God's Grand Story
by James Wakefield, PhD
Chapter 2 Comments

Please join in these conversations! We are posting these comments (and my responses) with the permission of each author. We are agreeing to use our first names, and an initial, and the city we live in. Again. Please share your thoughts with us!

February 22, 2012
From John W in West Valley City, UT

I read your Ch 2, and I really liked the premise. All too many times I have kicked myself over 'I should have said...' Your story has breadth and a coherent arc. But you asked for feedback, and it raises a few questions for me.
  • Why the deep skepticism for Biblical religion, the historical Church, and God's kingship authority?
  • Why the huge emphasis on social work but minimal emphasis on sin/guilt, evangelism, repentance, and the born-again identity?
  • Is this the coffee-shop version of Via de Cristo? of an 'emergent' church?
  • Why are the names Christ and Savior never used? Isn't that understanding central to the Grand Story and to the Christian faith?
  • Let's suppose that Joe accepts/believes this Story. Then he visits a mainline Christian church and hears traditional Biblical preaching. Will he be able to reconcile the two stories?
  • What would happen if Joe talked with an evangelical missionary over coffee, and got the Story of God's holiness, our personal sin, repentance, forgiveness and new life in Jesus Christ, togetherness in the Church, and victory in everlasting life? Guideposts overflows with this kind of story, but not so much the emergent/ Rob Bell version. Why do you think that is?
With all due respect, and God's blessings to you,
John

From James (February 24, 2012)
John’s comments are helpful in reminding us that this is a very different way to tell the story. I certainly agree that the things he mentions are important. They are worthy of discussion, and some of them sooner rather than later. Of course in an initial conversation that hopes to frame the big picture, we need to allow each other room for differences in what really needs to be said.

I’m not trying to be emergent in my dialogue with Joe. For me, the most important question John asks is about reconciling two different stories (I added the underline above). Is the traditional church really telling a different story? What is your experience? And which storyline is most deeply seated in Scripture?

February 25, 2012
From Forrest B in Sandy, UT

I read chapter two of your book and I have just a couple points of critique for you.

First, the verbiage that you used for the character you are speaking to seems very young. To make the character seem older, it could be a good idea to cut out the first few words of nearly every response and question. The words I am talking about are "whoa", "hey", and "okay". In addition to cutting out these words (btw, I may include some of the short phrases that accompany those words) I would also edit some of the youth-like jargon. For example, the character says "cool", "zillion", "what's up with that?", and "kick their butts". One last thing about the character; the questions that he asks and the way he asks them are clearly playing right into your hands. This is a more difficult thing to fix, if it can even be fixed at all. Perhaps it must be this way, in order for you to really write the grand narrative.

The character you are speaking to has little to no Bible knowledge, yet he does know a few things about the religious culture. If this is the case, then this individual must have stayed out of the religious sector intentionally. If he has stayed out intentionally, then getting him to listen to you tell the grand narrative of the Bible may be a harder sell then the first page of your chapter has made it look.

I realize that the intention of your writing is to tell the grand narrative. However, if this is intended for 20-somethings that know little to nothing about the Bible, then you need them to relate with the character asking questions.

The second thing about chapter two that aims the text at a younger audience is the voice of your own character. If you were really saying much of this to a 20-something person, they may think that you were talking down to them or that you thought they were stupid. Telling them that you are going to keep it as simple as you can, for example, may be insulting (mattering on the tone that is heard by the reader). In addition, using the word “coach” to refer to God, when the other person knows who you are really talking about and saying that you want to take a “potty” break are further examples of verbiage that could be received as demeaning.

Theological question (this is my second critique, but I could be wrong about this. If so, I'd like to know.)
Isn't the number one reason God made us to be in relationship with us for His pleasure and the glory of His name? What I mean is this: If God made us "so that" we would not screw up then the motive of His decision to create lies within the object not yet created (us). Again, if we are created to be God’s image bearers to the world, then we were created for the creation, not for the creator. However, if God enjoyed being with us (which a transcendent God could do before He made us) then He could create us for His good pleasure. Then His motive to create lies within Himself, which obviously predates His decision to create. I always thought that our obligation to reveal whom God is to others was a consequence of the fall, when God hid himself from his creation in order to hold back his judgment on it until an appointed time.

I realize this may be a harsh critique, but I really want you to succeed. Please feel free to take what you like from this critique and forget about the rest. Looking forward to reading more as the project continues.

