Doing Justice to The Narrative Controversy

OK, so my post yesterday morning was a cop-out, and I’m sorry. I blame my new job. The upside is I get to use my brain more; the downside is that my brain is tired when I get home, therefore making it hard to read extremely cerebral and complex books like Paul In Fresh Perspective. Wright is EXTREMELY hard to digest when he gets all academic, and having been out of the academic world for going on two years now, it’s gotten difficult to cook my brain like that.

To top it off…I had to kind of isolate myself tonight because my wife and her friend were watching the Bachelor. Ugh.

Anyway, I definitely didn’t do justice to the concepts of narrative, what they mean to a man like Paul, and why people are so up in arms about it. A lot of it is two camps who try hard to claim objectivism, yet won’t acknowledge the contexts from which they work. Frankly, no matter whether you are a postliberal or a systematic, a fundamentalist or an existentialist, not admitting your rooted context is dishonest, and this goes for any academic practice which has elements of subjectivity to it (those being elements which can lead to different opinions). One of Wright’s big goals with this book is to rip the door off the dark closet these biases stand in and expose them. More on that later, though. Let’s really talk about what narrative is, and what it means.

As I said last Friday, narratives were central not only to Paul’s writings, but to everyone back in his day.  You couldn’t make your point in Paul’s day without referencing a story to make your point.  We do the same thing today when we start rambling about what we think love is and say, “It’s kinda like this…” From there, you can insert any kind of story you like in order to make your point. You know what I’m talking about; we do this all the time. Narrative is so central in humanity that to ignore it is to ignore the human spirit of understanding

I also said that Paul utilized the Jewish narrative to explain how Jesus was the Messiah.  However, I need to be clear about something.  One of the key NPoP scholars, EP Sanders,  when he wrote about Paul, suggested that Paul only used the narrative as a reference, arbitrarily picking verses to make his point. Other scholars have come to view Paul’s writings as purely typological (finding the New Testament in the Old), sort of a “Where’s Waldo?” (or “Where’s Jesus?” kind of view) of the Scriptures he grew up in.  Some interject the narratives of other cultures into Paul’s writings. Some want to ignore narrative altogether and just take what they think applies to today’s world.

So, following all these opinions, how do we handle and understand what Paul was writing about, without taking him out of context or ignoring it altogether?

1) We have to understand that Paul did indeed utilize narrative.  The Jewish monotheistic narrative was more than just some bedtime story about creation, God’s covenant, and the coming Savior; it was a story that each and every Jew (including Paul) believed they were actively a part of every single day of their lives, from generation to generation. The fact that Paul recognized Jesus as that Savior lets Paul re-emphasize while refashioning that story.  It’s not a whole new story being told, but the same story fully realized.

2) Narrative, understood in this context, isn’t something to fear and ignore, as some have been wont to do.  Yes, some have taken too much liberty with utilizing narrative, but this doesn’t mean we discount it. Utilizing narrative through Paul’s history and theology will help us to better exegete what he wrote and bring out contemporary relevance.  As are many things in this world, narrative is a tool that can be used well, but also misused.

3) Poor use of narrative not only leads to misunderstanding, but really does injustice to the author.  This is where context comes into play: looking at where someone comes from historically and theology does give you insight into how to understand Paul properly, especially after theologians over the years have pushed Judaic understanding of Paul aside in the interest of their own views.  However, it’s no good to start reading EVERYTHING into Paul. If we do, we miss his point all the more.

So, bottom line, narrative is cool as long as we use it properly.  Alright, I’ll be back tomorrow, diving into the second chapter of Paul In Fresh Perspective. See ya then!

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