Connecting With God’s Big Story

Q: Sometimes I worry that the kids I teach don’t see how the Bible fits together. How can I help them get “the big picture”?

Several recent books have lamented that while many people know some Bible stories, they really don’t have a sense of “The Big Overarching Story” of God’s mission in the world. Some people wonder whether worship reinforces this problem by jumping around from one part of the Bible to another.

Writers like N. T. Wright, Michael Goheen, and Craig Bartholomew, among others, have indeed written eloquent appeals about the importance of sensing the unity and breadth of the history of God’s creation and redemption of the world. Well-intentioned church practices have, at times, reinforced ignorance about the “big story,” even while promoting knowledge of individual Bible texts. Too many Sunday school students know about Abraham and Sarah, Mary and Jesus, Paul and Priscilla, but are unsure about how they fit together.

In the Old Testament, psalms like 78, 105, and 136 told the big-picture story. In the early church, Lord’s Supper prayers intentionally told the whole story. The Christian year, celebrated with lectionary readings from the Old Testament, gospels, and New Testament epistles, points repeatedly to the shape of the big story, though this shape can become obscured if readings are trimmed back.

In this context, I have wondered about how a graphic design could be used each week to show how particular biblical texts and sermon topics fit into God’s big story. It might look something like this:

A simple dot or arrow on the graph could be placed each week to identify where in the big story a particular biblical text comes from (templates for this PowerPoint timeline are available online in this issue at ReformedWorship.org).

Many texts would require using more than one indicator. For example, Joel 2 is about both the life of Israel and Pentecost. Hebrews 11 and 12 is about both ancient saints and life today. Psalm 72 is about both the aspirations of the people of Israel, and Jesus, the Messiah.

Finally, note that some promising church education curricula are addressing these challenges. For more information, visit FaithAliveResources.org/curriculum.

Resources

John D. Witvliet is director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and professor of music and worship at Calvin University and Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He also teaches in the religion department at Calvin University.