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Title: Teaching Biblical Truth to Postmodern Youth
Description: Forum V "A Spiritual Healthcheck of the Church in Malaysia," pp136-157
        Author: Leong Tien Fock

(Posted Feb 6, 2007)

 ?All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.? ? 2Ti 3:16-17

Introduction

What Paul says in 2Ti 3:16-17 is usually cited as a basis for the doctrine of the inspiration of the Bible. This is one of the hallmarks of evangelicalism. In itself there is nothing wrong. But this is not the focus of the text. Paul is saying that because ?all Scripture? is inspired it is ?profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work?. Paul is highlighting not so much the inspiration of the Bible but the sufficiency of the inspired Word ?for every good work?.

It is on this basis that Paul charged Timothy in the next few verses (4:1-5) to ?preach the word; be ready in season or out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction?. Because a time is coming when people ?will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their desires?. And they ?will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths?.

Under modernity, where Biblical truth has been marginalised both in the world and (effectively) in the church, it has been ?out of season? for the preaching or teaching of the Word. (Modernity refers collectively to the intellectual mood, the social and economic condition, as well as the physical environment constructed by modernisation. Since city folks are immersed in modernity, to ?see? modernity one needs to contrast the environment, way-of-life and mindset in a village with that of a city. Modernity incarnates the idea that there is no God. Hence God does not feel real and the Bible seems quaint.)

Now postmodernity (a cultural trend that questions the assumptions of modernity) is making its presence felt. Will the teaching of God?s Word be ?in season?? It depends. It may not be if we continue to teach the Bible based on the assumptions of modernity. But we are not suggesting that we accommodate postmodernity just to get a sympathetic hearing for the Bible. How then should we teach Biblical truth to postmodern youths? (Our basic concern is how to teach the Bible according to the nature of Biblical truth and how it is embodied in the Bible. The following discussion on ?postmodern youth? and ?Biblical truth? is to highlight the relevance and urgency of teaching the Bible in this ?biblical? manner).

Postmodern Youth

There has been a lot of confusion over the term ?postmodernity? and we do not wish to get bogged down here. All we need is to have some idea what a ?postmodern youth? is like. We will look at the attitudes a postmodern youth would have toward truth and toward the medium of communication. We do not know what percentage of Malaysian youths today, and to what degrees, can be considered postmodern. The anecdotal evidence below shows that such youths exist in Malaysia and Singapore.

Attitudes toward truth

On a number of occasions in my seminary classes when I illustrated a postmodern attitude with the quote, ?What is true for Christians may not be true for others?, one or two among the students in their twenties would respond, ?That?s what my friends think?. This happened both in Malaysia and Singapore. In one of my youth Bible study classes a secondary student affirmed the same thing about her friends. Even my younger daughter, then 13 years old, said that was also what her friends in primary school thought. While working on the first draft of this paper, a friend in the USA wrote in an email that his son met ?a very active Christian girl ? who told him that the absolutes [truth claims] in Christianity are not universal [true for everybody] because people of other religions have a different concept of God?.

Why then is a certain ?truth? true for one community but not so for another? A few of my colleagues who are reaching out to campus students once shared that nowadays students would say to them, ?The Bible is true for the Christians because they believe in it. The Buddhist scriptures are true for the Buddhists because they believe in them?. That means a person?s belief in a ?truth? makes it true for him. This attitude is also reflected in ?postliberalism? (the postmodern counterpart to modern liberalism in theology). Postliberal Biblical theologian Brevard Childs claims that the Bible is authoritative for the Church only because the Church accepts it as authoritative. That means the Bible in not inherently authoritative.

Why then would a person want to believe in a ?truth? so that it becomes true and authoritative for him? In his book Beyond Belief to Conviction, Josh McDowell says, ?the majority of our young people have become convinced that what is true and relevant is whatever works right now?[1]. Is this true only of Americans? Responding to a survey in conjunction with the launch of the movie The Da Vinci Code a youth in a Malaysian church responded: ?What?s true is what works for me?. It is reported in an Internet blog that, at the National University of Singapore, in response to a question why Christianity was true, a ?Christian? said it was because the Bible provided her solutions when she was struggling with decision-making. The blogger commented: ?That's pragmatism. Christianity is no longer true because it is true in itself, but because it's workable?[2].

