Reading the Bible . . . and articulating a worldview

The story of the Bible tells us the way the world really is—a normative claim, a public truth. But it needs to be understood as one single unfolding story; if reduced to a collection of moral bits, systematic-theological bits, devotional bits, historical-critical bits, narrative bits, and homiletical bits, it can easily be absorbed into the reigning story of culture instead of challenging it. Then, of course, the Christian's basic beliefs in the biblical story must form the blueprint through which s/he sees human existence and the cultural task. In other words, articulating a worldview is the natural answering of life's most foundational questions. Here's how.

Appears in Summer 2006 Issue: Reading the Bible
June 1st, 2006

Human life is shaped by some story

All of human life is shaped by some story. Alasdair MacIntyre offers an amusing story in After Virtue to show how particular events receive their meaning in the context of a story. He imagines himself at a bus stop when a young man standing next to him says: "The name of the common wild duck is histrionicus, histrionicus, histrionicus." One understands the meaning of the sentence. But what on earth is he doing in saying it in the first place. This particular action can only be understood if it is placed in a broader framework of meaning, a story that renders the saying comprehensible. Three stories could make this particular incident meaningful. The young man has mistaken the man standing next to him for another person he saw yesterday in the library who asked "Do you by any chance know the Latin name of the common duck?" Or he has just come from a session with his psychotherapist who is helping him deal with his painful shyness. The psychotherapist urges him to talk to strangers. The young man asks, "What shall I say?" The psychotherapist says, "Oh, anything at all." Or again he is Soviet spy who has arranged to meet his contact at this bus stop. The code that will reveal his identity is the statement about the Latin name of the duck. The meaning of the encounter at the bus-stop depends on which story shapes it: in fact, each story will give the event a different meaning.

It is likewise with our lives. In his The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, Lesslie Newbigin writes in that "(t)he way we understand human life depends on what conception we have of the human story. What is the real story of which my life story is a part?" What Newbigin is referring to, here, is not a linguistically constructed narrative world that we fabricate to give meaning to our lives, but an interpretation of cosmic history that gives meaning to human life. N. T. Wright says in that a story is "the best way of talking about the way the world actually is" (The New Testament and the People of God). For those of us living in the West there are two stories that are on offer: the biblical and the humanist. As Newbigin points out:

In our contemporary culture . . . two quite different stories are told. One is the story of evolution, of the development of species through the survival of the strong, and the story of the rise of civilization, our type of civilization, and its success in giving humankind mastery of nature. The other story is the one embodied in the Bible, the story of creation and fall, of God's election of a people to be the bearers of his purpose for humankind, and of the coming of the one in whom that purpose is to be fulfilled. These are two different and incompatible stories.

The humanist and biblical stories are to some degree irreconcilable. They tell two different stories. If the church is faithful, to some degree there will be a clash of stories.

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