So, What's The Story Anyway? A Brief Intro to Narrative Theology

Many of you have probably heard language on this blog and in the Christian-world about narrative or storied approaches to the bible.  In my previous post, I have equipped you with some tools to dig into and “enter” this conversation.  I encourage you to read through these books one by one because it will lay a beautiful foundation from which to read and live out the teachings of the Scriptures!

So, what is the story anyway?  I have posted this in the past, but think that this can generate some fruitful discussion.  I am going to give you my version of the 5 Act approach to the bible that has been developed by N.T. Wright (and adapted by various writers).

Act 1: Creation – God creates the universe and declares it to be “very good.”  His creation project is not static, but designed to flourish with humanity as God’s gardener/image bearers. (Genesis 1-2)

Act 2: Crisis – The powers of evil and human rebellion have damaged God’s good world.  God doesn’t give up on the creation project at this point, which demonstrates his grace toward what he has created.  (Genesis 3-11)

Act 3: Community (Israel) – God calls Abraham to be the beginning of the solution to the problem of sin, by forming a new human family that has been “blessed to be a blessing.”  (Genesis 12)

Act 4: Christ – Israel has not lived up to her calling to bless the world, so God sends his Son into the world to be everything that Israel failed to be.  Jesus demonstrates the reality of the reign of God and calls disciples to a radical way of living as a counter-cultural community.  He is gathering a “new Israel” community that is called to be a blessing in the world, driven by their salvation they receive because of the resurrection of the Messiah!  Jesus, through his death and resurrection has defeated all evil powers, satan, and the sin of humanity that put him on the Cross.  Jesus invites people to become fully human once again, by become restored to the image of God that was fractured in the crisis of rebellion [Act 2].  (the Gospels)

Act 5: Church – The community that gathers around the risen King Jesus was formed in the first century and has been forming ever sense, to be the “new humanity” that God has always had in mind.  This community is an ambassador of grace, justice, and hope for a broken world! (New Testament Writings).  But, the critical part is that it does not end there.  In act five it seems that we are missing a few scenes (these are the scenes of the narrative that we now improvise in faithfulness to what came before it toward what is to come).  And then, the final scene, the new heavens and new earth (meaning “renewed”) are also given to us in scripture.  God has not given up on his creation project.  He has promised to return one day to renew the cosmos, to bring heaven and earth together, and to rule the world where there is “no longer any morning, crying, or pain.”  This will be the ultimate completion of God’s creation project! (Romans 8, Revelation 21-22, Colossians 1)

Well, by no means is the above meant to be exhaustive, but rather to give you some framework for understanding the “big story” of the Bible.  Also, just because I failed to mention something that one might consider essential to the story of the Bible, does not mean that I don’t believe such.  I would love to hear your thoughts on this!!!!

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  • I’m going to be curious how you see this list in light of the Thrive workbooks.

  • I like the idea of a narrative theology. I would reframe the story from one where there are completed Acts to one where the story is nested inside another story. Or maybe you could describe the narrative as a story that emerges from another story. The story is about God creating his bride or his temple. Each story of creation from light to Jesus and the Church is a story inside an every expanding and interconnected story of God creating his bride and temple. The temple is creation, the holy place is the garden he put on earth, people are the caretakers of that garden like the Leavites who cared for the temple, the judicial system, and the scriptures. The Israelites are like the priestly clan of the Leavites, and Jesus is the the High Priest. The Church claims the spiritual authority while the Israelites claims the earthly authority. The story becomes complete when the Church serves the World like Christ served the Church, when the Israelites serve the earth like the Church serves the Jews, when humanity serves the rest of the universe like Christ serves the individual, when God inhabits every heart as the whole universe is inhabited by every heart.

  • Interesting how the first 3 parts are in Genesis. Im most interested in the creation story right now. I just listened to a lecture by Dr. Dino on creationism and its been an eye-opener to me, has made me overcome my doubts and questions regarding natural selection and evolution. THis is a good blog post. NT Wright is a smart dude.

  • This is such a useful guide. Thanks for posting it. Of course, Act 3 is a v-e-r-y long act, filled with revelation concerning our weaknesses and tendencies, along with God’s incredible patience.

    May I add one suggestion for understanding Act 3? Genesis 12 through Ezra/Nehemiah is the storyline, the wisdom books are the sound track, and the prophets are God’s commentary on the action.

    Good posts, Kurt.

  • brambonius

    I like this way of reading scripture! Thanks for these series

    One question: why not make a sixth episode out of the final coming of the Kingdom instead of merging it with the church time?

    • Brambonius –

      Here is why I would say I prefer 5 rather than 6 in a nutshell. Keeping the fifth act together allows for the tension between the already and not yet better than the 6 act model. In the 6 act view, the consummation happens as a separate event from the church…. in the 5 act model, the consummation is completely linked and in a mysterious sense, already happening within the church. I suggest checking out Wright’s “The Last Word”. Short answer to a very complex question.

  • And for those who would like a less-alliterated and more visual depiction of this same concept…

    Good posts, Kurt. This big picture approach is KEY for getting people to see the whole story of Redemption.

  • I’m just starting to learn about narrative theology. In fact, I didn’t know that was a phrase until just now. I do know that reading “Jesus for President” by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw and crew helped legitimize in me the feeling that over literal readings of certain pieces of scripture as almost magical renderings or as dogmatic theology was erroneous in light of the big picture of God. He’s THE God, so of course He’s a big God. He needs a big canvass.

    I think where narrative helps is the fact that really what we’re looking at in the Bible is writings in different genres by different authors (inspired, yes) who are coming from a tribal perspective. This can get so lost in our culture. As an Oglala Lakota, I can relate to the Bible in that context of its genesis as a collection of tribal writing–first Israel and versions thereof and then the Church. Also, narrative shows us the truth that tends to get hidden behind fighting of whether something is ‘real’ or ‘historical’ or ‘true.’ The Bible is true. Do we need to believe that the earth was created in a literal seven days? No. We need to know God created it and called it good. That’s the truth.

    Anyways, just my two cents. Like I say on my blog, my working beliefs can be wrong. Clinging to Jesus is all that matters.