That means a youth may become (or remain) a ?Christian? because Christianity works for him. Since, as McDowell puts it, ?kids today place a premium on spiritual things and meaningful relationships?[3], youths may become or remain ?Christians? just because it fulfils their need for spiritual things and meaningful relationships. Thus, ?Christianity is true because it works?, and not, ?Christianity works because it is true?. And ?it works? may not even be a direct benefit of Christianity. A Malaysian youth faithfully followed his girlfriend to church. When he wanted to be baptised the church leaders hesitated, because his expressed view toward faith was: ?Christianity also can, Buddhism also can? (as long as it worked, in this case got him a girlfriend). According to my older daughter, then 19 years old, for children born in Christian homes, ?it works for me? may just mean keeping their parents happy.

In Malaysia, generally speaking, these postmodern attitudes have not been crystallised into concrete beliefs because most Malaysians have not been exposed to ?postmodernism?, a set of profound theories propounded by Western intellectuals to justify these attitudes rationally. So if our youths have these attitudes, it may not be obvious. In fact, as long as Christianity still ?works? for them, church-going youths can appear as evangelical as can be. Similarly, if we listen to a postliberal pastor expound on a Biblical text we may mistake him for an evangelical preacher. He may give a solid theological exposition on the resurrection of Jesus that is thoroughly faithful to the Bible. However in his mind Jesus did not rise from the dead in real history, but only in the narrative world of the Bible, which to him is not necessarily historical. It is not too different from believing in the resurrection of Neo in the movie The Matrix.

One day, I asked my older daughter to speak not just for herself but, as much as possible, also on behalf of her peers. Then I said: ?I am a Christian today, meaning Christianity is true for me today. If I became a Buddhist tomorrow, Buddhism would then be true for me tomorrow. Does that mean the truth has changed?one day Christianity is true and the next day Buddhism is true?? She replied, ?No, truth cannot change?. But she added, ?If you became a Buddhist tomorrow, you have changed. The Christian truth is still true for the Christians (but not true for you anymore)?. It may be hard for most people above forty to appreciate this. I asked her, ?Is it possible that a group of you suddenly decide tomorrow that Christianity is no longer true for you?? The answer was ?Yes?.

Attitudes toward medium

A Singaporean student of mine interviewed his father via email for a class assignment. He was in his early twenties. The first question was, ?Is there meaning to life? What is it? (Your point of view)?. The first part of the father?s answer goes like this: ?Of course! We are all born innocent (or stupid) or empty-minded. Then we learn ?words? and each word has meaning. The more words we learn, the more knowledge we get and the more knowledgeable we become. This is a world of knowledge. Without it life is deprived of meaning?. His response to his father?s unusual answer was: ?I wonder where he got the idea of words being the prerequisite of knowledge and then to develop meaning. To me, knowledge can be gained through experience with visuals, graphics, sounds, expressions and even emotions?. This young man is clearly postmodern while his father a classic modern.

We will just state 3 basic attitudes postmodern youths have toward the medium of communication without much elaboration, as these are widely observable. Firstly, they are more comfortable with images than words. This is to be expected since they grew up with television, and in fact many of them had TV as their ?electronic babysitter?. Secondly, they are more receptive to narratives than propositions. This is also to be expected as they are so exposed to TV. In fact, the fascination with propositions as the (sole) means to express and know truth is actually relatively recent and is characteristic of modernity. This is built on the outmoded assumption of the Enlightenment that reason (aided by the senses) is completely adequate to know truth. Thirdly, they depend more on feeling than reasoning. This follows from a preference for images and narratives, both of which appeal to feelings.

But we need to make a very important qualification. According to my older daughter, the above description is generally correct. But when it comes to important issues like, ?Is Christ the only way to God??, she said they would prefer words, propositions and reason. This is because ?images, narratives and feeling are open to interpretation?. This is good news. Then I asked her, ?When you use ?Is Christ the only way to God?? as an example of an important issue, is it your own view only? Do youths in general and church-going youths in particular consider this an important issue?? She replied that it might not be considered as important by even church-going youths. My next question further qualifies this qualification. I asked, ?How then do they decide which issue is important? Do they fall back on images, narratives and feeling?? The answer was, ?I guess so?.

