Let’s Talk Story: Why Care About Biblical Theology? – 1 Pet. 1:8–13 – Chris Wu
We love being invited into a good story. It’s also why we love our movies, TV, and streaming shows – whether Disney, Netflix, HBO…whatever. Sure, we like to be entertained. But we love to be drawn into stories. I love author/theologian James K.A. Smith’s tidy little phrase about this: “the heart traffics in stories.” We’re wired for it. We don’t simply crave information and facts – we want relationships and development and drama.
Biblical theology focuses on studying the narrative arc of the whole Bible – tracing the story of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation – bringing it all together.
Biblical theology tells us who God is, who we are, where we belong, where everything is going. A healthy church teaches, thrives on, loves biblical theology because in it, we discover God’s story – the one story, our story.
1) His Story is THE Story; (1 Pet. 1:8-11) Peter is encouraging his listeners, and he says, “Praise God! You love Jesus. You love Him even though most of you never met Him. And what a joy you have, looking to the salvation He guaranteed! And you know what else is cool? That hope you have in Him? That source of joy? It’s the thing that the prophets and generation after generation before you had all been anticipating/looking for/fixating on! Abraham? Isaac? Moses? Samuel? David? Joel? Isaiah? They all were looking for this. In other words, what you have, what we have, is what all history has been working toward.”
Peter is telling us that the center of history and source of truth – real, substantial truth that matters for your life – is found in Jesus. So, everything that happened before, all that is happening now, and all that will happen soon – all of it has its meaning based in Jesus. His story is THE story.
A popular phrase we’ve been hearing a lot these days is, “live your truth” or “speak your truth.” And there’s a core goodness to that phrase as it tries to answer the multitude of times oppressive powers have marginalized or devalued the experience of real, image-of-God-bearing persons.
But the answer to false narratives and oppressive narratives isn’t “my” truth. You see, my truth and my story just aren’t big enough to account for the both of us. My truth only accounts for my experience, and my limited perspective of it at that. As honest as I may be about my story and my truth, it’s just never going to be enough to account for all human existence. How could it?
The answer to false narratives, to incomplete or oppressive narratives, can only be the real truth. The real story. The truth that doesn’t depend on my or anyone else’s finite and subjective experience. The truth that is full of both justice and mercy, righteousness and grace. The truth that can account for my and everyone else’s seriously messed up actions and failures, and have real hope at the end of it.
More accurately, it’s the truth that isn’t just a bunch of objective facts or propositions, but is found in a person, a relationship, a story that is big enough to fold me and everyone else into it. God’s story. THE story.
Peter says that the prophets were looking to that story. That Christ, Himself was working in them to search out and indicate the fact that He was coming – the pivotal moment in history. The fulcrum moment that would change everything.
Jesus said this in John 5:39, speaking to the Jewish leaders, who knew their history and scriptures better than anyone: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me…”
In Luke 24, it’s a similar thing – this time the risen Christ speaking with disciples on the road to Emmaus, explaining the centrality of His death and resurrection – that of course it was going to happen. Luke says, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Lk. 24:27). In other words: 1) if you want to know the meaning of the Bible, look to Jesus. And 2) if you want to know Jesus, look to the Bible. The most important book in the world, as it turns out, is about the most important person in the world. And critically, biblical theology doesn’t give us a slew of facts – it gives us a person.
Biblical theology is powerful, because in the Bible, we don’t find mere statements like “God is love” or “God is just.” We encounter the God who, in love, stepped down to live with the humanity He created. We meet the God who came to embody the human experience, to hunger, sleep, walk, and weep with us, to bear our burdens and shame and troubles, and to give His life as a ransom for ours. We meet the God whose sovereignty and grace came together to glorify Himself in the most peculiar way – by loving sinners like us, and bringing them to Himself.
This is the greatest story. It’s the story that provides meaning to all other stories. It’s the one true original that’s been echoing in our heads since before we were born. Our love for biblical theology doesn’t necessarily mean we all become bookish theologians. But church, when see and love that His story is THE story, we do change the lens we look through every day. We do change the way we evaluate the things that happen around us. We do depend on the Bible to define reality for us.
