Wednesday, December 14, 2011

An Advent Question.... with a rambling prologue

It is common enough to say that God wants more than mere belief.  This sentiment invites the religious person to consider that their doctrines ought to impact their ethics, that their faith should shape their way of life.  

This is true enough. 

But is there such a thing as mere belief?  Is there such a thing as faith that makes no difference in a person’s life?  

If, by belief, we are referring to mental acceptance of the truth of a propositional statement, then, yes, there is something called mere belief.  This is the same as making a statement like - “The United States is a representative democracy.”  This can be acknowledged as a truism by an American citizen or by anyone around the world, and it may or may not significantly impact how one goes about crafting their ethics or purpose in life.

If, however, we are referring to belief as indwelling a story - a value-affirming, life-implicating narrative - then mere belief does not exist.  Every Story that we indwell is one that we will embody.

(Yes, I capitalize "S" on purpose.  Any story that we claim has ultimate, life-shaping value, I call a Story.)

So... Every Story that we indwell is one that we will embody.

This is more like saying, “My country, the United States, is the greatest nation on earth because of its unparalleled democratically free way of life that was fought for and won through the sacrifice of countless heros and heroines.”  

That is Story.  True or false, wrong or right, it is Story.  Whether it is this version of the Story or another that one believes about the United States, it is clear that this is a Story someone is indwelling and will clearly embody.  Human beings are shaped by Story not by plot-free axiomatic propositions.  

These Stories are the things that shape us, and they are what we use to shape our world.  

It can be no other way.

The same is true for those of us who confess faith in the God of the Bible and Jesus Christ as His Son.  If we are affirming de-storied propositions, then there is such a thing as mere belief.  But such plot-free, axioms are not to be found in the Bible.  Every doctrine, every belief, every truth claim that the historic church has ever made is pulled from Story - true or false, right or wrong, they are Story.

I am not talking "stories" as isolated vignettes for entertainment or for accurate reporting of historical occurrences.  I am talking "Story" as the life-defining, world-shaping, everything-on-the-line, truth-creating narratives.  The Apostle’s Creed and other important confessional documents like it, though important, are pulled out of the narrative framework that is the Bible.  Theology in Scripture is wrapped in stories which we interpret and apply as Story.  Christian theologians (and Jewish ones too) must be Narrative Theologians.  Any theological claims we make about Jesus come from four books that are nothing but stories that Christians have made their Story.  What we know to be true about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Church, Salvation, etc. is located in stories.  Our job is not just to confess that they actually happened in history - this would just leave them as inconsequential stories from which we pull out truth statements.  To confess them as Story, however, is to allow them to be the very framework around which we build our whole existence.  

So, if we claim belief in the way the Bible presents beliefs - value-affirming, life-implicating narrative truths - it will be impossible to have mere belief.

In this sense our confession (the things we claim as Christian truths) and our calling (the purpose for which we live) are one and the same.  Our confession is our calling.  How we live in the world, the decisions we make, the relationships we build, the reasons we act or refuse to act, etc. are all embodiments of the Story we call our truth.

What might it mean, for example, to indwell and embody the Creation Story?  Certainly much more than defending creationism over against Big Bang or Evolution.

It is possible for Christians to affirm as true some de-storied biblical statements but all the while base our lives on a Story that is not biblical (consumerism, patriotism, pluralism, relativism, socialism, conservatism, etc.).  Even though we might accept some orthodox biblical propositions, we may be borrowing form the world's political, social, economic, or cultural value-affirming, life-implication Stories to create meaning and purpose in our life.

For example, we might claim “Humanity is created in the image of God” but accept as our Story that humanity is a collective of individuals with certain rights that when pursued with absolute autonomous freedom will bring them happiness.  However, these are two Stories that are utterly incompatible.

There is a difference in claiming Creationism as a propositional truth and affirming the Story of Creation as a narrative that teaches us about the value and meaning of human lives and human history.

So... now that this rambling prologue has been offered, a question about Advent.

What difference would it make to change the script about the Incarnation from a de-storied, historical claim to make it a Story that we indwell and embody?

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