By Sean Gladding.
Reviewed by Chris Smith.
For ten years now, Sean Gladding has been orally telling the biblical story with groups around the United States. What started as a Bible study for a group of people who had little familiarity with scripture, Gladding has refined his telling of the scriptural story over the last decade and has now been published by IVP Books as The Story of God, The Story of Us: Getting Lost and Found in the Bible. One of the big shifts that Gladding made early on in this narrative project was to move from talking about the biblical story to telling it as a story, and this change is one of the strengths of his work in book format. The Old Testament story is told from the perspective of a group of Israelites suffering under the weight of the Babylonian exile. A wise sage spins the tale of the history of Israel and all creation up to that time with the hope of encouraging younger Israelites who are struggles with the challenges of life in exile. Gladding does a superb job of emphasizing the central theme of hope throughout the Old Testament story. For instance, he concludes the telling of the Old Testament story: “The Old man takes the arm of the young musician and leaves with his people, who depart in near silence, nurturing the flame of hope that has been kindled in them, daring to believe that the story is not yet over.”
After a very brief (one page) interlude between the book’s stories, Gladding proceeds to the telling of the New Testament story, which he sets in a small house-church-type setting in the early Christian era. As he did for the Old Testament, Gladding tells the story in a way that emphasizes hope to its hearers. He also drives home the point that we cannot merely be listeners to the story of God’s work, but rather are caught up ourselves in this story; he offers the following prayer in the book’s postscript:
May this book draw you deep into the grand Story of Scripture, as you read it with others and discuss the difficult question of what it means to be faithful to the God who makes covenant with us. Whether it is your first time to hear the Story, or the hundred and first time, may you hear the voice of God’s hesed, God’s lovingkindness, gently inviting you to step into the narrative and partner with God in the work of new creation. Shalom.
Gladding’s delightful telling of the scriptural story here is effective for energizing followers of Christ – whether new or old – as well as those who may not yet claim to follow Christ. However, I think its compelling power, drawing us into the scriptural story, will be most effective among youth or others who are new to the faith.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com