Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Perfect Plot

From Alistair MacLean's Circus

"Bruno smiled, brought out a wallet, handed some notes to Roebuck, who thanked him and left."

From this sentence, we should be able to draw several conclusions that will in turn show us how to live.

  • Smiling is something people will do before giving you money.
  • If you want money, get people to smile.
  • Wallets are something that must be brought out in order to have the mullah flowing to your hands. Therefore, if you want the money without the smile, you will have to use your powers to somehow bypass the step about getting the person to smile.
  • If you are trying to get a friend, fiend, or homeless person to go away, give them money. They will thank you profusely (or not...) and will leave.

We now know how to get money and how to get people to go away. But wait! If getting someone to smile is one of the steps to "legally" getting money, how are we going to do that? We must find another sentence of the book to show us this important step.

"Bruno smiled inwardly as he heard of his own funeral being planned."

  • We all know that smiling inwardly will lead to an actual physical smile, so we're well on the way.
  • People find it rather funny to hear of their own surprise birthday parties being planned, or, in this case, one's own funeral. You must do something funny for them. Let the person "accidentally" find out about something special for them. This will cause the person to grin. The bigger the grin, the more money is forth-coming.

Congratulations! You now know how to get money!

Okay, feeling pretty confused? You shouldn't be. All I did was to take two sentences and tell you what to do because of those two sentences.


I can tell you're still not convinced. Come on! I gave you a whole new practical skill, and it was so extremely easy! All I did was take two random sentences and draw conclusions from those. Simple.


Now are you convinced?
Neither am I.


However, I'm often surprised at how many people do this exact same thing to the Bible without blinking an eye (it's scary, but I'm in such a habit that I still do it sometimes). Is it just because it's a "Holy book" that people somehow feel like they can start reading parts without any relationship to the rest of the book? Believe it or not, the Bible is a Yes, a book. It is, of course, a very special book, and I would never deny its authority. However, I'm going to go as far as saying that this Book can (and should!) be read like any other book. In saying this, I mean that it should be read in order - not pulling random verses out for scrutiny without knowing any of its context. Just like those two sentences from Circus don't make a whole lot of sense without knowing where they fit into the story, individual verses out of context aren't going to make sense without knowing the historical context. The Bible has a plot. Not hundreds of little plots. One complex yet surprisingly simple plot. That plot is the most important and life-changing plot that a book could ever have, and yet, so many people overlook it. Instead, they see hundreds of little plots all showing us how to be better and wiser people. All these plots are actually facets of the Big Plot. What is this plot? It starts right back in Genesis when man died (spiritually), and the perfect, shalomic world was marred with the ugly reality of man trying to do instead of be. And yet God, out of His mercy, promised to bring life out of this seemingly indestructible death. This sets the action rolling, and the whole Old Testament is leading to the Christ Event. Each individual story in the OT is actually showing God's faithfulness despite man's faithlessness. It continually shows God keeping His promise of bringing life out of the woman who had brought death. And then the most glorious and profound thing happens. Christ does come (what do you know?), and with His coming, His life, and His death, sin, darkness, and death are conquered. Life has come out of death. The NT is the outworking of the Gospel, and it shows how all the "laws, prophets, and writings" were fulfilled in Christ. What an amazing plot! So simple yet so profound that most people don't even realize it's there.

Though I am *very* thankful to live in a Christian family and to be brought up as a Christian, I find it almost a little enviable to think that those who have never read or heard the Bible don't have all their preconceived notions about what the Bible is. Those of us who have been brought up as Christians have the distinct privilege of having some of our earliest memories as being told Bible stories. And yet, sometimes I think that's almost a curse. When we've been brought up like that, we have it ingrained into us that the Bible is just full of short little stories to tell us how to live. Though this isn't completely wrong, it falls very short of what is actually contained in the Bible. If a Christian ever figures out that the Bible is just one story, it takes many years of rewiring before he can finally get to a passage in the OT without immediately trying to apply it to himself as a moral lesson.

Yes, I am a little jealous of those who didn't have the privilege of growing up in a Christian home.

