Archive for category Narrative Theology
I’m preparing a sermon this Sunday playing off some of the biblical themes in The Hobbit. Below is my favorite conversation from The Lord of The Rings. Friends, these stories of Middle-Earth are only a pale shadow of the real adventure that God calls us into. It’s an epic story and we have a major part to play if we’ll only wake up and discover God’s intended plot for our life — and give up the pathetic story of the American Dream that lulls so many into a dull life of mere self-preservation and comfort-seeking. We were created for so much more!
My life was forever changed the day I stopped to ask the hobbit’s question: What sort of a tale had I fallen into. Answer: God’s unfolding masterpiece — and it’s been an epic journey ever since. Enjoy this conversation! -JB
“The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually – their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on – and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end. You know, coming home, and finding things all right, though not quite the same – like old Mr. Bilbo. But those aren’t always the best tales to hear, though they may be the best tales to get landed in! I wonder what sort of a tale we’ve fallen into?”
“I wonder,” said Frodo. “But I don’t know. And that’s the way of a real tale. Take any one that you’re fond of. You may know, or guess, what kind of a tale it is, happy-ending or sad-ending, but the people in it don’t know. And you don’t want them to.” …
“I wonder if we shall ever be put into songs or tales. We’re in one, of course; but I mean: put into words, you know, told by the fireside, or read out of a great big book with red and black letters, years and years afterwards. And people will say: ‘Let’s hear about Frodo and the Ring!’ And they’ll say: ‘Yes, that’s one of my favorite stories. Frodo was very brave, wasn’t he, dad?’ ‘Yes, my boy, the famousest of the hobbits, and that’s saying a lot.’” …
“Why, Sam,” Frodo said, “to hear you somehow makes me as merry as if the story was already written. But you’ve left out one of the chief characters: Samwise the stouthearted. ‘I want to hear more about Sam, dad. Why didn’t they put in more of his talk, dad? That’s what I like, it makes me laugh. And Frodo wouldn’t have got far without Sam, would he, dad?’”
“Now, Mr. Frodo,” said Sam, “you shouldn’t make fun. I was serious.”
“So was I,” said Frodo, “and so I am.”
Narrative theology is a relatively new undertaking and is one good example of a positive development in theological studies, due, in part, to the influence of postmodernity. I would suggest that the contributions of this movement will surprise many with numerous insights into how we might better approach the theological task, read the Bible, and live as faithful disciples in an ever-changing postmodern world.
Among the many emphases of story theology is the underlying claim that story plays a central role in how human beings make sense of the world and how they process and organize their experiences. N. T. Wright expounds on this fundamental role of story:
When we examine how stories work in relation to other stories, we find that human beings tell stories because this is how we perceive, and indeed relate to, the world. What we see close up, in a multitude of little incidents whether isolated or (more likely) interrelated, we make sense of by drawing on story forms already more or less known to us and placing the information within them. A story, with its pattern of problem and conflict, of aborted attempts at resolution, and final result, whether sad or glad, is, if we may infer from the common practice of the world, universally perceived as the best way of talking about the way the world actually is.
While raw information can stimulate and exercise our brain muscles, it is usually a good story that moves us to tears. And it is when we are moved holistically—both mentally and emotionally—that we are most likely to be changed or transformed. As Wright puts it, “Tell someone to do something, and you change their life—for a day; tell someone a story and you change their life.” As Clark Pinnock describes it, Read the rest of this entry »
What if our faith was as real and powerful as the faith of the Apostle Paul, Peter, James and John, Mary and Lydia, Priscilla and Aquilla? What if our experience of church today was as exciting as those in the upper room at Pentecost, as action-packed as Barnabas and Silas’s missionary journeys throughout Asia Minor, as faith-stretching as Peter stepping out onto the water, or as jolting as Paul being knocked flat on his back and blinded by the light of Christ? What if the Spirit’s guidance was as real and direct in our lives as when Paul was led to Macedonia by a vision in the night? What if our message today was bold enough to “turn the world upside down” as we pledge allegiance to a different King and Kingdom than the rest of those around us (Acts 17:7)?
