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Thursday, January 22, 2009
Worship and the Tournament of Stories. Part 1

How do we make sure we are living out God's Story in the World and not just our own stories in God's name? Our worship will make all of the difference. The big distinction: Which story are we remembering in worship? Is our own story or our faith community's story the primary narrative? If so, we will read Scripture in a way that serves those stories. We will pull things out of Scripture and drop them into our story in a way that serves biblical notions of holiness or Christian behavior or good marriage or building campaigns or financial giving (stewardship) or financial gaining (prosperity), to name a few. 

OR is the epically cosmic and personally intimate story of Father, Son and Holy Spirit the big consuming story that has our attention. If so, we will read Scripture in a way that draws us, our lives,  our families, our communities, and all our needs and problems into the story of Creation and Fall, Israel and Jesus, the Church and the Final Consummation. This way of reading and worshipping trains us to see the vision of God's Kingdom and to live as though it were a present reality.  (i.e. to walk by faith.) 

The outcomes of these two ways are vastly different. The former will lead to getting some good things done in a pragmatic, biblical and often Christian way. Downside: we stay in control. The latter will lead to an impractical abandonment of our lives in love to God for the World. Downside: we lose control. 

Consider this quote below.  Part two will follow soon.  

The story of God is still being written.  Our present is given meaning by the past work of God, and God's future casts its beacon backward so as to remind us how our present life and witness have consequences into eternity.  On the other hand, this perspective presses the importance of the church's coherence with the biblical drama, its mandate to continue this particular narrative and in particular ways.  It is, after all, the story of God, not our story.  With so many chapters having already been written, and with the final chapter already firmly in place, the options for intervening material are limited, if we are to continue this story.  Accordingly, our task is to align ourselves with these landmarks on the biblical terrain--or, better, to write ourselves, to inscribe ourselves, into the biblical narrative, so that our sense of past, present, and future is congruous with the story of the universe found in Scripture.  Christian faith is lived at the confluence of personal, ecclesial, and blblical narrative.  Joel Green, The (Re-)Turn to Narrative from Narrative Reading, Narrative Preaching, citing Gabriel Fackre, 'Narrative Theology from an Evangelical Perspective," in Yandell, Faith and Narrative, p.188-201.  
AND DON'T FORGET. . . New items daily on the YARDSALE

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posted by John David Walt | at 1/22/2009 03:01:00 AM



Blogger Rob said...

Good stuff here, JD. I'm learning. Oh, and all I meant by the "defensive" comment was that it the post was coming from someone at one of those churches that certainly has asked you the "topic" question.

10:12 AM EST  
Blogger Rob said...

oh, and btw, Dr. Richter is coming here soon.

10:12 AM EST  
Blogger Marcus G said...

I hate to question a namesake, especially one who is so much more scholarly than I, and so much more steeped in the Scriptures, and particularly when I am aware I am reading a bleeding chunk of an argument with which I may well agree when I have had time to digest the whole piece...


The story of God is still being written.

Hmm. This is a line that needs deep qualification, it seems to me. I mean, instantly one agrees with "the story of God's people is still being written", but I'm not sure that is what is being said. I'm not sure that's not what is being said, either. (God's story being the revelation of his love through his people, God's story being unable to be told without reference to his people and therefore inevitably unfinished until he decides he has called all his people home. It's possible. And not untrue.)

Or, experientially one could argue that we are still writing the story of God: the story is (obviously) complete, but we are not, and are still trying to grasp how wide, deep, broad and long that story is. Thus it "grows" in every generation, because we do, so we keep writing - "with the final chapter firmly in place" (though our "knowing" of that chapter is through a glass, darkly). So - the story of God is still being written, as the New World is still being discovered - by fresh eyes and hands and feet in each generation, though it has always been there and remains unflinchingly firm and true.


Forgive me, I think the words sound great, but I don't know what they mean, and I think I may disagree. But I might not...

The story is signed, sealed, delivered. (That's another song off JDs set list). It is finished. For me, the place of story in worship is the discovery of how we become intrinsically drawn into the narrative of Jesus, how we become charcters in his drama, how we find ourselves living, fully alive, in God's story - not how we fill in any missing chapters in the style of the original (I hyperbolise, and am amazed to discover that this is actually a real word).

