Narrative theology – What is it?
Narrative theology originated during the last half of the twentieth century, and seeks to interpret the Bible with narrative rather than propositionally. Systematic theology is narrative theology's opposite, and narrative theology defines itself in part by rejecting systematic theology. The goal of narrative theology is to learn from and relate to God as the hero of a grand story, rather than learning rules, principles or facts about Him from the Scripture. Within that story, we are to learn how to play our part.
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Narrative theology's idea of relating to God as a person in a story is not wrong—and can be helpful for those who struggle to see Him as real. Looking at the Bible through the lens of narrative, as opposed to systematizing the Scripture in an attempt to figure it all out, or piece it all together like a puzzle, can be very helpful. The truth is that God is a person, and the Bible is His story. Often, Christians get caught up in particulars and forget to see the larger picture. Looking at the Bible from a narrative theology perspective can be healthy. Furthermore, narrative theology can lay a good foundation for systematic theology—if used correctly.
Supporters of narrative theology will not deny that the Bible contains propositional truth. However, they assert that the Bible's primary purpose is to illustrate a relationship between God and His people, and to show how each of us fits into that overall story. They would say that systematic theology works best as a support for narrative theology, and that when narrative theology is the primary way of interpreting the Bible, there is less of a tendency for readers and scholars to engage in "proof-texting" or pulling verses out of context to buoy up doctrines that might not have much foundation when viewed as part of the overall narrative.
That having been said, narrative theology can also be misused. In the same way systematic theology lends itself well to proof-texting, the Bible's narrative can be warped or misrepresented when teachers and preachers become more interested in expressing a personal belief, opinion, or bugaboo than expressing the truth contained in the Scripture. This is very common, and should be a warning not only to teachers, but to everyone who reads the Bible. Whether we are taking the Scripture as a system, or a narrative, we must not trust our own intuition more than the written word. Doing so can lead to entire systems of thought that are completely unbiblical.
For example, some people claim that the narrative does not have any systematic theology, or that its particulars cannot be known. Thus, narratives can go from story directly to application, and there is no way to say that one person's interpretation or application is any more or less true than another person's. It is essential that, no matter which way of interpreting Scripture we accept as primary, we do not change its content, but instead handle it faithfully and correctly (2 Timothy 2:15). We are ambassadors for Christ, and as such, we should simply repeat what we hear from God, through His Word (2 Corinthians 5:20). Narrative theology and systematic theology are only useful if we are dedicated to treat the Bible as the very words of God, and repeat it accordingly (1 Peter 4:10-11).
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