What is the Bible and How Should We Engage It?

In Bible by Biblica Staff

The Bible is a gathering of very unique writings, including letters, stories about Jesus, histories, song lyrics, wisdom literature, prophetic oracles, and much more. All the different authors of the Bible had a reason for choosing the kind of writing they did. Each book of the Bible has its own character, and each makes a special contribution to the whole Bible.

The first step to reading and understanding the Bible well is to recognize these unique stories, letters, poems and proverbs and read them as the kind of writing they are. If all we ever do is read single statements from here and there in the Bible, we will miss what the Bible’s authors actually wrote. This would mean not receiving all that the Bible was meant to give us. So your journey with the Bible should begin by reading whole books.

It wasn’t until the 16th century that the Bible was first printed with both chapter and verse numbers in the text. But this innovation had a profound effect on how we saw the Bible. Since then it has become common to think of the Bible as a collection of individual, numbered statements. The form influenced our view of its content. Because the Bible looked like a list of isolated statements, it was not hard to think that’s what it really was.

The second step to good engagement is to recognize that the Bible is not a random collection of books. Taken together, these writings tell a single, true story. What kind of story does the Bible tell?

Restoring the Bible: Bringing Back the Story

To follow along with the story of the Bible is to take a great journey, and we are all invited. The Bible begins with God’s creation of the world, moves to the fall of man, and finishes with all that God does to set things right again.

So why do we have the Bible? The reason God inspired the Bible’s authors and gave us this gift was to invite us into His story. Actually, according to the Bible, we are already in it, whether we know it or not. Likewise, we’ve all been affected by what’s gone wrong.

God invites us into is the new part of the story. The big news in the Bible is how God brings healing, restoring, and living the true life. Before we explain more about how you can take up your own role in the story of redemption, here’s an overview of the big, overarching narrative in the Bible.

The storyline naturally falls into six key major acts:

Act 1. God creates the world as our home and the place He intends to live with us;
Act 2. We disobey God and break His trust, bringing sin and death into the world;
Act 3. God responds creatively to the problem, establishing the nation of Israel to bring blessing to all peoples;
Act 4. The story reaches its climax in the coming of Jesus the Messiah; He fulfills Israel’s mission and brings God’s surprising victory through His life, death and resurrection;
Act 5. Jesus calls and commissions His followers to spread the word of His victory and live His way as a light to the world;
Act 6. Heaven and earth are reunited when God makes His home with us in the new creation.

What does this story look like in a little more detail?

THE DRAMA OF THE BIBLE IN SIX ACTS

What does this story have to do with us? The Bible claims that God made us for a purpose. We find the meaning of our lives when we join up with what God is doing in the world to bring healing and restore life. This is why it is important to think of the Bible not just as a story, but as a living drama.

So how does this drama approach work?

The Bible as a drama

The fifth act of the biblical drama has not ended. The good news of Jesus’ victory over sin and death (which takes place in the fourth act) is still spreading around the world. The grand finale in the sixth act has not yet arrived. So the Bible is actually the script of the first four acts, the opening of the fifth act, and contains only some brief pictures of the conclusion of the story. The Bible is not merely an ancient story that is already over and done with. It is a living story that invites us in, right now.

The challenge the Bible brings to us is to decide how we are going to respond to the decisive victory of Jesus. We are all caught up in this story. The only question is what role we will play.

How do I find out how to play my role in God’s story? The answer to this question has two parts. First it is important to understand God’s role. Then we can explore how we find our own place in the drama.

COMMAND PERFORMANCE: GOD AND THE DRAMA

God himself is the key to this story. He is involved in four crucial ways:

God is the Playwright, the Author of the script

World history—including your personal history—is not a random series of events. In the Scriptures, God has revealed His plan for the world. The plot centers on overcoming the evil that has invaded God’s good creation and reconciling everything in heaven and earth. He is working to bring us back to Himself. God is overseeing the entire drama.

God is the Creator of the stage and setting

As the Creator, God intended for there to be a single stage. He made heaven and earth to be together. But when sin and death disrupted the story, God’s realm and our realm were torn apart. The stage is now divided. The events of our history occur in a fallen creation. But God is working to restore His original purpose and bring heaven and earth back together. God will return to make His home with us in His renewed world.

God is the Primary Player, the Initiator of the action

As you go deeper into the Bible, you will see God taking the initiative again and again to move the story along. He chooses key people to play major roles. He makes covenants with His people. He moves the events of nations. God’s human partners don’t always play their parts well. They all seem to suffer from an inability to follow God’s plan faithfully. But this doesn’t prevent God from bringing His salvation into the world. Even when people make major mistakes, God finds a way to keep His story on track.

