Entering the… "Understanding the Bible as Story" Conversation

Entering the… "Understanding the Bible as Story" Conversation August 12, 2010

Today I want to simply create a list of resources that in my opinion, could help someone enter into the “understanding the Bible as Story” conversation.  Now I do not want to claim that this list is complete or as immaculate as the Virgin Mary, but I do want to suggest that these resources are the first on my list for being able to understand and discuss the Bible as story.  A couple of final thoughts.  1) I am presenting “intro” level books, so for all of my scholarly friends, you may be like… But what about this theologically dense (and important) book… well, not everyone who reads this blog is a nerd like us so; GET OVER IT 🙂  2) I am going to be somewhat (but admittedly loosely) intentional about the order of the books so that the understand is built in a coherent way… step by step.  So, here is my list…


1. God’s Shalom Project, Bernhard Ott (Best intro to the narrative of the Bible that no one has heard about.  Everyone that has ‘trusted me’ to read this has been glad they did!)

2. True Story: A Christianity Worth Believing In, James Choung (A story about a college student who reframes his whole understanding of the ‘big story’ of the bible and the journey it takes to get him there.  Amazing!)

3. The Bible as Improv: Seeing and Living the Script in New Ways, Ron Martoia (Ron Martoia had an early influence on my Spritual journey.  He talks about his journey about reading the bible and utilizes the work of NT Wright.  This is great also!)

4. Embracing Grace, Scot McKnight (He begins in the garden and looks at humanity as the eikon of God.  This is our original design and this is our destiny.)

5. The Blue Parakeet, Scot McKnight (This book wrestles with how to read the bible and how to understand it as story.  Then it goes on to use a test case for interpretation, women in ministry.  Very helpful!)

6. Jesus for President, Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw (Need I say more than… wow?)

7. The Last Word, NT Wright (Lays a foundation for understanding why we have the interpretations that we do at the moment and what we ought to reconstruct for God’s mission today and tomorrow.)

8. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, NT Wright (The hardest to read of the books I list here, thus it is at the end.  Still accessible and extremely important for the future of Christianity and the ultimate hope that the bible gives us!!!!!!!!)

9. The Story We Find Ourselves In, Brian McLaren (This is a great book that will help you explore and process the narrative of Scripture, well, within a narrative!  It can be read “on its own” but I highly recommend first reading, A New Kind of Christian, which is the first book in this dynamic trilogy.) [I originally left this book off of the list by accident, which is why it appears last.  It could be a very good intro book, but I would put it after God’s Shalom Project and True Story probably if I were to tweak with the order 🙂 ]

So, there is my list.  What would your list look like?


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  • Scary. Your list looks a lot like mine. Seriously.

    Now, here’s a big question – how is the Bible as “story” affecting our ministry paradigm? Specifically, how is it changing the way we teach our kids, our youth, and finally, our adults. What needs to change?

    • Ryan VanderHelm

      Well, for one thing, we’d have to do a lot more teaching about how to read and interpret stories. If we’re going to teach the Bible as a story and we want people to interpret it right, first we have to teach them how to interpret stories well.

  • The Story We Find Ourselves In, Brian McLaren
    For some he is automatically out of bounds, but this is a great overview of not only the biblical narrative itself, but also letting it’s Story shape our lives.

    C.S. Lewis on Scripture
    I could name any number of Lewis passages, but this short book is a good place to see all his (published) thoughts.

    For community interpretation of Scripture, see Free for All

  • Buechner’s Telling the Truth: Gospel as Comedy, Tragedy Fairy Tale:


    I’d add it’s not just Scripture as Story, but Scripture as my/our story. When we read a story we often begin to find ourselves living in it.

  • Excellent list! I would add “The Drama of Scripture” by Goheen & Bartholomew: http://www.amazon.com/Drama-Scripture-Finding-Place-Biblical/dp/0801027462/ref=tmm_pap_title_0 It builds on some of Wright’s work on the “story” of scripture.

    And I will “trust you” as well and add Ott’s book to my wish list 🙂

  • McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity has a chapter on reading the Bible as a constitution and the disastrous effects thereof and so he’s proposing the narrative model as well. A must for all Christians, especially the unchurched.

  • Greg Fryer

    “Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense” by N.T. Wright is on my list. A great book especially for those exploring the Christian faith.

  • Jeff Angcanan

    66 Love Letters by Larry Crab…gives you a new perspective on why God is writing each book for YOU.

  • Conrad

    I think I missed something… what is this “understanding the bible as a story” conversation you are talking about?