We are accustomed to approaching the New Testament as detached observers feeling far removed from the original events, or as students picking apart the text as an academic exercise. We study the Bible to learn about God, about Jesus, about the church and about the power of Holy Spirit. But many of us will never enter into the story, become real participants in the activity of God, and let our imaginations be reshaped by the Apostolic life we read about in the New Testament.
This year I have the privilege of leading our MainStreet college group through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. As I prepared for our first evening together, these thoughts were swimming through my head. All of these students grew up in church and now attend a Christian college where they are constantly discussing the Bible, taking classes on it, hearing it preached in chapel, and reading it in their personal devotions. As with all Christian colleges, the Bible is their primary textbook.
But I want to approach Paul’s letter to the Ephesians differently. I wan’t to recapture the exciting situation into which this epistle was written. I want us to remember that these were personal letters sent by a real missionary-pastor to real people living in a real place facing real challenges. I want to let these powerful words be heard afresh, wrapping our minds around the potent message contained within. I want us to cultivate an Apostolic Imagination as we dig into Ephesians.
I briefly unpacked 4 aspects of an Apostolic Imagination with our group tonight: apostolic purpose, power, passion and participation. Read the rest of this entry »
This is the most significant spiritual lesson I have learned in my entire life – perhaps. There is a world of difference (literally, a “narrative world” of difference) between (1) being a religious person who holds certain beliefs in their head, and (2) a person who has decided that the narrative world of the Bible is the real world, and is willing to live in light of that world’s definition of reality.
Many so-called Christians today see the world through modern, secular, post-Enlightenment lenses. This “narrative world” saturates the American Way, and was the reality from which our founding fathers started this nation. It’s not biblical. It’s a Deistic worldview where God is somewhere “up there”, quite removed and disinterested in our everyday affairs, who might once in a while intervene into our world but not often, and is mostly concerned with us living decent, moral lives. Oh, and he has a nice Heaven awaiting those who entertain the appropriate intellectual beliefs about Him, Jesus Christ, and salvation by faith in the Crucified Son. Most Christians today hold the “right beliefs” in their head about Jesus and salvation, but they still live their everyday lives in the “narrative world” of post-Enlightenment Deism. They hold some right beliefs, but are living in the wrong story.
I was 20 years old when I stumbled into a different Story. I was hit upside the head by the wild, Spirit-saturated, miraculous-laden “narrative world” of the New Testament. I had already seen how empty and unfulfilling the so-called American Dream was — another label for that popular “narrative world” most of my peers were preparing to live their lives within (and now are). I didn’t want to merely get a good job, build a nice house, buy some fun toys, raise a family with a picket fence, and give God a nice corner in my own self-constructed universe of security and self-interest.
At 20, I picked up my Bible and began reading the Book of Acts. I discovered a different world. I discovered a different God. I discovered a different purpose. I discovered a different church and form of Christianity. I tripped and fell into the story, and I decided from that day on I would let that story and “narrative world” define reality for me. What did this mean? Read the rest of this entry »
Any Narrative theology fans out there? Nothing has shaped my understanding of the Bible, worldview, epistemology, theology and spiritual transformation more than ‘narrative theology.’ During a research paper my first semester of seminary I came across a book filled with essays on narrative theology that really exposed me to this particular field of study. The book was Why Narrative? Readings in Narrative Theology by S. Hauerwas and G. Jones.
Even more influential for me was a book by George W. Stroup called The Promise of Narrative Theology which began to give me language to make some sense of the radical transformation I had experienced a couple years earlier as my own personal narrative suddenly collided with God’s larger, more ancient Story as I read the Book of Acts for the first time as a confused college kid.
