Drama of Scripture – Preface to First Edition

Preface to First Edition

This book had its beginnings in a meeting of Mike Goheen and Craig Bartholomew in Birmingham, England, in the summer of 2000. Needing a text for the biblical theology course he taught, Mike approached Craig (a biblical scholar) to write one. Craig proposed that the two of them work together on the book, to keep it sensitive to biblical scholarship (Craig’s strength) as well as missiology and worldview studies (Mike’s focus). It has been said that if you want to ruin a friendship, you should write a book together! We’re happy to report that as we’ve come to the end of this project we are still good friends. In fact, the project has been mutually enriching.

The Drama of Scripture is written with first year university students in mind. It is designed as a text for an introductory course in biblical theology taught at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario, Canada. As a Christian university, Redeemer is committed to distinctively Christian scholarship that is shaped by the Bible. We want our students first to understand the true nature of Scripture: that it is God’s story, the true story of the world. Only when it is understood for what it is can it become the foundation for human life, including the life of the scholar. Our second goal for students is that they learn to articulate a thoroughly biblical worldview, by developing in a systematic way the most comprehensive categories of the Bible’s storyline: creation, sin and redemption. This book is written to meet the first goal, although it sets the basis for, and quite naturally leads to the second.

The Drama of Scripture has been written to tell the biblical story of redemption as a unified, coherent narrative of God’s ongoing work within his kingdom. After God had created the world, and after human rebellion had marred it, God set out to restore what he had made: “God did not turn his back on a world bent on destruction; he turned his face toward it in love. He set out on the long road of redemption to restore the lost as his people and the world as his kingdom.” The Bible narrates the story of God’s journey on that long road of redemption. It is a unified and progressively unfolding drama of God’s action in history for the salvation of the whole world. The Bible is not a mere jumble of history, poetry, lessons in morality and theology, comforting promises, guiding principles and commands; it is fundamentally coherent. Every part of the Bible-each event, book, character, command, prophecy and poem-must be understood in the context of the one storyline.

Many of us have read the Bible as if it were merely a mosaic of little bits-theological bits, moral bits, historical-critical bits, sermon bits, devotional bits. But to read the Bible in such a fragmented way is to ignore its divine author’s intention to shape our lives through its story. All human communities live out of some story that provides a context for understanding the meaning of history, that gives shape and direction to their lives. If we allow the Bible to become fragmented, it is in danger of being absorbed into whatever other story is shaping our culture, and will thus cease to shape our lives as it should. The dominant cultural story of the secular Western world has been twisted by idolatry. If as believers we allow this story (rather than the Bible) to become the foundation of our thought and action, then our lives will manifest not the truths of scripture, but the lies of an idolatrous culture. Thus the unity of Scripture is no minor matter: a fragmented Bible may produce theologically orthodox, morally upright, warmly pious idol worshippers!

If our lives are to be shaped by the story of Scripture, we will need to understand two things well: that the biblical story is a compelling unity on which we may depend, and that each of us has a place within that story. This book is the telling of that story. We invite the reader to make it their story, to find their place in it, and to indwell it as the true story of our world.

There are three important emphases in this book. First, we stress the comprehensive scope of God’s redemptive work in creation: the biblical story does not move toward the destruction of the world and our own “rescue” to heaven: it culminates in the restoration of the entire creation to its original goodness. The comprehensive scope of creation, sin, and redemption is evident throughout the biblical story and is central to a faithful biblical worldview. Secondly, we emphasize the believer’s own place within the biblical story. Some refer to four questions as foundational to a biblical worldview: “Who am I?” “Where am I?” “What’s wrong?” “What’s the solution?” Tom Wright adds an important fifth question: “What time is it?” -that is, “Where do we belong in this story? How does it shape our lives in the present?” We will explore the biblical answers to these five questions as part of our telling of the grand story of the Bible. Thirdly, we highlight the centrality of mission within the biblical story. There is God’s mission: The Bible narrates God’s mission to restore the creation. Israel’s mission flows from this: God chose a people to again embody God’s creational purposes for humanity and so be a light to the nations, and the Old Testament narrates the history of Israel’s response to their divine calling. Jesus’ mission: When Jesus comes on the scene, he takes upon himself the missionary vocation which had been Israel’s. He embodies God’s purpose for humanity and accomplishes the victory over sin, opening the way to a new world. When his earthly ministry is over, he leaves his church with the mandate to continue in that same mission. In our own time, standing as we do between Pentecost and the return of Jesus, our central task as the people of god is to witness to the rule of Jesus Christ over all of life.

