ESSAY: The Collision of Stories: An Exploration in Narrative Theology (2002)

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 abook 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,[1] 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? [2] 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.

THE NATURE OF DIVINE REVELATION

The traditional orthodox understanding of revelation has generally held that the Bible preserves objective, propositional knowledge and truth claims about God.  This assures one that when they read the Bible they have access to “real, objective, rational information communicated from God to humanity.”[3] The rise of neo-orthodoxy in the twentieth century, however, has seriously challenged this propositional view of revelation, claiming it to be impersonal and guilty of making God into an object under human control.  Emil Brunner calls this the “tendency of man’s spirit and will to get something into his power—to manipulate it like an object in definite ways and within definite limits—something which by its very nature is not under human control.”[4] Brunner, Karl Barth and others of this school have sought to salvage the personal and existential nature of revelation, viewing it as an encounter with God.[5] The implication of this view is that “when the revelation encounter ceases, the Bible is once again simply the words of the men who wrote it.”[6]

Traditional orthodoxy claims that the Bible itself is the Word of God, while Barth and other neo-orthodox theologians perceive the Bible as the Word of God only “so far as God lets it be His Word, so far as God speaks through it.”[7] While many aspects of neo-orthodoxy should be received with caution and others dismissed outright, their voice heralds a welcomed reminder of the highly personal and existential nature of the human encounter with God’s revelation.  Postmodernity, which is indeed the “cry of the human spirit in response to dehumanizing effects of modernity,” [8] rightly seeks to reclaim the personal nature of God and the existential aspects of religion from the Enlightenment agenda which ultimately diminished faith to an exercise of reason and the categorization and depersonalization of God into a mechanism operated by natural laws and effects.

If one wants to maintain the objectivity of the Bible as God’s perfect deposit of divine revelation (the traditional orthodox view), while also acknowledging and appreciating the subjectivity of its human interpreter (a key corollary of neo-orthodoxy), how can this objective-subjective chasm be bridged?   The traditional evangelical solution is the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit.  As Bernard Ramm observes, “The person who seeks an objective authority in Scripture must never fail to see that the revelation of God is sealed to the believer’s heart only by the work of the Holy Spirit.”[9]

ILLUMINATION AND THE SPIRIT

The bridge between objective, propositional truths of God and the subjective thought-world of human beings is then the connective role and personal work of the Holy Spirit called illumination.   Illumination can be generally defined as:

The ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in the Christian person and community in assisting believers to interpret, understand and obey the Scriptures.  Illumination is a matter of faith as well as intellectual assent—the Spirit’s goal in illumination moves beyond mere intellectual assent to propositions of Scripture to the moving of the human will to trust Christ and obey him.[10]

The Spirit is the hidden third agent in the mysterious formula generating transformation.  The Spirit breathes life onto the pages of a Gideon’s Bible today, personally confronting a weary traveler in her hotel room just as the incarnate Word personally met the woman at the well on the dusty streets of Samaria over two thousand years ago.  Both types of confrontation demand a response.  A positive response may evoke the “burning heart” experience of Emmaus, whereas a negative response may mirror that of the rich young man who “went away sad” after he discovered the high cost of discipleship (Matt. 19:22).  Thus, the doctrine of illumination bridges the objective and subjective dimensions.  As Erickson summarizes:

The written word, correctly interpreted, is the objective basis of authority.  The inward illuminating and persuading work of the Holy Spirit is the subjective dimension.  This dual dimension prevents sterile, cold, dry truth on one hand, and overexcitability and ill-advised fervor on the other.  Together, the two yield a maturity that is necessary in the Christian life—a cool head and warm heart (not a cold heart and hot head).[11]

Somewhere within this tri-fold interrelationship—1) the objective Word, 2) “animated by the Spirit of Christ,”[12] 3) confronting the subjective reader—the dynamics for transformation are to be found.  Revelation and illumination described above deal respectively with the dynamics of the first two elements of this trialogue—the objective Word and the Holy Spirit.  What are the dynamics of the third element—the human component?   Put broadly, what human factors coalesce and interact with the Word and the Spirit that occasionally triggers these life-altering responses?

