· By Kenneth Padgett
An Interview with the Dwell App about The Story of God with Us
We’ve partnered with the team at Wolfbane Books to build an exclusive plan around their recent release, The Story of God With Us. This plan traces the foundational reality at the heart of the biblical story: God’s desire and determination to be with His people.
We recently sat down with Kenneth and Shay, co-authors of this beautiful new book, asking them to take us behind the scenes of the writing process, exploring the importance of visual art and storytelling in our growth into Christ’s likeness.
Tell us a bit about yourselves: your passion for Scripture, family faith formation, and the spark behind this new book, The Story of God With Us.
(Kenneth) My name is Kenneth Padgett and I’ve been enthralled with God’s Word from the moment I started following Jesus two decades ago. This wonderment of the Word has compelled me to complete a graduate degree in biblical studies, and I’m currently in the thick of post-graduate doctoral work in biblical narrative and theology. I serve as the Scholar-In-Residence at my local church. But before my academic work and church service, I am first a husband and father. My main disciple-making efforts are spent trying to lovingly form my family into flourishing followers of Jesus. These efforts were the main inspiration for writing The Story of God with Us. I needed a resource that would allow my children to experience the sweep of the story of Scripture, while tracing a theological thread from Eden to New Creation. What better place to start than surveying the wonderful reality that God desires to dwell with us, and we with him, always and forever, world without end!
(Shay) My name is Shay Gregorie – I started to follow Jesus when I was in high school. At that time I had some college age youth leaders who really cultivated a love for Scripture in me. I was also fortunate to have a dad who always revered and studied God’s word. Now I’m a dad of eight kids (four boys and four girls) and always looking for resources to help shape their hearts and minds.
That being said, there were SO many different sparks that set this project in motion. One of the most memorable moments was during seminary when one of my professors played a recording of Psalm 136 (in Hebrew) set to music by a group of Jewish singers. That Psalm tells the story of the Old Testament with the repeated refrain, “For His steadfast love endures forever”. It was really captivating and kept you eager to hear how God’s steadfast love was going to be manifested in each scene from Scripture. But as the song progressed and the story rose toward a crescendo, a crescendo never came. The tune and the refrain ended up smoldering out with fading instrumentals. I was so let down. But that’s the way the narrative reads if you only have the Old Testament. At that moment I wanted to hear the crescendo explode with the story of Jesus the King, the Spirit coming, and New Creation! So when Kenneth started talking about writing this story, I remembered the shape of Psalm 136. It was the beauty of that psalm set to music that prompted the shape of The Story of God with Us.
Why do you think we as humans are so captivated by a good story? How is this story approach especially helpful when inviting children to enter into the world of the Bible?
In the beginning God spoke. He is the master story-teller of the cosmos. We were created by a God who speaks, and we bear his image by imitating him. But God does not communicate by giving us excel spreadsheets or grocery lists. Rather, he’s weaving history into an epic drama that puts his glory on display and calls all people to participate in his life-and-light-giving-Story!
If you think about it, we are wired for story. Every human intuitively knows that we are creatures created for story. We constantly tell them, read them, hear them, and watch them. Stories seem to have a unique formational power that can reach into the darkest depths of our being and turn the lights on. How wonderful is it that God has chosen to reveal himself in a grand Story!
We believe deeply that children have a heightened capacity to be formed by story-telling. Like us adults they are wired to know God through his Story, but unlike most of us their wiring is fresh and super-conductive. This makes childhood an excellent time to get to know God through the biblical story.
Our prayer is that The Story of God with Us will be just one of many more resources to come that can help form families through the great unified story of the Bible!
In your book, you tell the grand story of Scripture through the lens of mountains. What do mountain tops have to do with God’s nearness and desire to be with us?
I would argue that even the topography in the Bible tells a story! Let’s do a quick survey of some major moments in the Bible that coincide with God dwelling with his people.