We have also borrowed from Tom Wright his very helpful metaphor of the Bible as a drama. But whereas Wright speaks of five acts-creation, sin, Israel, Christ, church-we tell the story in terms of six acts, adding the coming of the new creation as the final, unique element of the biblical drama. We have also added a prologue. This prologue addresses in a preliminary way what it means to say that human life is shaped by a story.

This book is designed for a one semester undergraduate course. If you are using this text for a course or Bible study you can access resources on our website www.biblicaltheology.ca that will enable you to use this book: a course syllabus, PowerPoint slides, a reading schedule for a thirteen week course, supplementary reading, and more.


Preface to Second Edition

We have been surprised yet deeply gratified by the success of Drama of Scripture in the last decade of its existence. We never could have imagined that it would be translated into so many different languages and used so widely in seminaries, universities, and churches. It has made a positive impact on our own lives as well in a variety of ways, not least of which are the relationships and opportunities it has opened up to us. But much more importantly our prayer continues to be not that we would benefit from this book but that it would lead more believers to find their place in the biblical story and thus be more faithful. Only the final day of judgment will reveal the degree to which that has happened and therefore the book’s real success.

Our thinking and scholarship continues to develop, of course. Moreover, we have heard from many professors, pastors, and readers who have used Drama in various ways. They have offered suggestions for improvement, corrections, and further development. And so a second edition allows us to take some of this into account and, we hope, do a better job of telling the biblical story. The changes are not massive. The majority of the text remains as it was. However, there have been additions, deletions, rearrangements, and added endnotes that we believe will make this a better text.

We continue to recognize that we do not work as lone individual scholars. Our coauthorship bears witness to the importance of communal scholarship and the collegiality we enjoy at many levels. Since Drama we have coauthored two more books with another on its way. We are deeply dependent on other communities as well to carry out our academic work. And so we want to acknowledge them. Craig is thankful for the opportunities for teaching and research that the H. Evan Runner chair at Redeemer University College provides as well as the rich fellowship among colleagues in The Paideia Centre for Public Theology. Mike is grateful for his two church communities, which continue to nurture his faith—New West Christian Reformed Church (Burnaby, B.C.) and Missio Dei Communities (Tempe, AZ). He has also been enriched by pastors and students in Phoenix, AZ, where he spends time working with cohorts in theological education. Tyler Johnson and Chris Gonzalez especially have become friends and valued coworkers. The academic institutions where Mike serves, Mission Training Center (Phoenix), Newbigin House of Studies (San Francisco) and Calvin Theological Seminary (Grand Rapids), have also provided a wonderful context for his work. Scot Sherman and Chuck DeGroat (Newbigin House) and Mike Williams (Covenant Seminary) have been valuable academic colleagues and dialogue partners. Mike’s family has been a constant source of encouragement and stimulation. His wife, Marnie, has invested deeply in his academic work. His grown children, Erin, Ben, Brittany, and Brielle, and their spouses, Mark, Mylana, Dave, and Brad, have all engaged this book in various ways. His seven grandchildren give him even more motivation to pass this story along to the next generation. Also we make grateful use of Ben Goheen’s diagrams in the first chapter. We will not repeat acknowledgments made in the first preface, even though most would be appropriate, other than to note again the important role Doug Loney, now Academic Dean at Tyndale University College and Seminary, had in making the text lively and unified.

Mike wants to dedicate this second edition to his parents-in-law Bernie and Margaret Poole. Both are now with the Lord, but their godliness, the fruit of being deeply immersed in the biblical story, continues to pay rich dividends now to a third generation in Mike’s grandchildren. Craig dedicates this edition to Ron Hedelius. Ron has been an invaluable source of encouragement and support as the Chair of the Board of The Paideia Centre for Public Theology.

We offer this book up to the Lord with the prayer that God might use our paltry and imperfect efforts in his mission to restore the world he loves.