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Dane Ortlund, back in 2011 asked several pastors and scholars this question, “What’s the message of the Bible in one sentence?” In other words, “What’s the metanarrative of the Bible?” The metanarrative of Scripture is what redemptive-historical preachers are concerned with, since we believe the grand story of Scripture, as organized by God, is what He’s concerned with as well. Here are a few answers to Ortlund’s question (more answers here):
God was so covenantally committed to the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him may have eternal life!
God is in the process of recreating the universe which has been corrupted by sin and has made it possible for all those and only those who follow Jesus to be a part of the magnificent, eternal community that will result.
The Bible tells how the loving Creator God restored a lost humanity and cosmos through reestablishing his rule through Jesus Christ and the provision of life to His honor.
God has made promises to bring His people to Himself and He is fulfilling them all through Christ.
A holy God sends his righteous Son to die for unrighteous sinners so we can be holy and live happily with God forever.
God glorifies himself in the redemption of sinners.
The Triune God is the beginning, middle, and end of everything, ‘for from him (as Creator) and through him (as Sustainer and Redeemer) and to him (as Judge) are all things’ (Rom 11:36).
The movement in history from creation to new creation through the redemptive work of Father, Son, and Spirit who saves and changes corrupted people and places for his glory and their good.
God is redeeming his creation by bringing it under the lordship of Jesus Christ.
‘God so loved the world that the gave his one and only Son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:16).
God, who made us and everything else, loves us and gave himself for us that we might live forever with him as new creatures in a new creation—the news is good!
The Lover of our souls won’t let the romance die, but is rekindling it forever.
The message of the Bible is twofold: to show how people can be saved from their sins through faith in Christ’s atonement AND how to live all of life as a follower of God.
God reigns over all things for his glory, but we will only enjoy his saving reign in the new heavens and the new earth if we repent and believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the crucified and risen Lord and who gave himself on the cross for our salvation.
The main message of the Bible is that the one true God is displaying his glory primarily in redeeming and restoring his fallen creation by fulfilling his covenant promises and commands through the glorious person and atoning work of Christ.
Scripture tells us the story of how a Garden is transformed into a Garden City, but only after a dragon had turned that Garden into a howling wilderness, a haunt of owls and jackals, which lasted until an appointed warrior came to slay the dragon, giving up his life in the process, but with his blood effecting the transformation of the wilderness into the Garden City.
In light of these answers, here are some pitfalls to avoid in redemptive-historical preaching:
1. Redemptive-historical preaching often does not emphasize the metanarrative.
The metanarrative, the grand story of Scripture, is the emphasis of redemptive-historical preaching, but often we stop short of the metanarrative. Scripture doesn’t just detail God’s plan of redemption for sinners. It also includes: 1) God’s triune relationship with Himself prior to creation (Gen. 1:1; John 1:1), 2) God’s sinless creation and His relationship with sinless humanity (Gen. 1-2), and 3) God’s coming relationship with sinless creation and sinless humanity (Rev. 21).
2. Redemptive-historical preaching often details a very small portion of history.
The history detailed in Scripture begins with God’s Triune relationship between the three Persons prior to the existence of anything else (eternity past) and proceeds into eternity future in a New Heavens and New Earth. Redemptive-historical preaching details the few thousand years between eternity past and eternity future, even though the Bible speaks of both eternity past and eternity future. I realize most of Scripture details this small portion of history known as redemption history, but what does the redemptive-historical preacher do with the Scripture that details non-redemptive history? We can’t just ignore it, but instead must adjust our redemptive-historical emphasis, the metanarrative, based on this other history.
3. Redemptive-historical preaching often does not explain the purpose of entities who need no redemption.
The angels that did not rebel against God need no redemption, yet they are mentioned numerous times in Scripture. How do they fit into redemptive-historical preaching? What is their purpose in the redemption of sinners? They serve a real purpose prior to redemption, during redemption, and they will after redemption is fully realized, but redemptive-historical preaching may miss their function due to not accounting for these entities who need no redemption.
4. Redemptive-historical preaching can encourage a lack of application.
If redemptive-historical preachers aren’t careful, we’ll emphasize Christ’s redeeming work without ever answering the question, “How shall we live?” The Bible doesn’t just describe redemption, but also details how Christians who are citizens of the New Jerusalem should live while still present in this evil world. Whether it’s Old Testament saints living in response to trusting in God’s promise and coming fulfillment, or it’s New Testament saints living in response to Christ’s finished work and the coming completion of redemption, God’s people are still expected to live holy lives. This fact must not be ignored, neglected, or collapsed into the gospel. The gospel makes God’s people positionally holy and progressively holy. In other words, the fruit of the gospel is not only the further sharing of the gospel, but also lives transformed by the gospel. Of course, we never grow beyond our need for the gospel, and the gospel alone saves us.
The remedy for the first three pitfalls is to begin with God’s Triune relationship, and then to fit all of creation and redemptive history under this umbrella. I call this the “history of existence theme.”
God enjoyed perfect fellowship with Himself, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, continually before time and creation existed [History of Existence Theme] (Gen. 1:1, John 1:1). He sought to continue enjoying Himself through freely revealing His Trinitarian holiness and love to and through creation (Gen. 1:26-28). He thus created all things, and allowed sin to temporally hide His holiness and love from sinners. God however set His redemptive plan in motion as detailed in Gen. 3:15. Satan would bruise Christ’s heal, but Jesus would crush his head. As a result of God seeking to continue enjoying Himself, He revealed His holiness and love to sinners by sending His Son to live a perfect life, to die for sins He did not commit, and to rise from the dead to reconcile sinners to Himself [Redemptive History Theme]. One day when Christ completes the redemption of His people we will enjoy God, His Trinitarian holiness and love, forevermore.
It must be noted that I realize there’s danger is reducing God’s various attributes to “love” and “holiness.” For those who think this is too reductionistic, you could be less specific by not mentioning God’s holiness and love, and instead saying, “He sought to continue enjoying Himself through freely revealing His Trinitarian identity to and through creation.”
I believe this remedy will help redemptive-historical preachers avoid the various pitfalls mentioned above. First, God revealing Himself to and through creation is the metanarrative, and redemption history fits within this metanarrative. Second, God revealing Himself includes His Trinitarian relationship since God is Trinity, thus this small addition includes all of history, from eternity past to eternity future. Third, this remedy answers the issue concerning the purpose of those angels who need no redemption. They serve as part of the creation God is revealing Himself to and through. They serve this purpose now and will forevermore.
Finally, the remedy for a lack of application is to emphasize how Christians should live as a result of the gospel. They must pursue perfection while pleading the blood of Christ alone for their salvation. Due to God revealing Himself to and through creation as evidenced by the crucifixion and resurrection of His Son to forgive me of my sins, I will live a holy life while depending on Christ’s holiness in my stead alone.
What are your thoughts?