God bless,
Forrest
From James (February 26, 2012)
Forrest met with me and we had a good conversation about chapter two. I asked him to summarize his comments, and here they are. I have asked a couple other younger adults about Joe’s voice, and they agree with Forrest.

Tom B of SLC, UT wrote: “I think he hit the nail on the head.”

My second draft tries to correct this. I hope we’ve aged him 10 years? Let me know if this is any better?

Forrest’s theological question is both perceptive and interesting. Yes, we are created for a special and intimate relationship with our Creator. In the Genesis account, this shows itself most clearly in the rest of the seventh day. But even before the Fall in Genesis 3, humans have the task (or mission) of “imaging God” to the rest of creation. I take the naming of the animals to be an exercise in gentle dominion (stewardship). Forrest’s reminder of the relational element is helpful. I need to work that into the dialogue so that it is clearer that our mission flows from our relationship. Again, my second draft tries to get at this more clearly.

February 25, 2012
From Diana Ch in Izhevsk, Russia

When I finished reading Chapter Two a third time I wanted to hug you. You have answered my questions amazingly well.

So, it is a very wise idea to give the Grand Story in the form of a conversation with a young and less literate person. The language is simple enough but by no means primitive. It is the best way of conveying God's truth to those for who it is intended. I am sure they will change their mind concerning Jesus and their own notions.

Now about the questions: At times the guy is simply curious, especially about creation, and by and by the questions become more serious and clever. You predict the question the reader may ask and answer them. I could not find an answer to the question about the enemies in present day life. I cannot love my enemies if they do injustness towards me or gossip about me and consequences cascade (your expression!), misunderstand my words and insist on their opinion. I am glad I do not have many of them. 

I am going to write down in my journal all the truth about Jesus from this Chapter and I hope I will be able to parry the arguments some scholars express to me. 

I liked what you said in your letter about the challenge to connect our good stories with God's stories. 

Good bye, James. I pray for you every evening.
Diana
From James (February 26, 2012)
Diana is a wonderful Christian woman in Russia. Native to Russia, she also is Professor of English in a Russian university. She knows many Russian twenty-somethings! I have come to value her opinions and her prayers. She is feeling the costly call to forgive and love even our enemies. The good news is that God does this through us by the power of the Holy Spirit.

What is wonderful about this is her sense that we need to connect our stories with God’s Story. Please keep praying for me!

February 26, 2012
From Eric D in Albuquerque, NM

I'm enjoying your blog and have some thoughts on Chapter 2. 

I'd like to see you expand on the idea about God unbending us and then satisfying our deepest desires. Here are some questions that I think are related to this: Is the Christian life just one of sacrifice and self-denial? Is it just putting other people first? Do we serve the "greater good"? Has the Creator also made us creators? How should we create? What made some people of God do great things? What drove some Christians to do great scientific, musical and artistic works? Should they have spent more time serving the poor or preaching the gospel?

I wonder if some Christians, in their desire to deny themselves, end up denying the desires God gave them and have resigned themselves to a mediocre life. Sometimes they are afraid to try something great of course, but some people think that trying something great is sinful. Is there a place for greatness in Christianity? William Carey wrote, "Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God."

This all relates to what it means to show the world who God is and this is part of the story that I long to hear about.

I have seen many times, mostly in mission work, where someone has had a desire and the opportunity to do something big or important for God, but very rarely I have seen someone follow through on it. Could it take more sacrifice to do something great than to give up your possessions to the poor? I don't think I have ever suffered or sacrificed like I have to build our Bible camp in Russia. Also, most people thought I was crazy to try it.

So these are some things that I have thought about on and off for a few years. I can't say it is all clear in my mind. I was criticized often in Russia while trying to follow the desires God gave me for ministry there. People said I was proud or unbending or too demanding. I was called unchristian by other Christians. But I also saw God do great things through the ministry and I don't see how that would have happened if I would have let go of those desires or vision. But there were times when I was filled with doubt.

These probably aren't the questions that Joe would ask.

Blessings. I'm praying for you,
Eric
From James (February 26, 2012)
Wow. Eric, these are great questions. I have to pray about how this fits in here. I will cover some of this in much more depth in chapters 10 and 11. But it would be good to say something here…

I think your comment about Christians settling for mediocrity is very much part of Joe’s complaint that the Christian life looks boring. Why do we settle for so little?