God is the Hero, the Savior, the Protagonist of the story

If the story of human history is going to be saved, God is the only one who can do it. We are not the heroes of this drama. God overcomes all the obstacles, all the challenges, and all victory over our enemies, sin and death. When God sent his own Son Jesus into the story—Light and Life coming into a story of darkness—He was rejected. But amazingly God used even this rejection to turn the drama around. Through Jesus, forgiveness of wrongdoing and resurrection from the dead can be announced throughout the world.

The Bible is first and foremost God’s story. We are not the creators of the drama. He is the one who will determine its final outcome.

However, we are not mere bystanders. God has created us as significant players in His drama.

STEPS TO LIVING THE SCRIPT

Here’s what it takes to become a skilled gospel player, someone who effectively lives out the story of the Bible in our world:

Immerse yourself in the Bible

Earlier we mentioned that many people use the Bible by jumping from verse to verse on different topics. But this is really just skimming the surface of the Bible. Reading well means going deep. Going deep means discovering the richness of full letters to early Christ-followers, taking in the down-to-earth stories of Israel, reflecting on complete psalms, journeying with Jesus in the gospels, etc.

The more you read the Bible deeply and widely, the more you will come to realize two crucial lessons.

First, there really is more than one act in the drama. As the story moves through the different acts, or movements, of the story, there are important changes and surprises.

When you are reading the Bible, know your place!

The second lesson is that there are vital threads that hold the story together. It’s true that things change when we move through the drama. But there are also key themes that emerge across the acts. This includes such things as:

–God’s insistence that justice be done and wrongdoing be dealt with;
–His patient mercy and continuing invitation to those who are estranged from Him;
–His overriding desire for reconciliation;
–His frequent way of using what is considered “least” in the world to do His greatest work;
–His choice of certain people or nations in order to help many others.

There are of course many other such threads that tie all the twists and turns of the drama together. One of the single biggest keys to knowing how to live the script of the Bible today is to learn these themes, and then enact them in your own life.

When you are reading the Bible, know your themes!

Commit to follow Jesus

To really know the Bible, you have to enter into its story. The way to do this is to become a follower of the one who is the source of healing and restoration in the story—Jesus. Read more about following Jesus.

Improvise your part

The last step for living the script is to join up with other gospel players in local communities. Those who are in God’s church gather to live out the story of the Bible together.

However, when we look in the Bible for the description of our specific scene, in our time, we don’t find it there. We read deeply to learn all we can from the earlier acts and scenes. But we do not find our exact lines and actions written down.

So how do we move ahead? The letter to the Ephesians in the New Testament begins by describing God’s goal of bringing heaven and earth together in Christ. Then it describes how God is saving people as part of this cosmic vision, creating one new humanity in the image of Jesus the Messiah. The purpose of this new humanity is described as follows: For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. In other words, God wants us to creatively enter into His story, to fashion and form our lives in the shape of His drama.

To live biblically is to make decisions, to enter into relationships with others, and to constantly ask ourselves: is this a fitting way to live out the story of the gospel today?

Specifically, we are called to live our lives as part of the spread of the good news about Jesus throughout the world. We tell others this good news of God’s kingdom. And we demonstrate what this good news looks like in action.

Here are seven critical aids God gives us as we take up our place in His drama of salvation:

  1. we can immerse ourselves in the script of the earlier acts (this is what the Bible is);
  2. we are made in the Author’s own image, so we are built to be receptive to His directions for life;
  3. we have the personal help of the Playwright’s own Spirit to guide us and prompt us;
  4. we have weekly opportunities to re-enact and celebrate the story of salvation together in worship;
  5. we have local spiritual directors (pastor-teachers) to give us stage directions and guide our actions;
  6. we are not alone on the stage of our lives but are in a community of gospel players to encourage us;
  7. we have the entire history of gospel performances in the church to learn from.

And as an added bonus, we know that the Author of the drama will forgive us when we stumble in our lines or misplay our parts.

The Bible is a great gift. It tells us who we are and what we are meant to do with our lives. It is in the drama of the Bible that we discover all that God has done and is doing to reclaim His creation, to win us back to Himself.

At Biblica, our prayer is that you will read the Scriptures deep and well. You will begin to live the script. Your life will be reshaped by the power of new creation in Jesus that has burst into the world. God’s intention is that even in the midst of all your struggles and challenges, you will find yourself firmly in His great drama of redemption and renewal.

Biblica Staff

Biblica, the International Bible Society, is a worldwide ministry that has been helping people read and understand God’s Word for over 200 years. We are committed to providing the Bible in accurate, contemporary translations and formats so that more people around the world will have the opportunity to be transformed by Jesus Christ. We do this through translation and publishing, by making the Bible accessible, and with innovative Bible engagement programs like Community Bible Experience. To learn more about our ministry and how you can partner with us to share God’s Word with people around the world, go to our ministry page.

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