The idea of narrative has become a central focus in politics, social justice, education, and opponents to changing the narrative. What exactly is narrative all about?
Narrative relates to story telling. There is a fairly recent school of theology called Narrative Theology. In essence, narrative theologians want to focus on the meaning of the story and not on the particulars. Another way of putting it is, narrative theology does not believe that propositions, principles, or laws should not be deduced from the text. The story of Scripture is to teach us how to have a relationship with God.
Now, there some consequences to changing to a narrative hermeneutic. First is the loss of propositional reasoning and logic, especially in terms of God. It is not so much that God planned to create and then spoke creation. The story of creation is to teach us about living within the creation, living with one another, and living with God. Second, narrative theology has opened the door to individual interpretations of biblical material. There is no absolute truth, only what this means to me. Traditional Bible studies have shifted from discerning what the Word says and how I feel about the text. Much of what is called Spirituality today is a result of this approach. Third, the Word of God ceases to be positive Truth, but all metaphor. If the Bible is narrative, then so is theology, church, and basically traditional Christianity.
The kingdom is explained in metaphors, similes, images, and pictures. It is impossible to put all the images into one simple, rational definition for a dictionary. You can’s codify these descriptions or contain them in a neat box. Jesus’s words point, open, and suggest rather than conclude and define. This idea of the kingdom of God is filled with imprecision that can’t be pinned down; it invites us to risk entering a world we may not be able to control or manipulate for our own needs (like going through the wardrobe into Narnia). This may be frustrating; it may create consternation in those demanding precision; but it invites us to risk having our imaginations invaded by the God who is endlessly elusive. … Scripture does not so much define reality as invite us onto a journey in which we discover the world God is creating. … Entering the missional waters is not about strategies or models; it is about working with the currents that shape our imagination of what God is doing in the world.Roxburgh, Alan, and Boren, Scott; Introducing the Missional Church: What It Is, Why It Matters, How to Become One; Baker Books, Grand Rapids,, 2009; pp. 38-39.
The above quote is typical of the movement in theology in the 21st century. Traditional interpretation is characterized as simple, uninviting, pinning down God, and manipulative for our own needs. The narrative has already changed because every theologian from antiquity forward has been wrong. In 2015, Tod Bolsinger published a book titled, Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territories. Here is how Amazon describes the book (mostly taken from the back cover):
Explorers Lewis and Clark had to adapt. While they had prepared to find a waterway to the Pacific Ocean, instead they found themselves in the Rocky Mountains. You too may feel that you are leading in a cultural context you were not expecting. You may even feel that your training holds you back more often than it carries you along. Drawing from his extensive experience as a pastor and consultant, Tod Bolsinger brings decades of expertise in guiding churches and organizations through uncharted territory. He offers a combination of illuminating insights and practical tools to help you reimagine what effective leadership looks like in our rapidly changing world. If you’re going to scale the mountains of ministry, you need to leave behind canoes and find new navigational tools. Reading this book will set you on the right course to lead with confidence and courage.https://www.amazon.com/Canoeing-Mountains-Christian-Leadership-Uncharted/dp/0830841261
I can barely take missional church language anymore. Narrative has destroyed Truth and reason. How many Presbyterian Churches or Denominations still hold the Westminster standards in high regard. They are in our Constitutional Book of Confessions, but few members have studied them or read them. They aren’t narrative. Of what use is the Heidelberg Catechism or the Belgic Confession if no one teaches them or preaches them any more? It’s ok, though. We don’t need such old, dusty books because we are climbing the mountains without a map and we don’t really know what we get where we are going because we don’t know!
Changing the narrative is how the church has been able to change historic church doctrine. God didn’t really mean homosexuality is an abomination. God loves everyone, and don’t even try to define what that means. God didn’t really become human and the death and resurrection of Christ are just stories. When narrative theology dominates, there is no longer any real meaning to anything. Just go with the flow. It’s ok because we’ll get wherever it is we are going.
When God fails to be the ground of all meaning, there is no ground for any meaning. Lack of meaning in the world results in humans creating their own meaning and where has that gotten us? The world needs a specific, identifiable God. Without him, all we have left are millions of people trying to be god. Are we surprised that our national history is being erased? We can no longer rejoice in the wisdom of the Declaration of Independence because some “god” wrote the “1619 Project,” and it is no longer about facts. It is about the trajectory of America according to “The Fight Over the 1619 Project Is Not About the Facts.”
I remember when the comment, “Don’t confuse me with the facts,” was part of a comedy routine. No longer. We must forget the past and look to the future. And because we are existentialists (actually little gods), we can make it into anything we want it to be. Since there is no absolute God with absolute morality, we can lie, cheat, steal, manipulate, force whoever we want to come out on top and get our way. Don’t worry about some judgment of God after you die; it is only a metaphorical narrative.
So, what do we do? Jump into the river and flow? How can we possibly fight the current political power that is not based upon any facts? The only way Christians are called to respond and called to live. Die loving our enemy. However, the love we are called to is not the romantic ethereal love that makes everyone feel good. We are called to the kind of love any of us would naturally display when we see our three-year-old going into a busy street. Grab them and bring them back.
“But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.”Jude 20–23, ESV
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints…”Ephesians 6:10–18, ESV