The Bible as Narrative… sort of

I always bristle a little bit whenever I read things like, “The Bible is not a set of rules to follow or doctrinal propositions to which we must assent. It is a story to live into.”

I’ll give you that the Bible, among other things, tells the story of God’s great redemptive love for his people. And God does invite us–through Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit–to dwell in the blessed realities of his story. Many parts of the Bible are narratives. And the disparate books of the Bible, I firmly believe, join together in a unity that we can rightly call “the Bible,” which does have a grand sweep and storyline.

But it’s not all story, and to call it just that leaves out some important things.

The 10 Commandments are, actually, rules. Verily, they are even a list of rules to follow.

And there are doctrinal propositions to which confessing Christians must assent. I think of the Scripturally-rooted, “Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again,” for example. Or Paul’s great confession of faith in 1 Corinthians 15.

Leslie Leyland Fields calls for Bible readers to carefully rethink “narrative theology,” calling instead for a more robust, “literary theology” of the Bible. In a new Christianity Today article she writes:

Story, as all high-school English students know, relies not simply on what happened but also on the language and literary devices used to tell it: metaphor, description, analogy, repetition, parable, image. Nor does this larger narrative movement pay heed to the other literary genres God chose to speak his words through—poetry, lament, epistle, proclamation, prophesy.

I don’t agree with everything in her article. For example, I wonder whether some of my emergent / ex-emergent / “postmodern” / postpostmodern friends would agree with her representations of that movement. (Although I love this line of hers: “[Rob] Bell defines even hell in terms of story: ‘Hell is our refusal to trust God’s retelling of our story,’ which I found to be the most frustrating line in all of Love Wins, which I otherwise didn’t think quite as offensive as others did.)

Her cautions are words of wisdom. And I think she’s right on the money with the title and thesis of her article. Read “The Gospel is More Than a Story” here.

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