The whole story really kicks off in a mountaintop garden where God dwells with the first couple, Adam and Eve. Did you know that Eden was a mountaintop garden? Consider briefly that rivers flow out of the garden. Which direction do rivers flow? Down. The Prophet Ezekiel (28:13-14) notes Eden’s mountaintop location, saying,
“You were in Eden, the garden of God…You were on the holy mountain of God…”
But Eden isn’t just the dwelling place of Adam and Eve; we see that God is also present, talking and walking in the midst of the garden in Genesis 2-3. In Genesis 4-9 we see humanity descending eastward, away from the life-giving presence of God and into a chaotic realm of increasing death. Eventually a single family is preserved through God’s global judgment, and they wind up on a mountaintop. Noah and his family replay the Eden narrative on Ararat, a mountaintop vineyard where humans fail again. This leads to all humanity coming together to build the Tower of Babel, a man-made rival mountain that was designed to put mankind in the heavens, the realm of God (Genesis 11). Babel represents the height of human rebellion.
The next place where the people of God are gathered to dwell in the presence of God is just after the great exodus from Egypt. In Exodus 19 the Israelites meet God at Mount Sinai. On this mountain God constitutes his people and promises to dwell in their midst. He has them build the tabernacle, a special tent that is designed in the likeness of Sinai. The tabernacle functions as a mobile mountain of God that rests in the center of the Israelite camp. The last scene in the book of Exodus is God filling the tabernacle with his presence. Eventually, this tent becomes a permanent building called the temple. Just like the tabernacle in Exodus 40, God’s presence fills the Temple in 1 Kings 8. The temple rests on Mount Zion; the beloved mountain often referred to in many of the Psalms. Consider Psalm 132:13, “For the Lord has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his dwelling place.”
Eden, Ararat, Sinai, and Zion are the peaks that tower over the landscape of the Old Testament narrative; a narrative that tells us of a God who desires to dwell in the midst of his people.
Only five pages into the New Testament Jesus is standing on a mountain in Galileereconstituting his people. There he stood as Immanuel, “God with us.” At the end of Matthew the disciples are gathered on what is perhaps this same mountain listening to the resurrected Jesus proclaim that he will always be with them. John’s final vision in the book of Revelation is that of the Holy City descending to earth onto a very high mountain. As he watches, a loud voice proclaims, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” (Revelation 21:1-10).
What is the significance of visual art and the many ways it captures the hearts and imaginations of children and adults alike?
We were made for story, but story can be communicated in numerous ways. We are all visual learners. Our eyes “hear” the heavens “declare” the glory of God when we gaze upon their majesty and beauty. God has given the eye a unique ability to produce immediate wonderment, and we should never neglect this gift in storytelling. In The Story of God with Us the two modes of storytelling (hearing and seeing) work together to induce wonder and form a child’s imagination.
Dwell is thrilled to offer a companion Bible listening plan to The Story of God With Us. Do you have any tips or suggestions on ways people can most helpfully explore this plan and dive deeper into the themes introduced in your book?
We’re very excited about this listening plan! The Story of God with Us is a book that is meant to be read many times over. As the story begins to stick in your heart, our prayer is that it will give you place markers for understanding the entire story of the Bible. If you are listening to the plan with your family, it might be good to revisit the corresponding scenes from the book, even leaving it open while you listen. While you don’t need the book to enjoy the playlist, we did intentionally design the playlist to be a scene by scene companion.
Dwell has been such a huge blessing in our own households, and we’re so grateful for this opportunity to provide this playlist. May it bless you and your family!
About the Authors
Kenneth Padgett is a co-founder of Wolfbane Books and co-author of The Story of God with Us. He is a PhD candidate in Biblical Studies at Trinity College, Bristol (UK) and serves in his local church as the Scholar-In-Residence. He also holds a Master’s degree in Old Testament from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (Where he met Shay). He and his wife, Rebecca, live in the South Carolina lowcountry with their two young daughters.
Shay Gregorie is a co-founder of Wolfbane Books and co-author of The Story of God with Us. He is an ordained pastor in the Anglican Church of North America and currently serves on the pastoral team in his local church. He holds a Master of Divinity degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (where he met Kenneth). He is a native of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina where he lives with his wife, Catherine, and their eight children.