The Nature of the Scriptural Story (A Request)

I’m currently working on a chapter of the Slow Church book on the scriptural story and why we believe that slowness is woven into the very fabric of this story.

So, I’ve been trying to find an image that is helpful in talking about the nature of the scriptural story and how God and humanity interact together.  Here’s the  basic image that I’ve stumbled upon.  (I know it’s not completely original, drawing on sources like Bartholomew/Goheen’s The Drama of Scripture and Lesslie Newbigin’s work.)

Creation is a grand drama, of which God is the playwright and director.  One of the distinctive things about it, however, is that although the basic plotline has been written, God wants this drama to be a collaborative effort, and has left much room for improvisation within the script.  Some actors — as Bartholomew/Goheen point out — don’t even know that they are part of a play, others sometimes (or often) do not want to cooperate with the director, and even those who do desire to cooperate often have difficulty understanding the director’s lead, as if they were hard of hearing or though the director spoke a language with which they were only barely familiar.  The Director, however, is very patient and when actors are cooperative, gently nudges the action of the play in the direction it needs to go.

So, help me out here and give me some constructive feedback on this image.  I think it is helpful for illustrating the slowness of God’s reconciling work in the world.  I also know that like any metaphor, it has its limitations, and cannot adequately depict the full range of divine-human interaction. One of the biggest shortcomings is that it tends toward individualism and it’s not as clear what the role of the church is.



J.R. Briggs – FAIL [Patheos Book Club]
Justice that Leavens the World.
An Interview with Tim Suttle
Alexander Schmemann – Lent is a Time of Slowing Down
  • Rebecca Trotter

    John Eldredge uses this analogy of actors in a story very well in Waking the Dead. Perhaps you could check with that.
    I look at it more like we’ve been given materials to work with which can be put together in a wide, although not infinite number of ways. We can even modify some of the pieces. Really, I think it’s very much like how we are learning evolution works; the various molecules, DNA, etc involved can be modified so that say, light sensitive cells can be modified to allow eye sight in us or a cuttlefish’s amazing color changing skin pigmentation. Same pieces put to use creating an amazing variety of outcomes. Or they can create mutations incompatible with life. What works gets carried forward, what doesn’t get left behind. What we choose to do with our lives is much the same, imo.

  • Jeff Kursonis

    two things come to mind – MMORPG and interactive movies/stories where you get to change the finish – though it seems that never really took off, but this could just be another small mention in explaining the idea.

  • Anglican

    Andrew Greeley, especially in the God Game, talks about God as an author, whose characters sometimes cooperate and sometimes don’t (which sounds odd to me, but I’ve never tried to write fiction and I know I’ve heard other authors say similar things about their characters).

  • cperry80

    In the drama, perhaps it would be appropriate to focus on individual “actors” as well as their functional casting in a city or town or village. This would allow for you to grant the necessary Divine / human interaction to the drama on an individual level while also giving it grounds, setting and context in a social setting. Just food for though…

  • Amy G

    True, needs more of the Church in it, and this last line I feel apprehensive about

    “The Director, however, is very patient and when actors are cooperative, gently nudges the action of the play in the direction it needs to go.”

    It seems like you’re saying that God does this WHEN the actors are cooperative. Isn’t he always nudging the play though? I think the players interact with it, but I don’t think they can hijack the play if they’re unwilling to be a part of it. Does that make sense?

  • Wes Vander Lugt

    The dramatic model has definitely captured my imagination, so much so that I have devoted an entire PhD to the topic, which you can read about at my blog Theatrical Theology. I think this model conjoins well with the idea of slowness, especially since, as you mention, God does not micro-manage the drama by putting actors exactly where he wants them but creates the space and freedom for actors to improvise. You can avoid the danger of individualism by describing the church as a company or troupe God is leading and graciously directly to perform the theodrama in faithful ways. Everyone outside the church is an actor in the theodrama as well, but there is also a sense in which they are an audience for the interactive performance of the church. I hope this helps, and I’m excited about the direction you are going. If you want to read more, I would recommend The Drama of Doctrine by Kevin Vanhoozer and Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics by Samuel Wells.

  • Craig


    Your metaphor brought to mind Joseph Sittler’s use of the term “theater of grace” to describe God’s creation. His ecological sensibilities bring into question the common assumption that the “stage” of the human drama is irrelevant. The drama of creation certainly unfolds slowly. The USDA tells us it takes 500 years for the formation of 1 inch of topsoil through natural processes.

    I believe Calvin used the metaphor referring to the world as a “theater of God’s glory.”

    Marianne Meye Thompson’s use of “great narrative” has also stuck with me. She says “The gospel calls for a great paradigm shift from thinking that we are to invite God to be part of our…stories to discovering that we are already and always part of the great narrative of God’s purposes for the world, and that we are invited to live in light of God’s grace.”

    I would agree with others that the unfolding of the drama is not dependent on the cooperation of the actors and that the last sentence leaves the impression that the direction of the story is dependent on the cooperation of the participants.

    Look forward to seeing how this all comes together.


  • Cody Stauffer

    Christ, great- I use this very metaphor all of the time to help explain my process theology views to others.