Andrew Perriman has an interesting post whose title I’ve pinched (above) and to which I’ve added a question mark. It’s a good question: we have the New Testament (which of course the earliest Christians didn’t have), we are church, but how are we to be churches – how are we to embody and enact the unfolding drama of biblical narrative? In other words, how are we to live into and out of this ancient story?
In conversation with Andrew’s narrative-historical methodology – by means of which he reads himself into and out of the New Testament text – we find an interesting we find a fellow wayfarer who adds something to our journey.
Andrew’s post, in a sense, offers a high-level summary of some of the key themes of the New Testament. His argument is that “…the core elements of New Testament theology have a very precise, particular, and in certain important respects limited significance in the historical frame within which they were originally conceived and articulated…”
Andrew says, “the intention of the post was simply to show how a consistent narrative-historical reading of the New Testament may still be practically “applicable to believers to today”…”
Here are a couple of excerpts. You can find the full post here.
“The biblical narrative as a whole teaches us that this people was always intended to be new creation, a creational microcosm in the midst of the nations and cultures of the world. This template in itself establishes certain fundamental responsibilities and tasks; it may be used to define the “mission” of the church, as I have attempted to show in Re: Mission. A new creation people is in restored relationship with the Creator, expressed through worship, trust and service; it must work out the consequences of that core identity in its concrete social existence as a matter of tangible righteousness; it must express through its own creativity something of the good creativity of God. The post-eschatological church is still a model of restored humanity, a prophetic and priestly people, that embodies, articulates, mediates, the reality of God to a God-less world…”
Finally, I think we need to recover the simple power of story-telling. Modernity has taught us to extract truth forcibly from living narratives, process it, package it, and serve it up for popular consumption. Post-modernity is giving us the opportunity to let the narrative speak for itself and qua narrative shape the self-understanding and purpose of the people of God.
Peter bemoans the lack of a “biblical matrix… in which we can locate ourselves”. But “matrix” is only one type of metaphor for our relationship to scripture. I think that there are, in fact, ways to locate ourselves in the “matrix” of scripture. For example, it seems to me that the post-Christendom church is in an insecure transitional situation much like the exodus or the exile or the difficult journey that the New Testament communities had to make before they inherited the pagan world; and we are having to exercise a similar trust in God that we have a meaningful future. There is much that we can learn from such “analogies”.
But the Bible is actually much more like a narrative than it is like a “matrix”. It fundamentally tells a story. All I am suggesting is that we learn how to live in relation to scripture for what it actually is—not a textbook of theology, not a compendium of beliefs, not a work of quasi-Gnostic myth-making, not a static “matrix” in which truths are embedded, but a very Jewish historical narrative.
There is some truth in Peter’s claim that a narrative that culminates in the conversion of the Greek-Roman world leaves us now in “uncharted, post-biblical waters”. But I don’t see that as a bad thing. I disagree with Tom Wright about how the New Testament narrative is to be reconstructed, but I think his well known Shakespearian play analogy is helpful. The first four acts are found in the Bible. The undetermined fifth act is being written by the actors:
‘Better, it might be felt, to give the key parts to highly trained, sensitive and experienced Shakespearian actors, who would immerse themselves in the first four acts, and in the language and culture of Shakespeare and his time, and who would then be told to work out a fifth act for themselves.’ (Tom Wright)
The play cannot be properly finished simply by repeating act four. There are ways of living in the narrative that allow us genuinely to walk with God into the unknown, in proper continuity with the narrative trajectory of scripture—not least because we have to keep moving towards the final vision of a new heaven and new earth. It undoubtedly calls for an exceptional wisdom and creativity and faithfulness, but that should not be beyond the working of the Spirit of the Creator God who dwells within us…”
Andrew, if you read this, how about a post on why you disagree with Tom Wright on how the New Testament narrative is reconstructed? Perhaps you already have, so a link would be useful. I’m reading though that you’re in agreement with his analogy of an unfolding drama in five-acts…? I’ve always found it a really useful analogy. I remember a couple of years back interviewing friend Colin Greene and adds his own twist to Wright’s analogy.