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Saving The Theological Cat

If the Bible is a story, or more accurately a library of storied testimonies which together tell a Story, that should shape how we study it, teach it, and live it. Right?

What would that look like though? Because it doesn’t seem like it would all that closely resemble the way we tend to approach the Bible today.

Sure, there are a few scholars who are trying to work out a storied approach to the Scriptures, and a number of pastors who are shifting the art of the sermon in response to this way of understanding the Bible. For that I’m thankful. They do seem to be in the minority though, and I’m not sure even those steps are enough to grapple with the paradigm shift this sets up.

See the concept of “story” is central to me for another reason as well, the role it plays in writing. As I’ve made my faltering attempts at putting down something worthwhile on paper or screen I’ve jumped at anything (books, blogs, disciplines) that could refine my writing. In the process I’ve noticed something.

People who tell stories professionally approach the task quite differently than (most) people who teach the Bible professionally.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, each has its strengths and weaknesses, but it is worth noting. Much professional study of Scripture feels highly scientific, filled with lengthy footnotes, parsing Greek verbs, and charts (Oh the charts!). Those things are needed, and actually there is a science to storytelling as well.

The difference seems to be this: storytellers learn the method and then tell stories (or teach English to apathetic high schoolers), whereas theologians often learn the method and then spend most of their time talking about the method. This seems to somewhat miss the point.

I know I’m painting with broad strokes here, and there are plenty of exceptions in both theology and storytelling. But on the whole, it seems to fit.

So I’ve taken up reading books about storytelling. This began as a way to help sort out my writing, but it has ended up being a valuable theological practice as well.

Right now it’s Save The Cat! (thanks to a recommendation by Don Miller), which is directed at screenwriters and focuses on issues like plot, characters, and archetypes. Besides being a great read, it also has helped me as a reader and teacher of Scripture. Next up will be James Bell (the less heretical of the Bells) with Plot & Structure.

Theology matters, but it matters as a tool. As N.T. Wright puts it, theology is a convenient shorthand for different elements of the story. We need the shorthand to speak coherently, but we also need to be able to unpack the story itself.


How might a storied reading of Scripture change how we do theology?

What resources could be helpful in that shift?

Bonus unfiltered musing: Is it possible to do theology as story? Jesus seemed to in the parables…