It’s been a busy week at seminary culminating in a 13-hour intensive class on Friday and Saturday. For this week’s post I’ve decided to submit a book review I’ve done on Sean Gladding’s book, The Story of God, the Story of Us: Getting Lost and Found in the Bible (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2010). This was a fascinating read retelling the Biblical story with a fresh approach; here is my take on it.
As our world transitions from modernity to postmodernity, the telling of stories holds greater meaning. Sean Gladding’s The Story of God, the Story of Us, retells the Biblical narrative in such a way that readers are both engaged personally and invited to join a story bigger than their own. We’re compelled to rediscover an overarching story in the ancient text that is not only a glimpse of the past but also embraces our story in the present. It’s a story about our Creator Who loves His creation and passionately desires to connect us with His greater purposes, that if faithfully embraced, bring glory to His Name and ultimate meaning to our lives.
First, Gladding gives us a glimpse of God’s self-revelation throughout Scripture. He shows us a God that is full of goodness and grace Who delights in His creation to the point of making a binding Covenant that will cause Him great sacrifice. Mirrored in that is God’s desire for us who are made in His image; to fulfill His great mission of blessing all nations, first commissioned to the Jews in the Abrahamic Covenant and later modeled in Jesus Christ. Gladding writes, “God’s people exist for the sake of the world, not for our own sake” (87). Just as God receives glory through blessing all humanity so are we a blessed people called to be blessing to all nations.
Second, Gladding desires his readership to strip their reading of the biblical narrative of the assumptions and prejudices commonly brought to it. We tend to read ourselves into the center of the story and make it more about us than about God’s Kingdom. Gladding points out that God not only needed to get Israel out of Egypt but “Egypt”–an earthly kingdom paradigm–out of the Israelites. While God designed for them a tabernacle–a mobile worship center that would serve missional purposes as they moved among the nations–they preferred a stationary temple that centered on the first part of the Abrahamic covenant and prevented the latter. They wanted a king to be like other nations; God wanted them to be a nation set apart with their identity wrapped up in His covenant relationship with them.
Third, Gladding paints a comprehensive picture of God’s story rather than the short snapshots we tend to see when we only study portions of scripture. He shows us that there is a grand story threaded throughout all the stories; and parallel portraits from the Old and New Testaments that tie it altogether. God’s story begins in a garden where humanity breaks relationship with Him and ends in a garden where all is restored. The cherubim that guard the garden of Eden after the fall of humanity reappear at the mercy seat in the tabernacle and then again at the garden tomb after Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus is foreshadowed in Isaac (“God will provide a lamb–‘My Son’”), Moses, Joshua, and King David. The Law of Moses received on a mountain is later fulfilled when Jesus delivers His Sermon on the Mount–a declaration of His “magnum opus” in fulfillment of the law. The Bible is cohesive; each author, book, chapter, verse, and line plays a role in telling The Story of God, the Story of Us.
Sean Gladding does well in retelling the Story, not as the metanarrative of Scripture, but rather as his understanding of it which continues to deepen over time (237). Given the length, depth, and breadth of the metanarrative, he is forced to choose what parts to highlight and bring to the fore what he deems is critical in supporting the overarching theme.
Gladding uses the terms “vocation, permission, and prohibition” to explain God’s purpose and plan in The Story of God, the Story of Us. Vocation has everything to do with Covenant; humanity is invited to partner with God in caring for creation and continuing to create by having children. Permission deals with the free will of humanity and the choices we make to enjoy the blessings of God. Prohibition distinguishes God from humanity based on the former’s command to the latter to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Gladding points out that, “prohibition is only meaningful within the context of freedom; only when we can say ‘no’ is our ‘yes’ meaningful” (29). Since all three of these gifts help form the context for the Story of God, the Story of Us, it may have been helpful to refer to them more often throughout the story.
I was impressed with Gladding’s ability to weave a nonviolence thread into the narrative by his use of the characters who told the story; in one case, a gentle little girl was juxtaposed with a revengeful harpist. At another point, the narrator of story rebuked the crowd for their hatred of the oppressor by simply stating, “Then you still have not heard the Story, my friend” (148). In another context, Gladding strongly declares that anyone who seeks to enter the Kingdom, “must refuse to bow to any other gods–including any empire, nation or state that demands our allegiance and which use economic and military power to further its own interests at the expense of others” (226-227). In doing this, Gladding made the Story relevant for today by exposing the nationalism and pro-militarism prevalent among many Christians.
This book complements my current ministry with Unveiling Glory. As a speaker for their Cat and Dog Theology seminar, I’ve been introduced to the story of God’s glory throughout the Bible based on the Abrahamic Covenant. In the third lecture we unpack the Bible as having an introduction, a main story line, and conclusion showing the cohesive nature of God’s Story built around His desire to bless us and make us a blessing to all the peoples of the world. This book confirms my life theme of “blessed to be a blessing” and impresses on me the importance of remembering the simple theme of a Covenant God welcoming all people into His grand Story.