Why Narrative Theology?

Within Protestantism (and more specifically Evangelicalism) there has been a tendency toward the abstractions of doctrinal confessions. Theology has most often tended toward bullet pointed statements of confession. While this has its place it fails to grapple with the revelation of God which we confess as such: the very form of the Scriptures. The nature of Scripture itself is not first and foremost abstract universal claims, but primarily story. Why is this? Should it affect the manner in which we reflect upon our theological confessions? How might it be reflected appropriately without simply becoming (like so many sermons) three points and a poem? (Even the “world” regards story as more important to communication than bullet-points).
The following were listed by David F. Ford* as reasons offered “for the attractiveness of narrative” in theological reflection (ironically enough offered in bullet-pointed fashion):

  • it is the main genre of the Bible
  • it is the underlying structure of the Christian creeds, baptism and eucharist
  • its concreteness and particularity deserve primacy in relation to the more abstract, generalizing approach of much doctrine and theology
  • it gives a proper prominence to people in interaction, to specific contexts and to actions and events, all of which tend to be marginalized or treated too generally and abstractly by traditional theological discourse
  • it provides a way into doctrine and ethics which is definite, imaginative and well-suited to the gospel while not claiming an exclusive or imperialistic universality
  • it is the basic, irreducible way to express human experience and identity
  • it enables a fresh approach to the relationship of historical fact to Christian truth
  • it provides a forum for encounter and discussion, not only between very different types of Christian theology, but also between various religions and cultures (all of which have their stories) and between theology and other disciplines (e.g. literary studies, history, psychology, anthropology).

The story of God is the story of redemption and life. It is the story we find ourselves caught up in and carrying various threads of the divine narrative toward their culmination in new creation. The story of Scripture is our story and the cosmos’ story. So let’s at least speak in ways that flows from God’s own self revelation in Scripture, in the Word made flesh, and in the Spirit within. Let us tell the old, old story as the new experience of the divine life…as reflecting Father, Son and Spirit.
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* D. F. Ford, ‘Narrative Theology,’ pp.489-91 in R. J. Coggins and J. L. Houlden, eds, A Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation (London: SCM, 1990), pp.489, 490.

One thought on “Why Narrative Theology?”

  1. All well and GREAT! Jesus used parables. I’m in agreement, as long as there isn’t an overemphasis on narrative, because I think there are universal claims that have universal applications. Such as a record (witness) of response to God’s self-revelation, procedural lists such as the Ten Commandments, sacraments and the Feasts.Of course, those all fill part of the narrative, but they are essential parts that shouldn’t be lost because of an insistence on seeing the forest and not the trees.

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