How does this narrative approach then change the way Christians understand and relate to God and the Bible? Let’s look briefly at a narrative understanding of God, the fall, saving faith and evangelism.
1. A Narrative Understanding of God. The particular plot line reveals a lot about the heart and character of the Author. Therefore, in our quest to know and be known by God we will find the nature of God most clearly revealed in the plot.
Throughout the grand narrative of Scripture God is revealed through his loving acts in the past on behalf of his beloved children, by the fact that he mourns our fallen and broken condition, that he does not turn away from us in our rebellion but pursues his wayward bride throughout with an outlandish love and scandalous grace. Rather than giving us our just punishment for our self-centered rebellion he enters into our history in Jesus and takes our sin upon himself as the fullest demonstration of his love. He hears the cries of the downcast, the downtrodden and the least-of-these. He mourns with those who mourn and grows frustrated with the rich, proud and arrogant, and is committed to working toward the lasting renewal and restoration of the entire world and will not stop until he “makes all things new.”
Far from being Aristotle’s “First Principle” or “Unmoved Mover”, the story of a God who is oozing passion, purpose, desire, relationality, love and is relentlessly pursuing individuals to join in the beautiful story of Resurrection and New Creation He began with Jesus on the third day and to be consummated when He becomes “all and all” (1 Cor 15).
2. A Narrative Understanding Human Sin. The Fall of humankind in Genesis 3 can be understood as Adam’s unwillingness to honor and accept the Author-Character distinction (the Biblical name for this is “idolatry”). Rather than accept his role as a created character in the plot of another Author’s story, Adam sought to seize the Divine Pen and begin writing his own story. Still today the most pervasive sin common to the human race is the insistence upon creating our own plot, authoring our own lives, and either leaving God out of our personal stories or just giving Him a smaller, more convenient, and self-serving role in the plot (e.g., making Him our means of eternal life in heaven but never making him Lord of our present life).
3. A Narrative Understanding of Faith & Salvation. If the great Fall into the dark night of sin and death was brought about by rebellious characters desiring to usurp the Author’s role (cf. Gen 3:4; Phil 2:6), then saving faith starts when renegade writers put down their pens, stop writing their own tales, and begin seeking their place within God’s unfolding redemptive drama.
(Disclaimer: This literary metaphor can misleadingly suggest a Fatalistic understanding of the will of God and seem to limit human freedom. However, I believe that God has granted his created characters incredible freedom to choose their own unique role within God’s Story. Unlike real storybooks, then, these characters are alive and able to communicate and interact with the Author!).
Trusting God with our life entails a deeper faith than just accepting some doctrinal propositions in our head so that we can go to heaven when we die. Trusting God means we let God’s Story—his unfolding plan of cosmic renewal being brought forward through His Body the Church—become the controlling rubric for our own lives here and now.
4. A Narrative Understanding of Evangelism. Similarly, when we understand this holistic view of faith and redemption, then we will adapt our outreach efforts to go beyond merely preaching the four spiritual laws or inviting others to confess a creed or pray a formulaic prayer (though all these may have a time and place in the process). Instead, we share the entire story of God and his dealings with his world—creation, fall, Israel, slavery, liberation, rebellion, exile, and the prophetic promises of a new exodus when all creation will be set free from its bondage to decay.
Furthermore, like the prophets of old we are called to confront and expose the false narratives (worldviews or belief-systems) that are keeping individuals as well as the world’s systems operating out of alignment with God’s good, just, and loving will (Rom 12:2). To those who live within the hopeless narrative that there is no Author of history, and that life is therefore some sick, cosmic joke, we are to point out all the divine fingerprints that so permeate nature and the heavens, all pointing toward a wise and intelligent Creator (Psalm 19). To the closet Deists who believe in a Creator but who is nevertheless quite distant and unconcerned with our earthly affairs “down here,” we are to tell the story of God’s personal involvement and intimate nearness (Acts 17) most beautifully demonstrated in the incarnation of Jesus Christ (John 1).
Next time we’ll focus on what a narrative approach says about the Bible and authority.