April 13, 2015

Telling the Story of God’s Garden Kingdom

A Storied-People

The saying has been around for a while now: “We are a storied-people.” Whether coming from Stanley Hauerwas, William Willimon, or Frederick Buechner, we’ve heard this emphasis on story and narrative for the last couple decades within Christian theological circles. And admittedly, the emphasis on story is not really a surprise. After all, we are those who tell “Good News” – and good news, no matter how full of facts, seldom arrives unaccompanied by a story. Particularly within our broader postmodern cultural context, the desire for extended stories surrounds us. (Think for a moment – and just for a moment – of the extended book and movie series that have captured popular imaginations: Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Divergent, Star Wars, the Marvel/Avengers world, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, etc.). We are a people who live and breathe stories.  

Our cultural craving for creative and compelling stories certainly encourages those of us engaged in leading communal worship to be more attentive to the story we are telling. And perhaps even more so as we have just crossed from Lent into the season of Easter; a journey from death to life. We desire to anchor ourselves within the “grand narrative of scripture” as Christopher Wright calls it. Though the story has been there for two millennia, we have more recently utilized four key terms – Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation (or sometimes, New Creation) – in our attempts to describe the primary movements of scripture’s narrative arc. Without diminishing the structural significance of those terms, I have wondered if there might be other ways that we could tell scripture’s story.

A Garden-Kingdom Story

For instance, a small tweak could be to engage language that is more reflective of the garden-kingdom imagery that is found throughout scripture. Instead of creation, we could describe the opening movement as planting. Expressing God’s creative acts through the image of planting a garden seems to fit well with the opening of scripture, particular the Genesis 2 account of creation.

Likewise, the Fall could be described in terms of invading to acknowledge that sin and death were not native to God’s garden-kingdom. What we know of invasive species and how they hitch rides with a carrier on their way into a new environment could serve us well in describing how we served as carriers for bringing sin and death into God’s very good garden.

Without too much imagination, we could understand God’s redemption as a reclamation project. God is reclaiming not only the land that had become trashed and overgrown from generations of abuse and neglect, but also the people who were created to tend to the garden in the first place (Genesis 2:15). The earthy depth and cosmic breadth of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection can be viewed through this image of God reclaiming his garden-kingdom and the people who will care for it.

And the culmination of the story for which we long and toward which we look could be described as flourishing. As we read the last couple chapters of Revelation, we encounter a garden-kingdom overflowing with life – streets of hammered gold, jeweled gates, a river of life flowing through the city, with the tree of life producing a new crop every month, the kings of the earth bringing their treasures into the city of God. All that which threatened and diminished life in God’s garden-kingdom has been removed. What remains is this abundant flourishing life of God spilling over into life of God’s people and the rest of God’s creation.

I am certain there are other ways we could tell scripture’s grand story as well. But at least for me, even a small shift in the language we use to tell this Story of stories can sometimes serve to bring a fresh and perhaps more tangible encounter with the God who even now is at work making all things new. In this Easter season may we all discover anew that we are rooted in the grand narrative of scripture as it unfolds through the planting, invading, reclaiming, flourishing of God’s garden-kingdom.

Chris Schoon (Th.D., Wycliffe College) is the Director of Faith Formation Ministries for the Christian Reformed Church in North America. Previously, Chris has served as a pastor in both Michigan and Ontario. Along with contributing regularly to Reformed Worship, Chris is the author of Cultivating an Evangelistic Character (Wipf & Stock, 2018), which takes an in-depth look at worship and discipleship in the missional church movement. You can find him on Twitter: @chrisjschoon.