If this, then that… part 2

In part one, I suggested that Biblical wisdom is parasitic on the narrative of who God is and what God has done and is doing. I suggested that many of the church growth maxims can be best understood as abstractions from the life of a particular church, and that as abstractions they neglect the context of their original location and are thus less useful (and universal) than we are often led to believe.

What about the preaching of wisdom that I also mentioned yesterday – the proliferation of “How to” messages that seek to be relevant to “ordinary life”? Surely, from a biblical point of view, we need wisdom. Though more prevelant in the OT than the NT (where James is the closest we get to wisdom literature), we see plenty of what we today call “application” material, direct admonitions of how to live a good and godly life.

But is that enough?

If my hypothesis that wisdom is parasitic on narrative is correct, then preaching and teaching must pay plenty of attention to the narrative as well, or else the wisdom will lose its moorings and become free floating. Of course, I am presupposing a particular view of the nature of the Christian faith and life at this point. I am assuming that Christianity is not primarily about how I can get saved and go to heaven when I die. It’s not primarily about how I can be a nice or moral person. It’s not primarily about how I can be self-fulfilled. It’s not primarily about how I can speak truth to power and change the structures of society for the better. Although each of these aspects can be found in scripture and the Christian tradition, it seems that the more encompassing idea is that we become willing participants in what God is doing in history.

The story of Abraham is a good place to begin. Bob Sjogren (in Unveiled at Last) sums up God’s two-fold promise to Abraham as (1) I will bless you; (2) I will make you a blessing to all people. Given this promises and its echoes throughout scripture (Ex. 19:3-5; 1 Peter 2:9-10), it looks like one way to understand the meta-narrative (Big Story) of scripture is as God’s work to claim a people who are his very own (an eternal love relationship with God – and each other) for the sake of the redemption of humanity and all creation.

(If you’ve done the Experiencing God study by Henry Blackaby, you may hear some echoes of his “Seven Realities” in what I’ve said. I think his is a good way to express some of these points.)

So as we preach and teach the narrative – the true and actual story of God’s ongoing activity in history – we invite people to become willing participants (actors) within it. Because of who God is, because of what God is up to, because of where we now stand in the story (plot) line, come actions and ways of living move the story forward (bring pleasure to God, advance Kingdom goals) and are counted as wise. Because God’s story-line is rooted in Creation, some actions and ways of relating work well and others don’t. Preaching and teaching that builds bridges between the story and “ordinary life” intentionally points both directions to keep the connection from being severed.

One more important point: Because we Christians are actors in God’s story-line, we are connected with each other. At least during my lifetime, I haven’t seen much use of the term “wisdom” – in its place I see talk of “common sense.” Common sense – sensus communis – is literally the “sense of the community,” the shared vision of the good life and how to live it. Since we in America have adopted the procedural Republic (see Michael Sandel, Democracy and its Discontents) as our polity, we have excluded any substantive and shared notion of the good. Instead, the good life is seen as each of us minding our own business, making a profit, and buying (consuming) stuff. If the church is to be an effective player in God’s story line, we will have to recover a communal sense of identity (i.e., move beyond the Gas Station Model of Christianity) so that we can see wisdom in context of the one Narrative (Story) and our own lives (narratively understood).

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One Response to If this, then that… part 2

  1. Guy says:

    One of the challenges I find is the need to preach and teach the Biblical Narrative to “wisdom”-oriented ears. But the form and content of language are interwoven significantly. Hmm…

    As a late comment on “If this, then that…part 1”: I would agree with your take and would add that I’m waiting for the truly helpful book to come out of a pastor’s success story–one in which the pastor is not a workaholic who breaks all the rules that people who have researched and counseled pastors make for us to promote a balanced life and healthy relationships with our families (and ourselves, for that matter).

    It seems that the stories out there are from pastors who at some point give a mea culpa about how they ignored their family life and personal boundaries severely for years while they were building a mega-church and how they shouldn’t have done that. I’m sure that they are sincere, but in the next breath, they are back to promoting their methods for church/ministry growth. This is a serious problem because we need balanced people who spend time with their families and have hobbies to become the pastors who are lifted up as successes.

    The church is sacrificing its prophetic message against our culture by adopting its standards.

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