My friend Rick and I got together as we regularly do to talk shop (we’re both 30-something Methodist associate pastors) and such over lunch last week. Conversation mostly happens around items like the younger clergy experience and issues of church leadership. On this occasion, the topic was the significance of narrative in contast with statistics. Some researchers found that people will choose a narrative as true in the face of data to the contrary because stories are more compelling. The implications for this are many, especially and obviously related to preaching and public speaking. But this is definitely true for leadership as well, with tremendous implications.
For example, we all make sense of the data we take in by fitting it into the bigger Stories that interpret that minute data. Think about diagnosing diseases and conditions and such (like the TV character House does famously). Same deal. Take the raw data, draw connections between them, and fit them into a larger story that makes sense of the individual parts. Only there are often several potential interpretations (see Acts 2:1-17 for an example of this–one interpretation is that the disciples are drunk–v13; Peter has another interpretation, that this fits into a larger story about what God is doing–v17 and following). Some are better grounded than others. The TV show (and character) House features a team of doctors under the direction of Dr. House whose job it is to diagnose the most difficult cases to diagnose, that is, the cases that are most challenging to connecting the raw data with one another and therefore into a larger cohesive story that makes sense of things.
The January 2008 Theology Today carried a wonderful essay by Michael Goheen, a professor at Trinity Western University in Langly, British Columbia: “The Urgency of Reading the Bible as One Story.” In it he raises up the following from Bob Webber and Phil Kenyon from their 2006 “A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future“:
“Today, as in the ancient era, the Church is confronted by a host of master narratives that contradict and compete with the gospel. The pressing question is: who gets to narrate the world?” (vol. 64:4, p. 469)
Certainly there are many stories that claim to be The Story, like on the show House their are many diagnoses, or stories, that seem to make sense of reality. In the show, they all fall short somehow until the truth is discovered. That, too, is a good sketch for our lives. We try out a variety of stories that we suppose make sense of “reality” as we experience it. Hopefully, from my perspective, we find them all wanting until we listen to the Christian Story and discover there God’s True Story that makes sense of our lives and that more and more grafts us into its unfolding plot today.
5 thoughts on “reading the bible as one story 1”
I had a friend once that was very very smart and he would agree with everything you said. :-)
My television told me that Joseph Cambell (History Channel so it has to be right) knew a lot about this kind of stuff, but I never looked into it.
Hauerwas has written a couple of articles about narrative ethics. He even describes the Christian life as taking God’s story (narrative) as our own.
I read a blog once that proves these comments are good ones.
The strongest challenge to the Christian Story (at least here in America) today seems to be coming from those who say all stories are merely arbitrary inventions, mere spin, offered to get power over others. I think those folks are looking at the general (and abstract) form “story,” the particular content of SOME stories, and then judging ALL stories (because of their FORM) in terms of their rejection of the ones they don’t like.
I’m one of those who thinks the move away from story (true, real, ongoing story) in Christianity, whether into a realm of principles, truths and propositions, or into a realm of pure aesthetics and feeling, to be a horrible misstep.
Rick: Must be a pretty sharp fellow to agree with what I’ve said here…
Richard: I’ve got a quote from that Theology Today article to share in a future (soon) post that presses the same point you are pressing in the second paragraph. Agreed.
Guy, nice work with this post. on the issue of stories vs. data, have you read “Made to Stick?” It’s a book about how to communicate ideas. You’ll love it.
Thanks, JD. Actually “Made to Stick” is on my reading list but I haven’t yet read it. It’s the one that my friend Rick was telling me about. I did read an article of theirs in Fast Company mag a while back that I liked.