There are many avenues from which to approach this question.   Many social scientists have combined efforts with theologians and biblical scholars over the years in the quest to unlock this mystery.  What might the relatively new voice of narrative theology possibly contribute to this lively discussion?

PROLEGOMENA OF METHODOLOGY

Before wading too far into these deep and turbulent waters, a word concerning methodology is wise.  It is not uncharacteristic of evangelical theology to, on occasion, hastily oversimplify theological concepts for the sake of convenience or, perhaps, to draw boundaries in order to guard against apparent threats to ‘orthodoxy’.  One such “threat” seems to be the continual efforts of modern social scientists to try to explain rationally, scientifically or psychoanalytically all religious experiences that evangelicals want to simply call ‘supernatural’.

In response to the anti-supernaturalistic spirit of liberal theology, evangelicals have often overreacted, putting forth such hyper-supernaturalistic views that ultimately all human participation in such religious experiences is eliminated.  For instance, regarding the origins of the Bible, many naively want to believe that the Bible simply fell out of the sky.  Such believers often shrink back and shudder when in Theology 101 they realize the extent to which human hands participated in its composition and transmission.

A balanced methodology must be applied that is both faithful to God and allegiant to the facts.  Theological endeavors should be executed in neither a naive spirit of fideism nor an excessively skeptical spirit of humanism.[13] George Stroup reminds us that “the theologian pursues the task of inquiry and description not in order to profane the holy but in order better to understand what it is that faith confesses about the God who reveals himself in Jesus Christ.”[14]

With this methodological consideration in mind, let us return to the question previously raised:  To what extent do the human faculties participate in the processes of revelation and illumination?   Is true revelation found only in that “still soft voice”?   Is illumination merely the act of God waving the magic wand of the Spirit over the text and casting a transforming spell on the reader?   Or, rather, is this “divine-human encounter” [15] much more complex than some of our rigid and simplistic conceptualizations allow?

I propose that these encounters are more complex than the waving of a wand, yet quite comprehensible when understood within the framework God has chosen to reveal himself and on the level that he chooses to meet us still.  The medium through which God chose, it would seem, is narrative or story.[16]

TOWARD A NARRATIVE THEOLOGY

As sketched above, a battle is being waged within theological circles over the nature of God’s revelation.  We have briefly shown that this battle is rooted within a much larger ideological war between the lingering presence of modernity on one side and the new challenges of postmodernity on the other.   Modernity’s highly systematic method of theology puts preeminence on the raw contents of Scripture and takes the liberty to freely extract doctrinal proof texts from the broader narrative to suit its purposes.

While there is nothing overtly wrong with the systematic method, certain consequences do inevitably arise from it.  The voices of narrative theology have resounded concerning one disheartening consequence of this method.  In the process of extracting truths to formulate a systematic theology, they fear the unity and coherence of Scripture and its overarching story of creation, redemption and restoration has either been ignored or, worse, completely torn asunder.  As Fackre puts it, “When God’s epic is ‘pinned and classified like a butterfly in a collector’s case,’ the narrative quality of faith is dissolved into a propositionalism.”[17]Clark Pinnock, sympathetic to this concern, suggests that:

Even though the Bible is basically a storybook, theology has not bothered to orient itself in that way.  It has preferred to play intellectual games and to adopt a rational order for itself, with the result that the story remains in the background as a presupposition that does not call the shots.  Theology has been enamored by the rationalist ideal on the (dubious) assumption that people are basically rational beings who need to be appealed to with abstract arguments.  This is not only untrue in relation to people, it refuses to take seriously the plain fact that in Christianity truth is in the story.[18]

Narrative theologians are not only concerned with the content of God’s revelation, but also the form of it—which is forthrightly narrative.

Narrative theology is a recent development finding its roots in the 1960s and takes many different forms.  Some prominent names associated with this movement include: Hans Frei, Paul Ricoeur, James McClendon, Stanley Hauerwas, Mark Ellingsen, George Lindbeck, Gabriel Fackre, and Clark Pinnock.[19] Narrative theologians emphasize not only the narrative form of the biblical revelation, but also contend that all human existence, psychologically and epistemologically, is embodied by and best understood within the framework of narratives.