They pick the Bible up for the first time. They notice it's divided into many sections, yet they know from reading other books that skipping around in it is the way to spell disaster. Why ruin a perfectly good book? They start in Genesis, and they are immediately taken with the awesome God who creates all things to be good. Perfect. Shalomic. Things are perfect until - oh, why did they have to ruin it all?!? But wait! God is promising to restore them. Well, that ought to make them shape up. After all, in this world of reciprocity, you do something nice for others who have performed acts of kindness to you. Wait. WHAT ARE THEY THINKING!!! Again! How could they...? How terrible! What? You mean that God is still faithful to them? You mean He will still keep his promise to the people? A sense of awe and love for this God fills the person. What wonder! And they're immediately whisked away with this plot of God's saving work...

Oh, BTW, happy half-birthday to me. =)


Steven said...

Half-Birthday eh?!
Yahoo! did you have half a cake?
Most family traditions are odd.

Ok, so I have a few questions for you. I would say that I generally agree that the bible is best understood as a whole; however, it has an amazing ability to still be quite relevant even if sectioned off into little parts. don't get me wrong, I don't think that verses should be pulled out of the bible "Willy Nilly," but I do think that most single verses have power, unless grossly misquoted or taken totally out of context. I.E. "For he that is dead is freed from sin" (Oh, so this verse means that it's OK to commit suicide!) Versus, "...Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." (Oh, this verse is saying to be courageous)

(These verses were the first that popped into my mind)

So, with that being said, would you say that pulling verses out of the bible (Say for example,without giving a person context around the verse) is wrong? Perhaps that we shouldn't do it? What I see, is that while context is good, it's not always necessary for the message to get across.

I'm done and I'm ready to be fed to the lions.

NOW, on what caught my attention in the first place...
"If you are trying to get a friend, fiend, or homeless person to go away, give them money."

SO, Do you give a homeless person money if they ask for it?? (Sorry, I know OFF TOPIC.. I'm sorry)

Abbey said...

No, I didn't even get a balloon. :S Poor me! I had a pity party instead of a BD party. lol-actually, we don't ever do anything for half-birthdays. When I was looking at the calendar to see what day it was for the billionth time yesterday, I realized it was my half-birthday, so then I remembered it. Today, all I have to remember is that today is the day after my half-birthday. =)

Questions! yippy!


The difference between our two opinions comes from different approaches we even have to the Bible (duhhh...:S). I'm coming at it from more a biblical theological standpoint, and you're coming at it from a systematic theological standpoint. Biblical theology says that that Bible is viewed as a whole, and everything you read must be in the context of what comes before it and how it points to Christ (as a whole).

Systematic theology will generally have categories into which to put verses. For example, you'll have a category for all the verses that tell you that God will not forsake you. You'll have another category saying that we should spiritually build up others. Though each approach has its place, I would argue that biblical theology must come first.

Why? Because many, many issues will fall right into place if you have a correct understanding of the Bible in the first place. The problem with systematic theology is that sure you can take verses out of context that will tell you to be courageous, but couldn't you also do that to verses that say if you have lots and lots of faith, you will get rich? Or couldn't you do that to verses that tell us to do something wrong? With systematic theology, we're the ones having to decide what is good and bad. Unfortunately, we do live in a fallen world and our minds are defiled. Because of this, we could easily find a verse that we decide is telling us to kill people, start a denomination with these people and make terrors out of supposed Christians. Of course I'm exaggerating, but I'm not exaggerating as much as you probably think. Many, many movements (Benny Hinn, that movement in Florida that I can't think of the name of, Shirley Phelps, etc) are started because the people don't have a correct and accurate view of the Bible. They will directly translate verses out of the OT, skipping over the Christ event, which transforms all things, and will start a "revival." There is much, much danger in systematic theology. There aren't any limits on it.

