I am attempting to write a metanarrative theology from within a thoroughly orthodox position for the communication of God’s Word to the postmodernism of the twenty-first century.
Conservatives, Evangelicals, and Fundamentalists have been slow to make use of the contributions of Narrative Theology. This is not surprising because most Narrative Theology has been done by those who are far to the left on the theological spectrum and who deny the great fundamentals of the faith. I am convinced that we may use a narrative approach from within conservative, Progressive Dispensational and Calvinist commitment.
More than that, I am convinced that a narrative and metanarrative approach will do a far better job of reflecting the Scriptures than we have been able to do before, for the Scriptures are structured by narratives and the Story. The Bible is structured by a great Story from creation to the new creation, centered in the first coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is great value in the use of this metanarrative rather than some structure imported from some other discipline.
Many years ago I was reading Paul’s letters and wishing that somewhere Paul had given us his complete systematic theology. I assumed that behind the occasional theology of his letters, he had a full systematic theology which he then applied to the various needs of the churches. It seemed strange to me that God had not guided him to write out this great theology so that we could use it to teach and solve problems as he did.
Rereading his letters with this problem in mind, I noticed that he referred not to some theology but to the great biblical narratives. He was not applying a systematic theology to the needs of the churches. He was applying the biblical Story, and that was public knowledge. God had revealed that to us. We had the same foundation in the Old Testament and in the Gospels. Reading Paul’s letters from this perspective opened much that I had not noticed before, and drove home this metanarrative foundation of all that Paul had written.
Paul was not alone in this. All of the prophets and apostles did the same thing. I did not have to borrow a narrative approach from liberal theologians. I rather had to admit that they had noticed what God had done in the Bible, while we were ignoring that insight.
What Does a Metanarrative Theology Look Like?
I used to view the narrative parts of Scripture a history or stories that gave a setting for theological and ethical statement along with illustrations and examples of biblical propositions. I now view the theological and ethical propositions as interpretations of the Story. The biblical Story stands as the foundation of everything. Everything flows out of the metanarrative. This may seem like a small thing, but it makes a radical difference in our theology method and in the value of our theology for life and ministry.
Stories are multi-dimensional. One has to get “inside” a story and view it from several different perspectives. It is intellectually demanding, but one cannot stop with the intellect. It demands the total participation of the whole person. Story takes theology into the whole lives of individuals and societies. It demands a whole new worldview. It requires a whole new life style. It shows us how to live and believe in every possible situation. It is radically different from the “flatness” of abstract definitions. I will give examples of this throughout the treatment of the various doctrines
On the other hand, the Bible is more than Metanarrative. It is an interpreted metanarrative and interpreted narratives. Much of the Narrative Theology that exploded on the scene in 1970 has ignored this biblical interpretation. The used the stories to further their own agendas.
How Do We Do a Metanarrative Theology?
Learning to do metanarrative theology is demanding. First, we need to learn to listen to stories so that we enter these stories and let them change our lives. Then we need to read the Bible through many times so that the whole story is branded on our hearts. We go on to note the various ways the different biblical authors use the stories and the Story in the presentation of their own messages. We learn how to do narrative theology by watching God do it from these various perspectives.
It seems that it would be ideal if we could begin each doctrine from its foundation in the metanarrative and ground it in particularly significant narratives. In this way, everything would flow out of the Story and the stories. We would then be thoroughly biblical. But this is impossible. We do not come to the Bible without having heard some interpretations of its contents. We almost always begin with tradition and positive or negative responses to that tradition. We never do theology alone. We always do theology as a part of the past and contemporary church.
We ought to recognize this influence of tradition before we go on to test it by the biblical metanarrative and its biblical interpretations. Having so tested all of the traditions by the whole Bible, we then develop doctrines so that they flow out of the Scriptures rather than developing our convictions and proving them by carefully selected texts. We will use proof-texts, but only as interpretation of the biblical Story and stories.
This is no small job. I am making a beginning of carrying out this project. I challenge my readers to take further steps in perfecting a Story Theology. While we do this, we always remember that the perfect statement of theology has already been written—the Bible. All of our works are only fallible pointers to that perfection.
Is This Metanarrative Theology New?
The early church did metanarrative theology. Irenaeus published his theology: Five Books Agains Heresy about 190 A.D. He built it upon the biblical Story. He had three “centers” for his presentation: (1) Creation, (2) the first coming of Jesus Christ, and (3) Eschatology. All theology flowed out of this story.
The early creeds were metanarrative in structure. The pattern was established by the “Rules of Faith” of the second and third centuries. The Apostles’ Creed followed that narrative pattern. So did the Nicene Creeds of 325 and 381. When the pastors at Chalcedon wrote a doctrinal statement that was not narrative in form, they refused to call it a creed, but called it a “Symbol”.
Dispensationalism was metanarrative in form. The early Plymouth Brethren preached themes from Genesis to Revelation. The “Preface to the Reader” of the Scofield Bible laid out a metanarrative pattern for those famous notes. Until it was replaced by “Inductive Bible Study,” “synthesis” was the chosen way to teach the Bible at Moody Bible Institute.
What Will This Theology Do For Preaching And Worship?
Systematic theology books and courses which philosophical and abstract often failed to make much impact upon the ministry of the Word in the churches. In fact, it often had a negative impact because it was so removed from real life that it was ignored by preachers and congregations. Preachers moved from exegesis to the pulpit
without consulting their theology books. Systematic Theology did not seem to be a necessary or valuable bridge to the powerful preaching of the Bible nor to real worship.
Metanarrative theology begins with the living biblical narratives and brings its readers into these stories in such a way that their lives are transformed. It does not end with a “moral of the story” or an “application”. It rather makes the Bible contemporary with the hearer as God interacts directly with them.
What Is Orthodoxy?
I will use words like “Orthodoxy”, “Conservative”, Evangelical”, and “Fundamental” throughout these books in a positive way. They will be used to stress the historical foundation of the great doctrines of the faith. They will describe the great fundamentals of the faith. “Evangelicalism” and “Fundamentalism will be used to describe the twentieth century commitment to the historical faith of the Church as contrasted with the liberal denial of those doctrines.
I will exhibit a tendency to get “orthodoxy” mixed up with my own convictions and to call all other views “heresies”. I do not stand alone in this conceit. I will make a serious attempt in these volumes to be fair in this and to make orthodoxy wider than my own preferences. Hopefully, I will be able to accomplish this without wandering into real heresies. It is a very narrow line we walk in making these judgments.
Many doctrines taught in churches are real heresies. I will attempt to reflect the prophets, Jesus and the apostles in naming those heresies without fear of failing to be “politically correct.” Heresies need to be clearly marked out as despised by the Living God who loves truth and hates ignorance and error.
These designations of “Orthodoxy” and “Heresy” are more than personal preferences. I have spent thousands of hours reading the history of theology, and make every attempt to let the histories of the various doctrines determine what must be called “heresy” and what may be called “Orthodoxy”.