Friday, August 12, 2005

The Metanarrative of Scripture

Having recently lectured on this in the UK, and having so many people thank me for this and ask if I would write down and blog my summary, here it is.
The Story of Scripture may be divided into several acts, like a play or drama. Tom Wright in his books The New Testament and the People of God, as well as Scripture and the Authority of God, suggests that scripture be divided into a 5 Act Play that follows this outline...
Act 1 = Creation.
Act 2 = Rebellion.
Act 3 = The Story of Israel.
Act 4 = Jesus.
Act 5 = The Church.
Bartholomew and Goheen in their book The Drama of Scripture add Act 6 = The Return of the King. And if you're into biblical numerics [I'm not really, but Horsley has inspired me to reevaluate this assumption] then you could add Act 7 = The Great Story following on from The Chronicles of Narnia book, The Last Battle where Lewis writes:

And as Aslan spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before. C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle, pg. 183-84

There are a few books which provide helpful little summaries of the metanarrative of scripture [The Big Story of the Bible]. David Wenham has a succinct summary from the perspective of the Kingdom of God in his book: The Parables of Jesus. Gordon Fee provides a brief overview in his excellent and worthy book, How to Read the Bible Book by Book [In my estimation, this should be mandatory reading for every person who wants to read the Bible properly!]. Vaughn Roberts has a somewhat helpful little book entitled: God's Big Picture. In fact, Bartholomew and Goheen have put together a neat selection of articles that are solid but edible, i.e., they don't require a degree in theology or biblical studies to understand!
It is important to understand this BIG PICTURE because it is in knowing this story, that we discover our own place and role in this unfolding narrative. Robert Jenson has given us several insights in his essay How the World Lost its Story. It would be my contention that those who want to find our their true identity, where they belong and their purpose on this planet should find their place in the biblical metanarrative. Some may feel that this is far to philosophical but I am persuaded that Jesus may have had a somewhat philosophical agenda. See the article by Doug Groothuis The Strange Exile of Jesus.
I'm preparing a lecture on "Leaders are Readers: Are you?" in which I'm grappling with what the average leader in our Christian community should be reading. Of course not everyone will read at the level that scholars and students read at, but now the task is trying to get them to a suitable level, as the writer of the Hebrews warns: by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food; for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil. If we are going to have leaders who teach, what is an acceptable level for them to be at, and then teach at? Surely this should be an ever spiraling upwards toward spiritual maturity? I mean, this will trickle right down into our various training events and classes.
I think one who is spiritually mature should know the biblical story and how it plays out in our day to day lives. A mature one should be aware of the intricacies of the Creation, Fall, Israel and Jesus stories and how they relate together. Scholars sometimes refer to the narrative substructure of scriptures. In fact, Richard Hays wrote an excellent book entitled Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul. Although this is not a beginners book, it is helpful and those familiar with the field will recognise this model from his doctorate, The Faith of Jesus Christ: The Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1-4:11. This book shaped much of my understanding of Galatians because it enhanced the Metanarrative of scripture behind the argument that Paul was constructing. [It also settled the pistis christou debate for me. I think it does refer to the faithfulness of Christ [Christ's faithfulness] and not faith in Christ.] In seeing the Bigger picture, the smaller details were put in place and my understanding enhanced. I would argue that much of the New Testament is simply missed because we fail to understand either the metanarrative behind what is being said, or we miss the echoe of scripture which the writer is building into [or assuming] as he constructs his argument.
Articles and books like those mentioned above, help us understand that the story of Early Christianity has deep roots in the Hebrew scriptures [Old Testament], and that to fully grasp and understand Jesus and the New Testament, requires that one be well versed in that story.
In fact, to better understand that story, you must lay down your story and take up a place in the Master's story. You must realise that every other story finishes with the sobering words "THE END" whereas HIS story never ends, it just gets better and better. Remember, God [the chief character and story-teller] is always on the look out for ordinary people to play significant parts in his unfolding drama.
That is why we exist - to play our part for Him...


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Gareth Naude said...

Wow, here's a topic that hits home. What is the acceptable level of biblical knowledge for leaders? In our pioneering situation this is a hot topic. We are up to four home groups now, and we need to keep growing, but the problem is leaders. Add to that that many of our people have only the most basic schooling (if any), and so can barely read and write (some cannot at all) and you have quite a deal on your hands. (for those of you that don't know me check out to see what I am talking about. A quick personal plug he he).
As you know Sean I agree with you that biblical metanarrative unlocks scripture and helps to get so much in perspective (which is why you need to send me your transcription from Newday). Maybe you could blog more of your thoughts on what lay leaders should be reading, could give some of us non academics some good starting points.

eddie said...

You simply must mail me your lecture ("Leaders are Readers: Are you?") when its done! plzzzzzzzzzzz

I've been thinking about this in reference to the leaders in infocus, and me as one of those leaders. Do I have my head to high in the academic clouds?

Ted Gossard said...

Thank you.

I'd like to do much more reading but am not blessed with the opportunity to do as much as yourself. So thanks for your studies, thoughts and recommended books. Much appreciated.

Ted Gossard said...

Thanks for pointing out Gordon Fee's book, "How to Read the Bible Book by Book". I have yet to read that book and want to get a copy.

I heard Gordon Fee online talk about a release sometime next year of the TNIV in a format (without chapters and verses, I believe) that will faciliate proper reading of the biblical text. I look forward to it.