Biblical Truth

Since modernity has distorted what ?truth? in general and ?Biblical truth? in particular mean, let us now consider what ?Biblical truth? is like. We begin with a discussion on the nature of ?truth? itself.

Truth

What is truth? Philosophy students know that there are three basic theories about the nature of truth: correspondence, coherence and pragmatism. The first is also the standard Christian view: truth is what corresponds to the reality (?God exists?) or the state of affairs (?Jesus was raised from the dead?) that it refers to. This view implies that what is true for Christians is true for all others. In practice, this is the view that sane people take for granted, so much so that dictionaries define ?truth? as what is true, and ?true? as what matches the fact(s) it refers to. This is the case even for postmodern youths when it comes to truths that are verifiable, such as, ?Dengue fever is spread by the Aedes mosquito?. This truth is true for everybody. It is thus a ?true truth?. But when it comes to non-verifiable religious beliefs such as ?Jesus is the only way to God?, even ?Christian? youths may not feel the same way.

The coherence theory of truth, simply put, says a truth is one that does not contradict other truths. Whether it corresponds to reality ?out there? is not relevant. The pragmatic theory says that truth is what works. When it comes to religious truths, postmodern youths usually have a combination of these two views shaping their thinking and feeling. From the Christian perspective, these two theories by themselves are inadequate. But the Christian (correspondent) view of truth implies both of them.

For Biblical theology teaches that there is a God-created order that encompasses the spiritual, moral, social as well as the physical dimensions of our experiences. This order, as the word implies, is orderly or coherent, and when we do not violate its principles it usually ?works? for us. Thus if our ?truths? correspond (adequately, if not perfectly) to this divine order, they are both coherent and practical. This wholistic view of truth stands a better chance of acceptance by postmodern youths, for it builds on what is already in their thinking and feeling. An important concern is how we teach the Bible in such a way that their intuition is reshaped by the Christian view.

Aspects of truth

Other than purely mathematical truths, most truths, especially Biblical truths, have both rational as well as non-rational content. Take for example, Rom 5:8, ?But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us?. This is a statement of truth about God?s love. We can easily grasp the truth as a proposition rationally by simply reading the sentence. But if we want to read it for the full effect that Paul intended, we need to grasp it emotionally too. The ?But? at the beginning of the verse shows that Paul was contrasting this verse with verse 7, which says that one would hardly die for a righteous man though one may die for a good man (but Christ died for sinners!). The contrast is meant to help us feel what God?s loves is like. It is important that we feel, as widely and deeply as possible, God?s love. Otherwise the proposition that God loves us will not help us love, trust and obey Him. It does not ?work? for us because the ?truth? we grasp does not correspond to the reality of God?s love adequately. The non-rational aspect is missing.

If the Bible speaks to us emotionally, even in a passage from an epistle that presents truth propositionally and logically, how much more so in the narratives and the poetic texts? Influenced by modern scientific thinking, there has been a tendency to see Biblical truth purely in terms of propositions that are devoid of emotion. Even when narrative is used to re-present Biblical content, as in a textbook on Old Testament history, the model used is still that of a science textbook. It may be all right to present scientific truth, because of its nature and the purpose for which it is presented, to be purely rational (even though it is possible to present scientific truth in a way that evokes a sense of wonder and marvel at God?s creation). But this should not be the approach for presenting even secular historical truth. To understand why a war began we need to also feel the emotions (greed, fear, hatred, etc.) that fuelled and sparked the irrational act of mass killing and destruction. Otherwise we do not really understand why the war began. Yet even theology textbooks tend to read like a science textbook. This emotionally detached approach is hailed as ?scientific? and ?objective?.

Biblical truth

Unlike truth presented in our theology textbooks, Biblical truth is embodied in an overarching historical narrative (Genesis-Revelation) interspersed with laws, poetry, biographies, speeches, epistles, etc., which as a whole and in its parts, is a medium to experience or encounter (Biblical) reality. We will now unpack this statement.

