Thursday 9 December 2010

The Emperor's New Grand Narrative

Presbyterian systematic theologian and Barthian authority Daniel Migliore writes:

As long as the church remains faithful to the self-communication of the triune God, it will acknowledge the priority and authority of the scriptural witness in its life and mission. At the same time, the real humanity of the biblical witnesses will also be recognized without apology or embarrassment. It is not a weakness but a strength of the Christian understanding of revelation that its original witnesses are unmistakably historically conditioned and remarkably diverse human beings. That we have the treasure of the gospel in clay jars (2 Cor 4:7) is as true of Scripture as it is of all subsequent Christian witness based on Scripture. Hence not everything found in the Bible is to be taken as a direct word of God to us. Some texts of the Bible may stand in utmost tension with the revelation of the character and purpose of God as identified by the grand narrative of Scripture. ...Scripture witnesses to revelation but is not identical with it. Even Calvin acknowledge[d] this, although not as boldly as Luther. Today it is essential that a Christian doctrine of revelation distinguish clearly between Scripture's witness to the personal self-disclosure of God definitively in Jesus Christ and the historical contingencies and ambiguities of this witness (Faith Seeking Understanding, pp. 40-41, as cited by Ted Johnson).

What does this actually mean? Here's a helpful "translation."

Oh shoot, this thing is all over the place. But hey, lets suck it in and turn lemons into lemonade. Let's see now... if people find bits of the Bible unpalatable we'll say "it doesn't matter." The ambrosia comes in a damaged cardboard tetrapak, and the date on the top might be past its use-by too, but... "it doesn't matter."

Clay pots. What's pot and what's not? What's Word and what's turd? The grand narrative determines it! Who determines what's grand narrative and what's not, what's in and what's out? Well your majesty, it's blindingly obvious isn't it, just like this suit of invisible clothes. See the fine workmanship? Just like the grand narrative. You have to be thick as a brick not to see these fabulous garments I'm holding up, and likewise your highness, you'd have to be a depraved, carnal pleb (or a Jew, or even worse a Unitarian) - totally bereft of the Holy Spirit - not to perceive the grand narrative in all its Trinitarian grandness, don't you agree?

And now your magnificence, if you'd kindly strip off and don our non-existent incredibly beautiful attire, we'll send you off on a lap of the palace gardens so the common folk can admire your, um, superbly regal presence. Talk about a revelation! Now that'll give 'em a really grand narrative to tell their grandchildren about!


  1. I keep thinking about the early church lately, which didn't even have a Bible, and wondering if we can ever get back to that simplicity.

  2. Paul D.,

    A church with no Bible? Sounds good to me! Quakers have held to the same philosophy for three hundred and fifty years; they respect "sacred writings" as containing bits of human wisdom (mixed in with all the gory bits), but they are all written by men, for men.

    George Fox, the founder of the Religious Society of Friends, did NOT use "the Bible" when he first got his movement off the ground, in fact he decried his fellow Protestants (and the Jews as well, although early Friends were also early adopters, and they dropped the anti-Semitic rhetoric far more quickly than any of the Protestant groups did) for being "people of the book".

    Fox's later writings state that, when he did start reading the Christian canon, he found all the insights he had already come to, within its pages.

    Also search for 19th-century American book called "Letters From Paul and Amicus", which were published in a Christian magazine, detailing the differences of belief between the Christians of the book, and the later American Christian Friends.

    Hope that helps!