reading the bible as one story 2

A few more thoughts related to the post a few days ago, reading the bible as one story 1. I’ll probably trickle along with thoughts on the Theology Today essay I mentioned previously, “The Urgency of Reading the Bible as One Story,” by Michael W. Goheen of Trinity Western University. So, I’ll only share a little bit here, content that this is not my only chance to share these thoughts…

On the modern press away from narrative as an overarching category (rather than only as a literary genre), Goheen has the following to say:

“We have fragmented the Bible into bits—moral bits, systematic-theological bits, devotional bits, historical-critiqual bits, narrative bits, and homiletical bits. When the Bible is broken up this way, there is no comprehensive grand narrative to withstand the power of the comprehensive humanist narrative that shapes our culture.” (64:4, p. 472)

Quoting NT Wright’s essay, “How Can the Bible Be Authoritative?” he presses folks holding the “conservative view” of Scripture. Wright “notes that Christians have often found the authority of the Bible in timeless truth and principles, or as a witness ro primary events, or in its timeless function.” Add to this:

“The problem with all such solutions as to how to use the Bible is that they belittle the Bible and exalt something else. Basically they imply–and this is what I mean when I say they offer too low a view of Scripture–that God, after all, has given us the wrong sort of book and it is our job to turn it into the right sort of book.” (64:4, p. 474)


Published by Guy M Williams

Christian | Husband, Father | Pastor | 8th-Gen Texan | Texas A&M ‘96 | Asbury Seminary ‘01 | Enjoy family, reading, running, golf, college football

2 thoughts on “reading the bible as one story 2

  1. I’m interested but need a little more from the block quote. Who is the “they” (“conservatives” I suppose) and how are they implying that God has given us the “wrong sort of book.” Sorry, I’m not following.

  2. JB:

    Sorry, that probably isn’t clear to those who haven’t read a good deal of the conversation or of Wright.

    The “they” is less about conservative vs. liberal and more about how one conceives of truth, roughly speaking; whether one understands truth to be most faithfully expressed in propositions or in narrative.

    The connection to “conservatives” is this: The problem he has with them is not that they are conservative (indeed, he has problems with liberals too), but that they tend to identify “truth” more or less exclusively with “propositional truth.” Thus, they tend to take the bible and distill it into “timeless truth and principles” rather than engaging it as Story/Narrative (a truth category, not just a literary genre).

    I do not deny prositional truth (as in mathematics & logic), but to reject as truth all that does not come to us in propositional form is highly problematic. Scripture is just such a thing. The canon is not a proposition. It is a Story. Thus, it is best received as “narratival truth” rather than first being converted to “timeless [read: propositional] truth and principles” because propositional truth is the only or highest kind of truth.

    So, Wright criticizes those who are the most vocal and consistent practitioners of the “timeless truth and principles” approach, who also happen to be regarded as conservatives in American Christianity, because in their practice they are saying God “has given us the wrong sort of book and it is our job to turn it into the right sort of book.”

    I agree strongly on the point that those who have the tag “conservative” on Scripture in America are actually quite liberal on Scripture because, though they value it highly mentally and in some practices, they conceive of its authority in ways foreign to it (thus, Wright’s comment). It seems to me that the most conservative understanding of Scripture is one that learns from Scripture not only its truth, but how that truth comes to us. To be conservative on Scripture means learning from it how to conceive of its authority. Here is the point of contention between propositional truth versus narratival truth. But now I’m getting into a potential blog post and have left the genre of blog comment.

    Is that more helpful. Happy to discuss more. Richard, if you’re reading, do you have anything to add to help us? Others?

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