There is perhaps no other way to directly access the inner human intellect, emotion and volition than story, but of course good story. Stories have a seemingly mystical power to call the imagination up into a world that is only hoped for, only longed for—not in a mere fanciful way but in a way that softly assures those who have ears to hear there is a supreme reality beyond the reality of the present—a true Story of the whole world.
This Story is the grand narrative of the Bible that not only fulfills our desire for a meaningful past and stirs our longing for a promised future but compels our participation in the present now. Therefore, a right grasp of the biblical narrative is absolutely essential to the life and mission of the redeemed people of God. To ignore it is to be ignorant of the Story that is shaping our lives. We too often approach the Bible with a knife in hand, chopping and dividing its singular narrative into devotional, moral, or even theological portions. We then take these portions and fit them like little blocks in the reigning story of our own culture without having to reject any of the culture’s idols. The Bible is robbed of its power and stripped of its beauty when we glean from it only those portions that adhere or conform to the prevailing themes of our reigning story. Consequently, what it means to be the church, to engage in all of life as one of the redeemed of God, is obscured and minimized. The mission of the church is all but lost. In order to understand the mission of the church, we must recover the meaning of the biblical narrative and the gospel of the kingdom of God that lies at its center.
The biblical narrative is more than a theological or hermeneutical claim, it is an ontological claim—it tells us the way the world really, truly is. It is not merely a nostalgic story of once upon a time; nor is it merely a fairytale hope of an expectant future. The biblical narrative makes an emphatic and decisive factual claim about the whole of the created order and the whole of the human existence—past, present and future. In the past it unveils the creation of all things. In the future it promises the renewal of all things. And in the present it interprets the meaning of cosmic history.
The biblical narrative is the Story of God who created the cosmos out of sheer joy and delight in the fellowship of the Trinity in order to graciously and without constraint invite the cosmos to share in the inner-Trinitarian joy by delighting in its Creator. Where there is glad, obedient delight in God, there He rules. This is the kingdom of God. But the first created man and woman did not gladly delight in God but in themselves, and they were cast out of the kingdom with the whole cosmos in tow. Not only were man and woman exiled out of the kingdom, they were now enslaved in the dominion of darkness deserving eternal wrath for their rebellion. Yet God had designed before the foundation of the world to restore His kingdom in the entire cosmos by first making restitution for the man’s sin by the shed blood of the spotless, eternal Son of God. At the cross of Jesus, the kingdom of God was again inaugurated in the hearts of all those who repent of their treason against God and embrace by faith Jesus’ sacrifice in their place and on their behalf. The kingdom has already dawned in the hearts of those who cast themselves upon Jesus, but the kingdom has not yet been consummated. The day is yet to come when Jesus will come again to perfect His kingdom and usher in the renewal and restoration of the cosmos. The redemption won by His blood on Calvary in the hearts of His people Jesus will soon extend to whole cosmos when He returns to make all things new and to make His dwelling place among those He redeemed. Then all the cosmos will again together join in its glad, obedient delight in God in His kingdom forever and ever without end.
So the kingdom is already here but it is also not yet here. This is our place in the biblical narrative. We live in between the times. As such, the question is forced upon us—what is the mission of the church in the “already/not yet” kingdom?
The fact that the kingdom has already come in the past should push us forward and that the kingdom is still to come in the future should pull us forward in joining Christ in his kingdom mission. We are called, as those who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus to participate in the power of the Spirit in testifying to renewal of all things coming fully with the consummation of the kingdom of God—renewal of sinful hearts, handicapped bodies, damaged relationships, corrupt institutions, perverted cultures, polluted atmospheres and deficient ecosystems. This testimony of the kingdom is in word and deed. In word, we proclaim the good news that in Christ God is reconciling all things to His kingdom. In deed, we embody the realities of the goodness of Jesus’ kingship over the cosmos in every arena. To only labor to articulate the gospel of God’s renewed reign over the cosmos by the death and resurrection of Jesus would be incomplete. We must also labor to demonstrate what God’s rule looks like in the whole of our lives before those who do not know it. “The very shape of our lives need to be a legible letter speaking of Christ and his rule.” This is not to say that our verbal proclamation of the kingdom is secondary or supplementary to our living demonstration of the kingdom. It is to reinforce the point that central to the biblical Story is the announcement of the good news that all things broken are being made new in Christ, and therefore it is necessary to act out those realities while we herald them.
It is in the “richly textured glory of created human life restored” in which mothers gladly rejoice over the babies, children run for the sheer joy of going fast, and husbands relentlessly romance their wives, that God wants to be glorified by our service and witness to Him so that all the world can hear and see what redeemed human life is like, despite the scars and scourges of sin and death. Individually and communally we are to be testifying to the kingdom of God in every sphere of life—work, rest, leisure, recreation, politics, economics, business, scholarship, marriage, family, medicine and technology. Our lives should be a lived performance of the true Story of the whole world, acting in the “already” present the hope and restoration of “not yet” future.
This may seem strange, but this is the mission of the church, and there is not a single arena of life into which God has not ordained His church to go and dramatize the “already/not yet” kingdom. May we be faithful to play our part well for the glory of God and the life of the world.