The gospel is the greatest story ever told because it’s the widest story ever told.
For younger readers, “The Greatest Story Ever Told” is a 1965 film depicting Jesus’ life and ministry. The title gets it right. But I happen to believe the gospel is the greatest story ever told because it’s the widest story ever told. The widest?
Yes. Louise Cowan, a University of Dallas Professor of English, defines faith as “a widening of the imagination.” She cites the angel Gabriel’s visit with Mary. Gabriel is thought of as the special bearer of messages from God (he explained some of Daniel’s visions – Dan. 8:16; 9:21). Gabriel tells Mary, a betrothed virgin, that she’ll soon be pregnant. Mary asks, How can this be?
Mary didn’t ask Why is this happening to me? That’s mistrust. She instead asks, How can this be? That’s trust, faith. Mary asks Gabriel to widen her imagination (Louise Cowan’s definition of faith). Gabriel explains how it will happen. The Holy Spirit will impregnate her.
The result is Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), a rich expression. We rarely see this sort of faith these days. Instead, as Dallas Willard lamented, we see Christians’ levels of “unethical actions, crime, mental distress and disorder, family failures, addictions, and financial misdealings” are equivalent to those who don’t attend church. The gospel is the greatest story ever told, but at present, we’re not seeing it yield the greatest results ever told.
What we’re seeing is the result of a rendition of the gospel that’s very narrow, a sin reading of the gospel. It’s quite popular today. A sin reading goes like this: God loves you. You’re a sinner. You are saved at the cross by grace alone, ensuring you go to heaven.
This rendition of the gospel will get you to heaven. But it’s only 200 years old. And it’s much narrower than the gospel as it was understood from the very beginning – a spousal reading of the gospel. In the spousal, or marital version, the gospel is God wants to “marry” us.
This version is depicted in earthly marriage. In Jesus’ day, marriage was depicted in three tenses – past, present, future. Past: betrothal (essentially a marriage contract). Present: the courting process (preparation on the part of both parties for the wedding banquet). Future: the wedding banquet and consummation with Christ. Marriage is past, present, future.
A spousal reading recognizes salvation as past, present, future. Past: have been saved (Eph. 2:8-9). Present: are being saved (I Cor.2:8). Future: will be saved (Rom.5:9). Our past salvation is a done deal. But we are to “work out” our present salvation (Phil.2:12), which determines the size of our cup of joy in our future salvation, our consummation with Christ.
This is why a spousal reading of the gospel has a much wider view of discipleship. Discipleship is preparing to enjoy the best marriage possible by rightly ordering our loves. We order our loves so that we love the things that Jesus loves in the order in which he loves them. God is love, so we are what we love. Discipleship is learning to love what Jesus loves so that two become one.
A spousal reading of the gospel also widens when the mission of God began. We were chosen to be God’s bride before the foundations of the earth were laid. A spousal reading begins before creation. A sin reading of the gospel doesn’t begin until Genesis 3 (or later), as the mission of God is understood as saving sinners. This means there’s no good news before Genesis 3.
A spousal reading of the gospel also widens how we imagine the end of time – eternity. Years ago I led a Friday morning discussion for a group of men. Early on I polled the group: What word best describes how you imagine heaven? Most of the men said Boring.
Eternity is anything but boring in a spousal reading of the gospel. It’s consummation with Christ, which means “together at the summit.” We experience this summit in our bodies in sexual orgasm here on earth. In a spousal reading, eternity is eternal nuptial union, an eternal Wow.
This summer Kathy and I introduced an engaged couple to this Wow. They had called asking for pre-marital counseling. We introduced them to a spousal reading of the gospel. It widened their imagination. They asked me to officiate their wedding. I did this past weekend.
This couple discovered the widest story they had ever heard. And that’s what makes the gospel the greatest story ever told.
 Louise Cowan, “How Classics Address Our Imaginations” Mars Hill Audio Journal 1998. Vol. 34.
 Dallas Willard, Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge (HarperCollins, 1998), 209.