We were created to tell stories. Humanity has told stories from the very beginning, and we use them as a conduit for cultural and moral knowledge. God showed us himself, and his mission on the earth, through stories. We know our Savior because of stories his first disciples told as the church grew. Most of all, the gospel of Jesus Christ is itself a story, an announcement of danger, rescue and victory.
The three-act story arc is the most common narrative structure, and it resonates across historical and cultural boundaries. The three-act structure is what you were most likely taught in your middle school language arts classes, and it is the form screenwriters cut their teeth on. The three-act structure is the dominant plot shape of our stories.
The gospel is a three-act story. In fact, it is the three-act story. The biblical authors did not present the story of the Bible in three acts so we could understand it better. Instead, we understand stories better because they reflect the storyline of the gospel. We were created for stories that echo the gospel.
In the first act of the gospel narrative, God creates Adam and Eve, placing them in Paradise, and giving them dominion over the earth.
Act two begins when Adam and Eve rebel against God’s only command, setting up the conflict between a holy God and his rebellious creations. For generations, Israel persists in a cycle of sin and repentance, demonstrating man’s inability to defeat sin.
Then, the Son of God is born. He brings the sin of Israel into sharp contrast with his own perfect, holy life. Each conversation and confrontation Jesus has with the leaders of the day raises the stakes until they have had enough.
Then, in one weekend, we have the climax of redemptive history. On Friday, the Innocent One is found guilty. On Saturday, he is in the grave. But on Sunday, history changes. God redeems his people in the most dramatic way.
Act three begins, and the victory has been won. Sin is defeated. Yet, we live in a world where the final redemption of all creation is still to come. Theologians call this reality “the already, but not yet.”
Finally, we have the New Creation, promised to us in the Word. God will resolve the story finally, with all glory and honor resting on him.
This overarching storyline of the Bible and our redemption is the Biblical metanarrative. It is the full story of God’s plan to redeem the world from sin and display his glory in the person of Jesus. It is the storyline of the gospel.
Every believer has the gospel storyline in their life. We all have a creation, fall, redemption, and we will someday have a new creation in our stories.
But we also have them in our smaller stories and events. In an adoption story, isn’t the loss of a parent for an orphan a type of Fall? In a story of healing, isn’t a believer living in the ‘already but not yet’? After all, their body will still die someday, and God promises final healing in his New Creation. Finally, Incarnation is the heart and soul of the story of one leaving to minister overseas. The goer is emulating exactly what Christ did for humanity.
As gospel storytellers, we must be tuned into the gospel storyline in our lives and events. We must show both the sin and the redemption, the conflict and the resolution. We must not shy away from one or the other, for only in a story with both the dark and the light, can the grace of our God be seen.
Feature image by Sean Mathis