Biblical Narrative

Storied Discipleship

by Chesed Dent

Director of Global Studies Internships, Liberty University

Just a couple of weeks ago Christians around the world celebrated Christmas. There is a wonder to this time of year, a whisper and shout of “Jesus came!” The shadowed outline of the nativity takes center stage on holiday greeting cards and the students on our campus are decked in their holiday sweaters singing Christmas carols on the quad. And in the midst of the normal Christmas culture of celebration, a student walked into my office last month and said, “I’m so excited about Christmas. I think it’s the first year I finally understand why Jesus came. And I’m telling everybody about it.”

I was taken aback at first. She grew up in the church. She has been a Christian for a long time. She even holds a spiritual leadership role on our campus. So I asked her to explain what she meant. This is what she said: “Well, before now if you had asked me why Jesus came, I would have said that He came to die on a cross to forgive me of my sins. And that’s not wrong. But this is the first year I understand how Him coming is a part of the Story.”

Over the past few years I have become more and more convinced that many of our students come into our program in similar places of understanding. They claim Christ as their Savior and know the answers to the Gospel outlines they have been given, but would have a very difficult time telling the story that led to the birth of Christ. They know the Romans Road or whatever evangelism tool they have learned. Many of them know the focused explanations of specific passages and theological viewpoints. However, when asked how Jesus’ birth is the answer to what happened at the Fall in Genesis 3, their explanations are the rote memorization of the Gospel tools they have been given and discipled under instead of the telling of the Gospel Story written throughout the Grand Narrative of the Bible.

My dad commented a few weeks ago that we are very good, in Western Christian contexts, at digging postholes. “We train pastors and teachers to dig deep in one spot (passage), which is actually very good. However, if we want to build a fence, we not only need fence posts; we also need rails to connect the posts.”[1] Many of our students have been discipled under fence post teaching. They have learned great truth but have not been given the rails that connect the posts. Then they are trained in the many and varied Gospel evangelism tools that were developed to help explain and present the Gospel but were never meant to take the place of the Gospel story.

Faith family, I fear that we are developing a generation of Christ followers that have a fragmented understanding of the Bible and we then train them to share the Gospel in the same way. They know the script of their tools and explanations but not the script of the biblical story. And they are so very hungry for a good story to belong to and tell. Do we not see it in the passion they have when they talk about their favorite books, movies, and fandoms? Are we guilty of not teaching them the better story? Is this why so many of them are leaving it?

Our students don’t only need evangelism and discipleship tools. They don’t only need focused fence posts. They don’t only need explanation and script. They need to know how to integrate all of these crucial elements into the story they come from. Research shows that worldview and identity are tethered to the narrative that a people belong to.[2] In a world where there are so many competing narratives, we must do a better job telling the true narrative of the world.[3] Into this narrative we must help our students place their knowledge and tools. In the God of this narrative they will find identity, meaning, and purpose. And from this narrative they will better speak an invitation to be a part of a story that celebrates the coming of Christ.

The student that came into my office was walking in new knowledge of the biblical metanarrative teaching she has been sitting under recently. This is not the first year she celebrated the coming of Jesus. I am not, in any way, questioning her sincere salvation and love for Christ. But there is a newfound excitement in how she understands and shares about the baby boy born in Bethlehem so long ago. She now understands that the birth of Jesus is part of a progressive story of God making His presence available to His people. She understands that at the Fall, when God was laying out the consequences before Adam, Eve, and the serpent, the promise He made for the offspring of the woman to bruise the head of the serpent (Gen 3:15) was a promise for the birth of this Christmas child. But her understanding does not stop there. She doesn’t jump from Genesis 3 to Matthew 1 in her Christmas narrative. Instead, she can follow the line of God pursuing His people in order to dwell with them through the entire metanarrative. The Christmas story has expanded out in her understanding to include the entire Grand Narrative of the Bible. This is why she said, “I’m so excited about Christmas. I think it’s the first year I finally understand why Jesus came. And I’m telling everybody about it.”

[1] Dr. Don Dent, shared in a phone conversation, October 25, 2019.

[2] Michael Vern Matthews, “Is There a Reader in this Text?: The Place of Metanarrative in the Problem of Meaning” (PhD diss., Trinity Theological Seminary, 2013), 104-105.

[3] Michael W. Goheen, “The Urgency of Reading the Bible as One Story.” Theology Today 64 (2008): 469.

Chesed Dent has spent almost 20 years in Southeast Asia, both as a third culture kid and as a global worker. After graduating from Southeastern seminary in 2012, she moved to Lynchburg, VA to work at Liberty University. Currently she is serving as the Director Of Global Studies Internships where she trains students for overseas service. Her focused interests of training include: Third Culture Kids, Transition and Culture Shock, Reentry, Spiritual Warfare, Storytelling/Orality, and the Grand Narrative of the Bible. She just completed her second Master’s degree and connected research: “The Grand Narrative Worldview: A Narrative Inquiry into the Impact of Biblical Metanarrative Teaching in Liberty University’s School of Divinity Global Studies Program.” She loves to shop in international markets, sing, ride rollercoasters, go to festivals, watch crime shows, eat French fries, and can regularly be found surrounded by Old Testament commentaries geeking out over the awesomeness of God’s Word.

Matthew Emerson
Dr. Matthew Y. Emerson, Dickinson Associate Professor of Religion, earned a bachelor’s degree from Auburn University and an M.Div. and Ph.D. in from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Emerson joined the OBU faculty in 2015. He previously taught at California Baptist University, where he served as Chair of the Arts and Sciences Department in the OPS Division. Emerson has authored or co-authored over 20 publications. His research interests include the Old Testament’s use in the New Testament, early Christian interpretation, and theological method. He serves as co-Executive Director of the Center for Baptist Renewal, co-editor of the Journal of Baptist Studies, steering committee member of the Scripture and Hermeneutics Seminar, and Senior Fellow for the Center of Ancient Christian Studies. He is also a member of a number of scholarly societies. Emerson grew up in Huntsville, AL, where he met his future wife, Alicia. Married in 2006, they have five daughters. He and his wife are both members at Frontline Church in Shawnee.