Within the covers of the Bible is presented the entire history of the world, from the very beginning to the very end and on to a new beginning that has no end. As shown in a book like The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story by Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen, this overarching narrative has both cohesion and direction. It is important to read and study (and teach) the Bible as such. This is not just for the sake of comprehending the message but also for living it out. According to Bartholomew and Goheen,[4]

Many of us have read the Bible as if it were merely a mosaic of little bits--theological bits, moral bits, historical-critical bits, sermon bits, devotional bits. But when we read the Bible in such a fragmented way, we ignore its divine author's intention to shape our lives through its story. All human communities live out of some story that provides a context for understanding the meaning of history and gives shape and direction to their lives. If we allow the Bible to become fragmented, it is in danger of being absorbed into whatever other story is shaping our culture, and it will thus cease to shape our lives as it should. Idolatry has twisted the dominant cultural story of the secular Western world. If as believers we allow this story (rather than the Bible) to become the foundation of our thought and action, then our lives will manifest not the truths of scripture, but the lies of an idolatrous culture. Hence, the unity of Scripture is no minor matter: a fragmented Bible may actually produce theologically orthodox, morally upright, warmly pious idol worshippers!

If our lives are to be shaped by the story of Scripture, we need to understand two things well: the biblical story is a compelling unity on which we may depend, and that each of us has a place within that story?. We invite readers to make it their story, to find their place in it, and to indwell it as the true story of our world.[5]

Thus, unlike secular books on world history, the Bible reveals how the world and humanity came about. It even reveals the purpose and the final outcome of history and of humanity, and where we are now in that unfolding drama. The laws illustrate how God?s purpose for humanity, that is, to love Him with all our hearts and to love our neighbour as ourselves, can ?work? in the real world. The poetry appeals to our imagination and emotion so that we can perceive truth in as many dimensions as our finite being is capable of. The biographies present historical personalities as real people to make Biblical history come alive so that we can really feel we are a part of that Story. The epistles (and the speeches) not only show us how Biblical truth is applied to real life situations but also present truth plainly and propositionally. As narratives and poetry often do not spell out the truth they embody, this ensures we could grasp essential truths correctly. It will then guard against unrestrained subjectivity in reading the narratives and experiencing the poetry.

Finally, the overarching narrative of Genesis to Revelation, as a whole and in its parts, is a medium to help us experience or encounter the reality that the truths refer to. This can happen in different ways. The first of course is when the Holy Spirit, through the Scriptures, convicts a non-believer of sin and leads him to repentance and faith in Christ. The Bible is thus an indispensable medium through which we come to know Christ personally. This is not all. There are times while we are reading or studying the Scriptures the Spirit opens our spiritual eyes to the Biblical text to see and experience a reality about God in such a powerful and personal way that we feel we have just encountered Him. But we do not expect this to happen frequently.

What can be expected more regularly is experiencing or encountering Biblical reality in a less dramatic way, still with the help of the Spirit. This happens when we learn to perceive Biblical truth in both its rational and non-rational dimensions. As we read about the two sons of Aaron dropping dead because they did not follow instructions in performing their duty as priests we can catch a glimpse of God?s holiness. We can experience what Christ (and thus God) is like by reflecting on how He acted and reacted in the Gospels. The Epistle of Romans can open our eyes to the truth of who we are in Christ and thus sets us free to experience the reality of our freedom in Christ. And the narrative as a whole can also help us experience the truth that God is in control of history and thus gives us a sense of security and purpose that a child of God should have.

Teaching Biblical Truth

If Biblical truth is what is just briefly described, how then do we teach it? The short answer is already suggested above: teach it according to the form(s) in which it is presented to us in the Bible. Since God is behind the formation of the Bible we can safely assume that this approach is suitable not only for premoderns (original audience) but also postmoderns as well as moderns. Thus it does not matter whether our youths are already postmodern. But the attentive reader would notice that our description of Biblical truth (above) and our proposal on how to teach it (below) would appeal to youths who have the postmodern attitudes surveyed above. We do not need to accommodate their preference for actual images. The Harry Potter phenomenon shows that mental images evoked in their imagination by a narrative is good enough.

The manner of teaching Biblical truth

First of all, Christians need to have an impression (however faint initially) of an outline (however bare initially) of the entire drama of redemption staged from Genesis to Revelation etched into their memory that they can recall readily. There are benefits beyond what Bartholomew and Goheen highlighted above. For then, when one is studying, say, Ruth or Philippians one is able to position and orientate oneself at the appropriate juncture within the overarching Biblical Story. Recognising that the story of Ruth took place during the period of the Judges, when there was no king and thus ?everyone did what was right in his own eyes?, makes a lot a difference. For in this light we can see that during one of the darkest (and the most lawless) periods of the history of Israel, specifically because there was no king, God was quietly working behind the scene bringing together a very virtuous foreign woman and a very godly Israelite man with the result that two generations later, David, the best king Israel ever had was born. We may pause and bask in the wondrous thoughts about God and His ways that the Bible evokes.