The buzz phrase, “controlling narrative” – refers to, such and such is the controlling narrative, the controlling perspective, through which we are being told this news story or those set of facts. Biblical theology teaches us to hand the controlling narrative over to God Himself.
Following the storyline of the Bible frees us from the need to seek out an original identity for ourselves or manufacture meaning or theorize what our purpose in life is. To formulate our own path and hope it’s the best one.
Slowly but surely, God has used biblical theology – THE story of the Bible – to break me out of self-defining and the crushing need to write my own story. To start seeing my suffering in light of God’s story – and find hope for tomorrow and grace for today. To see my future as not dependent on my performance today but wrapped up in a plan God established from the foundation of the world.
By God’s grace, my grip on reality is starting to tighten because His story, THE story, is becoming and has become the controlling narrative of my life. Church, let me invite you to do the same. What would it look like in your everyday if God’s story, the story of the Bible, was your controlling narrative? I don’t think it will make your life easier – it hasn’t made mine easier - but it will start to make sense of it. My healthy church family – we’ve been given glorious rails to run on. We love biblical theology because it teaches us that His story is THE story.
2) His Story is OUR Story; (1 Pet. 1:12-13) As we started to explore in our first point, biblical theology not only tells us that His story is THE story, but because it’s THE story, it also becomes OUR story. This is an important turn that is easy to take for granted. But I think, actually, we can be helped here by a movie, Disney’s animated film, Tangled. It’s a reimagining of the classic fairy tale about the long-haired princess Rapunzel, famously trapped in her lone tower.
Rapunzel is a compelling character because she’s lost – she’s been stuck in a false story about who her family is and what her purpose is. But she’s seen a hint of the truth, the real story, and she’s desperate to find it. When she discovers the truth and is finally reunited with her parents, we as the audience empathize with how satisfying it is to find home.
We’re happy because she found her place in the good and true story that she was always meant to be a part of. She IS the princess. Not because she chose it or earned it. Not because she trailblazed and lived her truth. Her meaning and identity are given to her by a loving family. She found out who she really is.
Folks, this story is a good one – because it’s a shadow and pointer to the real story, what J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis called the “truth myth.” It’s THE story.
That amazing hope in Jesus Peter writes about, that the prophets sought out and angels long to look into, that is the story that shows us who we really are. That’s the story that defines us in light of who God is, what He’s done, and who He’s called us to be.
1 John 3:1-2 says this: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.”
Biblical theology teaches us that the world doesn't have our story and can't tell us who we are – but God can and does, in the whole story of the Bible.
So, when Peter says, “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ,” he’s not making a moral appeal for people to “do the right thing.” He’s cheering on suffering believers to embrace their place in the biblical storyline, and to hope in the ending that’s coming. Not a generic hope for a generically happy ending, but a specific hope, in the person of Christ, as real children of God.
4 or 5 years ago, I was in something of a career crisis. Work has always been hard in one way or another, but it stopped being fun, or more accurately, it stopped feeling meaningful for me. I didn’t understand what I was there for, I wondered why God hadn’t called me into ministry or some other field I felt “wired” for, and it felt like even on good, “productive” days, I was just…wasting away, waiting for my real life to begin. Literally I would come home, talk with Karen, or pray, and just tear up. I knew in my head what the right answers were, but in my heart, in my bones, I was mixed up and confused.
I remember one day reading an article from TGC that started to bring light into my life, written by a retiree who for years had struggled to enjoy her work: “There’s a lesson here that has taken me 30-plus years to learn: work is not a call to meaning and significance so much as a call to die to self on behalf of others. Christ did this for us. Are we not to follow in His steps?”
In other words, my meaning and significance were always bound up with the story of the Bible – the story of Christ. I was never going to find it in my job, even if I became a pastor or teacher. His story needed to become my story.
Now maybe my experience resonates with you or maybe not. But let me invite you, call you, into the same admonishment that Peter provided for the Christians of his day: look to the good news, the grand story, see what an incredible narrative you’ve been invited into, and place your mindset, your actions, your hope in that context. Don’t be defined by any other story.
Friends, my healthy church family, we love and teach biblical theology not just because it’s good doctrine, not just because it’s right, but because it invites us into God’s story – His story – THE story – our story.