Fackre delineates three main types of stories studied within the field of narrative theology: (1) life story, (2) canonical stories, and (3) community story.[20] First, life stories are the personal experiences of one’s own life viewed as a dramatic “account of characters and events in a plot moving over time and space through conflict and toward resolution.”[21] Second, canonical stories are the main concern of literary critics and those of the ‘Bible as Literature’ fold who examine the dynamic ‘world of the text.’   Third, the community story is the story of God, the meta-narrative of history, which describes his mighty acts in history through his chosen people, revealed to and handed down through the community of faith.  It is “the epic story of redemption, enshrined in its sacred texts and liturgies, that announces the salvation and God’s liberation of the human race…It proclaims the great eucatastrophe, the intervention of God in history for the salvation of humankind.”[22]

By exploring the relationship between the life story of an individual (personal story) and the overarching meta-narrative of God (God’s story) within which all life stories are lived out, we may better understand the power of Scripture to transform lives.  After dealing respectively with God’s story and then personal story, we will then consider their relationship to one another.

GOD’S STORY

In Telling God’s Story, Gerard Loughlin observes that “The Medievals conceived the world as a book written by God, the plot of which is given in God’s other book, the Bible.  Today, however, the world is plotted by different narratives, either humanly authored (modernism) or authorless (postmodernism).  Now the world writes itself; or better, it is writing itself.”[23]

The Medieval Christians were still thinking along the lines of their Jewish ancestors, whose entire existence was clearly understood against the background of God’s sovereign authorship of history.  The Hebrew Scriptures are essentially the telling and retelling of God’s dealings with the world through his chosen people, Israel.  N. T. Wright plots out the story of God as revealed to and understood by Israel preceding and surrounding the arrival of Christ.

For most Jews, certainly in the first century, the story-form was the natural and indeed inevitable way in which their worldview would find expression, whether in telling the stories of YHWH’s mighty deeds in the past on behalf of his people, of creating new stories which would function to stir the faithful up in the present to continue in patience and obedience, or in looking forward to the mighty deed that was still to come which would crown all the others and bring Israel true and lasting liberation once and for all.[24]

The church today is in dire need of resurrecting this tradition of retelling the great epic of God and re-implementing a Judeo-Christian worldview with God as the sole author of history.[25] The church has the rich blessing of living on this side of the climactic event of history—the arrival and work of the long awaited Messiah whose prophetic advent the saints of old only dreamed of seeing fulfilled in their day. We should not take lightly Jesus’ words to his disciples that “many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it” (Matt. 13:17).

The church can learn from both her pre-critical Medieval brothers and sisters as well as her ancient Jewish ancestors who all lived life against the backdrop of God’s broader narrative.  Loughlin concludes his earlier thought with a challenge for the church living in a postmodern age:It is against this background—of the world writing itself—that the church continues to tell the story of God’s Christ…In Christ the world is affirmed, freed from the need to write itself, loved simply as that which is written.”[26] And the story which God has penned thus far in the ink of history is brilliant!  The grand finale, for which all creation groans and awaits eagerly (Rom. 8:22, 19), remains a source of hope and encouragement to believers who find themselves weary, in the midst of the storm of subversive stories which continually bombard the church, demanding its allegiance.

Pinnock summarizes nicely: “The essence of the Christian message is quite simply that it is the greatest story ever told: epic in its scope, grounded in history, symphonic in truth, infinite in existential applications and transforming power.”[27] The reason it is essential for the church to preach and retell God’s story is that human beings function best on the level of stories and, as we shall soon see, life transformation occurs when an individual’s own life story is confronted with God’s overarching story.

OUR  STORY

While it was God who raised the curtain on this great drama and he alone who sovereignly writes the ultimate plot, each character has been given the liberty to chart his or her course within this divine spectacle.  Like Pinocchio, we all find ourselves strangely unfettered by any manipulative strings the sovereign marionette may have chosen to employ.  As such, each human life freely conducts his or her own personal drama within the meta-narrative of God.[28]

Narrative theologians claim that “stories are one of the most basic modes of human life.”[29] Some have gone so far as to suggest that “human consciousness mediates between sacred and mundane stories and ‘is itself an incipient story.’”[30] Whether or not we go so far as to ascertain a narrative-shaped consciousness as Stephen Crites does, there can be no denying the fact that stories play an integral role in our daily lives, in how we process our experiences.  Few would argue with Pinnock’s observation that:

