Theology 101

Digging Deeper Into the Four-Chapter Gospel

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In a recent article entitled “Is the News Making Us Dumb?“, Gospel Coalition editor Joe Carter warns of the danger present in divorcing news and information from their larger context. He writes,

As Christians, we’re expected to take an eternal perspective, viewing events not only in their historical but also in their eschatological context.

This applies not only to news and information. One of my favorite axioms is “Nothing is meaningful without without a context.” This is especially true with respect to the scriptures.

The scriptures tell us our work is meaningful and matters to God. But what is the context that gives our work its meaning?

This context is the larger story of the Bible. We’ve referred to this story as the Four-Chapter Gospel. It is also known as taking a redemptive, historical approach to scripture.

Summarizing the Story of the Bible

If you had to summarize faith in Christ in a short form, it’s hard to do it better than Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck:

God the Father has reconciled his created but fallen world through the death of his Son, and renews it into a Kingdom of God by his Spirit. 

Note the words created, reconciled, renews, and Kingdom of God. Each of these terms applies to both individuals and the whole of the cosmos.

We could summarize the biblical story in another way:

  • God created the world and it was very good, as Genesis 1-2 tells us. 
  • The fall of Adam and Eve into sin and its impact on the world is described in Genesis 3-11.  
  • Then from Genesis 12 to Revelation 22, we see unfolded God’s plan of redemption for his fallen creation. 

The story starts in a garden (the Garden of Eden) and ends in a city (the new Jerusalem).

An Overview of Creation & the Fall

From the very beginning of Genesis we see that God’s creation is real and good. Seven times God calls that which he made “good.”

When he made humanity, God describes them as “very good.” Moreover, he made humanity in his image. There have been many book-length studies on the nature of the image of God. One helpful (but not complete) way of describing the image is “response-ability.”

Adam and Even were created to respond to God, to each other, and to the creation in appropriate ways. The fall damaged this capacity to respond in every area. We are alienated from God, each other, and creation, and thus no longer respond to each as we were created to.

An Overview of Renewal and Redemption

Human beings were also created to “fill the earth and subdue it,” exercising our capacity to rule over the fish, the birds, and the whole creation.

The capacity to rule is also described as exercising dominion, developing the potential of the creation around us. Another term for this is the cultural mandate.

What starts with ruling over the fish and birds is extended to “caring for and tending the garden” (Genesis 2:15). Very soon, in Genesis 4:20-22, various people develop early “technologies” such as “all implements of bronze and iron,” the “lyre and pipe,” tents, and herds of livestock. The developing and renewal of creation in the wake of the fall has begun.

It is important to note that when the new Jerusalem comes down out of heaven in Revelation, the “tree of life” in Revelation 22:12, the same tree of life that was in the Garden of Eden, is now in the midst of a developed city. The cultural mandate has been fulfilled.

In the coming weeks I’ll be digging deeper into each of these “chapters” of the larger biblical story, that we might better understand the context for our vocations.

If we don’t understand the place of creation, the extent of the fall, the extent of redemption, or the end towards which the whole story drives – the consummation – then we can easily get off-track when it comes to thinking about why vocation and cultural engagement are important. 

What questions do you have about the Four-Chapter Gospel? 

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