I’ve really been enjoying J.R. Daniel Kirk’s Storied Theology blog. Kirk is that rare biblical scholar who writes in a clear, concise manner usually missing from academic writing. His book, Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul? is on my to-read list. In the meantime, I enjoy his reflections on theology – especially narrative theology, which he contrasts with systematic theology.
The latter, he argues, looks at theology as a system by which we derive the answers we are seeking. It’s very modern, in other words. Narrative theology, on the other hand, taps into a vein of thought we’re seeing come to the fore with the likes of Scot McKnight’s King Jesus Gospel and others: that the Bible isn’t set up so much to give answers as to engage us in dialogue and tell a very important story that can and should change our lives.
Perhaps the place where narrative and systematic theology differ is in the latter’s need to stand at the end of the story throughout, and articulate what is true on its basis. What is true about God, now that this story has happened (and is happening)? What do we know to be true about people?
Narrative theology is more content to leave stories as stories. Perhaps more, narrative theology is content to talk about God as God interacts with Abraham, and Moses, and David, and Jesus, and Paul, and the Lamb. To what degree can we speak of God truly when we have not located God as the actor in a story that unfolds in and among the people?
Is abstracting that character going to be able to produce a true portrait? Is the fear of an abstracted God, abstracted humanity, or abstracted church legitimate?
Narrative approaches also tend to have more patience with leaving contrasting voices on the table to continue their conversation. The Bible is a narrative, not a philosophical system, so univocal theological points are not expected.
I like this very much. It’s very postmodern. (Those two sentences may or may not be related on a deeper level.) So when we talk, as we’ve been doing, about Paul’s views on sexuality, we are free to interact with them, see the context from which Paul’s writing, understand that our knowledge of gender roles and sex are much different than his, and perhaps adjust our viewpoints accordingly.
“But,” I can hear slippery slopers arguing (and there’s a little slippery sloper in each of us, I think), “once you start arguing the Bible doesn’t provide answers, there’s no end to the heresies! What about the cross? What about the resurrection? What about heaven and hell?”
Yeah, about that.
Continue reading Faith in Uncertainty