Biblical theology lets the Bible speak for itself. Because of our defiled minds, we do need this. To start at the beginning and only read things in relation to how it fits into the plot and how it points to Christ is quite difficult, but it is arguably the only way to correctly understand the Bible. With this mindset, things in the OT are not directly talking about us. They have to be filtered through the Christ Event and what he accomplished and how he transformed and fulfilled everything (the law, prophets, and writings of the OT). Seeing everything as a big picture causes you to realize that things just really aren't important. For example, the Pentecostal movement is based mainly on people speaking in tongues in Acts. A whole denomination is based on that. Yet, if you really understand how it fits in, it seems absurd that someone would base a whole denomination off that little part of the Story. The tower of Babel signified that men were divided against themselves because of the Fall. Thus, people started speaking in different languages. The OT keeps promising One who would restore all things. With the speaking of tongues in Acts, this is a "sign" showing that Christ has brought unity and restoration once more. People were all understanding one language. Seeing things in the broader context, it seems strange that an entire denomination would be based off of this.

If you have a good understanding of how the Bible fits together and what it accomplishes, I think that at that point (and only that point), systematic theology can be taken into consideration.

I probably just confused you even more than you were - and I probably didn't answer your questions. Just tell me what makes absolutely no cents (I want mullah!). :S

Gahh, sorry to go on for so long...thanks for commenting!! <--yes, you even get two exclamation points =) *high five*

Great Googly Moogly! said...

Wow! Abinator using exclamation points!! And seemingly enjoying it!!! Now I've seen it all...the end is near! :-)

After your last post, I'm almost afraid to comment unless I have something to disagree with you about. Believe me, I do enough "disagreeing" on other blogs that it's refreshing to read something that I can almost always say "Amen" to. Oh...there are a few other such blogs out there, but for the most part "Abs Soap Box" is my relief.

I'll let others have there two-cents here before I write my unual book-length "comment".

So until then..."Amen!"

Oh yeah, and happy "half-birthday"! Why didn't we have a half-birthday cake last night?! :-)

(Oh well, at least I got my "solid" chocolate pig from J)


Mr. Worm said...

Good job, Steve! You've earned yourself the award of blog bravery! (Looks like you're the only brave one here...)

Good post, Shnabba.

Ok, ok, that wasn't sufficient?

Your "growing up in a non-Christian home" has got me thinking... True, you might not have pre-conceived notions about reading the Bible like you would a comic book, but I bet you'd have all sorts of other pre-conceived notions that would get in the way?

Good thing it's the Lord's work and not ours. :-)

Steven said...

HAPPY day after the day after the day of your half birthday!

"and you're coming at it from a systematic theological standpoint."
I am?! Well, this is great! I learned some new words! I honestly didn't think I was putting forth a viewpoint, but OK, that works for me. :-) You have to realize that I don't have anything figured out, and when I ask a question it's not because I have an agenda I'm trying to push.

Seems as though I made it seem that I was disagreeing with you.. :)
I agree with the point you are making, that the bible needs to be taken as a whole.
In other words, the New Testament should not be separated from the Old Testament and so forth.
I didn't know about the difference between the two views, I still don't fully understand them, but I think I would align myself more with the idea that the bible is a whole and should be viewed that way. I have read the whole bible and I do get the message of it, but I wouldn't go as far as to say that I understand much. (I'm letting on that I don't know everything) (Shhhhhh.. it's a secret)
Now, with that in mind, do you believe that verses can't be quoted, or sections of scripture memorized or meditated upon, for fear of taking them out of context?

Another question that would pop out of this conversation, in the realm of Biblical theology, does the bible need to be re-organized to be chronologically accurate?

I have one last problem, then I shall leave you in peace.
You made the point that since our human minds are corrupt and fallible, that our human reasoning is susceptible to make the wrong assumptions about scripture. I agree, however, aren't you depending on the mind to correctly assess "how the Bible fits together " even while using the system of Biblical theology?

I really do agree with you. I was mainly putting on my "what if" thinking cap.

Great Googly Moogly! said...