When Paul said, ?For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain? (Php 1:21), we know he was under house arrest in Rome as recorded in Acts 28. Though he could be executed he was confident that he would be spared, as he believed God still had work for him to do (at least, he had not yet written the pastoral epistles). But to fully appreciate what Paul said, we need to place it in its broader historical context. The fact that we have 2Timothy, which tells us about his (final) imprisonment (not house arrest) and impending death, shows that Paul survived the house arrest and continued serving beyond Acts 28. So when I read, ?I am already being poured out as a drink offering, my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith? (2Ti 4:6-7), I could feel more deeply Paul?s conviction that to live is Christ and to die is gain. His only reason for living was Christ and when his work for Him was done, he eagerly looked forward to be with Him (he was soon martyred). As I read on to hear him talk about the crown of righteousness awaiting not only him but also ?all [of us today] who have loved His appearing?, my heart leapt for joy exclaiming, ?What a glorious way to live and what a glorious way to die!?

These two examples illustrate how important it is to get into the (historical) narrative world of Genesis to Revelation and read a Biblical text, whether a narrative or an epistle, in the context of this narrative world.

Every Christian is also part of this narrative world. Our present place in this ongoing drama is somewhere (in the Christian history not recorded in the Bible) between Acts 28 and Revelation. It is not by chance that Acts 28 does not include Paul?s death. Otherwise it may not be easy to see our life and ministry as part of the ongoing drama that began in Genesis and ends in Revelation. Since Paul?s death also falls outside of Biblically recorded history, we can feel that our part in the drama of world redemption continues without break from that of the apostle Paul! Words are inadequate to express what this can mean to a believer today seeking to fight the good fight, finish the course and keep the faith.

Biblical theologians tend to dichotomise what a Biblical text ?meant? to the original audience in the ancient world and what it ?means? (its relevance) to us today. Thus what is normative for us is only ?what it means to us? and not what it meant to them. This approach fails on two counts. Firstly, when we use words to express truth the outcome is always culturally and historically bound. For example, even the ?timeless truth? that ?Jesus died for our sin?, though always true, must be understood in its historical and cultural context. For to some people today ?sin? means crime. So if I am not a criminal I do not need Jesus. We must understand ?sin? as understood in the Biblical context. Thus to understand even a ?timeless truth? (?what it means to us?), we still need to understand ?what it meant to them? by entering the narrative world of the Bible. This will help ensure that the ?truth? that we grasp and apply corresponds adequately to reality.

Secondly, it fails to see that the Bible is a medium through which we access Biblical reality. To catch a glimpse of the holiness of God while reading about the sudden death of Aaron?s two sons, we need to read it from the historical and theological perspective of the ancient Israelite. We need to experience what it meant to them, that is, what it means to us when we get into their skin and think their thoughts and feel their feelings. Otherwise instead of seeing God as holy we may see Him as hot-tempered, or even barbaric. We already have people saying they like the God of the New Testament but not the God of the Old.

The Old Testament God is the LORD (Yahweh or Jehovah), who is David?s Shepherd in Psalm 23. OT poetry, as illustrated by this Psalm, cannot teach us ?what it means to us? unless we get into the Biblical world and allow what the poem ?meant to them? to be normative for us. This means we allow it to shape or reshape our thinking and feeling. For we need to imagine God as a shepherd the way an ancient Israelite in Palestine (which is full of hills and valleys?not easy to rear sheep) would. In this case, we need to recreate the experience of the sheep and feel the deep sense of security it would enjoy because of who the shepherd is. To help us feel how deep this sense of security is, the psalmist complicates the poem by stretching the imagery of the shepherd and turns him into a generous host who prepares a feast for his sheep in the very presence of its enemies. Imagine ourselves securely enjoying a feast while those who want to harm us can only stand and watch. How secure we can be, when we allow the LORD to be our Shepherd! The thinking and feeling thus evoked in us through an imagination guided by the poem would then help us gain a perception of the OT God that more adequately corresponds to the reality of what He is like.

