A Summary and Review of Chapter 5: The Grand Narrative of the Bible by John Henderson in Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling.

This chapter was written to highlight the weaknesses of the “one-problem-one-verse-one solution” approach to ministry, and to demonstrate how the central narrative of Scripture should “influence, shape, and instruct the ministry of counseling.”

What better way to do this than through a narrative? asks John Henderson, before proceeding to narrate a short illustrative story of ten pages or so.

It’s an interesting approach, and, to be honest, one that I didn’t immediately take to. I’m not really a “story” guy and find a lot of fiction a boring waste of time. Give me bullet points any day!

However, when I slowed down and read the chapter a second and a third time, I began to discover some real gems of ideas and illustrations, especially about half way through when one of the characters, Mr Kindren, tries to help Maggie’s troubled marriage by simply quoting a few verses and calling her to submit to God regardless of her happiness.

At this point, Reggie steps in to critique Mr Kindren’s simplistic approach to problems and to Scripture. He says:

Those are wondrous verses and all, but they may not make a lot of sense if she doesn’t get the Story behind the verses…The story of the Bible shows how fiercely the Lord works for people’s true happiness. Purity, submission, and happiness, from God’s point of view, can’t be separated.

Then follow two excellent illustrations to show how important it is to counsel within the context of the grand narrative of the Bible.

Sweep them into the river
“I’m guessing you’re trying to get her downriver to a good place. I just can’t figure out how you’ll help her along by standing at the banks, drawing out buckets of water, and throwing them on her feet. They’re good buckets of water and all, but they have no current by themselves. Just like the rest of us, Maggie needs to be swept into the river” (80).

Hear the whole orchestra
“The Word acts like a mass symphony of instruments working in harmony and building to something grand more than a phone book of musical soloists up for hire. All the stories and poems and letters and oracles and wisdom verses of God’s Word, like individual instruments in a great orchestra, serve the whole story. You served Mrs. Maggie a beautiful but single note from a single instrument in the orchestra. No doubt there are solos and duos all around, and each of these comfort and convict us in their way and time, but they aren’t strumming and blowing on their own. In His time, I think the Lord wants us to hear and appreciate the way they harmonize” (81).

The rest of the chapter tells how Reggie went on to demonstrate how:

  • Everyone has a story they use to explain the world and their world.
  • God’s story is found in the Bible where we read of God’s careful work in creating, loving, judging, and saving a world that He made good and beautiful, but plunged into evil and ugly.
  • God’s story interprets, confronts, reshapes, and even redeems or condemns all other stories.
  • God is not only the author of His story, He’s the center of it (not us).

See, I knew I’d get bullet points in there somewhere.

All in all, a helpful and thought-provoking chapter that calls counselors to know the Bible’s big story, listen to the counselee’s “small” story, and learn how to connect these two stories in a life-transforming way.

And if there’s one word that comes across loud and clear, it’s “patience.” This is much more complex and challenging than the oft-caricatured “take-two-verses and call me in the morning” idea. But it’s also much more likely to lead to long-term fruit.