Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Narrative and Proposition

[This post is a continuation of thoughts flowing from the previous post titled The Emergent Failure, and the further extended comments on the blog post from which that previous post was sparked.]

The pictures in my mind go back over 50 years ago when I was a young boy sitting in the Sunday School class at the church we went to. Three faces and names appear in those pictures; Mrs. Eicher, Mrs. Ennis, and Mrs. Ruckman. There may have been others, but these three ladies were the ones who remain in my memory some 50 plus years latter.

It was these ladies who taught me at a very young age the Story; the Narrative if you will. It is from these ladies I learned the story of creation and the fall, the story of Noah and the ark, the stories of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, and Joseph and his brothers, the small boy named Samuel, David and Goliath, the birth of Jesus, his ministry, his death and resurrection, the out pouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus and his missionary journeys. They told those stories, illustrating those stories with flannel graph figures placed on the board.

Yes, there were rudimentary propositional truths taught along with the stories. It was those propositional truths that gave the stories and the Story meaning and purpose. What was the meaning of the fall? Why was there a flood? Why all the fuss about a baby in a manger? Why was Jesus killed? Why is His resurrection meaningful? All those are questions that require some form of rudimentary propositional statement for an answer.

There were also ethical teachings that went along with the stories, be nice and kind to people, respect your elders, don't "kill" your little brother, love God and do what He says.

The point is that over 50 years ago Sunday School teachers were presenting Christianity to their students as narrative; narrative that provided the context and content for propositional theological and ethical truth.

Even in the churches I've been in that did not have a formal liturgy based on a church calender, there was the observing of Christmas and Easter; occasions pointing back to specific points of the Narrative and recognition of the importance of those Narrative events.

And that's not just my story.

Over the years since that time in my life I've met other Christians from different traditions and church backgrounds who essentially give the same testimony. Christianity was presented to them as the Story that gives a context and content to theological beliefs and ethical behaviour. The Story was not told as "propositional postulates", but as Narrative that has meaning and purpose. The articulating of that meaning and purpose of necessity brings us to propositional postulates, but those postulates only have meaning and basis in the context of the Narrative. We cannot somehow pit Narrative against postulates, nor postulates against Narrative. They go together, Narrative leading, propositional postulates following, but always together, not ever separate.

I whole heartedly agree with the statement, "Telling this story as propositional postulates isn’t a compelling story to most people in America outside of the church." I would only add that telling the story in that fashion would not be a compelling story for most people inside the church as well. But that said, what I do take issue with is the implication that the churches at large have been and are continuing to tell this story only as propositional postulates. To seperate the two is to truncate the Gospel. There have been over the years some popular Gospel presentations that appear to do that, but even those presuppose the Narrative. Rewrite the Gospel tracts if you must, but in doing so, do not minimize either Narrative or proposition. And don't presume the existence of such tracts is normative or has been normative or all encompassing for how the church has been or is telling the Story.

Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)

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