Thursday, April 3, 2008

Postmodern theology: Israel's Gospel, part 1

Understanding the Bible as story rather than as a set formulas and accepting that our own understanding of the Bible is limited by the culture in which we live are key parts of postmodern theology.

In chapter 1 of "Old Testament Theology," John Goldingay, a postmodern theologian, discusses Old (or what he calls "First") Testament theology as narrative. He notes that the narrative--or story--of the First Testament is much longer than it needs to be if it were merely concerned to get the facts down. On the contrary, it is discursive, sprawling and uneven. He says that there are several reasons for this:

1. God takes humanity seriously. He works through humans, rather than forcing his will on humans. However, this is a slow approach, with a lot of backwards and forwards action that can be best understood through specific stories.

2. The Bible portrays the specificity of life with God. By hearing specific stories about specific people with specific challenges, demands, successes, failures, questions etc, we are encouraged to reflect on equivalent specificities in our own lives. Mostly, but not entirely, the narratives avoid proclaiming a set of unambiguous rules. Such "universal principle-based" proclamations can not offer the breath and nuance of narrative we need to help us to understand how God interacts with humans. Narrative is a way to capture these complex truths on many levels and from many perspectives.

3. The writers of the First Testament don't claim to know everything about their subjects, which reminds us that our own knowledge is fragmentary, be it about Abraham or about ourselves.

What do you think of this approach?

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