Friday, 30 October 2015

Mere Orthodoxy| What Narrative Can’t Say: The Limits of Narrative Theology

Mere Orthodoxy| What Narrative Can’t Say: The Limits of Narrative Theology

'Yet narrative has its limitations. For one, narrative can only capture historically contingent facts. Reading Jenson and Rahner, one would get the impression that narrative is capable of supplying us with knowledge of who God essentially is. But this is to stretch narrative beyond its natural limitations. Indeed, Jenson sees the sweep of drama as more successful in communicating realities than the discrete enumerations of God’s person and character through exposition, and Rahner’s trinitarian activity is seen as sufficient to tell us of God’s inner being.

But who God is — a question about essential characteristics — is not exhausted by what God has done — which has to do with contingent history. It’s true that through story we learn that God created the world, that he rescued Israel out of bondage, that he came to earth to save it, that he guides believers into truth. Yet we can note two ways in which these fall short of specifying God’s essential attributes. First, apart from exposition — either from a divinely inspired author (i.e. Paul in Romans) or from a theologian systematizing the various biblical narratives into a coherent conception of God (i.e. Calvin in his Institutes) — we have what we might call, contra Jenson, “dramatic imprecision.” Jenson is surely right that drama can unify disparate accounts, but at the same time drama’s forte isn’t being propositionally precise. For a model or conception of who God is, exposition, which prominently features explanation and specification, works best.

The other way that drama falls short of specifying God’s essential attributes is more subtle, though also important. Though God is the creator of the world, he is not the creator of the world essentially. This doesn’t mean that something or someone else is the creator of the world, but rather that it is not a part of God’s essential nature that he create the world. If God is something essentially, then he is that thing necessarily. Yet if God is the creator of the world essentially, he couldn’t have done otherwise than create. Indeed, both Jenson and Rahner stress God’s ultimate freedom — he could have created or not created — yet this is complicated by the epistemic role they grant to narrative. It’s not that narrative gives us a false picture of God; rather, through the project of natural theology — a project not divorced from but supplementary to divine revelation — we establish certain truths about God. Though Paul’s letters aren’t natural theology — since they’re inspired, they’re supernatural theology — they show that God found it necessary to instruct his Church through expository and not just narrative means.'

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