    • You will just have to start reading the books in the list one by one to find out 🙂

      • MarinePatriot

        Or skip them all and just read your bible… 🙂

  • Keith

    Jesus, the Final Days: What Really Happened: Craig Evans and N.T. Wright

    The New Testament Story and New Testament History: A Narrative Account by Ben Witherington III

  • Jay

    “Why the Bible Matters: Rediscovering Its Significance in an Age of Suspicion” by Mike Erre. I haven’t gotten my hands on a copy yet, but from reviews I’ve read, it may well belong on your list. I’ve read his other books, and his style definitely fits the ‘making scholarship accessible without watering it down’ category.

  • My first encounter with the “story of scripture” was in The Last Word by N.T. Wright.

    I still remember the night I came across his breakdown of the “5-Act Drama.” I was so thrilled that I immediately woke up my wife and read her the whole section! She, of course, said, “That’s nice honey…now let me sleep!”

    After that book, I picked up Eat This Book by Eugene Peterson. It was a bit wordy at times, but the overall premise of the book helped me understand more about reading the Bible beyond bullet points.

    Fascinated with what I was seeing, I picked up Simply Christian and was, once again, blown away! Why had no one showed me this before?!

    But the list wouldn’t be complete without tossing in The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative by Christopher J.H. Wright.

  • “The Living Word of God” – Ben Witherington III

    “The Kingdom of God” – John Bright

    “Evil and the Justice of God” – N.T. Wright

  • 30 Days To Understanding The Bible by Max Anders is a layperson’s book i liked. It lays out the story and history of the bible.
    My concern with a narrative approach to preaching is that it is difficult to stay theologically accurate/precise. This book helped to make sure I am accurately representing the biblical witness in my storytelling.

    • Mike, I encourage you to read through the list… I think it will expand your understanding on narrative theology and will be VERY promising for your preaching!!!!! You will especially resonate with NT Wright’s “The Last Word” I think.

  • I’ve not read all of any of the books you list, but perused a bit of NT Wright here and there, and read a number of McKnight’s blog posts and print articles, so think I understand at least his perspective a bit. Anymore (I’m 60 and a former Evangelical minister, apologist, therapist) I don’t read much theology in general, keeping mainly to Christian origins and NT scholarship.

    Since this is my first time on your blog, Kurt, I know you may have dealt with this, but I’m curious if you have interacted with several thinkers that I’ve not read myself, but was aware of years ago… they are probably too “liberal” for you, or may be generally “out of date” by now. I refer to authors who are noted from within the formative years of “narrative” as a labeled category, or those who influenced them, such as George Lindbeck. A few of them: Hans Frei, Stanley Hauerwas (read a bit of him, but long ago), Steven Crites, William P. Alston, David Tracy (famously, “Blessed Rage for Order,” as you probably know), Gary Comstock, Gabriel Fackre.

    I’m not sure if the answer to my curiosity mainly surrounds the “historicity” issue, but I suspect that it does, with the names I’ve given mostly representing the more “suspicious” or “postmodern” approach. And perhaps Brian McLaren (notably not on your list, but perhaps because of differing points of emphasis… not sure) is in some “demilitarized zone” between, getting shot at by both sides 🙂 . I HAVE read 3 or 4 of McLaren’s books, and noted that he seems to avoid directly dealing with the debates over issues of historicity in the Gospels, etc. (as he did skillfully in person in a group q/a time when I asked him).

    Also related: Have you interacted much with those who push the “redescribing” of Christian origins? (To me this is an effort to get behind the revisionist history handed to us both within the NT texts aside from the genuine Pauline letters and by Eusebius and all who built upon him later–most of our “received” views of apostolic authority, orthodoxy and heresy, etc.) Here I refer primarily to Burton Mack and his colleagues, particularly Jonathan Z Smith…. I am most concerned, with Mack, about an interdisciplinary approach, and breaking away from (while honoring in another way) the mystique of the Gospel and the Bible that has enthralled even “liberal” theologians doing “higher criticism.” A big part of this breaking away means dealing with a “social interest” set of theories that is highly comparative in analyzing the literary (or narrative) and philosophical/religious sources that the earliest Christians combined rapidly and very creatively in founding and growing a new religion. In narrative terms, looking for WHY the stories were created the way they were and WHAT related existing cultural stories and thinking they drew from (one that is important and prematurely set aside by Witherington, and probably other conservatives: the influence of Greek Cynicism–not our concept–in the Galilee of Jesus’ day, and more broadly Greek thought/culture in general).

  • brambonius

    I’ve read 3 out of 8; not bad, isn’t it… (blue parakeet, jesus for president, surprised by hope)

    Wish I had te money to buy them all, and the time to read them all…

    I agree with those who would add McLarens ‘the story we find ourselves in’, even though I might not agree with every detail of Neo’s version.