The Problems with Evangelical Theologies, Part 2 or How many pieces to this puzzle are there?

"The Bible was not written in a text-oriented culture but for an oral culture. So these documents were meant to be heard. When you read them out loud in Greek, you notice alliteration and poetry and all kinds of things going on that are totally lost in translation. I think the oral dimension of the biblical world, very much connected to storytelling, is a crucial dimension and is a key to understanding the theology in those texts." – Ben Witherington

 As Witherington stated in his article, "Paul operated out of his storied world". And really, we all do. We all live in a much larger story. It is a story that we reference to when we try and comprehend things, a story by which we tell others about our life, and a story by which we also add layers to. Paul's storied world was that of God as a creator (of the world and of a community started by Abraham), of Exodus (Moses) and kingship (David), of exile and the hope for a return to land and to justice. The Christ event rocked Paul's storied world, and yet it made sense. The scriptures pointed to it and it was fulfilling all the hope that Israel was looking for and what the world needed. This event changed Paul's world and that event is all he talked about. Now, of course, Paul did talk about certain theological "truths" and "doctrines" that needed to be stated for the new communities that grew from this Christ event. And yet, his context and his articulation of these things all fall under the metanarrative that he lived by. Witherington goes on to say:

"When Paul thinks about sin and the fall, he thinks about Adam. When he thinks about the law, he thinks about the story of Moses. When he thinks about faith, he thinks about the story of Abraham. And, obviously, when he thinks about salvation, he thinks about the story of Jesus. So these big-ticket theological ideas are grounded in stories."

I think what we must question in response to this is: "What is our current story?", "What story am I living in now and what about it needs to change and what about it can be strengthened?" Paul's story was moving in a trajectory towards salvation and yet he at first did not even recognize it. He was part of the story that was developing, but initially he wanted to squash the story because he didn't see how it fit. And on some level, it didn't. It challenged his story, and yet was shaped out of it. Paul began to recognize where his story needed to change and where it needed to stay the same. We must do the same. For most Americans, our metanarrative has been manifest destiny, prosperity, social darwinism, the search for self-worth and self esteem, the protestant work ethic, etc. It has been many things, and as we move from the macrocosm to the microcosm, individuals begin to nuance this even further to fit their own local context. Much of it is contradictory to the gospel, it promotes death and injustice instead of life and shalom. And yet, God is at work in our stories. We all long for certain things and act in certain ways that do fit the gospel. We must not lose our own stories because God wants our stories to be shaped by His. Not consumed but transformed. He sees where there must be continuity and discontinuity, He sees where there must be negation and where there must be support. We may be broken and cracked, but we do have pieces to start out with. Pieces of a puzzle that we had no clue how to fit together previously until God stepped into our stories and showed us how they fit. The life, death, and resurrection is the clue to our stories, the clue to salvation, and the clue to history.

Thank God for resurrection. Have a great Easter Sunday.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Problems with Evangelical Theologies, Part 2 or How many pieces to this puzzle are there?

  1. I think when we strip principles and static truths out of a story, we eventually lose the story. All we have left is a proposition, a statement, or whatever. Once the story is lost, context is lost, and it seems to me the ability to recognize story is lost. We can no longer see where our story should be strengthened in light of the gospel, where are story should be transformed, all we do is try to follow the proposition. Sounds strangely familiar.

  2. BP
    I agree. That is why I have such a hard time with the evangelistic methods of most churches these days. Four spiritual laws and Roman Roads? How are people supposed to make sense out of that at all? No, people would rather find a story and a community living by that story. Or, as Lesslie Newbigin stated, we need a “hermeneutic of the congregation”, a people living out the gospel.

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