February 28, 2012
From Tom B in Salt Lake City, UT

James, as I said earlier today, this is great. The dialogue feels exceptionally authentic and the conversation between you two are allowing for the story to naturally flow to us, the readers. I love what you did with the Alanis transition (What if God is one of us… smooth!!).

During the Trinity conversation, “I’m getting lost,” to me, was a nice dose of humor. I’m thinking to myself… Join the club. You did a great job in keeping the mystery, w/o getting lost in abstract philosophy, and keeping the story going. Later on when you addressed the Holy Spirit, you did the same thing. I think this is a good way to keep the story going in this chapter.

James, you discussed Jesus’ temptation in the desert. Just a thought… If Joe ever asks why so many Christians get lost in politics and trying to control government, you might be able to provide the “I don’t know answer … the snake tempted Jesus with control, but Jesus didn’t give in. Then again, that may be too much controversy.

Earlier in the text, on “hitting the restart button,” you might have people commenting back to you about Noah.

You said, “Thou shalt not confuse today’s religious people with Jesus!” Yes!!! I love it. lol

You said, “God loves us as much as He loves Jesus…” That might make people gasp with excitement. It may be a “turning on the light bulb” experience like Augustine or Luther had while reading Romans. Then you continue it with helping the reader understand that we don’t need to be perfect, but the exact opposite… James, there is so much freedom in placing these back to back. … and then on the cross, “he still loved them.” You’re making me cry in joy. I’m just sayin’.

Nice use of “energy” with the Holy Spirit. That’s missional to DIY and new age spirituality.

Repeating the same mission over and over again really allows it to sink in too.

When your book is published, I will use this genius quote on Facebook: “ What I do know is that God will not force us to spend eternity in the presence of pure love when we have no appetite for it.”

And then you end it with the “whole mission thing again”.

James, this is fantastic. You’re presenting the grand narrative, while simultaneously answering many questions that we have in our society. At first, I wanted more Old Testament, especially because YHWH missional emphasis in the Hebrew Bible is not known by many, but then as I went on, I really thought the emphasis on Christ and the NT was perfect, and more relevant for what you’re doing. James, God is doing something in you. I pray that he continues to utilize all that He has given you and that the Holy Spirit mysteriously, yet mightily helps you find the right words and ideas to communicate His grand narrative. I think it’s happening.
From James (February 28, 2012)
Tom, I am grateful for your comments. You get what I’m after! Of course this is more than just grand narrative. It is also apologetics. Please keep praying for me!

February 28, 2012
Kristen S in Salt Lake City, UT

I really liked this chapter. I liked the way the character developed. At first didn't want to talk, then started to open up. I loved the way the Bible message was given. It was so simple, yet interesting to those of us that grew up with this story. I don't know how the third chapter begins, but I would loved to see some kind of struggle with the young guy: like that he wants to learn more, but struggles with his past perception, and the knowledge of how to find out more. I liked it for my age readers [twenty-something].
From James (February 28, 2012)
Kristen - You have seen things here others didn't see. Thank-you!  At the present time, I'm not planning on continuing Joe's story. But now I'm thinking about extending it another page so that "Joe" can ask some more personal questions. What do you think?
March 2, 2012
From Mike M in Salt Lake City, UT

James, I read through your chapter. I think it is an excellent direction to go in. Narrative is a powerful tool for sharing the gospel. I am fortunate to have a similar conversation with 20-somethings at least 2 or 3 times each week, so I hope my insights will be helpful: 

1) I think you might be underestimating the basic knowledge most 20-somethings have in regard to basic, and I mean basic, Christianity. Most people are generally familiar with the stories of the Bible, while also vastly misunderstanding a great deal of Christianity. The first section of your chapter, up to the break "* * * *" seems a bit too simplistic. If I was to explain Christianity to 20-somethings the same way I bet they would think I was pretentious. It's too simplistic. I'd suggest doing some field research. Go to a coffee shop ask some 20-somethings if you can run your book about Christianity by them. I think the whole conversation might take a different direction. 

2) I like the idea of removing the weighted terminology from the story and I do that as well, but typically I use more metaphor and analogy when explaining similar concepts. 

3) I'd suggest the use of leading questions as opposed to framed answers. If the difference makes sense. For example, instead of God is a, b, c... you might ask "What is God?" to your conversation partner and then simply course-correct their responses. 

