Once Upon a Time in a Text Far, Far Away
I was raised and trained in a social network that prized doctrinal intelligence. A person’s ability to learn and repeat precise “biblical” ideas was rewarded with praise, affirmation and advancement. The particular lives of some of the people and a few of the communities who valued doctrinal intelligence were factious, argumentative, judgmental, petty, gossipy and blinkered. The world of these otherwise fine people was limited to those who accepted and affirmed the prevailing doctrinal expressions. It was a ghetto of Bible-based ideas.
I have been discovering another perception for reality: narrative intelligence. Narrative intelligence emphasizes the power of story. Narrative intelligence, from a Christian point of view, does not minimize doctrinal intelligence, as many evangelicals think who get real jumpy about “story.” Narrative intelligence gives doctrinal intelligence a home, a place where the energies of doctrine may flourish into actual life. No one lives a systematic life. Everyone lives in stories and connects to others who are living in stories. Reality is a story construct, not a technical, scientific or doctrinal construct. I think many believers have low narrative intelligence when it comes to the faith, and it is not their fault. They check their stories at the door when they walk into church. In that antiseptic evangelical environment they are treated to “principles,” “bullet points,” “definitions” (of this Greek or that Hebrew word), and the consequential “applications.” A high octane story of Jesus’ “the Good Samaritan” is simmered down to a few clear principles and convenient moralisms and is just another little piece of the puzzle labeled “the whole counsel of God.”
Think about it: Many films have been made about the life of Jesus, some mediocre and some compelling. To my knowledge no one has made a movie of Hendrik Berkhof’s or Wayne Grudem’s systematic theologies or Calvin’s Institutes. I wonder why. Even the Apostle Paul’s alleged “doctrinal” books (e.g., Romans) were created within the passionate context of his powerful, missional life and ministry. Paul’s writings are conversations with others about the Jesus he was serving and the Story he was living and gospelling.
Following Jesus is a way of life. His followers are attracted to and swept up into Jesus’ story. The last thing we need is to be smothered in words, words, words…more and more doctrinal words. Definition-making is not the essence of the faith. Life-making, story-making is.
Once upon a time in a text far, far away…