Class 4 - Narrative Theology
April 15, 2008
Narrative (Story) theology seems to move away from philosophically grounded theology, from theology that could have a formal dialogue with science, from authoritative statements of all kinds including treating the Bible as the authoritative word of God, and points to truth the way good fiction or good poetry points to truth.
Narrative theology is not much about illustrating truths with stories or about pointing to truth with metaphors. A good narrative theology story contains the truth and it is up to the listener to appreciate the truth the story carries. Christian narrative theology believes the Jesus story is a very good story. Historical accuracy really doesn't matter. Fine points of biblical scholarship don't matter much. Listening, meditating, engaging, sharing the story matters. It is easy to apply narrative theology to biblical engagement. The Bible is seen as a sequence of stories: pilgrimmage, rejection, bondage, release, wandering, etc.
Narrative theology fits nicely with the current popularity of post-modern philosophy. Both emphasize the freedom of the individual to construct his or her own thinking and feeling. Both emphasize the persuasiveness of the text itself rather than any external source of authority. It is about as opposite an approach to theology as you can get from doctrinal theology.
The stories we care enough about to remember from decades ago parts of our lives, or a newer story that has captured our attention, feels powerful, and shows up in our reflection times, can be called a framing story, a reference for us about what the world is like. A framing story tells us about what matters to us and what really matters is the core subject of theology.
The stories that matter to us don't have to be objectively true. In fact they can be about fictional characters. To think theologically about our framing stories is to consider the guidance they offer for our lives and to compare them to our other framing stories and to the framing stories carried by others. A framing story carried by a large segment of society is commonly called a myth.
Assignment for small groups
Let each group member tell a story from their childhood about themselves or about their families and then tell about why the story matters. Discuss the stories and what you here in them. Then let each group member talk about what are the "big" stories that they try to live by. What happens when there is disagreement about a stories meaning or guidance? After about two-thirds of the discussion time consider the question, How is the guidance in the shared stories similar or different and how did it feel to look for commonalities?
Think of a story about women's liberation in the United States and tell it to someone. Are there any facts that are important to understanding the stories and appreciating them? How do you know if the facts are true or if the story is a true story? What does truth mean?