4) Here are some of the most common lines of questioning I hear from people in their 20s, not in any particular order:
a. People that go to church are hypocrites, boring, rude, judgmental, non-supportive, etc. …
b. Truth is not universal
c. Church just isn't my thing
d. I think Christianity has a lot of good things to say, but so does every other religion
e. If I'm just a good person I'll go to heaven
f. God is real, but not involved in our daily life
g. Where is the evidence?
h. Christianity doesn't make sense
i. I don't respect Christians
j. comments about the mistakes of the church (i.e. pedophilia, extortion)
k. comments about bad leadership
l. underlying bad experiences with the church
m. inaccurate connections between Christianity and Mormonism
 
That's what I've got off the top of my head. I think generally I try to come along side people and explain Christ and Christianity to them within their own experience. My generation is seeking both Truth and Individuality. "How can I know the Truth and still be unique?" Many of my conversations about Christianity are framed with that question in mind.
 
I hope that's helpful.
 
Mike
From James (March 3, 2012)
Mike is spot-on in his observations. I have chosen to be more simplistic in the discussion of Genesis 1-3, mostly because very few adults--of any age--find God's missional purpose for humanity there. David Platt's book, Radical: Taking your Faith Back from the American Dream (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2010), is one of the places we can begin to see how important this is. Mike, please keep praying for me and this writing project. Your voice is valuable.
March 6, 2012
From Brooke C in Medford, OR

James - I've finally found time to read through your new work and I'm excited.

Let me preface with a little bit of where I'm coming from and why I'm very excited about this idea. The idea of story and storytelling has been coming up in my life repeatedly for the last three years and I truly believe that stories are the best way to introduce people to new ideas and communicate information (especially controversial information). I first encountered the idea of Bible storying, or telling God's grand story, in the “Echo the Story” curriculum, which basically reduces the Bible to 20 or so stories from creation through Christ's return each building on the last. These stories are meant to be told orally over a period of days mirroring the way epics like the Illiad were told. I was amazed at how much life and meaning the Bible took on when the stories were told this way. Even well-known stories had new urgency when I began to understand them as part of a cohesive whole, a grand story. This is why I think that your idea is so important. Every Christian should understand and be able to relate God's grand story because it is so much more powerful than any argument we could make in defense of Christianity. I agree with you, that humans use stories, or scripts, to define themselves and make sense of their place in the world and society, and the story God has written for us carries with it exponentially more beauty, misery, failure, triumph, and ultimately, love than any story the secular world has to offer. Who could hear it and not be moved to action, if we only knew how to tell it.

I taught the “Echo the Story” curriculum to second graders over six weeks at a summer camp and I was amazed at how much they retained when they learned this way. However, I think that older children, teens, and adults would get the most out of the experience. At least, that was definitely true for me and my husband Joe.

I would retell the stories to Joe every night and we would talk about how they revealed God's character and his plan. It really proved to me that, YES, God does have a grand plan that he is weaving into the world and thousands of years of history show that he is faithful and trustworthy and that his story is a GOOD story. It also showed me that while I am a character in the story, I'm not THE character. The story is not about me. I think Christians today are often encouraged to seek God's plan for THEIR life, rather than to seek an understanding of God's grand plan. When I realized that there was this whole beautiful story that God had written and was writing, I was so relieved! When I thought I was the main character of the story of my life, I was stressed and concerned that I wouldn’t do it right. Realizing that God has already been writing this story for millennia and that I wasn’t going to suddenly throw it off course by my poor decisions or inaction was such a relief (can you tell that I frequently overestimate my influence in the world?). It freed me up to start seeing the way God had equipped me to play my part in the community he was creating to represent himself to the world. I took myself less seriously and was able to take more risks and ultimately to serve more effectively. I think understanding the Bible as a grand story was directly related to my ability to relate to God and take part in his community. All that to say… I think stories are REALLY important and I could probably go on and on about it… 

While I was at Westminster, I had numerous conversations very similar to the one you are depicting in Chapter 2 and the biggest hurdle I ran into over and over was the problem of God's existence, more specifically the problem of showing evidence for a relational God (as opposed to a Deistic God). So, the fact that you chose not to address this issue at all immediately made me question how real your story was. I think that the dialogue would feel more authentic with a reference to the fact that many twenty-somethings are skeptical about the existence of a relational God who is interested in their lives and actions. I don't think this needs to be anything lengthy, just a bit of a nod to the issue. For example:
"It’s about God’s love for this world, you know, big picture kind of stuff.
God's love for this world? I don't see much love and I'm not even sure God exists. I don't think there is a big picture. All I know is here and now."

