God's Grand Story
by James Wakefield, PhD

Telling God's Grand Story


Shepherd
You are invited. Please join me in a conversation. We didn’t start it. It has been going on for many thousands of years. It circles around some big ideas, posed here as questions: Is there any good news? What is it? How do we gospel people faithfully? Let’s focus this: How do we tell God’s Grand Story to our families, friends, neighbors, and even to those who care nothing for us at all or for God?
 
One goal of this website is to further this conversation. Let’s be respectful. But let’s also keep it real. A second goal is to ask for help. I’m moving forward in keeping my promise to write a book about telling God’s Grand Story. How can you help? I don’t want to do something this awesome alone. I need company, friends and critics who can speak the truth in love. Help me make this useful. Keep me from too many errors and idiosyncrasies. Join me in sharing good news with our world.





Returning to Story (Part 3)

Marcion wasn’t the only character in the second century offering a revised version of Christianity and a radically different script for your life story. Hang in there with me as I describe this, because one of these second century groups anticipated what we encounter as “new age” spiritualties in our own twenty-first century.

 Experts on the second century recognize a loosely organized movement called “Gnosticism.” Here are some of the more common Gnostic doctrines. Let me keep this in the present tense? Gnostics believe that physical matter is evil. Salvation, understood as an escape from suffering physical matter, comes by way of secret knowledge (gnosis in Greek, hence the name “Gnostics”). This knowledge is brought by a teacher who has already escaped — or was never really part of — the physical world. Knowledge IS power. Some people are just dirt clods and incapable of this knowledge or way of knowing. The dirt clod folk aren’t worth much and have no possible happy future in a realm of elevated, refined, immaterial existence. Their suffering isn’t important. Your suffering doesn’t matter either if you are one of the chosen ones. If you can understand this secret teaching, then you are one of lucky, powerful, chosen ones. For $19.95 (plus shipping) you can have the next key to enlightenment...

Okay, I couldn’t resist the last line. How often does religion tell you the physical world is evil, so send us your money? And notice how a Gnostic view of things minimizes the importance of your body and your own suffering? How does this feel? You know, in your gut?

Can things get worse? Oh yes! If salvation is about knowing the right ideas, then arguing and proving that you are right becomes one of the most important things you can do. Or maybe you dismiss anyone who can’t agree with you as a dirt clod?

But consider this question: Does telling the story get lost? And do you forget to listen to the basic storylines — theirs and yours — in the heat of your argument?

Irenaeus of Lyon was a gift to the Christian community in the late second century. He learned his lessons from a man named Polycarp. Polycarp learned his lessons from the Apostle John. John learned his lessons from Jesus. It was hard to get better credentials than this in the second century! Irenaeus believed that our suffering matters and that people were worth arguing with. He wrote five books arguing with folks like Marcion and the Gnostics. But he didn’t just argue with people. He also told the story. His telling can be found in a remarkable little book called the Proof of the Apostolic Preaching. (Translated by Joseph P. Smith, Ancient Christian Writers Series, 16. New York: Paulist/Newman, 1952).

Writing sometime between 178-202, Irenaeus offers this little book to help instruct Marcianas in the Christian faith, and to help him instruct others also. I want to make only thee points about this work: Irenaeus sets the story in the context of the Trinity and the Rule of Faith (paragraphs 1-10). He tells the story beginning with the Garden and moving through the effects of the death and resurrection of Jesus (paragraphs 11-42). He proves this is the correct reading of things by examining the Old Testament narratives and prophecies (paragraphs 42-100). There is a conscious shift in paragraphs 41-42 where Irenaeus tells us in effect, “this is how the apostles instructed others in the Christian faith.”

There you go. Irenaeus want to make sure people got the right story. He wanted it set in the right context. And he wanted his readers to know it was right because it was based in the Holy Scriptures. And he wanted them to be able to honestly walk it out, day by day.

Whom do you trust to give you the right story? Can you trust their sources? Can you live the story? This will become one of the most important questions we will face. Can we live this, be absolutely real with this, or do I have to lie to myself and others as I pretend this works for me? Ouch. Let’s get real.
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