In May, Showtime released a limited series revival of Twin Peaks, a 1990 quirky two-season television crime drama set in a small town in Washington and centered on FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper’s investigation of the murder of a teenager named Laura Palmer. I hadn’t watched the original series, so when I ran across it on Netflix, I thought I’d try to give it a go before Showtime’s series aired.
From the opening scene, however, I was utterly confused. The characters made references to other characters as if I should already know who they are, and I couldn’t really grasp what was going on from scene to scene.
At first, I chalked it up to creator David Lynch’s surreal style, but half an hour in I discovered why I was so confused: I was watching the first episode of the second season instead of the first season.
The memory still makes me laugh, but it also reminds me of the way many of us approach Scripture. We often start in the middle, with Jesus — who is, indeed, the central crux of the story. But if we don’t pay attention to the rest of the story, we miss a lot.
Jesus didn’t come out of the blue. As N.T. Wright writes in the preface to Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel, the gospel is “the story of Jesus of Nazareth told as the climax of the long story of Israel, which in turn is the story of how the one true God is rescuing the world.”
“The Story of Jesus Christ, then, isn’t a story that came out of nowhere like the Book of Mormon, and it isn’t a timeless set of ideas as with Plato’s philosophical writings,” writes McKnight. “The Story of Jesus Christ is locked into one people, one history and one Scripture: it makes sense only as it follows and completes the Story of Israel.”
When we take Jesus out of the context of his larger story, however unintentionally, it becomes easy to reduce him and the gospel to “de-storied” points or lose valuable truths about him and the gospel — like that Jesus is not just a personal Savior but Lord and ruler of all creation, or that God’s saving work and plan to rescue the world involves a covenant people living as a kingdom-of-heaven-molded community.
In addition, knowing the whole story deepens our understanding of the implications of the gospel on our lives. For example, when we enter into the longing of the Israelites for God’s presence and the existence of the temple as the presence of God in the world, Paul’s description of us as living temples of God suddenly gains profound implications.
And knowing the end of the story is important, too.
In The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard tells us that when we apprentice ourselves to Jesus, we discover “a life with a future as good and as large as God himself . . . so full of beauty and goodness we can hardly imagine.”
To fully live a kingdom life now, “we need to have firmly fixed in our minds what our future is to be like. . . . It must be something we can now plan or make decisions in terms of, with clarity and joyful anticipation” so that “our future can be incorporated into our life now and our life now can be incorporated into our future.”
When I started Twin Peaks from the first episode, as you might expect, everything made a lot more sense. Our story makes much more sense when we start at the beginning, too.
Carmen Andres, a former editor of the Mennonite Brethren magazine Christian Leader, lives in Alexandria, Va.