What’s the Story Anyway? A Brief Intro to Narrative Theology

What’s the Story Anyway? A Brief Intro to Narrative Theology June 27, 2012

***Repost from August 2010. I might nuance some things a tad differently now, but the main flow stands.

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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    Kurt, a  nice way of framing the over all story of God’s design. This would certainly help  make it an easier process for those teaching and those learning. Corky

  • Aaron

    I would love to hear more!

  • I have been working at maintaining a narrative theological perspective for years.  I am currently working on a video project based on this very topic.  Thanks for sharing this again.

  • Seems like a lot of damaging debates and disagreements could be avoided if we all saw things this way.

  • I use chronological Bible Storying with my youth and we all love it! I currently use a curriculum created by a brethren pastor named Michael Novelli, called Echo The Story…really good stuff, uses 12 narratives.

  • Hhh

    I don’t understand what this is about? Maybe trying making it easier to understand God better. I don’t think the bible is a story. And I also don’t understand coming to Christ makes u become fully human again….

    • Ryne

      I think the idea here is that the Bible is a collection of stories, poems, songs, letters, histories, etc… but they all fit within the framework of a larger universal story. This universal story is the thing that the Bible as a whole is pointing to.
      The 2nd idea about Christ making us fully human again refers to the idea that God created us to be a certain way (in right relationship with God, each other, the earth) and we are not that way now. But the transformation towards a “new creation” brings us in closer harmony with God’s original creation.

  • mariakirby

    I like how you phrased Act 1 and Act 2. I feel like Act 3 and Act 4 express antisemitism. I’m not sure any human(s) are a solution to the problem of sin except Christ himself.  God calls Abraham and his offspring to be God’s people.  In other words: to know him; to worship him; to be a testimony of God’s working to the world. Through the story of the Israelites we know God, we follow their lead in worshiping him, their knowledge of God has set the stage for many a revival. Jesus came to teach us grace.  Should the Jews have known grace before Jesus? Maybe. But their failure is no less or more than anyone else’s. The radical way of living is that of grace received and grace given.  Grace is the definition of a blessing. 

    Although the bible does use the term restore w.r.t. salvation, I prefer to talk about the Christian life as one of transformation because who we become in Christ is much more than we ever were, even in the garden of Eden. The risen Christ is much more than a restored Jesus.

    The way you use of the word salvation is rather ‘church-eze’ and would not communicate much to a non-believer with limited exposure to the bible.  And you are not very clear on how Christ’s death and resurrection defeated evil, the devil, sin, etc. This is where I think it is important to go back to the concept of grace and forgiveness and make it clear the power that forgiveness has is exemplified in the resurrection.  We want people to accept forgiveness from God and to extend that forgiveness to others.

    I have the most difficulty with how you describe Act 5.  The calling of Abraham to be a blessing is to be all of humanity’s calling.  We are to bless the creation God has made the way Jesus was a blessing for humanity. Every separate part of creation is to become part of the whole body of Christ.  All of creation will be transformed into a new creation at the end of time after which there will be no sickness, dying, or tears.  At the end of time the bride of Christ will become one with God himself.