Stories are what tend to precipitate change and transformation in our experience, in a way that dogma and law simply cannot.  It is when we hear the story of an act of courage or self-sacrifice, for example, that we are challenged to compare ourselves with this act of heroism and identity with what the agent does.  We are less moved when someone commands us to be heroic and self-sacrificing, however right they may be.[31]

Stroup devotes a large section of his book to illustrate how one’s personal history and their memory and interpretation of it shapes their identity.[32] Among the attempts to understand the particular worldview, framework, or personal lenses through which each person understands his or her identity and makes sense of the world—particularly the world described in Scripture—are the contributions of George Lindbeck and Hans-Georg Gadamer. Lindbeck puts forth what he calls a “cultural-linguistic” model of understanding.[33] Lesslie Newbigin helpfully summarizes this model:

Lindbeck uses such phrases as “myths or narrative…which structure human experience and understanding of self and world…and idiom that makes possible the description of realities…something like a Kantian a priori.”  Doctrine, in other words, is not so much something that we look at as something that we look through in order to understand the world.[34]

According to this model, all personal stories are formed within a particular culture, utilizing that culture’s language, and adopting that culture’s worldview.  Newbigin directly applies this model to the Christian worldview.  For the Christian, “the Bible is, to paraphrase Lindbeck, a narrative that structures human experience and understanding.  However varied may be its texture, it is essentially a story that claims to be the story, the true story both of the cosmos and of human life within the cosmos.”[35]

Gadamer introduces his notion of the “two horizons”—the horizon of the text (for the Christian, the biblical meta-narrative of history) and the horizon of the reader (for Lindbeck, the reader’s cultural-linguistic interpretive scheme).[36] It is the interaction between these two horizons where the dynamics for transformation that we have been seeking thus far are to be found. Remember we are attempting to describe the meshing of the human elements with the divine in revelation and the illumination that has the capacity to spark meaningful religious experience and personal transformation.

We have attempted to show here that deeply rooted within the human psyche is a story-centered framework for understanding both the world (God’s story) and one’s own experiences (personal story).  What happens when these two stories collide?

THE COLLISION OF STORIES

When one approaches the Word of God they are opening themselves up to a whole new world, that “strange new world of the Bible” that Barth referred to.[37] As one brings their own life story into contact with another story that claims to be the story, this is when transformation happens.  Gadamer calls it the “fusion of horizons,” Paul Ricoeur calls it “refiguration” and Stroup calls it “the collision of narratives.”  Loughlin, summarizing Ricoeur, writes that “in the fusing of horizons, the configured world of the text refigures the world of the reader.”[38] Stroup devotes an entire chapter to “the collision of narratives.”[39] Here, many of the answers we have been seeking finally begin to emerge.

Revelation becomes an experienced reality at that juncture where the narrative identity of an individual (personal story) collides with the narrative identity of the Christian community  (God’s story)…At that point where a person encounters the Christian community with its narratives, common life, and faith claims about reality, there is the possibility that the individual will begin the lengthy, difficult process of reinterpreting his or her personal history in light of the narratives and symbols that give the Christian community its identity.  At that moment there is the possibility for what Christians describe as revelation—the experience of redemption and the beginning of the process called “faith.”  It is at this point that identities, even worlds, may be altered and reality perceived in a radically new way (transformation).[40]

In Stroup’s summary, there are obvious overtones of both Lindbeck’s cultural-linguistic model (i.e. the narratives and symbols of both the reader’s identity and the Christian community) and Gadamer’s fusion of horizons (i.e. the collision of narratives).  Wright speaks similarly of the power of ‘metaphor’ to “spark” transformation.

Metaphor consists in bringing two sets of ideas close together, close enough for a spark to jump, but not too close, so that the spark, in jumping, illuminates for a moment the whole area around, changing perceptions as it does so.  Even so, the subversive story comes close enough to the story already believed by the hearer for a spark to jump between them; and nothing will ever be quite the same again… Tell someone to do something, and you change their life—for a day; tell someone a story and you change their life [41]

Thus, it is apparent that the transforming power of the Word of God on its readers has largely to do with the innate story-natured psyche with which the creator has endowed his creation and which they inevitably bring to the text.  In drawing this conclusion, have we gone over to the side of the anti-supernaturalists by eliminating the supernatural element from this encounter?  Have we just constructed an entirely humanized theory of revelation and illumination, leaving aside the role of the supernatural, the Holy Spirit?   Such conclusions would be, in my estimation, premature and false.  Let us conclude by considering the Holy Spirit’s role within this narrative phenomenon.

