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The Power of the Biblical Story


Dr. Allan J. McNicol has recently published his latest book, The Persistence of God’s Endangered Promises: The Bible’s Unified Story, from Bloomsbury Publishing. For Many years, Dr. McNicol has taught a Biblical Theology course that students at Austin Grad have found to be indispensible for understanding the story of God and his creation. This book offers an encapsulation and extension of a lifelong project of study and devotion. Click here to order Allan McNicol’s New book, The Persistence of God’s Endangered Promises. See the bottom of this post for a promotional code offering significant discount pricing!

I love the brief description of an incident that is told about Sir Walter Scott on his deathbed. After summoning his servant to his bedside Scott asks him to bring The Book. Glancing at the shelves all around bulging with books the servant responds querulously, “Which book?” “Son,” Scott responds, “when you are in my condition there is only one book!”

What was there about the narrative of this book that caused Scott to call directly for it? Without any hint of bombastic arrogance millions throughout Western history believe that they have found a true description of absolute spiritual reality by entering into the biblical world. Couched in a broadly conceived literary style of a realistic novel scripture introduces them to the story of the people of God. By telling the story of Israel’s journey it presumed certain basic factual claims and implications. But its real power is in the capacity of the narrative story it tells to shape a convincing account of the way things are.

The narrative centers around the relationship between God and his chosen people (Israel). What is striking about it is the massive difference between the two. God is God; but even in the culture of biblical times Israel was hardly, if ever, a conventional power with status and stature in its part of the world. A reader could ask quickly, “Why is God bothering with these people?” Yet throughout scripture in some mysterious way God cannot let these people go.

As we read on we are shockingly intrigued by a possible answer to our query. God is not impressed with the way humans rate status and power. From the time he chose an exile (Abraham) to set apart his people to Jesus insisting that the sinners join him for dinner God persists in mocking human pretensions of status. If one thing in scripture is clear, it is God’s ways are different from human machinations. And, thus I believe, it is precisely at this point we become obsessed with its narrative.

And what a narrative it really is! Before the reader is through he or she is introduced to an unforgettable cast of characters. They sublate the story of the call of a wandering exile to go to another place into the existence of a universal constituency. It is a people who has learned many things about the absolute reality that sustains the world. But for the world of our generation an inconvenient uncontestable truth emerges in the text. The biblical God is not on the side of “the powers of the age” but has chosen the marginalized!

I was around when reports circulated that the Beatles were claiming to be more popular than Jesus Christ. I smile ruefully when I hear that more young people know the narrative details of Star Wars better than scripture. But it really will be time to be nervous about our culture when its citizenry reaching twilight forget to say, “In our condition there is only book!”


Allan J. McNicol, A.B. Cox Professor of New Testament, Emeritus, at Austin Graduate School of Theology has completed his latest book project, The Persistence of God’s Endangered Promises: The Bible’s Unified Story, published by Bloomsbury Publishing. A summary of Dr. McNicol’s book is forthcoming to the Christian Studies blog. If you would like to purchase Dr. McNicol’s book, you may do so at this link at a significantly discounted price by using the code PERSISTENCE2018 at checkout.

Click here to order Dr. Allan McNicol’s New book, and don’t forget the discount code PERSISTENCE2018 at checkout!

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