Posted by: duncandrews | March 15, 2011

The authority of Scripture as narrative, III

Series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

I started by affirming Scripture’s authority as the word of God. God’s word is living and active; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart; and it ought to be read with reverence and expectation, in fear and trembling and joyful thanks.

And yet, as Luther writes: “Τhere is great danger in speaking of the things of God in a different manner and in different terms than God himself employs.” My assertion here was that the ‘manner’ in which God has revealed himself is not through a list of abstract beliefs, but a story, a meta-narrative whose arc spans from the very beginning to the very end. The main question I’ve asked flows out of both these things: if Scripture is authoritative (yes!), and if the basic genre/’manner’ of Scripture is narrative (I’m arguing also yes), what implications does that have for how we submit to its authority?

The answer I suggested here was that submitting to the authority of Scripture involves trusting that the world we’re invited into through Scripture’s story is in fact the real world, despite every voice to the contrary.

Ok, so now for some implications/applications.

1. Immersion. If you really want to get into a story you’ve got to just throw yourself in – read in big chunks as well as small, persevere through the hard bits, enjoy the fun bits, get to know its ebbs and flows, the narrative threads that hold it together, the main characters that drive it’s story forward. This is one reason I appreciate the use of a lectionary – it means that the bible’s story is read over time, and that congregations aren’t only hearing a preacher’s favourite books/passages; and it’s a powerful expression of confidence in the power of God’s word to work simply by being read and heard.

1. The New Testament’s structuring and prioritising function. But just knowing the story isn’t enough. It’s the starting point, but the Bible itself helps us to know how it all fits together through summaries given in the NT: Stephen’s speech in Acts 7; Paul in 1 Cor 15, Eph 1, Phil 2, Col 1, etc. These give structure to the story by helping us to see its main movements, and Jesus as its main player, the one who the whole story leads up to and flows out from. Because of this, these NT summaries also have a prioritising effect on how we read the Bible. If we recognise the essentially Christocentric nature of the Bible’s story, this keeps us from majoring on the minors and minoring on the majors. When we stop talking about Jesus, we’ve stopped talking about the Bible as the Apostles would want us to talk about it.

3. Read the parts in the light of the whole, and let the parts drive the whole. Understanding the Bible’s story helps us to read specific parts of the bible properly. It enables us to locate what ‘chapter’ of the story they’re in – Creation, the Fall, Israel, Jesus, the Church, or the coming New Creation – and this helps us to understand them properly.

The danger, of course, is that the big story becomes loosed from its moorings of the actual text of Scripture – something discussed a few times in the comments here. That’s a very real danger, and can lead to a flattening out of individual parts, and a failure to hear their unique contribution. But the inverse is just as dangerous. Reading the parts without reference to the whole – seeing Scripture’s parts as e.g. simply vehicles for abstract truth, and not moments within a larger story that build on what has gone before and provide narrative momentum towards what is ahead – becomes in the end a way to make the Bible say whatever you want it to say. Both are needed – an overarching narrative framework and attention to the details – and both sharpen each other.

4. Propositions flow from the story. What of propositions? I mentioned last time that I don’t think we should do away with propositions – in fact we need propositional truth. The core of the Christian message is the proposition that Jesus is Lord! But what it means for Jesus to be ‘Lord’ are not abstract concepts of power or privilege. Jesus’ lordship can only be understood rightly through the lens of the gospel story. He is the Lord who reigns on the cross. Our propositions about God, the world, and ourselves, then, need to be anchored in and driven by the story of the bible, not metaphysical concepts that owe more to ancient Greek philosophy than biblical Christianity.

5. Evangelism. What if, instead of giving a set of timeless truths in our evangelism, we got just better at telling, and living, this story? Here’s a great quote from N.T. Wright (h/t to Sean for putting me on to this article):

… we need narrative, not timeless truth. I’m not a timeless person; I’ve got a story. The world’s not a timeless world; it’s got a story. And I’ve got a responsibility, armed with scripture, to tell the world God’s story, through song and in speech, in drama and in art. We must do this by telling whatever parables are appropriate. That may well be by standing on street corners reading chunks of scripture. It might be much more appropriate to go off and write a novel (and not a “Christian” novel where half the characters are Christians and all the other half become Christians on the last page) but a novel which grips people with the structure of Christian thought, and with Christian motivation set deep into the heart of the narrative, so that people would read that and resonate with it and realize that that story can be my story. After all, the story of the Bible, and the power that it possesses, is a better story than any of the power games that we play in our world. We must tell this story, and let it exercise its power in the world.

6. The authority of Scripture as narrative and the character of God. The authority of Scripture is, in the end, God’s authority – what’s true of its character, and the way it operates, is true of the God who gave it. The story of Scripture does not coerce or intimidate people into submission – it’s an authority that presents reality and invites those looking on to, in faith, adopt its reality as their own. It’s the authority, not of a rule-book, but a gospel; not of a sword, but of a cross. The very form of Scripture as a narrative, and the way it exercises authority, I believe says something profound about the character of God and how he exercises his authority.


  1. […] Series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. […]

  2. […] Series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. […]

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