CONCLUSION: GOD’S STORY-CENTERED DESIGN

We begin to see that the divine hand is behind this story-centered design when we consider how the biblical story speaks directly to all of the questions and concerns of human existence.  The divine saga does not stand passively aside as merely one story amidst a smorgasbord of other legitimate options.  No: the Bible stands alone as the only true story within which one can find true meaning and fulfillment.  Furthermore, through God’s meta-narrative the Spirit actively pursues those who are either writing their own tragic tale or have been seduced by one of the many counterfeit stories or myths permeating this world (i.e. “The American Dream” myth which promises a happy ending for those who place their security in material riches).  The Spirit does this as God’s story subtly or, at times, blatantly addresses the real concerns (conscious and subconscious) of the wanderer.  Once again, in the words of Pinnock:

We experience within ourselves powerful drives: the drive for meaning, the drive for intelligibility, the drive toward hope, the drive toward goodness, the drive toward trust, the drive toward God…Why does human life persist in raising the very questions the Christian story speaks to?  Why is “God” the largest topic by far listed in the synopticon of the great books?  The answer is because the transcendental conditions of being human coincide so exactly with the presuppositions of the Christian story.  At the very least this explains the persistence of the myth; more likely it validates its truth as well.[42]

Moreover, the Spirit actively draws such wanderers to the Christian story and as they are confronted with the promises revealed in the Gospel, the Spirit is ready and willing to fulfill his tasks of convicting them of sin, bringing them to repentance, and pouring out new life if they are willing.  The transformative work of the Holy Spirit thrives in the midst of these “collisions.”

For the Christian, the Spirit’s ongoing work of revelation and illumination likewise invites and moves believers to continually reexamine their personal stories, constantly realigning them with the purposes of God’s greater story.  This is how the Spirit works in and through the human thought-world of personal drama in the processes of revelation and illumination.

In closing, a biblical illustration of this may be found in a fresh reading of one of Paul’s more familiar exhortations from a narrative viewpoint.  I conclude with the following paraphrase of Romans 12:2, where one can find subtle traces of God’s beautifully prescribed, story-natured purpose for humanity:

Do not conform your personal life story any longer to the godless, counterfeit myths of this world, but let your own story be transformed as the Spirit renews your mind.  Then you will be able to live your story in alignment with the good, pleasing and perfect story of God.[43]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Augustine. Confessions. Translated by John K. Ryan. Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1960.

Brunner, Emil. The Divine-Human Encounter. Translated by Amandus W. Loos. London: S. C. M. Press, 1944.

Crites, Stephen. “The Narrative Quality of Experience.” In Why Narrative? Readings in Narrative Theology, eds. Stanley Hauerwas and L. Gregory Jones, 65-88. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989.

Ellingsen, Mark. The Integrity of Biblical Narrative: Story in Theology and Proclamation. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990.

Erickson, Millard. Christian Theology, 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998.

Fackre, Gabriel. Ecumenical Faith in Evangelical Perspective. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993.

______. “Narrative Theology: An Overview.” Interpretation 37, no. 4 (October 1983): 340-52.

Fee, Gordon D. Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996.

Frei, Hans W. Theology and Narrative: Selected Essays. Edited by George Hunsinger and William C. Placher. New York: Oxford, 1993.

Gadamer, Hans-Georg. Truth and Method. New York: Seabury, 1975.

Grenz, Stanley J., David Guretzki and Cherith Fee Nordling. Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms. Downers Grove: IVP, 1999.

______. Revisioning Evangelical Theology: A Fresh Agenda for the 21st Century. Downers Grove, IVP, 1993.

Lindbeck, George A. The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1984.

Loughlin, Gerard. Telling God’s Story: Bible, Church and Narrative Theology. New York: Cambridge, 1996.

