The return to the narrative has been a theme amidst biblical conversation as of late. There are many who advocate seeing the Scriptures as a narrative, and literary composition rather than a systematic and literal encyclopedia. When we encounter the Scriptures we come to them as characters in an ongoing narrative. Everyone involved in Christian faith and praxis finds themselves as characters in an ongoing biblical drama.
N.T. Wright in his excellent article “How Can the Bible Be Authoritative”, presents the idea of Biblical authority like a Shakespearean five act play. What we have before us in the narrative of Scripture is a five-act play, we come to this play having in our possession the first four acts, but as we read through the play we come the disturbing realization that we are missing the fifth act of the play.
What are we to do in this situation? We are to read and understand the first four acts of the play, and act out the fifth act in concordance with the first four acts of the play. We immerse ourselves in the study and understanding of the flow and structure of the play, and we seek to be faithful to the fulfillment of that play. We are not called to regurgitate the previous acts, for they have already been played out through the course of history. Rather we are to faithfully seek to live out the future of that play.
Scripture functions in the same way. We have the first four acts of the drama that is unfolding before us, and we look forward to the eschaton. In the meantime we faithfully live out that play before us.
In viewing Scripture as a narrative, instead of a series of propositions about God, we understand Scripture, and the dealing of God with the world as always evolving. As the story progresses the characters develop, the way in which the play proceeds follows along a path that is both sensitive to history, and fully aware of the path before us.
If we understand that theology is not about a system of beliefs, but rather the working of God in individual lives we adhere to the principle of a changing God. In each situation God’s activity in the lives of individual believers and in communities varies. Every situation calls for a specific response from man to God. If we are living in a narrative, and if God is working in the lives of believers in relationship that relationship is in constant flux, growing, changing, adapting, and changing in distance.
The culture in which we live is in constant flux. Theology is the church’s response to the cultural situations in the world. Throughout time theologians have formulated responses to events. As a result theology has been in constant development throughout the history of the church. As we are faced with new challenges and situations our theologies must adapt, and create answers to those questions. In this way our message is always changing.
As a result we are unable to point to a systematic theological system as THE way of thinking theologically. Rather we can only refer to a system as being apt for a specific time and place. Theological systems that have worked in the past worked in a context and a situation. As the situations change so must the systems. We cannot hold on to our systems of theology as if they were the anchor points for all eternity.