Ok...I gave others a chance! :-)

Of course I agree with your thesis that the Bible is a "story" and should be read and understood as we would read and understand any other story--with each part contributing to the whole in the progressive unfolding of the main plot. And that's the rub, isn't it? Whether we've grown up in "Christian homes" where we get the Bible piecemeal, or, as in my case, begin attending a church (SBC) as an adult without ever getting exposed to Biblical Theology (and the SBC is notorious for keeping its members in the dark with respect to various interpretive methods or alternative theological understanding), either way we've already been conditioned to read the Bible in verse style, so-to-speak, chopped up into "systematic categories" and “doctrines”, rather than reading the Scripture as a whole, as a unified "story" that tells us the overall purpose of God (albeit through the use of various literary genres and "little stories" within the big "Story"). The purpose of God is simple to understand if we simply :-) read the Story: profound, yes (we'll never plumb the depths of the Gospel)...but simple to understand. As you say, "One complex yet surprisingly simple plot." And you said it very well, I might add. :-)

"Why ruin a perfectly good book? They start in Genesis, and they are immediately..."

I really like what you say in this part of your post. This is the frame of reference that should guide our understanding of every section of Scripture we happen to be reading. As you suggest, Biblical Theology must inform our Systematic Theology. Only in this way are we really faithful to the overall purpose of God as expressed throughout the narrative (Story) of the Scripture.

Obviously, when we are talking with someone or doing our own personal devotionals, we are not going to “go back to the beginning” with Gen. 1 and work our way up to the present. But that’s why it’s necessary for us to know the whole story, to know the purpose of God in redemptive history; in this way, we can have the full counsel of God at our fingertips to bring the necessary “context” to bear either in our own thinking as we meditate upon God’s word, or in our conversations with others. Too often we, as Christians, (as does the public at large) pick pieces out of the Bible without any concern for the larger context (story) that it fits into. This is why moralism, legalism, libertinism, antinomianism, etc. is so prevalent in our churches and its also why so few people really understand the purpose of God in Salvation History. Of course, individual verses and small sections of Scripture have power and are very important (all Scripture is “God-breathed”); but they only have Gospel power and import when they are understood within the larger framework of the purpose of God in Christ (which we only know as we reflect upon the overall story as given to us from Gen. 1 forward). Only when we bring the full testimony of Scripture to bear upon any single verse or passage do we understand it properly; for only then are we understanding that particular portion within the context of Salvation (or Redemptive) History.

We become “moralists” because we haven’t grasped the focus and purpose of the overall story. We become “legalists” because we haven’t grasped the focus and purpose of the overall story. We become “antinomian” because we haven’t grasped the focus and purpose of the overall story. We become…, etc. It’s really that simple, but these are paradigms that are difficult to climb out of because we’ve been so “trained” to systematize the Scripture rather than to understand it as a whole where every single part contributes to the meaning and purpose of God in redemptive history. This is where our series on Sacred Space (God With Us) contributes so powerfully to our understanding—this is a “Biblical Theological” treatment of the purpose of the coming of Christ! I wish everyone (especially every Christian) who was interested in the question, “Why…?” would listen to this series from beginning to end and read the notes that go with it. As we said when we began this series:

“A right understanding of this Biblical Principle is fundamental to a right understanding of all Biblical Doctrines because the Recovery of Sacred Space in Christ is the Over-Arching Theme of the entire Scripture (i.e., this is the “Story” of the Bible). Every Biblical Doctrine either contributes to the progress of this Recovery or is founded upon it: whether we’re talking about Soteriology, Eschatology, Theology, God’s Sovereignty, the Kingdom, the Perseverance of the Saints, whatever; if we don’t understand the Principle of Sacred Space then we can’t rightly and fully understand any of these other Biblical doctrines because they all contribute to it in some way.”

Only as we know and saturate our minds with the overall context of the Bible (the overall story and what it’s telling us) can we properly understand the parts that we come to in our daily reading/meditation or as we engage in daily conversations with others about the God of the Bible. And as you just showed us with the last few sentences of your post, it’s really not that difficult to bring a brief summary of the overall context of Scripture to bear as we consider any single part of Scripture or as we engage our family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, etc., with the glory of the Gospel. Whatever we happen to be reading in the Bible at any given time and in every “spiritual” conversation that we have, we must keep the overall context of the Scripture in mind in order to properly understand and to properly convey to others the Gospel of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen!

Whew! I sure do enjoy “talking”, don’t I? Sorry to take up so much space here, but you know me—once I get going…! :-)

Maybe I’ll save this and use it on my site when I get behind in my posting. What do you think?

Twice the energy of dog breath brings color and shape to any box.