Inspired by a post that J.R. Daniel Kirk did over at Storied Theology on Narrative. I went to my nightstand for my trusty Global Dictionary of Theology – from which I do most of my morning reading. I looked up Narrative Theology and thought it would be cool to see this same content as a blog entry instead of an encyclopedia format. What follows is the edited content completely derived from Thomas Harvey’s article (p. 598-601). All the words are Harvey’s – I just typed and formatted.

Narrative theology examines the fecund relationship between story, Biblical interpretation and the ongoing life of the church. It examines the relationship between narrative as a literary form and theological reflection.

It is in the reading, telling and interpretation of narratives that humans derive their communal and personal identity as well as provide a basis for meaningful activity of the world.

Accordingly, biblical scholars and theologians have considered how narrative functions

  • biblically
  • doctrinally
  • historically
  • liturgically
  • morally
  • missiologically
  • and what implications this might have in terms of a Christian understanding of the nature of God.

Narrative draws deeply from philosophical insight into the relation between narrative and rationality. Knowledge is thus not derived from random collection of “facts” but only in light of the inherited narrative frameworks passed down through meaningful stories.

In Christianity, the primary narrative framework is supplied by Scripture. For Karl Barth the critical matter was not whether the narratives could be proved historically inerrant or scientifically verified, but rather how the stories functions themselves to span the gap between the believer and Scripture’s ultimate Author who lives and moves through these narratives.

Because the truth of Scripture is ordered to its narrative, Hans Frei argued that modern emphasis on pure reason or universal religious experience has led to a damaging eclipse of the biblical narrative and thus the theology that rests upon.

The significance of the biblical story to self, church and society lies in the heart of H. Richard Niebuhr’s  The Meaning of Revelation. Whereas Barth sought to vindicate Scripture as the story of God rather than the spiritual yearning of humankind writ large, Niebuhr focused on the impact of biblical narrative on the basic convictions of Christians.The grammar and the logic of narrative has been an important aspect of George Lindbeck’s analysis of the nature of doctrine. Rather than approaching doctrine as a set of propositional truths that refer directly to objective transcendent realities, Lindbeck views doctrine primarily as the cultural and linguistic grammar and logic distinguishing Christian communities from each other as well as adherence to other religions. For Lindbeck the problem with viewing doctrine as cognitive propositions is that arguments degenerate into irreducible disagreements about referents not amenable to adjudication. In contrast, when viewed as cultural and linguistic rules of faith, doctrinal difference refers to the ways diverse communities configure the narrative of salvation differently.According to Paul Ricoeur, “symbol precedes thought”.

When viewed in this way, theology is not merely reflective and retrospective, but creative and engaging.

It takes the stories, symbols, analogies and metaphors of Word and sacrament as means to grapple with and better understand the nature of existence and knowledge.

The critics of narrative theology point out that it is systematically unsystematic, making it difficult for its proponents to point to any sustained or coherent theological method or progress. It represents a variety methodological and theological concerns,  appraisals and projects that seek to recover the relevance of the narrative accounts of Scripture as well as narrative accounts of the church both individually and communally.

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