gathered Christian worshippers need to have some familiarity with the basic storyline and plotline of the Bible. The storyline of the Bible traces the content, the history, of the biblical story. A storyline is made up of an array of facts. The storyline lets the reader know what happened. The plotline of the Bible traces the theological message of the Old Testament, namely the self-revelation of God. It offers a worldview. The plot is made up of an array of convictions that persuade the reader what to believe.³
One way God’s story may be told is outlined below. This version of God’s redemptive story reflects the Western tradition of the Christian church, with emphasis on the atoning work of Jesus Christ accomplished in the events related to the cross, his death, burial, and resurrection. Another time we will take a look at an Eastern Church version of God’s grand narrative.
God’s Story: The Salvation History Narrative
The phrase “salvation history” refers to God’s progressive plan of redemption recorded in the Bible. This redemptive plan is foreshadowed in the exodus-event of the Old Testament and culminates in the person and work of Jesus the Messiah, the Christ-event of the New Testament. The story of redemption is rooted in the idea of covenant and the goal is the glory and rule of God reestablished in the created order as He reclaims, restores, and fully re-inhabits His handiwork. Central to this redemptive plan is the “offspring theology” announced in Gen 3:15—the promise of a child who will overcome the enemy of humanity and set all things right. Right from the start, God’s plan is to overcome human sin by using an “insider”— promising a human agent who would overturn the impact of those earlier human agents who rebelled against God. This helps explain the biblical emphasis on birth stories in the Bible, especially the accounts of formerly childless women giving birth to a child.
The means by which God redeems fallen creation is in the reestablishment of relationships with humanity through a series of covenant enactments. These covenants begin with Adam (cf. Hos 6:7); Noah and his family (Gen 9); continue with Abraham and Sarah (Gen 12, 15, 17); extend to the Israelite nation through Moses at Mt. Sinai (Exod 19-24); expand to include kingship through the line of David (2 Sam 7); become consolidated and universalized in the new covenant proclaimed by Jeremiah (Jer 30-33); and culminate with the fulfillment of the New Covenant in the Christ-event (Luke 22). Broadly outlined, the salvation history theme of the Bible includes these basic elements:
<Triune God of the Bible>
Creation→Fall↓← Redemption † →Restoration
From the very beginning of scripture, God chose one family (founded by Abram and Sarai) to bless all nations (Gen. 12:1-3). God’s agenda is global but rooted in the family. God’s vision to bless all nations through a family culminates in the unique offspring born into the family of Joseph and Mary of Nazareth (Luke 1-2). As we also learn in early chapters of scripture, God’s agenda for his people was an ethic, a lifestyle of doing what is just and right (Gen. 18:19)—the very pillars of his throne (Ps 89:14). God’s plan for humanity from Old Testament to New Testament is one practice of social justice.
Another key theme unifying the First and Second Testaments of the Bible is the concept of divine presence or God’s desire to have an “address” in the human sphere, living with His people. The Bible opens with God “walking” in the garden, seeking fellowship with Adam and Eve (Gen 3:8). Later God calls Israel to build Him a tent so that He might live among His people (Exod 25:8). The glory of God will fill Solomon’s temple as a demonstration of the divine presence, as the worship of Israel shifted from the portable shrine to a permanent sanctuary (1 Kgs 8; 2 Chron 7). Isaiah envisions the birth of a child called Immanuel (Isa 7:14) and John’s Gospel announces that the Word of God truly became a human being (John 1:14). As a result of Pentecost (Acts 2:4), the Holy Spirit of God now lives in the Christian, in fulfillment of the promise made by Jesus the Messiah to give his followers another Helper (John 14:15). Paul reminds us that this indwelling divine presence makes our body the very temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19). At the end of history, God will again be living with His people in a New Jerusalem, He and the Lamb will be its temple (Rev 21:3, 22).
C. S. Lewis commented that a great story is one that leaves things where it did not find them. Such is the story of our Bible. We open God’s story and soon find humanity alienated from God and banished from the paradise that was once home. But the story will indeed leave things where it did not find them. The “Second Adam” obeyed the voice of God in the garden (Matt 26:36-42), overturning the curse of the “First Adam’s” disobedience (Gen 3:14-19; cf. Rom 5:12), and ultimately leading to an era when all things are made new (Rev 21:5). 4
¹ Robert Webber, Ancient Future Worship (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), p. 29.
² Ibid, 40.
³ See J. H. Walton & A. E. Hill, Old Testament Today. 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013) p. 12.
4 C.S. Lewis, A Preface to Paradise Lost (New York: Oxford, 1952), p. 133.