a narrative to bridge the theological canyon
March 14, 2008
I actually attended TGIF this morning, how I got out of bed I do not know, but I did it. Michael Neumann form Hatfield Christian Church was speaking on spiritual formation… well, actually more like on a narrative approach to scripture, the spiritual formation would come in two weeks time in part two I guess. What he did was to describe the two streams in Christianity (more like protestant Christianity actually) to be Evangelicalism and Liberalism; Evangelicalism rearrange verses in the Bible to fit there picture, and Liberalism throw out of the Bible that which do not fit there picture. Well, I guess you could argue the descriptions and labels, but few who actually follow the theological conversation would deny the fact that there is a deep division between at least two major streams of Protestant Christianity, and that a major reason for this division is how we approach scripture (although deeper reasons have been identified by many).
The attempt to bridge this divide is becoming more and more popular, with Christians on both sides realizing that we need a unified witness if we are to have any impact on the world, and sometimes also that this is simply not in line with the Jesus-tradition, no matter which way you look at it. I guess it’s also the result of a generation less troubled by dogma, maybe also the fruit of a couple of decades of ecumenical work on an international level. Whatever the reasons may be, if you follow the conversation, you would probably also agree that for a large part (fundamentalists excluded) attempting to bridge these divides is becoming very important.
Also, the use of narrative as a category for reading the Bible in order to bridge this divide is becoming popular. The idea is basically that by using narrative as category we can get away from the literal and dogmatic approach of reading scripture, but still read all of scripture on the same level, and thus not succumb to the feared pitfalls of historical criticism (an approach which in various ways attempted to discover the traditions behind passages, the development of the Bible on a human level, and various other things).
But as Neumann began giving his summary of the story of the Bible, I heard basically evangelical doctrine being described: creation, fall, redemption on the cross, a second coming, and God being there throughout this all. Not that this is necessarily bad, but just seem to again proof that we cannot that easily escape where we come from. Although he use the “new” language of narrative, the underlying theology is still mainly within the Evangelical framework, still a way of approaching it with which I’m much more comfortable.
The discussion afterwards again established this, it was not about bridging the theological canyon, but about bridging the gap between Evangelical (not in the recent American definition of it, but in the classical Reformation definition) and this new narrative approach. No one even though about the “Liberals”, who in any case throw out half of scripture, so this cannot even be considered.
I like Micheal’s answer when I portrayed this problem to him, talking about a communal conversation, in which others must also take part to sketch a holistic picture, but admitting that he come from he certain side of the story, which deeply influenced how he now see the story. And then he had to ask how I would summarize the narrative, since I also like the category of narrative, now that will require much more thought, but I’ll make an attempt in the next few weeks.
Just maybe a last thought. How should these divides be described? Liberal and conservative? Evangelical and liberal? Fundamental and critical? A lot of ways can be considered, but at the moment I think systematic and historical might help us. On the one had the systematic tradition, which remain in line with the church theological tradition, attempting to clarify whichever tradition you are part of or a new time. But I’m less sure whether the systematic label is the right one than the historical one. The historical approach: coming out of the historical work of the Von Rad, Bultmann and Schweizers of the past 200 years or so, rereading scripture while attempting to reconstruct the history within which it came into being, and then attempting to reconstruct theology from that.
Obviously this do not take the Orthodox tradition into account, probably not the Catholic tradition either, but it might be another way of looking at the current affairs in Protestant circles.