Living in God’s Story
In the first chapter of Unfinished: Believing is Only the Beginning, Stearns focuses on three general approaches to answering the question of purpose of life:
- Living as though there is no greater story
- Creating your own story
- Living by the author’s story
They may be a little simplistic but it gets the point across. On the one end, Stearns quotes some atheist thought leaders about the ultimate meaninglessness of life. The vast majority of people live by the second, including most who call themselves atheists and most who call themselves theists, mashing together bits and pieces from various worldviews into what seems like it will give them the best life. And on the other end, we have the choice of whether to seek out a greater overarching story. The book assumes that you’re at least investigating the third option if you continue from this point on.
I also think it is very important to speak in these terms of story. We humans are naturally drawn to stories. Sometimes we settle for propositions, but no matter how true, a proposition will never have the power to speak into lives in the same way as a story, especially a story that invites us to join in as God’s story does. It’s like N.T. Wright says in this video about contextualizing the Gospel. The Gospel, and really life in general, is ultimately a story. When the writers of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote down their Gospels, they were broad stories centred on Jesus, not a series of propositions. So the question is not what you believe but is instead what story you choose to live in.
As we move into the second chapter, Stearns doesn’t get into comparative religion or apologetics as to why he conflates “living by a greater story” to becoming a disciple of Jesus. He simply says that there are many good resources available for this, and tells his own story of how he came to be a Christian through these kinds of sources. Unfinished is for people who have already decided on the Christian life – the Christian story – encouraging us how to move forward, but I’m glad that he simply acknowledged this for those currently of other worldviews who were reading.
The remainder of the second chapter is then taken up by how Stearns understands the grand story of Scripture (and consequently, human existence in general). I’ve realized that along with asking “What is the Gospel?”, asking “what is the purpose of Scripture?” is a quick way to learn a lot about how different Christians approach life and faith. Stearns’ was far from the strictly legal avoidance of Hell approach which I definitely had to appreciate as that approach is neither helpful nor true to what Scripture itself focuses on. Stearns briefly sketches out what this looks like from creation through the church (kinda like N.T. Wright’s 5 Acts of Scripture), but repeats this summation a few times:
The story of Scripture is the story of a Father’s love for his children. It is the story of a Father faithfully reaching out to the children who rejected him. It is the story of a loving God who never gives up.
That’s the key right there, isn’t it? Some call the Bible a love letter, but I think a love story is a better phrase to capture the different genres as well as the ups and downs. A love letter is usually all sappy and just focusing on the positives, but the Bible is not a particularly romantic story on first read as it expresses God’s pain at abandonment and his frustration at his creation right alongside the joys of deep relationship.
The second chapter ends with this that sums it up well:
God’s kingdom had come; God’s will now could be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Two thousand years later we are his children in this generation ; we are his church. But the job he gave us to do remains unfinished. It is our turn now . . . our time to lead God’s revolution.
That’s back to the question of the first chapter: do you want to join in with your part in this story? I look forward to seeing how Stearns’ delves into what this would mean in more detail.