I also struggled with the use of phrases that seemed exclusively Christian, such as "gentle dominion," "her desire would be for her husband...," "crush the head...," etc. In the second half of the dialogue, you address many of them head on with questions from Joe, so using them throughout could be purposeful. Also, I may only have noticed them because I already know that they're directly from the Bible and someone unfamiliar with it (i.e. Joe) might not have, so it's really neither here nor there, just something that stuck out to me.

I really enjoyed your retelling of the creation and the fall. The stories were very succinct and easy to follow, not to mention interesting...who saw that snake coming? :) I liked the dialogue all through that portion. Actually, I really enjoyed all of the story parts. I did get a little lost when you were discussing us sharing Jesus's destiny. I think it's mostly the reversal involved in "wherever Jesus is or goes, we will be with Him..." rather than what you would traditionally hear, "wherever you are or go, Jesus will be with you." Is that an intentional reversal? I stay confused all the way through, "Because our future or destiny is tied to what happens to Jesus, we are free to act in this world in a very different way." I read that statement and wonder, "how are we free?" and "what is happening to Jesus!?" Theologically, I know how we are free, but I don't leave your paragraph understanding that. Does that make sense? It may just be the use of present tense that is throwing me there.

My final suggestion, if you haven't done this already, would be to grab a twenty-something, or a teen, or whoever and perform this dialogue like a play with each of you reading your part. It will make any unclear dialogue really apparent and easily fixed. I so enjoyed reading this story and I'm looking forward to seeing where you and God take it. Good luck, you are in my prayers! Thanks, James. 
From James (March 6, 2012)
Brooke’s comments are really helpful. She understands why we need to be telling God’s Grand Story. I have already made one change in the text – about Joe not even being sure if there is a God. Her puzzling of “wherever Jesus is or goes” and my intended reversal of much common language is appropriate. Notice Joe’s response: “I don’t get it. I have no clue what you are talking about.”
There are several things like this in the text where I can only hint at very deep water. I’ll think about how I might clarify this and I will pray I don’t complicate things too much! Brooke! Thanks for praying for me!
March 9, 2012
From Kristen M in Salt Lake City, UT

I like the part after the crucifixion. Good job explaining and pulling out the meaning about God’s ability to love and forgive.

If your audience is non-Christians/non-religious people, pulling in politics and historical people could be rocky ground. Refer to Ch.2 question: “the church is supposed to be merciful? Why didn’t someone tell the inquisitors, crusaders, witch hunters, and gay-bashers.” Great question, but a tough one. From my perspective, (23years old and growing up in an individualistic society and generation) 20-some year olds are very political. And I don’t mean relating to the government. People are extremely “voiced”, they have STRONG opinions. My generation hates traditionalism; they want new ideas and innovation every day. And knowing that the church has suffered, or rather struggled, people want something different.

In my opinion, it is easy to lose sight of what God’s community should be doing daily. Temptation, difference of opinion, education; these open our minds for either the good or the bad and its up to us to make the choice.

I don’t know how to approach it, mostly because lots of your targeted generation is stubborn. But I think the above mentioned issue is crucial to this generation. They need to somehow open their minds to the idea that the community of God is a benefit and could help them understand life.

Quick opinion: when Joe says things like: “This is getting long, I’m coffeed out”, “I think I’ve heard enough for now”. It manipulates my mind to tell me that I am getting bored of the topic. I would change that to keep the audience’s attention and wanting more of the story.

Also, you touch a couple times on the topic of “to love well”; God’s love. It would be cool to see you break down this topic in another chapter. I think my generation is broken, they don’t know the meaning of REAL love. We are caught up in a world of temptation and lust, lots of young individuals are scared to be themselves because of the label society would put on them. We NEED to know that real love exists and where to find it.

In addition, you reference parts of the Bible multiple times. I would imagine people that pick up this book in a bookstore are interested in the topic, whether it is just to learn more about God or casual reading, lead them to the Bible through it. When you write “it is said in the Bible” do a quick reference. I wouldn’t do it every time, but maybe for the major topics you are discussing.

**Hope my thoughts make some sense… take or leave whatever you like. And good luck with the book, I like the direction you’re moving! -- Kristen
From James (March 9, 2012)
Wow. Kristen has some really good ideas. I would love to hear what others think about some of these. I do hope the love well theme is more developed in this third draft. (Your draft number by looking in the header at the top of the page.)

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