Here is the most significant quote for making some sense of my own moment of transformation I experienced some 8 years ago: Read the rest of this entry »
As a sophomore in college two friends bought me a new study Bible as a gift. I took that Bible to the dining center and began reading the Acts of the Apostles for the first time. Something happened that night as I read this seemingly harmless story of the birth and expansion of the early church, and it forever changed my life. An explosive encounter had taken place; a three-way collision between my story, God’s story and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
Two years later I was in grad school and determined to find out what exactly happened that night to spark such a radical personal transformation. The following essay was where my initial study led me. Enjoy my first seminary term paper — I believe it’s semi-coherent. =)
INTRODUCTION: THE MYSTERIOUS ENCOUNTER
All Christian faith and theology presupposes that God has graciously chosen to reveal himself to his creation—most substantially in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, this historical revelation of the Word has been preserved in the sacred writings by the Apostles through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. As such, the inscripturated Word of God continues to interact with the lives and faiths of people today just as the incarnate Word touched and transformed lives nearly two millennia ago. The fact that lives can be radically and eternally changed in equal proportions through these two drastically different mediums—the first, a personal encounter with God incarnate two thousand years ago, and the second, the seemingly mundane act of reading a book today—demands closer scrutiny.
Every “card-carrying” evangelical will readily affirm the divine origins of the Bible, proudly bearing the reputation of “a person of the Book.” They may also get the right answers on an examination to questions of the inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of Scripture. The more ambitious student will even have a working definition of the doctrine of illumination. Yet, rarely will one thoughtfully consider how or whether these doctrinal conceptualizations have any relevance to their daily walk of faith. In other words, who beyond the walls of academia questions how the message of a book can impact a person in a way that completely transforms them and their way of life? Such a question casts us headlong into an arena of vast debate over such issues as the authority of the Bible, the nature of revelation, the Spirit’s role of illumination, and the existential phenomena of religious experience.
How do we make sense of or describe such enigmatic phenomena as “hearts burning” from hearing the Old Testament story (Luke 24:32), a “heart strangely warmed” as with John Wesley, or having one’s “heart filled with a light of confidence and all the shadows of doubt” being forever “swept away” as with Augustine through his reading of Romans?  These are not issues relevant only to gray-bearded, ivory tower buffs. We are dealing with the everyday miracle of lives being radically transformed through a mysterious encounter with the Word of God! The following study explores this question and proposes that a key to better understanding the relationship between the Bible and its transforming effect is a narrative approach to revelation and illumination. After a brief overview of the concepts of revelation and illumination, I shall attempt to shine some light on these issues by approaching them from a narrative perspective. Read the rest of this entry »
This is an essay I wrote in 2004 attempts to expand our understanding of salvation emphasizing the significant roles both narrative and community play in one’s conversion.
It was not long ago that I found myself passing out gospel tracts on a San Diego street corner with some well-meaning Christians carrying signs conveying the message: “Turn or Burn!” A few others carried crosses on their backs as they preached threats of hellfire and damnation. “If you were to die tonight”, they exclaimed, “Would you be certain that you would go to heaven?” Reflecting back on that experience, I have been led to question whether this was really what the biblical concept of ‘salvation’ is all about: life after death, getting into heaven when I die, and enjoying “Pie in the sky, in the sweet by and by.”
A biblical survey of the theme of salvation, however, immediately disqualifies such narrow caricatures and gross simplifications of the ultimate Christian hope. After glimpsing the beauty and grandeur of God’s purposeful plan revealed in his Story from the Creation to the Cross to the New Creation, one can only feel a sense of shame and sadness at the narrow, simplistic, and, at times, awfully inadequate definitions of ‘salvation’ the church has preached, promoted and propagated to the world around us.
Paul urges Christians to put on the “helmet of salvation.” Yet, in many quarters, the helmet has been shrunken down so small and tight, to fit our rigid formulas and simple slogans, that it is beginning to cut off the circulation and life it is meant to protect. We need to loosen the helmet of salvation so that it is large enough to fit all of the blessings and benefits that God has accomplished for the world through Christ.
The current essay is an attempt to loosen the helmet, to broaden our understanding of salvation. After building a brief case for the need of a more holistic and multifaceted understanding of salvation, I will argue more specifically for two dimensions of salvation often overlooked: salvation as (1) invitation into the Christian Story and (2) incorporation into the Christian Community. Read the rest of this entry »