Stories: An Invitation to a New World
Over the past couple of weeks I've posted a few blogs about stories. My inspiration for these posts has come from N.T. Wrights work The New Testament and the People of God. Wright spends a considerable amount of time in this work laying his foundation. He believes that before someone approaches a text like the New Testament they must understand three things very well: Story, History, and Theology. Wright does not mean people must understand content in each of these areas (as in: I know a lot of history, theology, and literature). Rather, Wright believes that we must understand these terms on more of an epistemological level before we are equipped to answer the questions about story, history and theology that the New Testament raises.
While many scholars and researchers would heartily agree that a solid understanding of what history and theology are and how they work is important to the study of the New Testament, many would be apprehensive to say that story is just as important. While Wright does not disagree about the importance of history and theology, he certainly does place story right up there with those topics. Wright believes that stories are essentially the way humans "invest events with meaning." (pg. 79). Events happen in an objective or empirical way but because they are perceived by humans and then retold to other humans in the form of story events clothed in meaning. The way a story is told charges an event with meaning.
Wright does not doubt that the stories of the New Testament are about actual events. But Wright goes further. because the events of the New Testament (like all events) are told in the form of story, Wright raises the question as to why they were told in this or that way? If stories invest meaning into events then what meaning are the authors and storytellers in the New Testament putting forth?
In answering this question Wright goes on to explain that stories are (more or less) an invitation to a new world. When someone tells a story about an event they are telling it in a particular way; because they are framing the world in a particular way. We inescapably tell stories because we are fitting events into a particular view of the world (worldview). When a certain event takes place which would break down a particular view of the world stories are told about that event in order to invite its hearers in to this new understanding of the world.
Wright explains that this is precisely what Jesus was doing when he told his stories and parables; as well as what the apostles were doing when they told their stories. They were investing the events of the first century with such meaning as to offer a new world of existence to their hearers. Here's how Wright explains it:
Telling stories was (according to the synoptic gospels) one of Jesus' most characteristic modes of teaching. And, in light of the entire argument so far, it would clearly be quite wrong to see these stories as mere illustrations of truths that could in principle have been articulated in a purer, more abstract form. They were ways of breaking open the worldview of Jesus' hearers, so that it could be remolded into the worldview which he, Jesus, was commending. His stories, like all stories in principle, invited his hearers into a new world, making the implicit suggestion that the new worldview be tried on for size with a view to permanent purchase...all worldviews are at the deepest level shorthand formulae to express stories. (pg. 77)
We've all experienced it when it comes to stories of fiction that we've read. The author and teller of the story is inviting us in to a new world. Asking us, for just a moment, to imagine that the premises of their story were true and to embrace the new world that they are putting forth. In many ways, the stories put forth in the New Testament are the same. Not because they are asking us to suspend critical judgement and just accept things on faith, but because the events alluded to really did happen and their meaning really does have an impact on the entire world. In fact, the apostle talk about the events of Jesus' life, death, resurrection and ascension as though a new world really has been created.
Food for thought.