Edith Humphrey spoke this morning on Persons, Plots, and Propositions. It was a fascinating and balance-bringing study of three biblical passages and their use of story, but also propositions.
Essentially she was saying that she is uncomfortable with the way "propositional statements" are denigrated in our new discovery of the importance of story in the Bible. She said story is important, but ultimately God is not a story (just like He cannot be equated with a proposition), he is a Person. And in the Bible both stories and propositions are used to point us to the Person of God.
Think about the way you talk about someone you love or admire. Do you tell stories about them or make propositional statements about them? I do both, as I assume most of us do. I’ll say "She’s one of the most genuine people I know" (propositional statement), but I might also tell a story about her genuineness.
Stories enliven the propositions, and propositions chasten the stories. The truth of the gospel is more than a proposition, but it is also more than a story.
Edith gave a few dangers of talking about God only in terms of stories:
- Story is not sufficient to keep us from sin when tired or weary or frustrated or weak. If a child is reaching for a hot stove, I do not tell them a story that gets them to think about the results of touching a hot stove, I give a firm propositional statement with a command: "Don’t touch! It will burn you."
- Today’s world tells stories to entertain and often to create their own version of reality, an escape from reality, and we don’t want those overtones to resonate when speaking of biblical narrative, as if we could reduce God in all his mystery to our story, as if talking about the biblical story is a bit of fantasy play where we shut off the real world in order to play in the biblical world – as if the Bible were a video game. In placing an emphasis on our place in God’s ongoing story that is unfinished, there is a danger of saying we have a more important role than we really do, as if we are co-creators with God, as if we participate in God’s being in the same way He Himself does. There is a danger of becoming too familiar with the Mystery, of being too confident in describing it.
- Again, God is not a story, and we are perhaps in danger of reifying the story to such an extent that it replaces the person of God. God gets to narrate the world, but nobody gets to narrate God.
The ensuing conversation was quite invigorating as well. It’s been a great conference. After hearing Edith Humphrey I had to go buy a couple of her books (how’s this for a provocative title: Ecstasy and Intimacy: When the Holy Spirit Meets the Human Spirit).
JR Woodward says
Great thoughts Ben. Thanks for sharing them. It is so easy to swing the pendulum instead of living in the tension of reality.
John H. Armstrong says
I was also at the AEF and found this year’s event to be superb in every way. You have captured a great deal of the important highlights and I concur with your take on the things taught by the three primary speakers.
Your blog is really well done too and there is much here for thoughtful Christians to process. I pray your church will move into the ancient-future faith with biblical balance and true grace. Bravo!