Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Brian McLaren on the Overarching Storyline in the Bible

Last night I took part in a conference call with Brian McLaren through the Viral Bloggers Network of The Ooze. It was a nice Q&A-style conversation about McLaren's new book, A New Kind of Christianity.

The first chapter of the book is entitled, "The Narrative Question: What is the Overarching Storyline of the Bible?" I must admit that the idea of an overarching storyline in the Bible makes me nervous. There are many stories, genres, and theologies in the Bible. To attempt to discern a single, overarching storyline seems impossible. Well, unless someone wants to try to say that their own theo-political agenda is, somehow, the Bible's main overall storyline. But I know McLaren wouldn't do that. He is very sensitive to postmodernity, postcolonialism, and ecumenism. Yet there is the rub. This needed clarification. I wanted to hear his perspective on the idea of an overarching theme in Scripture. So I asked him about it. I said something like this: "My question is about the overall storyline in the Bible. To me there seems to be a lot of diversity in the Bible. What is your hope or purpose of collapsing the diversity into a cohesive whole?"

In his reply, McLaren went right to the heart of my concern. He said that he is not advocating a big story (or metanarrative) that tries to exclude or assimilate others. We went on to say that metanarratives are often used to colonize others. Manifest Destiny is one example of the dangers of this kind of thinking. So, McLaren makes it clear that he doesn't want to impose a colonizing metanarrative.

McLaren then went on to talk about how the Bible is made up of many different small stories. His focus, however, is whether we can put those small stories together in some way. For McLaren, these stories come together in a "story space" instead of a "story line." The distinction is that a "story space" leaves room for a diversity of perspectives, whereas a singular "story line" limits range of how the stories can be understood. For him, it's important to value multiple perspectives. So, he appreciates hearing how African Americans, Native Americans, LGBT folks, etc. understand the Biblical stories. He said that exposing ourselves to a diversity of perspectives liberates us to new understandings of the stories. In his opinion, the idea of a "story space" makes room for a diversity of understandings of the Biblical stories without erring on the side of relativism on one end, or exclusivism on the other end.

Maybe it's just semantics, but McLaren's distinction did seem important. It relieved my anxiety about reading his first chapter. So, now all I need to be anxious about is getting out on these snowy roads in order to get to a bookstore. A New Kind of Christianity will have to be the next book I get!

Props to Mike Morrell and Spencer Burke for organizing the conference call. Keep up the good work y'all are doing at The Ooze! And speaking of The Ooze, be sure to check out The Brian McLaren Channel over the next ten weeks. There will be a new video with McLaren each week to celebrate the release of the new book. Should be good stuff!

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