Living the Impossible Dream

I’m getting ready to teach Romans again. No, I’ve not yet repented of the idea that the resurrection of Jesus is the most important theme in the letter. But in my recalcitrance, I continue to find, as well, the call to live our the impossible dream. For all that we approach Romans for its theological interest, Paul’s interest lies in mixing the cement by which the scattered and divided Christian communities might be held together.

In a letter full of great “therefore” moments, none is so great as when Paul says, “Therefore, accept one another–Just as Christ has accepted you, to the glory of God!” (Rom 15:7).

Why tell an elaborate story of the resurrected Christ as the culmination of the story of Israel? Why insist that faithful living is through the power of this Jesus’ resurrection at work in the world through the same Spirit who gave this Jesus life? Why argue that proclaiming this Lord to the Gentiles will result in the belief of until-now-unbelieving Jews?

The resurrected Lord is Lord over all, the agent of God’s faithfulness to not only Israel but the whole world:

I’m saying that Christ became a servant of those who are circumcised for the sake of God’s truth, in order to confirm the promises given to the ancestors, and so that the Gentiles could glorify God for his mercy. (Rom 15:8-9, CEB)

One of the reasons I am passionate about a narrative approach to scripture, and why I’ve written on a “storied approach” to Paul, is tied to this mandate that we purse the impossible unity that should characterize us as God’s people in Christ.

When we talk systematic theology, we have language at the ready to distinguish us from those with whom we disagree. This is fine, it’s what systematic theology does. It’s what dogma does more generally.

But when we engage the biblical texts using narrative categories, we find ourselves on different ground. Suddenly, a Presbyterian, a Methodist, and an Anglican are standing together as they articulate the most fundamental dynamics in Paul’s letters. A new set of glasses is employed, a story is seen, and we see it together.

When we define ourselves by the story of the God of Israel at work to redeem the world through the reconciling life, death, and resurrection of Christ, we have created a new venue for unity around a holistic gospel, a story with all-encompassing ramifications.

Why agitate for a narrative theology?

Because we need to have our minds transformed again, so that we can reimagine not only what the work of God in Christ is, in itself, but who we are and whom we are with when we occupy that reconciled space in Christ.

5 thoughts on “Living the Impossible Dream”

  1. Paul tells the Corinthians of the theological significance of even their GIVING to the church in Jerusalem (2 Cor 8-9). It is theology based upon the culmination of a Story. Here is a group of Gentiles taking up a collection for a group of Jews. That this is occurring is a reflection the fact that God has kept his promises.
    “For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they (Jewish Christians) will glorify God because of your (Gentile Christians) submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ…”

  2. Love the phrase “agitate for a narrative theology”

    I don’t yet know enough about the nuances of narrative theology to make a full-fledged commitment (I’m generally very cautious about these things), but I definitely agitate for a narrative reading of the Bible.

    I recently wrote a blog post listing the advantages of a narrative reading of Scripture in contrast to viewing it as a collection of timeless propositional truths, but it didn’t dawn on me that a narrative reading encourages unity among believers while systematic theology and dogma can more often divide.

    I’ll have to add it to my list.

  3. The wrong way to read Scripture is to atomize it into axioms of truth ala Euclid’s geometry. The right way is via the natural teaching units in context and the vast majority of teaching units are stories. So the narrative idea rules!

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