Origins: Jesus in Context

“Sometimes we treat the Gospel narratives as if they were Jesus doing a monologue in front of a cinematic green screen. We import him into our context, but we don’t at all get his context.”

Dan Shiau’s words reverberated in my mind for days as I reflected on all that I was learning about InterVarsity’s new Origins immersion learning experience in the Old Testament. My conversation with him was one of several I’ve had with staff from the Great Lakes West and Rocky Mountain regions who led students through a week of Origins during their most recent camp season.

Missing Part of the Story

Every one with whom I spoke about Origins shared a similar lament for how cut off we can be from the historical roots of our faith found in the Old Testament. This isolation from the grand sweeping narrative of scripture leaves us with an incomplete picture of our place in the story of God. Yet, for many, the Old Testament seems intimidating, off-putting, even inscrutable. Barnabas Lin put it this way, “It is right here in our hands, and yet we don’t turn to it because we don’t know how to access it.”

Origins sets out to change all of that. Written by Lindsay Olesberg, the Scripture Engagement Director for InterVarsity, Origins is “designed to help you enter into the world of the Old Testament and to encounter God there.” Amber Jipp co-led a pilot week of Origins for students in Great Lakes West. Some of her previous experience with the Old Testament had been lecture driven and dense. By contrast, according to Jipp, Origins is “reflective and interactive, and intentional about asking how this metanarrative of the faith becomes our metanarrative.”

As I interacted with these Origins pioneers, I thought not only of how students and staff were finding their place in God’s larger story, but also of how their misperceptions of God were being corrected. It is a common but incorrect assumption that the God of the Old Testament is angry, violent, and distant--but then undergoes some sort of extreme makeover by the time Jesus arrives on the scene in Bethlehem. Origins is a journey into the Old Testament narrative that leads to knowing God.

The Whole Story

By studying the Old Testament and entering into the fullness of God’s interaction with humankind, one begins to realize how good, beautiful and just God is. For example, if you reflect on why the law was given, you see it as a good gift from a good and loving God, rather than as a legalistic tool of an untrustworthy god. It was with a touch of humor that Lin told me, “Origins is kind of like a chiropractor. It aligns pieces of my theology that were misaligned, and moves them back into place!”

Student feedback has been excellent. Steven Grahmann who helped spearhead Origins in Arizona, noticed the significant change in participants from the first night, when 75% of those surveyed described the Old Testament as confusing, negative, or irrelevant. By the end of the track, their attitudes had changed drastically. One student commented, “At first, I thought [the OT] wasn't important, especially since Jesus isn't technically mentioned. NOW I know that it has allowed me to better understand just how much we need Jesus, and how much God loves us.”

I asked each Origins staff participant why someone should consider launching an Origins track in chapter focus week or spring break camp. Answers ran the gamut from its effectiveness as a recruiting tool for older students, to its comprehensive and winsome method. Origins attracts both camp veterans and new students to more scripture engagement at a challenging level. The teaching method is compelling, with something for every learning style. Five sessions focus on manuscript Bible study of key Old Testament passages. The remaining seven to nine sessions draw participants into the story through journaling, role-play, lecture, discussion, and artistic expression. The goal is a transformational journey through the Bible Jesus read.

Barnabas Lin caught the vision for Origins early on—partly because he was aware of his own unfamiliarity with the mile markers and touch points of the Old Testament narrative. He also was driven by hope — hope that his students would get drawn into the narrative and find themselves growing in their knowing versus simply their knowing about God. “Narrative,” says Lin, “sneaks behind the post-modern mind to address the post-modern heart.” 

The Old Testament was anything but old to Jesus and the first century Christians. It was and is the living and active word of God that brings the complete work of Christ into high definition. Origins takes participants beyond a green screened New Testament context and into a meaningful encounter with the real thing.

For more information about Origins or to order copies, click here.

About the Author
Theological Formation Resources Manager
Barbara Ettinger serves nationally as Theological Formation Resources Manager, where she develops resources around the nexus of theology, formation, and ministry praxis. She joined InterVarsity staff in 2008 as a planting area director in Connecticut after vocational ministry as a church planting pastor. Ordained in the Evangelical Covenant Church, Barbara is an active volunteer leader in her home church. She and her husband Jeff have two adult sons who live in Achao, Chile and Madison, WI, respectively.