Bible as Story? Have We Lost our Minds?
Here at the Potter’s House we do family readings. Right now, we are reading through the novel, The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. The book is what we call a historical novel. These are fictional books that attempt to convey the experience of historical facts. Historical novels attempt to put you into the historical event experientially. So, historical novels aren’t “just facts,” but attempt to enable you to understand how people in said historical event experienced it.
This is done well in Speare’s Blackbird Pond. You feel Kit’s angst as she peruses the Puritan shoreline of America for the first time. She senses the abysmal aura as set against the colorful structures in Barbados. And for anybody who knows Puritan history, Kit’s suspicions that something is culturally array in the new land is truly chilling. You want to say, “Run!” But, of course, it’s just a story. Historical novels “put you in the story.” The counterpart is academic history which focuses on facts and is not concerned with personal experience.
Vestiges of the concept can be found in mythology and Plato’s concept of Genre which Aristotle and others helped him develop. The concept was integrated into biblical hermeneutics circa 180AD. The idea of Bible as historical narrative was eventually dubbed Biblical Theology by Johann Philipp Gabler (circa 1785) and further developed by Geerhardus Vos in the 19th century. It was known as Redemptive Historical Hermeneutics in the Dutch Reformed churches during the 1940’s. In the secular realm the debate rages as to which approach educates more effectively (http://goo.gl/zo7zp).
And here we are today. The propagation of Bible as a history narrative is in Blitzkrieg mode. The Bible is not to be researched grammatically, but is to be approached like a novel; our goal is to enter into the “unfolding drama of God’s redemptive story.” Those are the words that are actually used. With any novel, it is the writer’s burden to draw the reader into the plot; in this case, the Holy Spirit. All that is necessary is to approach the Bible as gospel narrative, and the Holy Spirit will do the rest. In fact, many Reformed teachers assert that the Holy Spirit will not teach unless you are reading your Bible as a gospel narrative:
That which makes the Bible the Bible is the gospel. That which makes the Bible the Word of God is its witness to Christ. When the Spirit bears witness to our hearts of the truth of the Bible, this is an internal witness concerning the truth of the gospel. We need to be apprehended by the Spirit, who lives in the gospel, and then judge all things by that Spirit even the letter of Scripture.
I want you to feel the truth and depth and wonder that awaits your lifelong labor of love in pondering the inexhaustible portraits of Jesus given us by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Nothing can raise those who are spiritually dead or continually give life to Christ’s flock but
the Spirit working through the gospel. When this happens (not just once, but every time we encounter the gospel afresh), the Spirit progressively transforms us into Christ’s image (Paul Dohse: The Truth About New Calvinism pp. 99, 100).
Recently, I made some observations about Wade Burleson’s blog, Istoria Ministries:
“If the Bible is God’s revelation to man, and it is, be sure that he will also reveal how he wants his word to be interpreted. Fact is, the Bible has built-in rules for interpretation throughout. ANY rules of interpretation for a text must be validated by the Bible itself. So, what about Bible as story or narrative? After an exhaustive study on what the Bible would state about this interpretive model, it begs the question: where is it?
On that note, let’s start with a blog named “Istoria Ministries” by Reformed teacher/pastor Wade Burleson. The subtitle reads as follows:
Istoria is a Greek word that can be translated as both story and history. Istoria Ministries, led by Wade and Rachelle Burleson, helps people experience the life transforming power of Jesus Christ so that their story may become part of His story.
Burleson is right, it is a Greek word, but is it in the Greek New Testament? After hours of research, I cannot find it anywhere. In fact, Hebrew or Greek canon words that project the English idea of history, narrative, or story are either extremely scarce or nonexistent. The closest idea is the word “parable” which is a story that helps define truth. It’s a teaching tool. But in every case where a parable is implemented as a teaching method, the Bible plainly introduces it as such beforehand. It doesn’t appear that parables in the Bible are meant to be stories that explain the story.”
The next day, Burleson changed the subtitle to the blog as follows:
“I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Greek: istoria) with Cephas.” Paul’s words in Galatians 1:18.
Only thing is, the word is not “istoria,” it is “historeo.” Istoria seems to be a word that in- fact can be interpreted as story and history both, but is primarily a Greek word of contemporary origin. Not only that, according to Spiros Zodhiates, historeo appears in the Greek New Testament ONCE; specifically, the verse Burleson cites in his revised subtitle. A Strongs number search with Olive Tree software confirms such as well.
We don’t obey novels. We don’t obey narratives. We don’t obey stories. And the Lord wants us to experience what we learn in the Bible by applying it to our lives (James 1:25). Parables in the Bible are teaching tools that aid us in understanding the primary points—a history parable is not the sole interpretive genre that makes the Bible what it is.
You do not build a life on a rock by reading novels—you do it by putting what the Lord teaches into practice (Matthew 7:24). If Christ wanted us to read “these words of mine” as a story why would He have not plainly said so? If we live by the redemption story, why wouldn’t Christ plainly state that instead of, “every word that comes from the mouth of God?” If it’s a story, why would Christ call it “all that I have commanded”?
Have we lost our minds?