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Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Scripture and Story: A Better Way

On my theological journey, I am beginning to have my engagement with Scripture refreshed and even transformed. This is by increasingly realising the power of reading Scripture as a Big Story told through many and diverse stories. This emphasis on narrative is not new in the academic world of Biblical Studies or Biblical Theology, but has not generally made much impact at a popular level. In general, most 'Bible-believing Christians' still use the Bible either as a devotional aid, a book of rules, or a theological compendium. Most of the time we read it to be inspired and 'spoken to' (a good thing because Scripture can and should certainly be a 'place' we encounter God). But when we are trying to work out doctrine, ethics and practice we use it like a legal code or a compendium where we lift out different proof-texts on a subject and then stitch them together to decide what we are meant to believe. It's like the Holy Spirit might just as well have inspired something like Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology. Then we could just go and look the subject up in the index and be told what to believe and do. But that is not the nature of the inspired Scripture that God has given us and there's a good reason why.

God told a Story through stories set in the real, messy, broken, ambiguous and plural world, involving communities in process in actual historical contexts. And this matters. Instead of being able to tick off a bunch of statements of belief, we are required to work out what's true and what matters by engaging with the Story and stories, with the help of the Holy Spirit and in conversation with each other. There's a beginning and end to this Story that provide its trajectory. There's the hero and central character, Christ, that provides it's focus. There is a vitally important turning point, the Cross, that provides it essential message. And there are Big Themes or principles that provide its parameters and constants as we seek to work out the Story's significance and meaning for us now. Because, of course, we are also invited to be part of the continuation of this Story as we move towards its final chapter, the restoration of all things, to everything made new. 

Reading Scripture this way, especially when moving from Scripture to our beliefs, is not simple and straightforward. But it helps us avoid dogmatism and straining at exegetical gnats as I mention here. Engaging in the stories and Story in this way encourages reflection, conversation, openness, diversity, provisonality in many beliefs, ongoing reflection and reform, willingness to explore and change etc. And it's just much more exciting!


  1. Finding your blog very engaging Trevor. This is an interesting post, do you have any more details/pointers on how to read the bible in this way?

    1. Hi Dave,
      Great to hear from you, and thanks for the encouragement. One of the main writers on this who has influenced me is N.T.Wright, especially his 'Scripture and the Authority of God'. There is a website with a lot of his articles, including some on this. Not always an easy read but worth the effort. Also, New Testament scholar Scot McKnight has a really accessible book called 'The Blue Parakeet' - not so much on Bible as story but on the fact that we have to understand the Bible's teaching in the context of the particular stories/contexts. He is also one of the writers of a brand new commentary series called The Story of God Bible Commentaries that I am really looking forward to engaging with. I am thinking of writing an e-book myself on the subject to try to explain it in a fresh and accessible way. Until then, I am sure I will blog on it again from time to time.