Sunday, January 29, 2012

Narrative and Principles

This morning at church, the Pastor Emeritus spoke to us, since our regular pastor and his wife will be in Israel for a couple of weeks. I enjoyed the pastor’s sermon because it reminded me of a post by Leslie Keeney on valuing the Bible as a narrative, rather than prioritizing principles and discarding the narrative once one arrives at the moral lessons that the stories supposedly teach.

This morning, the pastor derived principles from the stories. From the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth in the Gospel of Luke, the pastor derived the principle of praying and expecting God to answer our prayers according to his timetable, not ours. From the story of Saul of Tarsus’ conversion and the thorn in the flesh, the pastor derived the lesson of God keeping us humble. From the story of Esther, the pastor taught us about relying on God (which Esther may have done when she fasted, even though God is not mentioned in the Masoretic Text of the book) and of taking action, as well as God’s preservation of the Jewish people as a nation that glorifies him.

The thing is, I did not feel that the pastor was deriving principles in a manner that discarded the narratives. Rather, the pastor dived deeply into the stories themselves. When looking at Saul of Tarsus, he remarked that Saul was sure of himself before Christ appeared to him, but then he was rendered dependent on somebody else on account of his blindness. The pastor also remarked on how amazing it was that Saul was persecuting Christians one minute, and then the next minute he was proclaiming the very Gospel that he had once persecuted. I agree that deriving principles from the Bible can be done inappropriately, but I think that it’s good when one can do so while taking the narrative seriously—-by looking at characters, plot, etc. That way, we feel as if we are living a story with other human beings.


  1. James,

    Thanks for interacting with my posts. Regarding your suggestion that there is a way to derive principles from the Bible that respect the text and don't force the reader into the "instruction manual" paradigm, I totally agree. What your pastor did sounded wonderful.

    My concern is when someone makes "principlizing" their primary hermeneutic and assumes that that is how the Bible is designed to function in all situations.

    On another topic, your recent comment on Rachel Held Evans' blog that a christocentric hermeneutic can "flatten out the diversity of the Bible and subordinate the various biblical writings to a grand Christian narrative" was very insightful. I appreciate you pointing this out in such a gracious way and I am incorporating this caution into my own thinking about the topic.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Leslie. I didn't specifically have you in mind when I wrote that comment on Rachel's blog, but rather settings I've been in that try to hammer out the Hebrew Bible to be all about Jesus----or something specific about Jesus. What intrigued me was that----at least in your posts on Christocentric hermenutics that I read----you didn't seem to do that.


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