Friday, July 13, 2007

More Thoughts on Narrative

Which is the master and which is the servant? Do the propositions serve the story, providing needed details and insight as the plot moves forward toward a culmination? Or do the stories serve the propositions, providing illustrative material for them?

This may mostly be a matter of semantics, but I think it does highlight an important distinction and clarification. Whichever is primary for us - story or proposition - will shape our perspective on the Bible, our emphasis in communicating it, and ultimately our effectiveness in reaching a new generation with the gospel.

For me, I am more inclined to see the propositions as servants of the story than vice versa. I see life as a grand movement full of adventure and mystery. I think it is moving toward a resolution, a kingdom, a happily ever after. And I think things like love and courage and hope are the stuff of life. When my story reaches it final page, I can't imagine that there will be a quiz.

Along the way, the propositions fill in the details. They provide some explanation. But they are not the point. Why can I keep hope in a dark chapter of my life? Because I have learned that God is faithful. Where can I turn when I am down? I have heard that the church is to be a place of encouragement.

What are propositions about my wife? She has beautiful brown hair and eyes. She is creative and funny. She is a wonderful mother.

These propositions are true. But I would rather be captivated by the often hilarious and poignant story of her life than to merely be told these statements. And, I would rather, above all, have my life intertwined with hers that I might experience all that she is.

So too it ought to be with God. Let's captivate people with his story, using the propositions when necessary, but never as a replacement for the mystery and adventure that is the gospel. And, even more, let's invite people to have their stories woven into the only one who can offer them a lasting happily ever after.


Jbhart said...

Agreed. I like that way of looking at it. The story holds us captive not the details.

Anonymous said...

On compelling stories (narratives, whatever):

This may be a little off-topic, but I always get stuck on just which elements make a story compelling--the struggle, the romance, the adventure, the sacrifice, the leap of faith in the dark, the comedic relief to ease the tension, the hope when all is lost, the belief that there are things for which we must make a stand. Without these things and others, a story is just a series of propositions.

What better to illustrate this than an excerpt on stories from a story by a master storyteller?

"It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something. […] That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo…and it’s worth fighting for."

--The Two Towers, J.R.R Tolkien

What is it that we believe in, strive for, fight for, and even die for, and why do we do it? It would seem only the narrative can convey the meaning beyond mere words when we are describing something so much bigger than ourselves. A series of propositions simply isn't adequate.