Living the Story: Western Culture 11
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.1 Jn 1:1
We were staying in Lake Louise village and decided to go on a walk through the forest when we heard a low-pitched growl from an animal that we could not identify but assumed was a bear. We knew little about bears or the sounds they made and did not take any of the precautions that locals would. It was like our mindset was still in Australia when we were in Canada. In a sense we were living in the wrong story, not being able to correctly interpret the events we encountered and not being equipped to respond appropriately.
One of the big questions to ask ourselves is what story are we living in? Lesslie Newbiggin, an English bishop who spend decades in India, could see that many Christians were being captivated by Western culture. This culture has a grand story that is assumed by many and the main story that has traction in the public square. Newbiggin suggested that an important way to achieve a distance from our pervasive culture was to know the grand story of Scripture, which is a more unified and better way of seeing our world, and to consciously place ourselves within it.
“The question is whether the faith that finds its focus in Jesus is the faith with which we seek to understand the whole of history, or whether we limit this faith to a private worlds of religion and hand over the public history of the world to other principles of explanation” Lesslie Newbiggin
It makes a profound difference whether we use the modern Western story as the basis from which to understand Scripture or whether we try to understand the Western story from within the Biblical story. For example, a person adopting a Western world mindset would be more likely to reject miracles, be promiscuous, focus on self, see divorce as a positive move, be driven by consumption, deny the reality of evil, etc.
Living within the grand story of Scripture we will find some tension with scientific findings. Sometimes this tension is because we have adopted a western mindset when we interpret Scripture. For example, it was a common view that the sun rotated around the earth based on passages such as Psalm 50:1. But this incorrect view was formed by interpreting Scriptural passages using a more rational mindset rather than understanding the style of literature. This view of the earth rotating around the sun was felt to undermine the centrality of Earth and people in God’s creation causing a questioning of the Scriptures. But, over time, this new understanding of the universe was embraced because it was seen to be consistent with the Scriptural story of creation.
The Bible is based on historical events and is fundamentally in the form of a narrative – it is this grand story that needs to be told. If we ground our faith only in the “proven” historical events (as proven by archaeology) we may well be operating with a scientific mindset. The Biblical grand story is what we follow, but some details are unclear and open to misinterpretation and some of these may well be informed by science. We do not close ourselves off from the world, but we learn to interpret the world’s findings in the context of the Biblical story. We should not get exclusively side-tracked into examining scientific arguments around a text and not explore its profound theology for life.
So how do we locate ourselves within the Biblical story? Grasping the overall Scriptural story of the history of the world and seeing our western culture from the Scriptural viewpoint are both essential. We should seek to understand where we are in the Biblical story and how it impacts our living. To live in the story will not be simply following a set of rules but will be more creative in navigating the world while holding on to the firm foundations of Scripture. We will be more like a jazz player who uses the principles of music creatively. God has given us all we need to live life in His kingdom.
A major task in discipleship is to help people see they are in the grand story of Scripture and that this is the true description of the world and its over-arching history. The grand story needs to be dialogued on many occasions from different perspectives, contrasting it with the western worldview which is deeply entrenched in many. This dialogue should not just be in a series of propositions but should be a re-telling of the stories themselves. While we may think that rational proof is something people want, we should not ignore that God does also use narrative as a means of communicating truth.