Posted by: duncandrews | February 9, 2011

The authority of Scripture as narrative, II

Series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Back here, I asked the question: what does it mean for the Bible, as a narrative, to be authoritative in the Christian life? Before I make an attempt to answer that question, I reckon it’s important to think first about how narratives work, and what sort of normative, and transformative, power they have.

So, how does a narrative do its thing? What is it we’re trying to do when we tell a story? I think the answer to that question is something along these lines: a narrative works by pulling us out of our own world and transporting us into another. When we’re immersed in a good story, we get a glimpse into a world different to ours, we see through someone else’s eyes. The power of a story, then, is that being immersed in this other world enables us to see our own world differently. Long help assumptions are challenged, patterns of behaviour are rebuked, emotions are reshaped; all because the story has opened our eyes to another way of existing. We see someone living with a different set of norms – and that confronts our own norms, our own worldview. And, if the story is powerful enough, that can move us to change our norms, to adjust our own view of the world.

That’s the power of a story – I can’t think of anything more powerful to effect change in a person’s life. But it’s also the danger. Who is to say the worldview presented in a particular narrative is in fact the right one? When a story exerts its transformative power on its reader, how can we know if the transformation is in the right direction?

And that’s where, I believe, the Bible comes in. My suggestion is that a commitment to the authority of Scripture is not primarily about assenting to particular propositions that we have drawn out of it. We need to be careful here – I’m not at all suggesting we do away with propositional truth, or that we can’t or shouldn’t gather propositions from Scripture. But fundamentally, we are dealing with the Bible as it actually is given to us, as a grand narrative, the greatest, most gripping and transforming story ever told.

Submitting to this authority, then, involves trusting that the world we are invited into as we immerse ourselves in the Bible’s story, is in fact the real world. It is the world that uniquely has the authority to judge, break down, and remake our own worlds. As we immerse ourselves in it, we not only see reality from another person’s perspective; we see it from God’s perspective.

And as we do that – and here’s the amazing thing about this story – by the work of God’s Spirit we become swept up into it. We become, not just passive disinterested readers; not even readers whose main interest is in picking out a few platitudes; but actual players in this story, characters who recognise this story as their own story.

But what difference does all this make, to how we read the Bible, to our knowledge of God, to the way we go about doing theology? I’ll give a few thoughts on that another time…


  1. […] answer I suggested here was that submitting to the authority of Scripture involves trusting that the world we’re […]

  2. […] actually need- not a philosophy that makes ‘make sense’ of evil, but a story – the world’s true story if Jesus is to be believed – in which evil is a nonsense, a tragedy, and an enemy that is […]

  3. […] Part 1, Part 2, Part […]

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