Cover image by Françoise Foliot *
Is it literature, lore or something of an entirely different order? In our continuing series of posts to do with the whole subject of Narrative creation or more to the point …Narrative Theology, I felt it would be a good idea to let you know that I have a dog in this fight. It goes back to my first year as a Christian.
I was in University at the time (in the early 70’s) As a baby Christian, the Bible came alive to me and I was gobbling it up, when one day I saw in the university catalog an elective course that got me all excited. It was titled The Bible as Literature. Yeah! A University course with the word Bible in it…It had to be good…right?
It almost destroyed my fledgling walk with God. When they said ‘as literature…’ what they meant was merely as literature and nothing else…on par with Chaucer or Shakespeare. The professor took great delight in mocking anyone who actually believed that the Bible was somehow special. He even made a crack that believing in the virgin birth or the resurrection was just like believing in the Easter Bunny.
The term Narrative Theology often appears in the same conversation with the term Open Source Theology. A theology professor of a heretofore conservative seminary…one of the largest seminaries in the world…was writing in a blog titled Narrative Theology and Transformed Meaning. He wrote,
“There doesn’t seem to be any obvious reason why Jesus had to be born of a virgin. If He hadn’t been, then there wouldn’t have been any fulfillment of Isaiah, but then nobody would have thought there should be one! I’m inclined to think ‘fulfillment’ should be reserved for things that are more compellingly part of what God seems to have been doing…”Fatal Drift Is The Church Losing its Anchor? p.106
In this man’s own blog he gives us an insight into how he views the Bible,
In practicing a narrative theology, the overarching conviction is that the revelation of God is a story… Part of what this means for me is the potentiality of transformation, reconfiguration and even leaving behind earlier moments in the story as later scenes show us the way forward and ultimately, the climactic saving sequence.
Instead, I propose a multiple-reading strategy. Allow the text to mean what it meant in its first context, as much as we can determine this. Do the historical critical work that sheds light on why for instance an eight century audience would formulate matters just so—and then recognize the freedom of later readers to reread those texts differently in light of later events…what I propose for reading it for our communities. We are part of a long story, this means that the retellings will involve some measure of transformation. And it is in itself a living re-narration of the story of God.Ibid. p.106
Allow me to point out that this theologian has already said that the virgin birth wasn’t a very compelling story element that warrants the tag ‘a fulfillment.’ Note also that the word or even the notion of ‘transformation’ never appears in relation to the scriptures in the Bible itself. A good illustration of the disconnect of this narrative line of thinking with traditional beliefs about the Bible can be found in an article that appeared in an Oregon Newspaper last week,
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat offers a Christian perspective on same sex weddings, explaining how they are not like slavery and the Jim Crow laws: ‘The slave owners and segregationists has scriptural arguments certainly’ Douthat writes. ‘But they were also up against one of the Bible’s major meta-narratives—from the Israelites in Egypt to St Paul’s ‘neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free.’ That’s not the case with sex and marriage…Sex is an area of Jewish law that Jesus explicitly makes stricter… What we now call the ‘traditional’ view of sexuality was then a radical idea separating the early church from Roman Culture, and it has remained basic in every branch of Christianity until very recently. Jettisoning it requires repudiating scripture, history, and tradition in a way the end of Jim Crow do not.The Oregonian, April 7 2015 (emphasis mine)
What the Theology professor advocating for narrative transformation described, sounds an awful lot like what the Times writer called repudiation of scripture history and tradition.
In my book Fatal Drift-Is the Church Losing its Anchor? I mention that trial lawyers are very familiar with this semantic massage of facts and the value of the sometimes tortured parsing of the meanings of words. One of the most famous examples in recent history was the President of The United States who was being impeached for lying to Congress. He actual said “It all depends on what your definition of what ‘is’ is.”
“Trial lawyers have long understood the power of narrative framing. They attempt to lay out a story of how events occurred during their opening arguments in the hope that the jurors will use the story to frame the evidence they will hear. Getting the jury to accept one’s side of the story as the most plausible framework for the events of the trial is often tantamount to winning the case. That is because once a story is accepted, it is often used to filter and organize all the evidence subsequently presented. Like most people, jurors tend to discount or ignore evidence that doesn’t fit their organizing story and they will alter or simplify information so that it does conform”Fatal Drift p.109
Don’t miss the significance of what was just said…lawyers know that narratives can be twisted regardless of the facts. Do we really think that it is not equally possible for progressive activists to transform the biblical narrative to suit their agenda? What might they jettison…? What might they add in their re-narration of the ‘story?’ Either God invaded actual history or He has not. Either He bodily historically rose from the dead, or we are left with a resurrection motif…a nice story that must be reconstructed reconfigured and recrafted with each new progressive generation.
Clearly Jesus regarded the entire scriptural corpus of His day (available in any synagogue) as God’s Word…and as such, was (all of it) to be accepted and fulfilled. Not one jot or tittle would be ‘jettisoned.’ Nowhere does he encourage his disciples to ‘reimagine’ or ‘reconfigure’ or ‘leave some passages of the story behind’ for our own redaction purposes. On the contrary there are many strong injunctions against adding or subtracting one word of Scripture. All Scripture is God-breathed said Paul. What we are doing when we allow ourselves to tweak co called narrative is not just careless, it is dangerous.
As we continue in this blog to discuss parts of Fatal Drift-Is The Church Losing Its Anchor? let me close with a question. Do you believe that Almighty God needs our help to assuage the angst of post-moderns by adapting what He said? Or do you, with child-like faith accept that the Word of God is alive and active… sharper than any two edged sword; piercing to the division of joints and marrow, soul and spirit, discerning the thoughts and the intentions of the heart?”
* By Françoise Foliot – Private collection Wikimédia France, Paris, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=83871486