Scripture and Story: Why they Both Go Together and Matter

Like me, most Christians hold the Bible as the word of God and therefore seek to live their lives according to its teaching.  This begs a question: How do we use scripture?  As you ponder, consider this:

We must resist the temptation to read the Scriptures as if they were a religious flea market, with a basket of history and old doctrines here, from one end to the other.  Some readers of the Bible turn it into little more than an anthology of proof texts assembled to support a system of theology.  Others seek only ethical guidance, ransacking the Old Testament for stories of moral instruction.  Still others look just for inspirational or devotional messages, for comforting promises and lessons for daily living.  The result may be that we lose sight of the Bible’s essential unity and instead find only those theological, moral, devotional, or historical fragments we are looking for.

        But all human communities, including our own, live out of some comprehensive story that suggests the meaning and goal of history and that gives shape and direction to human life.  We may neglect the biblical story, God’s comprehensive account of the shape and direction of cosmic history and the meaning of all that he has done in our world.  If we do so, the fragments of the Bible that we do preserve are in danger of being absorbed piecemeal into the dominant cultural story of our modern European and North American democracies.  And the dominant story of modern culture is rooted in idolatry: an ultimate confidence in humanity to achieve its own salvation.  Thus, instead of allowing the Bible to shape us, we may in fact be allowing our culture to shape the Bible for us.  Our view of the world and even our faith will be molded by one or the other: either the biblical story is our foundation, or the Bible itself becomes subsumed within the modern story of the secular Western world.[1]

This begs another question: What story script do you live by, the story of the Bible or the story of a modern Western dream?

Sadly, in my ministry experience I have met far too many Christians who haphazardly and selectively proof-text scripture but are still dominated by a story script other than that which scripture unfolds.  The deceptiveness of this is that whatever unbiblical story-scripts they are living out will still employ enough bits and pieces of scripture to have the appearance of being biblical.  It is what the above quotation described as the fragments of the Bible being “absorbed piecemeal” into unbiblical stories. 

The results of this piecemeal absorption vary according to the purpose for which scripture is being proof-texted.  In my experience some have used the Bible to defend a sectarian dogma that says only those who believe everything they believe are saved and all the while they were living out a story that treated marginalized and minority people as unequal and, in some cases, with apathetic neglect.  Others have used the Bible to secure a theology of personal salvation while continuing to believe the stories of secular politics and nationalistic values, the dreams of a “health and wealth” gospel, or the ideology of a rugged individualism that ignores the place of God-ordained community within the biblical story.

To be fair to those who have learned to piecemeal and subsume scripture to the stories of Western secularism, it’s not really their fault.  Christianity in North America has heard far too many sermons and read far too many books which have selectively proof-texted scripture with little concern for its historical and canonical context or the larger coherent story it belongs to.  One of the goals of my ministry is to help people, Christian or not, know God’s story within scripture, from creation to redemptive consummation and then equip them to live out of that story.  For now, let’s ask ourselves: How do we use scripture and what story script do we live our lives by?

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          [1] Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen, The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 196-197.

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One response to “Scripture and Story: Why they Both Go Together and Matter

  1. The Reader Philip Ben Marston

    There is no text that can hold us to the life of Christ, the life lived in His righteousness, just as the Contsitution is ineffective in holding men to the principles of the Founding Fathers of America.

    The word of God is like a two edged sword, but in the next verse we learn that the Word of God is a He. The text of Scripture points us to Him who is The Word, and in Whom we have the Hope of Glory by virtue our Union with Him. Scripture points us to Him, for we do not wrestle with flesh and blood, though the transformation of our thinking is an adjunct to it.

    Scripture is a revelation- a little ‘r’- but the upper case “R” is the Person of Christ, one of the Holy Trinity. Spirit trumps Text. Scripture is part of a story. But if the interpretation of it is foverver up for grabs because there is no appreciation for the Tradition of historical understanding that is the Tradition of the Spirit, then it will ever and always be up for ‘grabs’ by the latest ideological fashion that comes our way.

    I am amazed- the lives that we are now living are those that have been depicted and absorbed by us from the entertainment media- get off the television; quite absorbing the pratical atheism of ‘sophisticated’ public radio; drop out of the ‘words’ that the world is sowing in our hearts and the ‘images’ that bombard us incessantly. Stillness. Be Still. Quit listening to the world. Listen to the Lord. Listen to His Spirit. Allow the Spirit and the Son to draw you into the Stillness of the Father. That is what St. Ignatius the Godbearer, in the first century, said; Bishop of the Church; contemporary of Peter and Paul and friend of John. Having been wed to the Trinity in Prayer and prayers, we shall manifest their life in the world, in accord with the testimony of the Churches canon of Scripture. We shall not ratchet our way into the Kingdom with rationalistic epistemolgies, gnosiologies. Lord have mercy on us sinners.

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