Hence when we enter the narrative world of the Bible and read texts in that context, our thinking and feeling can actually be shaped according to the rational and non-rational teaching of God?s Word. In the story of Ruth we see how the godly Boaz practised the Old Testament law (Lev 23:22) of allowing the ?needy and the alien? (Ruth was both) to glean in his field. How do we apply this law as lived out by Boaz? What does it mean to us today in a postindustrial society? Since this law is an application of God?s command to love our neighbour as ourselves, we can certainly think of an equivalent way to take care of the needy today. But we will miss something important if we do not dwell on what it meant to them and be changed by it. If we put ourselves into the shoes of Boaz and learn to think and feel like him, our thinking and feeling can be shaped in such a way that it is natural for us to do something similar in our context. Otherwise, all we have is a nice proposition of how we can practice the principle embodied by this law today (what it means to us) and do nothing about it. This transforming effect of the Bible is similar to (but not exactly) that of a well-written novel or a well-made movie that embodies a powerful message.

To sum up, we cannot extract and use Biblical truth the way we extract and use coconut milk. We need to taste the Biblical milk by chewing the kernel and consume it all.

The purpose of teaching Biblical truth

We now consider what we want to accomplish in teaching Biblical truth. Basically it is somewhere between communicating information and cultivating knowledge. Before we consider these two ends of the spectrum we need to discuss briefly the difference between knowledge and information. When a competent doctor puts his medical knowledge into a book to help train new doctors, what we get is not knowledge but information. When a medical student studies or even memorises the book he is absorbing information not knowledge. It becomes knowledge to him only when the information he absorbs is understood to the point that he can use it competently. This cannot happen until he has had enough supervised on-the-job training in a hospital and then adequate practice in treating patients on his own. The textbooks and lectures basically communicate information but the training beyond that focuses on cultivating knowledge, though new information is still being absorbed, which by this time can more readily be converted into knowledge.

In teaching Biblical truth there is also room for both communicating information and cultivating knowledge. In seminary courses, adequate information certainly needs to be communicated, though the cultivation of knowledge should not be neglected. In a baptismal class the focus is certainly on communicating information but in regular Bible studies in fellowship groups the focus should be on cultivating knowledge. Since Christians must grasp the basic doctrines of the Christian faith propositionally (rationally and emotionally), we need to consider how to teach the doctrines. Our proposal to teach Biblical truth within the narrative framework of Genesis to Revelation does make room for teaching doctrines[6].

This approach, as we have illustrated above, suits cultivating knowledge, that is, the shaping and reshaping of thinking and feeling by the Biblical text. Doctrines can be taught propositionally in the context of studying the Epistles in the manner we have illustrated above. Also, contrary to common belief, narratives do embody doctrines and teach truth authoritatively. Erich Auerbach in his classic book, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, compares the Old Testament with the works of Homer. He says this of Biblical narratives:

The Scripture stories do not, like Homer?s, court our favor, they do not flatter us that they may please and enchant us?they seek to subject us, and if we refuse to be subjected we are rebels. Let no one object that this goes too far, that not the stories, but the religious doctrines, raise the claim to absolute authority; because the stories are not, like Homer?s, simply narrated ?reality.? Doctrine and promise are incarnate in them and inseparable from them?[7]

The inspired narratives seem to have a built-in authority that Auerbach?s sensitivities as a literary critic was able not only to detect but also explain. If we need proof that both OT and NT narratives teach doctrines, consider this: the entire life of Christ as narrated in the Gospels is summarised and interpreted by Jn 3:16; and the life of Abraham as narrated in Genesis is used by Paul in Romans 4 to argue for the doctrine of justification by faith. It is important that we rediscover the authority and transforming power of Biblical narratives. We can capture and teach the doctrines embodied in a narrative propositionally after we have allowed the narrative to shape the thinking and feeling of the students. This actually makes it easier to learn doctrines rationally and emotionally at the same time.

We mentioned the need to teach the Bible in a way that reshapes postmodern youths? intuition about truth. It will be hard, if not impossible, to do this purely rationally. But the narratives, and especially the all-encompassing narrative of Genesis to Revelation, embody the idea that the truths taught in the Scriptures are true for all human beings, created in the image by God. When we seek to cultivate Biblical knowledge in our students by reshaping their thinking and feeling (especially through the narratives and poetry), they gradually absorb this most un-postmodern idea, which has to be caught rather than taught. It could then be further taught when it has been adequately caught.