12:23 PM EST  
Blogger John D. Palmer said...

Perspective is everything ay? I believe that the narrative is dynamic not static. It is not plot out point by point but flowed out like a deep and wide river. The narrative is always in motion. And we have got to learn how to access it while we are in motion so that we may begin to fully comprehend where we are in the story and how the story we might tell is congruent with the divine narrative. We do have stories to tell in relation to the greater story. Different currents take us either to the shallow edges or to the deep middle.

6:10 PM EST  
Blogger John David Walt said...

Marcus Green is back and better than ever. Thanks for this. Here's where I think Green is coming from (given conversations I've had with him). He's coming from the same place one of your distinguished teachers comes from-- (i.e. Tom Wright). Tom contends that our relationship to the narrative of Scripture is like the 5 act play. We have the first three acts, part of the 4th and the 5th act is complete. The task is to complete the 4th act. Actually it's the Spirit's task (as in Acts 29-ff). The work of the people of God is to become completely immersed in the World of Word and Spirit. We study that script--ture, with devotion until it has literally become our own living memory. Then together as the Body, with Christ our living head, we move about in the World in a Spirit-filled improvisational glory.

So I agree with you in that we are not adding to the Scripture. We are not actually adding to the Story. This is why Green points out that it is a quite particular narrative and that the possible intervening material is very limited.

I think this is where Paul is coming from when he says, "I complete in my body the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his Body, the Church." Paul is not here claiming to add to the atonement and yet the atonement is being extended by the power of the Spirit through Paul's life and work. Paul is showing us what it looks like to supply appropriate intervening improvisational material.

Yes, the Story is signed, sealed and delivered, and yet our place in that story is "somewhere in the middle of the beginning of the end." Our involvement in that Story, in the power of the Spirit, looks like improvisational enactment. As John D. Palmer says about this story, it is dynamic not static. Though we know how it will end, there is a great mysterious plot continually unfolding before us. There are many ways we can try to get involved in this plot and take it in a direction that parodies the Story. (i.e. prosperity teaching, legalism, gnosticism, hero-ism. History will ultimately show these "ism's" to be "eddy's" off to the side of the river to borrow Palmer's metaphor. Eddy's form whirlpools which look like a fun ride, but ultimately suck people down. Other of these "ism's" produce ox-bow lakes, once part of the river they got disconnected. In other words, they don't ultimately advance the Story but they detract from it. Isn't this what "judgment" will be all about? Who participated in the Real movement and who counterfeited it? (i.e. many will say to me on that day, Lord, Lord, we (you know the drill) and he will say "depart from me, I never knew you!"

This is getting long-- sorry. The question Palmer implies is how we get "access" to the moving narrative while we are in motion." My big contention is that we become narrated into the Story via worship that truly remembers the biblical narrative in a living (think anamnesis) Hebraic way of remembering. Jesus is our way in. Consider the implications of Baptism (the drowning of our plot and the resurrection into his plot) and the Eucharist, the continual nourishment on his Body and Blood in the power of the Spirit.

I must stop. Will be interested if I have made any points or sense with you all.

9:20 AM EST  
Blogger Marcus G said...


Hey, I think we are all kind of singing the same song, but my beef is that Joel's phrase is one of those moments that all of us who have ever spoken from a pulpit or (worse because of its petrification) published a book know too well - the grand idea sloppily expressed which thereby invites confusion.

I simply wanted clarification, and that is what you have provided.

Because my concern was that the phrase "the story of God is still being written" could be read as "the story of God is incomplete", which kind of implies that I enlarge God, I complete him, and, frankly, I think that this - not in a good way - is pretty off the wall.

Big Amens to your penultimate paragraph which is the best and clearest summary of all your wonderful stuff on worship and story, which I love. This is what the people need to hear, and learn, and teach. I'm going to copy that paragraph and pass it off as mine on my blog any day now.

2:33 PM EST  
Blogger John David Walt said...

thanks marcus-- i'm curious as to which was my "penultimate" paragraph so i can bask in your compliment for a while. ;-)

3:52 PM EST  

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