Tuesday, September 18, 2007

N.T. Wright on the Bible & Narrative theology

"It's not, for a start, a list of rules, thought it contains many commandments of various sorts and in various contexts. Nor is it a compendium of true doctrines, though of course many parts of the Bible declare great truths about God, Jesus, the world and ourselves in no uncertain terms. Most of its constituent parts, and all of it when put together (whether in the Jewish canonical form or the Christian one), can best be described as story. This is a complicated and much-discussed theme, but there is nothing to be gained by ignoring it.

"The question is, How can a story be authoritative? If the commanding officer walks into the barrack-room and begins 'Once upon a time,' the soldiers are likely to be puzzled. If the secretary of the cycling club pins up a notice which, instead of listing times for outings, offers a short story, the members will not know when to turn up. At first sight, what we think of as 'authority' and what we know as 'story' do not readily fit together.

"But a moment's thought suggests that, at deeper levels, there is more to it than that. For a start, the commanding officer might well need to brief the soldiers about what has been going on over the past few weeks, so that they will understand the sensitivities and internal dynamics of the peace-keeping task they are now to undertake. The narrative will bring them up to date; now it will be their task to act out the next chapter in the ongoing saga. Or supposing the secretary of the club, having attempted unsuccessfully to make the members more conscious of safety procedures, decides to try a different tack, and puts up a notice consisting simply of a tragic story, without further comment, of a cyclist who ignored the rules and came to grief. In both cases we would understand that some kind of 'authority' was being exercised, and probably all the more effectively than through a simple list of commands.

"There are other ways, too, in which stories can wield the power to change the way people think and behave - in other words, can exercise power and/or authority...A familiar story told with a new twist in the tail jolts people into thinking differently about themselves and the world. A story told with pathos, humor or drama opens the imagination and invites readers and hearers to imagine themselves in similar situations, offering new insights about God an human beings which enable them then to order their own lives more wisely.

"All of these examples, and many more besides which one might easily think of, are ways in which the Bible does in fact work, does in fact exercise authority. This strongly suggests that for the Bible to have the effect it seems to be designed to have it will be necessary for the church to hear it as it is, not to chop it up in an effort to make it something else..."

- Bishop N.T. Wright, from The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture (Harper San Francisco, 2005), pp.25-27.

8 comments:

Jeff Kahl said...

Keith,
I enjoyed that quote a lot. That book I was reading that you asked me about, actually discussed the same theme. The book was "Belief and Faith" by Josef Pieper (a Catholic philosopher). He says that when we confess our belief in any set of statements (whether in narrative form or doctrinal statements), we are ultimately confessing our faith in the goodness, truthfulness, and integrity of the one who is speaking. So the form of the content is ultimately not as important as the veracity of the person sharing it. In this case, we can say that there is both narrative and doctrine in Scripture, but their veracity is ultimately determined not by their form but by the fact that it is God who speaks them.
Cheers.............
Jeff

Allan R. Bevere said...

Keith:

Thanks for the post. I think Tom Wright is the best thing theologically since sliced bread(not that sliced bread is theological).

Clay Knick said...

I enjoyed this book very much.
I read it about a year and a
half ago, most of it while the
family was skiing (my knees won't
let me ski.) I was impressed.

We are doing the Simply Christian
DVD study right now. Two weeks
into it. Wright is quite, quite
good. I'm glad to live at the
time he is writing.

Roda Zone said...

I love the picture. I can just picture you in my head singing Lucy in the sky with diamonds while wearing your clerical collar.

Corben said...

"How can a story be a narrative?"

Isn't that the million dollar question?

How can we speak the truth in love to the generations that can no longer be called post-modern?

What if in the beginning is the end and the end the beginning? What if all along it is about relationships and sharing real and personal stories that touch people on a deeper level because we have already built deep relationships?

What if we have come full circle and what originally worked best, going out into the world and being in it without being of it is what is needed?

The only problem then is what happens to to these buildings that no longer serve as a ministry base and support center?

Just a few thoughts.

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