The importance of cultivating Biblical knowledge cannot be overstated. The communication of information can actually cultivate new knowledge if and when there is adequate existing knowledge that has already been cultivated. Without which, more Biblical information cannot be digested and assimilated as new knowledge. This is why seminary students lacking Christian maturity (Heb 5:11-14) cannot benefit as much from their courses.

The role of the Christian community

The most natural way to gain knowledge of (competence in) a language is to immerse in a community that speaks that language. Formal classes and language laboratory practices can certainly teach us the language. But by themselves they can never bring us to that level of competence. Similarly, besides cultivating Biblical knowledge by immersing ourselves in the Biblical narrative, we also need to immerse ourselves in a Christian community that adequately embodies Biblical truth. This itself is immersing in the narrative world of the Bible, as this community is part of that world, occupying a place in the slot between Acts 28 and Revelation. In fact, as D. H. Williams says in Evangelicals and Tradition: The Formative Influence of the Early Church, ?believers do not believe and, more importantly, keep believing in isolation. The Bible is capable of being understood only in the midst of a disciplined community of believers whose practices embody the biblical story.?[8] 

But as a result of modernity, such a community is not easy to find. Instead of immersing in a community that lives out the Story of the Bible, often we are immersed in a community that embodies the Story of Evolution. This implies, all the more, as Williams puts it, ?if contemporary evangelicalism aims to be doctrinally orthodox and exegetically faithful to Scripture, it cannot do without recourse to and integration of the foundational tradition of the early church.?[9] Like the Reformers, we need the ?formative influence of the early church?, the Christian community most immediate to the Apostles. Increasingly evangelical theologians are recognising this and Bible teachers can benefit from works such as Williams? book, which is the first in the series The Evangelical Ressourcement: Ancient Sources for the Church?s Future.

Living out the Biblical Story

The Bible says, ?In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth?. It teaches that there is a personal Creator and there is a beginning to the universe and thus there are both spiritual and material realities. The Evolution Story says there is no beginning to the universe and the (purely) material universe is all there is, has always been and will always be. There is thus no room for God and there are no spiritual realities. Hence a materialistic lifestyle is the most sensible way to live.

The New Age Story also says there is no beginning to the universe. But all there is, has always been and will always be is the spiritual rather than the material. What we consider as material realities are simply different manifestations of this is one and only spiritual Reality some call God.

Each of these stories has very different but very serious implications. In modernity the ground story that many church-goers live by is that of Evolution. Because they profess the Christian faith they adopt bits and pieces of the Biblical Story and fit them into their ground story as and when convenient. And because of the onslaught of postmodernity, they may also adopt bits and pieces from the New Age Story as and when convenient. 

 

Teaching Biblical truth in the context of the overarching narrative of Genesis to Revelation gives us an opportunity to require church-goers to choose which Story they really want, entirely and exclusively. This mixing up of stories is not good for the Gospel and for them. If we are now not wholeheartedly committed to living out the Story that began in Genesis 1-2 and continued through Acts 28, can we assume that we are actually on the journey that leads to where this Story ends in Revelation 21-22? Jesus says, ?The gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it? (Mt 7:14).

 

Notes



[1] Josh McDowell & Bob Hostetler, Beyond Belief to Conviction, Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 2002, p14.

[3] Josh McDowell, op. cit.

[4] Craig Bartholomew & Michael Goheen, The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story, Michigan, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004, p12

[5] Readers concerned about the postmodernist?s rejection of ?metanarratives? can be assured that the Biblical Story, even though its scope is all-encompassing, would not be a ?metanarrative? in postmodernist terms. See the articles by Merold Westphal and James K. A. Smith in Christianity and the Postmodern Turn: Six Views, edited by Myron B. Penner.

[6] See also the comments on Gabriel Fackre?s book in the Appendix.

[7] Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, Willard R. Trask (transl.), Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1953, p12.

[8] D.H. Williams, Evangelicals and Tradition: The Formative Influence of the Early Church, Michigan, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005, p101.

[9] Ibid., p18.

 

 

 



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