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An Incomplete History Narrated by the Bible? Part I

October 29, 2011

Some readers here may have an interest in developments in Christian thought that have real influence on education for lay people, books being written, or just general trends of expressions of  Christian faith (or “The Church”).  Most centrally, such developments generally revolve around two things: The Bible and Jesus.   (Sometimes thinkers step back further and reflect, reformulate, etc.  on things like the nature of God — as in the “Open Theism” discussions that have gone on for around a couple decades now. )

If you have barely made it to this sentence because you are not Christian, nor much interested in Christian beliefs and such, let me remind you of something.  What is being explored, taught, and discussed in the religious world of Christians quickly jumps those boundaries.  That is especially so when it comes to conservative Protestants  and/or “Evangelicals.”

As thinking “jumps,” it has vast influence on American culture (much more so than with European Christians on Europe).  It affects politics, international relations (especially the Middle East peace process) and much more.

Another factor I must inject here as part of my build-up because it is so, so far-reaching: A part this major-cultural-influence point is that the former “queen of the sciences,” theology, has had incredible influence on the development of virtually all academic disciplines related to humanities, social science, science, history, etc. Many of the assumptions carried over when these categories split into specializations are  still at play.   Michelangelo was suddenly able to sculpt David nude, but it was King David who dominated that transition to modernity (along with many other symbols of “Jude0-Christian” thought and culture).  We are not yet, despite over two more recent centuries of what might be called “deconstruction/reconstruction,” very thoroughly secular.  I know… it certainly looks like we are outwardly in our public education system from grammar school on through university, and on the surface we are.  (And it is not that “secular” is a proper or even realistic goal, I’m just noting the misconception.  Actually, a robust exploration and discussion of religion as a common human phenomenon is sorely needed.)   In the body of this post below, I elaborate one key aspect of such assumptions unconsciously present in most academic subject areas.

First, one trend in Christian thought that is not real new, but seems to be still developing and gaining influence is a way of viewing and interpreting the Bible that is often called “Narrative Theology.”  I won’t try to do justice to it here in terms of a meaty description.  Basically, its emphasis is that the Bible represents a developing story (given bit by bit as it unfolded) of God’s interactions with humanity.  The particular focus is the “saving” actions of God–which gives room for the more liberally oriented to emphasize salvation as a societal thing–or as the Kingdom of God among us–and the more conservative/traditional, as the Kingdom of God within us, individually (primarily).  Incidentally, both those prepositions are legitimate translations of the Greek one in the famous saying attributed to Jesus.  So, one thing interesting about Narrative Theology (NT), is that it is not, to my understanding anyway, making claims about dogma that must be believed.  If anything, it seems to be saying dogma is relatively less important, and less the point of the Bible than is the recounting of the experiences and perceptions of the various authors of the Bible.  How can we then relate to, it says, and benefit from various aspects of the larger story they tell and from the story as a whole?

Now back to the point about assumptions carried into supposedly “secular” or “scientific” disciplines which have arisen mostly in the last 200 years or so.  Indirectly, if not directly, these disciplines have fairly close ties to the biblical and theological understandings of pre-Enlightenment Christianity (which had differentiated some into Protestant and Roman Catholic thought in the 16th and 17th centuries, of course–Eastern Orthodoxy being set aside for current purposes).  The significant assumption I’ll deal with here is that of the basic age of human civilization–really very young.

I must express real frustration that NT (and other, even more “progressive” theologies like Process, which I find much affinity with) still operates from assumptions of a much earlier day, apparently unconsciously.  These assumptions were built-up via theology and European scholarship over many centuries prior to around 1500, and only gradually challenged by the work of Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, and others  (these men, incidentally, and most others plowing new ground were generally loyal, devoted “Churchmen”).

In Part II of  “An Incomplete History Narrated by the Bible?” I discuss the key short-history-of-civilization assumption and why we have it a bit further.  Please share your comments after you read that post.

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