McClendon, James Wm. Jr. Biography as Theology: How Life Stories Can Remake Today’s Theology. Nashville: Abingdon, 1974.

McGrath, Alistair, ed. The Christian Theology Reader, 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell, 2001.

McGrath, Alister. “The Biography of God.” Christianity Today 35, no. 8 (July 22, 1991): 22-24.

Newbigin, Lesslie. Truth and Authority in Modernity. Valley Forge: Trinity, 1996.

Pinnock, Clark H. Tracking the Maze: Finding Our Way Through Modern Theology From an Evangelical Perspective. New York: Harper & Row, 1990.

Ramm, Bernard. The Pattern of Authority. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957.

Scorgie, Glen G. “Christian Social Ethics.” Bethel Seminary San Diego class lectures, 23 Sept. 2002. From notes by author.

­­­­­­­______. “Hermeneutics and the Meditative Use of Scripture: The Case for a Baptized Imagination.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 44, no. 2 (June 2001): 271-284.

______. “Wonder and the Revitalization of Evangelical Theology.” Crux 26, no. 4 (1990): 19-25.

Stroup, George W. The Promise of Narrative Theology. Atlanta: John Knox, 1981.

Wright, N. T. The New Testament and the People of God.Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992.

OTHER SOURCES CONSULTED

Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics Vol. 1: The Doctrine of the Word of God, Part One. Edited by G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1975.

Beegle, Dewey M. Scripture, Tradition and Infallibility. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973.

Fackre, Gabriel. The Christian Story: A Narrative Interpretation of Basic Christian Doctrine. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978.

Henry, Carl F. H. “Narrative Theology: An Evangelical Appraisal,” Trinity Journal, 8 (1987): 3-19.

______. “Narrative Theology.” In Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed., ed. Walter Elwell. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001.

Sauter, Gerhard and John Barton, eds. Revelation and Story: Narrative Theology and the Centrality of Story. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2000.

Wesley, John. The Journal of John Wesley, May 24, 1738. Chicago: Moody Press, 1974.

Wilder, Amos N. “Story and Story World.” Interpretation 37, no. 4 (October 1983): 353-376.


[1] John Wesley, The Journal of John Wesley, May 24, 1738 (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974), 64.

[2] See Augustine, Confessions 8.12, tr. By John K. Ryan (Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1960), 202.

[3] Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 216.

[4] Emil Brunner, The Divine-Human Encounter, trans. Amandus W. Loos (London: S. C. M. Press, 1944), 15.

[5] See Alistair McGrath, ed., “Emil Brunner on the Personal Nature of Revelation (2.37),” in The Christian Theology Reader, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001), 141-42.

[6] Erickson, Christian Theology, 279.

[7] Karl Barth, quoted in George W. Stroup, The Promise of Narrative Theology: Recovering the Gospel in the Church (Atlanta: John Knox, 1981), 46.

[8] Glen G. Scorgie, “Christian Social Ethics,” Bethel Seminary San Diego class lectures, 23 Sept. 2002, from notes by author.

[9] Bernard Ramm, The Pattern of Authority (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957), 37.

[10] Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki and Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Downers Grove: IVP, 1999), 62.

[11] Erickson, Christian Theology, 278.

[12] Thomas A. Hoffman, quoted in Stanley J. Grenz, Revisioning Evangelical Theology: A Fresh Agenda for the 21st Century (Downers Grove, IVP, 1993), 121.

[13] See Glen G. Scorgie, “Wonder and the Revitalization of Evangelical Theology,” Crux 26, no. 4 (1990): 19-25 and “Hermeneutics and the Meditative Use of Scripture: The Case for a Baptized Imagination,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 44, no. 2 (June 2001): 271-284, who explores some evangelical alternatives for approaching the tasks of theology and hermeneutics.  He invites a more spirit-filled, imaginative approach to hermeneutics and the cultivation of a ‘spirit of wonder’ to rejuvenate the task of theology.  In the former, he suggests that a spirit of wonder provides both an “antidote to skepticism” and a means to “religionize theology” for those susceptible to an anti-theological attitude resulting in fideism.

[14] Stroup, The Promise, 69.

[15] Phrase taken from Brunner’s title, The Divine-Human Encounter.

