Friday, August 1, 2008

Narrative Over And Against Proposition?

As I was refreshing my memory re: all things Emergent for last weekend's sermon, I began re-thinking the old narrative v. propositional antithesis that many, if not all, of the leaders in Emergent trumpet.

If I'm speaking a foreign language it is essentially this--modern Christianity is beholden to a theology that is alien to Scripture and the 1st century Church. The Bible is a story not a powerpoint presentation and the modern church has turned it into a list of propositions or "Do you believe A?" and "Do you believe B"? and if you don't believe "A" and "B" and on and on then you are not really a Christian. In protest, Emergents argue that the Bible is really about living out the story contained within. In other words, its not so much affirming the belief that Jesus existed and preached the Sermon on the Mount and that the Gospels faithfully record the words as it is to live out the commands to "turn the other cheek" and "give to whoever asks of you", etc.

Now, on the one hand, Emergents have a point and it was one that easily snared me as a seminary student nearly ten years ago. The modern church has indeed turned a lot of the faith into a true/false test instead of a way of life or, to use Donald Miller's phrase, separated truth from meaning i.e., we affirm something as true but it doesn't truly mean anything to us because we don't live as if it were really true.

Yet, on closer examination Emergents have simply swung from one extreme to the other when they truly need to find a solid middle ground.

The Bible is largely made up of narratives but not exclusively and a good portion of Scripture, like the Epistles (Romans-Jude) contain propositions flowing out of the narrative. In fact, such a move is inevitable. You cannot engage any story without being confronted with a proposition. The very frame of the story confronts us with a demand to acknowledge its truth or falsity. Even schlock like Rambo IV (which was friggin' awesome by the way) demands that the audience side with Rambo or the Burmese army and the moment you have made such a decision a number of propositions flow from such a commitment. Paul saw this. So, did Peter, James, John, Jude, etc.

Thus, Emergents pose a false antithesis. The proper way is to embrace both the living out of the story of Jesus while affirming the truths He explicitly taught us and those He gave to the Apostles, such as Paul, who Scripture affirms, is Jesus' own chosen instrument (Acts 9:15).

This is the balance you find in the Great Commission (Matt 28:16-20). Read it. Pray over it. Meditate upon it. It is a command to live a certain way but that way includes setting forth certain propositions.

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:16-20 ESV)