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Subversive Stories

Subversive Stories

On Monday I wrote a post about the centrality of stories in how we perceive the world. I drew from N.T. Wright's work The New Testament and the People of God to show how stories, in many ways, serve as presuppositions to our worldviews. Wright makes a strong case that stories are one of the foundational aspects to human reality. Humans think and tell certain stories about the way the world works and attempt to harmonize new information into these already received stories.

But what happens when new information does not fit into the construct of the stories we already believe about the world? According to Wright their are two options: Firstly, we can accept the new information and therefore construct a new story which harmonizes the new information.  Secondly, we can disregard the new information because it does not fit into our preexisting stories.

In any number of different scenarios either of these options might be taken. One is not necessarily better than the other. For example, if bad information is presented to you which does not fit in to your preexisting stories then it would be wise to disregard that information and not construct new stories to accommodate it. Conversely, if you are waiting to pick up a friend at the airport and they are late out of the terminal, you might wrongly believe a story that their plane crashed. But, on receiving new information that their plan had merely been delayed on the tarmac, it would be wise, instead, to receive the new information and, thus, create new stories.

Unfortunately, things are not always as straight forward as this last example. Knowing when to incorporate new information and when not to is often difficult. Especially when one considers how foundational the stories we believe are to our existence. Wright actually points out that we are naturally inclined to reject information that might place our preexisting stories under scrutiny or collapse their foundations altogether.

It is at this point that Wright makes some interesting comments in regards to the use of stories in subverting worldviews. Because stories are the building blocks of worldviews, Wright claims that one is more likely to subvert or collapse an opposing worldview by aiming at the stories that make up its foundation than attacking the worldview head on with an opposing worldview. To bring it back to what we were talking about earlier, it is easier to offer someone a different story than it is to tell them their story is wrong and throw conflicting information their way. Here's what Wright says:

Stories are, actually, peculiarly good at modifying or subverting other stories and their worldview. Where head-on attack would certainly fail, the parable hides the wisdom of the serpent behind the innocence of the dove, gaining entrance and favor which can then be used to change assumptions which the hearer would otherwise keep hidden away for safety. Nathan tells David a story about a rich man, a poor man, and a little lamb; David is enraged; and Nathan springs the trap. Tell someone to do something, and you change their lifeā€”for a day; tell someone a story and you change their life. (pg. 40)

Wright seems to be advocating some sort of evangelical shrewdness. In fact, he seems to be claiming that much of Jesus' ministry (telling parables/stories) was a disguised attempt to subvert the stories and worldviews that Israel believed about itself. Rather than coming straight on in an open attack of the religious authorities, Jesus "hides the wisdom of the serpent behind the innocence of the dove" in his parables. Christians should look to do likewise. Yet doing likewise would require a level of understanding and imagination that many Christians have no ability to employ. Thus, we are often left with either sterile or frilly methods of discourse with our opposites. The sterile method of discourse are unaffective and the frilly ones (if not laughable) often affect a kind of powder puff convert.

Food for thought.

Michael

Picture: Hieronymus Francken's Parable of the Ten Virgins

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