Book Review: Welcome to the Story by Stephen Nichols

Posted: August 22, 2011 in bible, books, exegesis, history, review

O God of truth,
I thank thee for the holy Scriptures,
their precepts, promises, directions, light.
In them may I learn more of Christ,
be enabled to retain his truth
and have grace to follow it.

– The Valley of Vision

How do you approach the Bible?  Do you see it as a collection of stories relating to people who lived thousands of years ago on the other side of the globe, far removed from your life here and now?  Or do you view it as one, coherent, all-important story – the story – that gives meaning, significance, and purpose to all others?  I hope you view it as the latter.  But if you don’t, please don’t feel dismayed.  Rather, pick up the book I am about to briefly introduce and see what God does to open your eyes to the magnificent story – your story – that is hidden (in plain sight) in the pages of Scripture.

In Welcome to the Story: Reading, Loving, & Living God’s Word, Stephen J. Nichols invites readers to enter into the biblical narrative and embrace it as their own.  As he writes in the introduction, this book “invites you to enter in, to participate in, the story of the Bible…This book aims to show you the big picture so you can make sense of all the pieces,” (17).

When I initially picked up this book, my first assumption was that it would be a crash course in basic hermeneutics.  However, I quickly realized that Nichols has a much more foundational (and in many ways, more important) purpose in mind.  Rather than simply give his readers a list of interpretive principles and tools (which are important), Nichols first wants his readers to understand the overarching storyline of the Bible, the lens through which we read and interpret Scripture and the world as God’s chosen people.  To this end, he breaks up the biblical narrative into four parts: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.  These four themes show up all over the Bible and are provide the necessary interpretive framework through which to understand the many different poems, prophecies, narratives, letters, and proverbs of Scripture.  In devoting a chapter to each theme, Nichols helpfully summarizes Scriptures main “movements,” tracing the biblical storyline in a way that is both engaging and easy to follow.   Throughout these initial chapters, Nichols is careful to regularly connect the biblical narrative to the lives of modern Christians, demonstrating that the text has much to say to us today.  He quotes Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who writes,

We become a part of what once took place for our salvation.  Forgetting and losing ourselves, we, too, pass through the Red Sea, through the desert, across the Jordan into the promised land.  With Israel we fall into doubt and unbelief and through punishment and repentance experience again God’s help and faithfulness.  All this is not mere reverie but holy, godly reality. (22)

After this survey of redemptive history, Nichols tackles a few other topics in more detail.  In chapter six, he reminds us that in reading the Bible, we are reading the stories of real people who lived in real history.  He notes that,

…what we see in the grand narrative of the Bible is actually a composite of narratives.  Stories make up the story.  These narratives tell the grand movement from creation to fall to redemption to restoration.  And they do it through the lens of the lives of individuals. (94)

Chapter seven serves as an important reminder that the Bible’s story is ultimately all about God.  While we have been granted the great privilege and blessing of entering into God’s narrative, it is first and foremost his story, for his glory.  In our age of rampant egocentrism, this is an extremely important reality that needs to be repeated, over and over again.  We often approach the Bible expecting to be comforted, consoled, encouraged, and affirmed.  The Bible does all these things, but it also confronts, convicts, rebukes, and corrects our waywardness.  It often says things that will offend us if we view the Bible as “God’s love letter to mankind,” rather than a display of His glory through the history of His sovereign redemption.  Thus, a God-centered view of the Bible is indispensible to correct understanding and application.

In chapters eight and nine, Nichols examines what the Bible does to and through us as we read and apply it’s truths to our lives.  He reminds us that love for God cannot be separated from living for Him.  What we read in the Bible should have an impact on what we think, do, and say.  The Bible consistently calls us to be image bearers of Christ, through word, deed, and our shared fellowship with other believers.

Finally, in the last chapter, Nichols answers the almost inevitable “Now what?” question.  He helpfully identifies a number of “culprits” that often contribute to our neglect of God’s Word, offering a few tips to help get started and keep going in regular Bible study.  He closes the chapter with a few basic principles for interpretation and a list of further resources for those who want to go a little deeper.

One of the things I most appreciate about this book is just how simple and accessible it is.   Nichols’ summary of the biblical narrative (creation, fall, redemption, restoration), instructive wisdom regarding how we should approach the Bible (first and foremost as God’s story which we have graciously been ushered into), and practical tips related to actually reading the text (basic hermeneutics) all come together to make this book a great introduction to reading the Word of God and subsequently being changed by it.  It would be a great resource for a new believer or someone just starting to read the Bible regularly.

If you aren’t currently reading the Bible but want to start, consider picking up this book.  You may find that is gives you a much-needed foundation from which you can begin to really understand the incredible truths contained in this God-breathed book.  If you already read the Bible regularly, you could still benefit from this book as well, as it is a great reminder to keep in mind the overarching narrative of the Bible – the story of the great Creator of the universe who sent His Son to redeem sinful humanity from the curse of sin and death, reconciling us to Himself and promising restoration to all things when He returns.

That’s our story.  Welcome.

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