Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Power of Story

When it comes to passing on the faith from one generation to another, it seems that there's no tool more powerful than a story. When the period of history known as the enlightenment unfolded, it seemed that western civilization became enthrolled with articulating knowledge in the form of systems as a means both of increasing understanding and finding solutions to problems.

Systems certainly have their place. It's knowledge articulated systematically that has given us the computers, the internet, safer buildings, modern medicine and the capacity to travel from Seattle to Dallas in three hours. There are few who would want to return to medieval times, and we have systems thinking to thank for a large part of our present creature comforts.

And yet systems have their limitations. We reach those limitations very quickly when we come to our understanding of God. Theology really is nothing more than the systematic discourse about the character and nature of God. Theology has developed over the past three centuries largely along the lines of 'systems' thinking, so that, until very recently, one studied a particular aspect of God's work thoroughly before moving on to another aspect. Thus the topics of theology include "Bibliology" (the study of the Bible), and Hamartiology (the study of sin), and Anthropology (the study of man), and Soteriology (the study of salvation), etc.

Eugene Peterson points out the inherent danger of such thinking in this book. Here he writes, "Somewhere along the way, most of us pick up bad habits of extracting from the Bible what we pretentiously call, 'spiritual principles' or 'moral guidelines' or 'theological truths' and then corseting ourselves in them in order to force a godly shape on our lives. That's a mighty uncomfortable way to go about improving our condition."

Indeed. It's uncomfortable because it seeks to impose law when the gospel is largely about inviting us into a story. We're invited, not to embody and defend a moral code, but to step into a story that has been unfolding since the beginning of time, and take up our role in the grand narrative of restoration that God is writing each day. We're invited to realize that the story is unfolding all around us, in politics, creation, marriage, raising children, creating art, working for justice, mourning the slaughter of the innocents that we see in the news, or know of first hand, and so much more. The story goes back into deep history, continues up to the present, and will culminate in the universe being filled with glory.

Stepping into a story is far more inviting than arguing about the nuances of systematic theology. That's what made Tolkien so exciting; Frodo stepped into a story. And it's why I'm excited about spending time teaching/preaching through the life of David beginning this Sunday. The story of David is the story of God and man - every man, and every woman finds themselves identifying with the story.

From childhood, our hearts have longed for stories. God isn't just telling old tales though. He's writing new ones, and inviting us to take a part.


At 4/1/07 00:10, Blogger Ryan Wink said...

"That's what made Tolkien so exciting; Frodo stepped into a story…"

…A story that was exhilarating because of the challenges of uncertainty and trust. Frodo admittedly didn’t know what to do. He just knew he needed to do it and he stepped forward (literally) and accepted his story. So many times I, like Paul, and probably every other Christian since, know what I need to do and fail to actually jump into my story even though I know that God is behind me… but why? Is it really that terrifying to totally trust God? I know that living with that fear and frailty in God’s story for me will always be better than living with the regret of not pulling the trigger… so why is it still so difficult? How is it that we can so often know what is right in our brains, but not allow it to trickle down the 6” path to penetrate our hearts where that information would really make a difference? I don’t get it… I am totally at a loss…


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