Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Narrative, Creed, & Exposition: Integrating Bible Stories with Catechisms

Recently, Rev. John Armstrong wrote about the crying need for the church and her ministers to better understand the concept of "Christ in all the scriptures". This is of growing concern in our biblically illiterate age as I have discussed at the introduction of this project here and here. Such concern is also the natural outgrowth of what used to be known as "grammatical historical" exegesis. After all, to interpret any given passage correctly, we must understand it within its context historically and along the timeline of biblical history. This concern is keenly felt by a new bumper crop of young pastors who feel such a view of the scriptures has been, effectively, hidden from them by the evangelical and fundamentalist church's penchant for what they consider mindless, uninformed "proof texting".

This newfound fascination to find the "metanarrative" of scripture also arrives on the scene just as the postmodern age has decided that materialistic consumer culture offers no metanarratives worth believing. In rediscovering the overarching message of scripture, a new generation of culture-savvy Christian warrior is rushing off to battle once again happily armed.

But having fallen in love with their newfound weaponry, they jettison the mature gifts of previous ages - the creeds, catechisms, and confessions - as so much extra baggage. The confessional documents given birth in ages where Christendom devoted its best minds and committed it's life and future to the truth of its confessional documents are considered little more than blunderbusses are today in the age of the bunker buster: museum pieces.

But the narrative of scripture and the creeds, catechisms, and confessions belong together. Biblical theology (the metanarrative) ultimately leads to Systematic theology (the creed, confession, and catechism) in the way that - for adults at least - words should lead to sentences. Arguing for the superiority of the metanarrative to the creed is like arguing for the superiority of nouns over verbs; they belong together. Jesus, after all, was not opposed to apply the Genesis narrative to the ethical and systematic issue of the doctrines of marriage and divorce, and neither should we as long as we are willing to give due regard to the narrative as our Lord did.

What remains to be seen are practical working models of how this is accomplished in the church.
The academy has largely failed to provide such models constantly separating the disciplines of exegesis and systematics, history and ethics, and pitting them against one another. So today, then, must be an age of innovation where pastors must create models that do justice to both scripture as narrative and scripture as truth claim.

Where are the models? As previously mentioned here, Rev. Peter Bender has integrated Bible Stories with his catechesis for years. As part of his pastoral labors, he has gone so far as to create his own 3 year "Bible Story Lectionary" for daily Bible readings for parishoners and his church school as part of his overall program of catechesis in the congregation.

Likewise, there are elements of Dutch Reformed pastoral practice that aid in this task because their work with scripture as covenantal document were done in a context that simultaneously sought faithfulness to the Three Forms of Unity.

There is much to be learned from the work of missionaries who have been grappling with the issues of scripture, truth, and cultures a generation before postmodernism slapped us in the face. Because these missions efforts were largely baptistic in origin and not confessional per se, their work must be completed by integrating this preliminary work with the creeds and confessions of our respective churches. Failing to do this work will ultimately divorce the church of the future from the historic church. Our own rediscovery of our creedal and confessional past has shown us what an error that has been - why do we continue to doom the next generation to our wanderings?

My formative training looked to expository preaching as the panacea for all churchly ills. It truly is important and must not be ignored. But it presumes too much - a basic Christian worldview that expository preaching merely "fine tunes". Now we know more is needed... a completely new foundation based on God's saving acts in redemptive history (narrative), expressed cogently (confession), and applied locally (expository preaching).

God give us the models!

God help us faithfully to put them to work!

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