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Using Biblical Narrative in Conversations

That's the title for a seminar I'm doing at the end of the month. I have some ideas floating around my head for it.  I think I'll want to cover something on the overall shape of the Bible's narrative, and on the brilliance and importance of narrative in the Bible.

But beyond that, what would you cover?


  1. If you've not yet looked at it for this, I'd encourage you to revisit parts of Don Carson's epic Gagging of God - chh 5 & 6, and especially ch 12 "On Heralding the Gospel in a Pluralistic Culture". Very important stuff, and it lies behind what he's seeking to do with his coming book The God Who Is there. He covers some of the key narrative elements...
    hope it goes well

  2. In relation to the bible plotline, Carson mentions a Mission organisation called NTM in TGOG, I have posted some videos of their's on my blog this morning! How about that for a coincidence! ;-)

  3. The only thing I would modify from what they do is to (as you might expect) to make it much more explicitly trinitarian right from the start.

  4. Just read through your seminar. It's very arty. Nice work on the design. You have a real gift for that side of things.

    Are you going to use a story as an illustration? It would be good to have something from contemporary popular culture. What about the story of Batman? or the Sex and the City girls?, then to find link-connection points between the two.

    I would raise two cautions. I would caution people in the seminar not to use this approach in evangelism/missions. Approaching things with such a strong set of biblical assumptions will turn people off who are not Christians, or who have serious questions. This is the legacy of Karl Barth, and his effect on evangelism in the longer term - the story is good - but is it true? How can we know it's true Karl? Barth (and you're similar on this point) would say, 'We can only see that it is true from the inside. So jump in and have a look around.' I just think this is a really weak strategy and the theological argument doesn't work - too many big assumptions about the nature of the fallen mind.

    Secondly, the treatment of atheism seems opportunistic and superficial. I'm not sure that it wouldn't just annoy someone for setting up a straw man.

    Hope that is useful. Looking forward to seeing you guys soon.

  5. Agreed I need to develop the atheism story better - Lewis' treatment which I'm summarising too briefly is very engaging and respectful.

    I'm going to mostly draw on relatively contemporary literature that has been made into film (Atonement, No Country for Old Men etc.) to illustrate. And a fair bit of Shrek which is well known enough. Not seen SITC, though I could use Batman a bit.

    I think there is some use in Evangelism.
    1. To liven up so we tell the story (not necessarily the stuff on Esther, but the Mark stuff for example)
    2. So we treat our books as books that tell stories. I know you don't like my Barthian (Lewis does it too with his sunbeam in the shed) approach, but I guess I think we can do things like evangelistic bible study, and that's the context I'm thinking this plays out in...

    Feedback is almost always useful.
    See you soon.

  6. Tom - I'd disagree, it's not Barth he's drawing on here, it's a whole tradition of apologetics, which seems to me much more biblical and evangelical than some atemporal, abstract systematic approach.

    it's Newbigin on 'the true story'
    it's Lewis on 'myth became fact'
    it's Tolkein on 'mythopeia'
    it's Ward on 'donegality'
    it's van den Toren on 'tradition'
    it's Alasdair MacIntyre, When an epistemological crisis is resolved, it is by the construction of a new narrative which enables the agent to understand both how he or she could intelligibly have held his or her original beliefs and how he or she could have been so drastically misled by them. The narrative in terms of which he or she at first understood and ordered experiences is itself made into the subject of an enlarged narrative.

    That's crucial for me, because it doesn't make the presuppositionalist move of making out that the gospel is something you should really assume. It keeps the fact that the gospel is news. It's drama, it's something done, it's evangelism. That doesn't mean there's no place for classical apologetics, just as it doesn't mean there's no place for systematic theology.

  7. When I'm arguing for 'some atemporal, abstract systematic approach' then I'll probably feel like coming back here to defend it. For now I'm not, so I wont attempt to. I'd describe my apologetic strategy in four stages - and as having different activity in each stage.

    1. Subversion (film/music/culture-questions/poetry/social)
    2. Persuasion (giving reasons for the assumptions of the Christian worldview - basic nature of reality/non-contradiction/perceptive faculties/historical Jesus/moral/cosmological args. etc.; see below),
    3. Proclamation (incorporating 2. heavily, but unpacking the message of the cross - and the bible story (here is what Dave is doing well)
    4. Discipleship (apologetics has an important function in the sanctification process too)

    I cited Barth because he has been far more influential than anyone you cited, in both the (positive) returning Christians to a high view of revelation, but also (negatively) in separating valid Christian rational thinking from every sphere, except for those areas which God has directly revealed himself into (E.G. Theological reflection on the bible).

    While Newbigin and Lewis made important contributions to missiology and apoloegtics respectively, and they made use of narrative - they didn't cut off the narrative from the wider task of arguing using persuasion and common sense thinking. For example in Mere Christianity Lewis uses arguments that start from the historical Jesus, Objectivity of Moral values and Desire - to try to give readers reasons to agree that the story is true. I think I could come up with similar arguments from Newbigin too, to secure my hypothesis - that they used narrative as part of a wider apologetic.

    Funny, not the first time as soon as people hear apologist - they think presuppositionalist apologist. I don't think I am one. I prefer opportunist apologist. I just don't do technique/one size fits all. There are so many different kinds of people asking questions - we need to approach them differently.

  8. And all I'm doing is fulfilling a brief to get people thinking about narrative - not arguing against anything wider at all, or saying that this seminar should become anyones singular approach to discipleship or evangelism.

    I think I'm trying to come at that with some subversion, recognising the love of story, showing the way that stories engage us, especially from McEwan, and the way that stories even work, from Shrek. And then helping a bunch of Christian to see that the Bible functions as a narrative too.

    Honoured to be in the company of greater minds like you two though, sharpens me up no end.

  9. tom - we agree! wasn't calling yours an abstract approach, I really like your 4 dimensions/stages. I was commending the need to keep them together, much as biblical & systematic theology go together. I was disagreeing with "cautioning people in the seminar not to use this approach in evangelism/missions" on the basis of it being Barthian...I was explicitly putting the use of story in the hands of some of the great apologists, as you noted.


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