Throwback Thursday: Brian Walsh on the Postmodern Problem with Grand Stories

Christianity is a story. That’s because the Bible is a story. One big, rich story spanning thousands of years. In my experience teaching and explaining the grand story of Scripture, I have noticed how much this excites children and teenagers. They love to trace the story. They love when I am about to teach a passage of Scripture and ask, “So, where are we in the big story?” The story of Scripture is one of glorious and grand redemption. God’s redemption of sinners through Christ for his glory is the primary theme of the story carried out from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. Realizing this will transform the way you read the Bible forever. But while this truth brings me (and truly nearly every person I have taught) much joy, many postmoderns are repelled by this metanarrative. Far too often, evangelicals are ignorant of secular worldviews. It is important to consider what the secular culture believes, so we can intelligently engage their positions and meet them where they are with the gospel. While the secular worldview has gone beyond even the postmodernism of the late 20th century, much of the secular worldview today can still be described as postmodern in nature. Why is the grand story of Scripture repugnant to the secular culture? In a book written in 1996, Brian Walsh gave a compelling answer.

Postmodern culture is deeply suspicious of all grand stories. Again, The Smashing Pumpkins prove to be insightful in this regard. In their infinitely sad song, “tales of a scorched earth,” they sing, “we’re all dead yeah we’re all dead/inside the future of a shattered past.” We live inside the future of a shattered past because that “past” told grand stories of Marxist utopia, technological freedom, or capitalist paradise. Yet we have come to see not only that these stories are unfinished, but that they are also fundamentally unfinishable, for the simple reason that they are fundamentally lies. The postmodern ethos insists that stories such as these that have so shaped our lives are not stories of emancipation and progress after all, but stories of enslavement, oppression and violence. And on such a view, any story, any world view, that makes grand claims about the real course and destiny of history will be perceived as making common cause with such violence and oppression. This characteristic of the postmodern shift is, I think, the most challenging to Christian faith. If there is one thing that Christianity is all about it is a grand story. How else can we interpret the cosmic tale of creation, fall, redemption and consummation that the Scriptures tell? Yet it is precisely this story that we must tell in a postmodern culture. In the face of dissolution of all grand stories, Christians have the audacity to proclaim, week after week, the liberating story of God’s redemption of all creation. It is, we insist, the one story that actually delivers on what it promises.

And that is the difference between the metanarrative of Scripture and the metanarratives of other ideologies and worldviews: The grand story of Scripture delivers on what it promises. Let’s not fail to continue to tell this story and pray that those we share it with find themselves in it as the people God has redeemed for his glory and our joy.


Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor of Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. They have one son, Jude Adoniram. You can follow Mathew on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.

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