DISCLAIMER: I have a pretty bad head cold today, so the following may be absolutely incoherent, though it makes sense in my head at the moment.
As any long time reader of this blog well knows, I am a huge fan of letting the Bible speak for itself. I tend to want to move away from systematic theology, and simply allow the stories of the Bible to speak for themselves, contradictions and all. Of course, this can be difficult to do because it often requires a change in what people are used to when it comes to youth ministry, but it is vitally important. Chris Folmsbee has an excellent post on his blog about the topic of story and youth ministry. Chris is CEO of Sonlife (or whatever its called now). I was first introduced to Sonlife by Chris Seavey when I was doing my undergrad at Davis College.
Chris F. (as opposed to Chris Seavey) asks a few questions at the bottom of his post, and he also explains a few of his concerns. One of his concerns is that youth ministries will simply use storying as another method, instead of embracing its ramifications for the way theology is done. I agree with this concern. I see many, many people talking about the Bible as narrative, but then quickly (I think, too quickly) moving to the work of systematizing those stories so as to add equilibrium. My own thoughts on systematic theology can be seen here. I think that we need to really think through this kind of thing. It deserves our attention as youth pastors/ministers/mentors.
Another issue that storying brings up for me, and I believe this is related to Chris’ concerns, is that I often see people attempting to read the Bible as a narrative, and they are very excited about this new way of doing things. But, as part of this excitement they often jump, I think, too quickly to Jesus. They, in their teaching, start seeing Jesus everywhere in the Old Testament. As John Hobbins recently revealed, some times a little knowledge can be a very bad thing (for those ignorant of Hebrew, the word את is not unknown. It is the marker of the direct object (that is, the accusative), or a preposition meaning “with”).
This leads me into something that some readers may find over the top, or out and out wacko. If we are going to story the Bible then we need to learn the Hebrew Bible well. We need to be content on leaving Jesus hidden until the proper time (much like God did as he created this amazing story). We need to know the history behind the story. For some of us, that means dusting off some old text books, for others it may mean learning some new vocabulary, and for still others it might involve taking a class. That’s the easy part. I also think that if we are going to read the Bible as narrative, and with integrity, we need to know Hebrew and Greek. Not only for our own enrichment (and it does enrich ones life, and that alone should be reason enough), but so that we understand the flow of the narrative, the way the Bible works, from a literary perspective, in a better way. Knowing Hebrew can also help us have a better appreciation for the history and culture in which the Bible was originally written. In addition, knowing both Hebrew and Greek is essential in being able to read the best commentaries. Perhaps most importantly, knowing Hebrew (and Greek!) helps us to know when quacks like the one I linked to above are teaching falsely.
Now, I may have lost some people with the commentary bit. But some of the best critical commentaries also have some of the most impressive dialog on the issues of the Bible as literature, the literary form of the book the commentary is on, etc. So, I agree with Chris’ concern, and I add a concern of my own: if we are to teach the Bible as narrative we must be capable of doing so — and that means learning some things that may be difficult to learn.