One of the most interesting, important and distinctive features of Christianity is that it is what scholars call ‘an historical religion’. That means that it is about events that have actually happened, facts of history that can be investigated and understood, and which are to be acknowledged even if their significance is disputed - like crucifixion and resurrection. This is in contrast to a religion which is more like a philosophy, timeless ideas that don’t have any particular connection to actual events, but are designed to inspire people to behave differently.
One thing that follows from being historical is that Christianity can be framed as a narrative - a narrative not about what we do for God, but rather what God in his grace is doing.
And if it’s a narrative, then there will be characters. And hence the title of this blog - how many characters are there in your gospel?
At first glance, it would seem obvious! But actually, it’s not quite as obvious as you might think, and it makes a huge difference to how you answer the question.
Most gospels I hear have three characters - God, humanity and Jesus. God is the creator, humanity rebels against that good and wise creator in a variety of ways, and Jesus is the Saviour who rescues us from our plight. Of course, it’s often much more sophisticated than that, but that doesn’t effect the basic structure.
Notice a couple of things about a story like that.
First, only having those three characters in the story directly effects the possibilities for expressing the purpose of humanity. All that humanity can do is be in a relationship with God. Now, don’t get me wrong, being in a relationship with God is wonderful! But the question is, is that the totality of what human beings were created to do? What’s more, because the ‘final state’ of a story is always a resolved or completed version of the initial state of the story, that will consequently determine what the purpose of salvation is in glory - ‘to be in a right relationship with God’. Again, that’s true and wonderful, but is it all?
Only having those three characters also carries a second consequence. Namely, that whatever is wrong or broken or evil, has to be located in one or more of those three characters. Obviously, it’s not going to be God or Jesus, which means that it must be humanity. And what that leads to is a very particular view of humanity after the fall, as totally responsible for all evil.
The question is, does the Bible support either of those conclusions? And if not, what other characters might the Biblical gospel have which would change the structural possibilities?
We’ll look at that in the next post.