Tag Archives: gospel

A Little More on Story…

Christian worship is principally neither an affirmation of general truths nor an interior state of communion of the soul with God…but is rather a social meal- and word-centered communication informed by the key events of the Christian story.    – David F. Ford

One way to understand ourselves as part of the story is to worship in that manner.  Yet, corporate worship happens for most of us just on Sunday mornings, and the rest of the week we often fail to capture the idea of story in our lives.  A few thoughts:

We often refuse to see ourselves in the story, strangely, by trying to take the story apart.  I’ve been reading a book called Amazing Tales for Making Men out of Boys (I’m actually reviewing it…it’s not that I’m finally trying to become a man).  The author simply tells stories of courage and daring.  No explanation or how-to-apply-these-truths, no five main points from each story.  Just a story about what it means to be a courageous man.  I find them incredibly refreshing, and clarifying.  They inspire me in ways that the author never could if he boiled three main points out of them after reading the story.  I just want the story, and to see the possibility of myself in it.

By picking the story apart and saying its essence is in five truths, we’ve lost the power of the story.  If the most important thing was the five truths, that’s what the author would have written.  

The task of soteriology is, then, to show how the reader is included in the story and how the story is or can be the story of that reader’s redemption.   – Michael Root

My brother wrote today on views of the cross, and although the work on the cross and a person’s response are different, perhaps they stand on either side of redemption.  But we strive so hard to communicate how the cross works because it comes from a story, and that story doesn’t fit neatly into one idea.  It encompasses many.  Thus, we see why various writers of the New Testament (and after) have gotten at the cross in myriad ways, explaining the story in a way that makes sense, or stirs, them.  

And I’m somewhat of an existentialist when it comes to this story.  As Michael Root wrote, we must present the same story in different ways for different people.  Redemption comes when we understand ourselves as part of the gospel story.  The church has presented the story in many different ways.  We read the same gospels and pick out various aspects with which we identify.  And Jesus offers identification to all of us.  For on the cross, he identifies with anyone lonely, or abandoned, or suffering, or abused, or shamed, or betrayed, or oppressed, or falsely accused, or mocked, or…anyone.  A political prisoner would resonate with one aspect of the story, a wife who had been cheated on another, a lonely high schooler another.  This is the power of story.  It points at one central truth, but can offer inclusion to so many people.

So, we don’t pick the story apart.  So, we find the aspects that inspire us, and let others be inspired by other aspects.  Not that we can never pick the story apart (study is a good thing) or never check to make sure we’re still all talking about the same story, and haven’t strayed to a gospel that only aims to liberate political prisoners.  

But getting back to my daily point: in my experience, there’s no easy answer to understanding our role in the story of redemption.  Just as there’s no easy answer to living out this role.  Yet, we must read the stories, the large chunks of the Bible that we often skip over, focusing only on the palatable truths of the New Testament (and those we often water down).  We must sit with them, and see ourselves in them, or at least see that we are part of the same redemption story.  We must let them stir us.  God has acted in unbelievable ways, and if we really began to believe that he’s done some of what the Bible claims, then I think we have some praying and acting and loving to do.  

When we begin to do this, to see God’s grand story, then we begin to see it everywhere.  In stories we read, even horrific ones, we see glimpses of redemption.  In the short stories that we tell when we catch up with friends.  In movies we watch, we may see a parallel to God’s story.  In our own lives, through thinking and journaling and talking, we see how God has been moving and perhaps what role he has for us to play.

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Ramifications…

So, perhaps understanding some of the functions of the Bible-as-foundational-story will help understand more of my meaning.  Here are a few rather random outcomes of this idea.

1) The “Christian” book or “non-Christian” book: these labels are not necessary.  Never particularly helpful, now we can see story in a new light.  A book’s value, therefore, is based on how well it lines up with the Biblical story.  Christians can embrace all story, especially that which has its essence nearest to the story of creation, fall, redemption, restoration (to put it very, very succinctly).  We can reject certain books on the lines of it’s not a good story because it doesn’t tap into the true essence of story.  And, we can embrace so many “secular” books on these lines, because time and time again writers have intuited that the Biblical story is the story that our souls lines up with, even without putting those words to it.  

1b) Breaking down story this way means that Christians can best understand any story, because we best understand the full story of human history, and what makes a story either true or good.

2) For the Christian-who-is-a-writer, then, his or her duty is to re-create reality as he or she sees it.  That is, he sees reality in the context of the true Biblical story, and he recreates this reality in his writing.  Just as you may not be able to tell a Christian from a first meeting, or even a fourth, you may need a variety of writings by one author to tell that he is, indeed, a Christian.  But, over time, you see that the full Biblical story has precedence in his writing.  Thus, by reading The Heart of the Matter you may not know Graham Greene is a Catholic writer, but the scope of his work gives you a fuller picture of his belief, because his stories match the essence of the Biblical story quite closely.

3)  In our postmodern age, we can communicate the gospel via story.  Story, as Jesus taught with parables, let’s the individual find his or her own truth: our propositional truths about the gospel, so offensive to society today, aren’t necessary to lead with.  Yet, understanding the full story of the gospel, each individual will come, eventually, to quite similar basic truths: the story of creation, fall, humanity’s hopelessness, Jesus’ incarnation and death and resurrection (eucatastrophe) and our hope today both in restoration now and full restoration in the future.  By communicating the gospel in this way to culture today, we avoid the propositional truths that many reject, and we let each person get caught up in the story.  Not only this, but in many ways the story offers a fuller picture of the gospel than the propositional truths that often have made the gospel an issue only about the future of an individual soul.  While it is this, it is much, much more.

3b) Thus, a person who seeks liberation finds it in the Biblical story, but also eventually finds more.  A person who seeks healing finds it; a person who seeks love finds it; a person who seeks meaning finds it; a person who seeks hope finds it; a person who seeks community finds it; a person who seeks…you get my drift.  Story meets people where they are in an effective way that ideas cannot necessarily, and brings them to a higher place.  Story also doesn’t allow half-gospels: liberation theology sees it is only part of the story, as well as the saving of an individual soul, as well as the theology of creation, etc.

Finally, I’m not saying to throw out propositional truth.  Rather, propositional truth has its place, but can no longer be given the highest perch if we want to both a) connect to society and b) understand the Biblical story in its fullness.  That is, there is a reason why the Bible is primarily story and not propositional truth.

In the next few days, I’ll try to post on “what does all this mean to me, today?”

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