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.

SPS 2017 Proposal Submitted

I just submitted my proposal for the 2017 Society for Pentecostal Studies annual meeting in St. Louis, MO. It is always a bit daunting preparing for a presentation at a scholarly society, but I have always found the effort well rewarded by the responses and engagement at the time of presentation. My title is Toward a Pentecostal Hermeneutic of the Former Prophets. Here is my proposal synopsis:

While there is no singular Pentecostal hermeneutic (nor a singular definition of ‘Pentecostal’), and some still persist in questioning whether there is or should be any, there are noticeable trends toward more clearly defined Pentecostal hermeneutics while still ‘in the making’. Perhaps this ‘still in the making’ is part and parcel of the Pentecostal’s sanctified/sanctifying interpretation. Claims to any form of Pentecostal hermeneutics must admit no ‘claim to possess a pristine and qualitatively unique methodology’. Instead, every hermeneutical approach (including those which might be called Pentecostal) is distinguished ‘by the presuppositions on which they build, the questions that they privilege, the interpretive tools they prefer, and the texts to which they attend’. Such a hermeneutical approach is perhaps properly always in the making as an improvisational performance of the Word by the Spirit within the community.
This paper briefly traces the four broad streams of historical development with the Pentecostal community’s hermeneutics as outlined by V. Kärkäinnen: Oral pre-reflexive, Fundamentalist-Evangelical, pneumatic exegesis and an emerging post-modern movement. This last movement is followed more closely as it unfolds in a triadic form in developing the hermeneutic suggestive by the text of the Former Prophets within the Pentecostal community taking into account the recent work on this trajectory by Scott Ellington, J. Christopher Thomas, Kenneth Archer, and Amos Yong (among others). A proposed phenomenological experience of the text by the Pentecostal community is offered toward a narrative approach to the text of the Former Prophets.

And in case you were wondering … “Former Prophets” refers to the books of the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament known as Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, and 1-2 Kings. 🙂