The Power of Narrative

I was at the Perth Writer’s Festival this morning watching an interview with Mele-Ane Havea, the General Manager of Dumbo Feather, a quarterly journal which profiles extraordinary people in the hope that readers will find a sense of purpose and potential in their own lives and bring positive transformation to their communities. Their slogan is “Passion, Purpose, Community”. I love it. Sounds a bit like the Bible and our faith.

Asked about the underlying philosophy behind the journal and why the founder chose to limit its format to profiles of people, Havea said:

Storytelling is an important way to shape the world that we want to live in.

Yes! We influence most when we tell great stories. Stories communicate principles better than treatises. Long after we forget 3 great sermon points (plus 10 subpoints), we remember the stories.

For Christians, we often read the Bible as a legal constitution rather than a narrative. Brian McLaren says it this way:

Lawyers in the courtroom quote articles, sections, paragraphs and subparagraphs to win their case, and we do the same with testaments, books, chapters and verses.

Like lawyers, we look for precedents in past cases of interpretation, sometimes favouring older interpretations as precedents, sometimes asserting that newer ones have rendered the old ones obsolete. We seek to distinguish ‘spirit’ from ‘letter’ and argue the ‘framers’ intent’, seldom questioning whether the passage under review was actually intended by the original authors and editors be a universally, eternally binding law… We approach the biblical text as if it were an annotated code instead of what it actually is: a portable library of poems, prophecies, histories, fables, parables, letters, sagely sayings, quarrels and so on.

There’s much to be said about McLaren’s criticism. One only has to look to how the Bible was used in the American Civil War –  the North to justify the abolition of slavery; the South to defend its practices – both believing their position to be Biblically mandated. (I guess one side got the interpretation right, because God gave victory to their cause!)

I would much rather look at the Bible like God’s grand narrative. God’s story of fall, redemption and glory. Catalogues of ordinary people, living for extraordinary purposes and bringing transformation to their communities. Yes, there were laws in the Bible too, but  these are part of the narrative sweep as God reveals his character to His people and sets out the principles they should live by to reflect that character.

Looked at this way, we will argue less about the text and become more enamoured by the author, His character, His compassion, His genius. We will care less about our positions on principles than our posture and purpose.  We will then truly draw inspiration to activate our God-given potentials as we take our part in God’s grand narrative to transform our world and bring heaven on earth!

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