[16] While some distinguish between “story” and “narrative,” I will use the two interchangeably.

[17] Gabriel Fackre, Ecumenical Faith in Evangelical Perspective (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 145, quoting J. B. Metz.

[18] Clark H. Pinnock, Tracking the Maze: Finding Our Way Through Modern Theology From an Evangelical Perspective (New York: Harper & Row, 1990), 182.

[19] See Alister McGrath, “The Biography of God,” Christianity Today 35, no. 8 (July 22, 1991): 22-24 and  Stroup, The Promise, 84-89, for an overview of the origin’s of narrative theology.  See also Hans W. Frei, Theology and Narrative: Selected Essays, eds. George Hunsinger and William C. Placher (New York: Oxford, 1993); James Wm. McClendon, Jr., Biography as Theology: How Life Stories Can Remake Today’s Theology (Nashville: Abingdon, 1974); Mark Ellingsen, The Integrity of Biblical Narrative: Story in Theology and Proclamation (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990); and George A. Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine:Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1984).

[20] Fackre, Ecumenical Faith, 135-146; See also his article “Narrative Theology: An Overview,” Interpretation 37, no. 4 (October 1983): 340-52.

[21] Ibid., 126.

[22] Pinnock, Tracking the Maze, 153.

[23] Gerard Loughlin, Telling God’s Story: Bible, Church and Narrative Theology (New York: Cambridge, 1996), 29.

[24] N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 39.

[25] Ironically, evangelicals do place considerable importance on the sharing of personal “testimonies” as an edifying act of worship.  Fackre warns, however, against the “narcissistic piety” that can result if personal testimonies begin to eclipse what God is doing at large in the world and in the community of faith.  See Fackre, Ecumenical Faith, 138.

[26] Loughlin, Telling God’s Story, 32-33 (italics mine).

[27] Pinnock, Tracking the Maze, 167.

[28] See Ibid., 166.

[29] Wright, New Testament, 38.  Wright expounds on this suggesting that “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” (40).

[30] Loughlin, Telling God’s Story, 65 (italics mine).  Loughlin quotes Stephen Crites who asserts: “For the sacred story does not transpire within a conscious world.  It forms the very consciousness that projects a total world horizon, and therefore informs the intentions by which actions are projected into that world.”  See “The Narrative Quality of Experience,” in Why Narrative? Readings in Narrative Theology, edited by Stanley Hauerwas and L. Gregory Jones (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 65-88.

[31] Pinnock, Tracking the Maze, 165.

[32] See Stroup, The Promise, 106.

[33] Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine, 32-41.

[34] Lesslie Newbigin, Truth and Authority in Modernity (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity, 1996), 34-35.

[35] Ibid., 38.

[36] Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method (New York: Seabury, 1975), 269-274.  I am loosely adapting Gadamer’s “fusion of horizons” (see below) to our discussion of narrative theology.  Gadamer’s entire hermeneutic is quite different and should by no means be applied to or mistaken with the conclusions of this discussion.

[37] Karl Barth, quoted in Stroup, Promise, 27.

[38] Gadamer, Truth and Method, 273 and Loughlin, Telling God’s Story, 146.

[39] Stroup, The Promise, 209.  Stroup explains his word choice: “The language of collision is preferable to that of  ‘fusion’ because although the latter correctly recognizes the sense in which understanding takes place in the encounter between historically different horizons of meaning, it does not capture an essential feature of Christian understanding—namely, the sense in which fusion demands extensive reinterpretation and reorientation, what we have referred to religiously and theologically as conversion.”

[40] Ibid., 170-71 (parenthesis mine).

[41] Wright, The New Testament, 40.

[42] Pinnock, Tracking the Maze, 167.

[43] I added “the Spirit” as the agent which renews one’s mind since it further illustrates our point regarding the Spirit’s role in revelation and illumination.  Yet, I do not believe this does any injustice to the text since it is clear throughout Romans and Paul’s other epistles that the Spirit is always implicitly the central agent in bringing transformation, especially of one’s mind (see 1 Cor. 2:10-16; Eph. 1:17; and Col. 1:9-11); Fee also makes this connection between the Spirit and Romans 12:2: Gordon D. Fee, Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996), 105 .

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