Why the Gospel Should Be Shared as a Narrative (Story), not as Propositions

The Story of Redemption is an eight part evangelistic Bible study that I have written to help lead unchurched, postmodern people to faith in Jesus Christ. This story is largely narrative in form, which is appropriate for many reasons. [1]

  • Humans are storytellers, and they make sense of their lives through narrative.[2]
  • Most of Scripture is narrative, and the Christian faith was presented in this form through much of the history of Christianity. Early Christians shared the gospel story orally, and the medieval church kept an emphasis upon narrative by telling these stories in art form. The Enlightenment, the issues involved in the Reformation (such as grace versus works), and the invention of the printing press pushed Christian thinkers and writers into an emphasis upon Paul and his presentation of the gospel, which is mainly non-narrative in form, for centuries. In contrast, postmoderns resist appeals to universal reason, and are moved more by emotion, image, and personal testimony—elements made much more possible in narrative than syllogisms.[3]
  • The current interest in story is also a phenomenon intensified through the invention of pervasive new media that is often used for story telling, such as television and video;[4] however, human beings seem to by their very nature use narrative to interpret their past and guide their ongoing behavior and morality. Therefore, when people hear biblical stories, they compare their own lives to these stories and use them to pull together their fragmented selves and form a new narrative for their lives.[5]

For these reasons, The Story of Redemption does not begin by seeking to prove the authority of the Bible, which would be resisted by postmoderns. Instead, the narrative begins in Genesis, inviting seekers to listen and interact with the story, suspending disbelief and seeing if the story “rings true.”[6] A narrative will be “compelling if it represents a world, or part of a world, in a way that supports imaginative entrance into that world, irrespective of how things actually are.”[7] By inviting seekers to enter into the world of Scripture, even if they are skeptical or disbelieving, a pathway for is opened.



 

[1] The Story of Redemption, while primarily narrative, is not devoid of a few rational explanations. Phillips and Okholm advocate a narrative approach to apologetics; however, they point out, that even “narrative purists and deconstructionists” use rationality to explain their positions. They therefore conclude “we need not shy away from some appeal to classical apologetics as long as it is buttressed by other modes of discourse and defense.” Timothy R. Phillips and Dennis L. Okholm, Christian Apologetics in the Postmodern World (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 188-89.For instance, the first part of The Story of Redemption contains some reasoning about the ultimate origins of the universe. This is included in part because of the “New Aggressive Atheism” of Richard Dawkins and others, and in part due to my own science background; however, it is only a small part in the overall narrative. See Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2008).

 

[2] Ray Lubeck and Theological Research Exchange Network, "Talking Story Narrative Thought, Worldviews, and Postmodernism," in Evangelical Theological Society papers ETS-5020(1998). http://proxy.fuller.edu:2048/login?url=http://libraryweb.fuller.edu....

 

[3] Carl A. Raschke, The Next Reformation: Why Evangelicals Must Embrace Postmodernity (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 17. For a critique of postmodern views of truth, and an affirmation of the correspondence view of truth, see Erickson, Helseth, and Taylor, Reclaiming the Center, 59-79.

 

[4] Shane Hipps, The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture: How Media Shapes Faith, the Gospel, and Church (El Cajon, CA: Youth Specialties, 2006), 81, 117.

                [5] Wuthnow, Sharing the Journey, 293-95.

 

[6] “The issue in a postmodern world is not to prove the Bible, but to restore the message of the Bible, a message which, when proclaimed by the power of the Spirit, takes up residence within those who know how to hear.” Webber, Ancient-Future Faith, 46. A work of art, if true, will be self-authenticating. See John Thornhill, Modernity: Christianity's Estranged Child Reconstructed (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 120-21.

 

[7] Penner, 39.

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Comment by James Nored on April 21, 2011 at 9:48am

Miguel, I say that the Story of Redemption is "largely" narrative in form. At the end, in lesson 8, we look at 1 Cor. 15 and Romans 6, which is more propositional. I don't have a problem with this, obviously, at this point and in this context. What I am seeking to correct is the elimination of the story and the reducing of the gospel to propositions. Propositions, without the story, touch and move very few, and it also distorts the essence of the gospel. The Christian faith is not primarily propositional, but a living, breathing narrative and relationship with God and others.

 

And I'm not so sure that we always must get to propositions. Jesus often did not. He told parables and left people to wrestle with them. Those that got it, followed him. Those that didn't, didn't. Could we not sometimes simply tell the story of Jesus and of those who followed him and ask people, what do you think this story is leading you to do?

Comment by Miguel Labrador on April 21, 2011 at 5:15am
Limiting the gospel to simply narrative, is not a healthy theology. As c.s. Lewis says, the myth becomes truth. The story contains propositions and so it is not a either or. Propositions keep the narrative from slipping into the past. We live in the story and can apply those propositions now and in the future. A drama leads to doctrine, doctrine to doxology (prayer and praise), and doxology leads to discipleship. So the narrative of the gospel is just a story when it doesn't make propositions for us to act on.

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