11 November 2005

kerygma and apologia

In a recent email exchange I made a passing remark about the importance of the category of "story" and the role of community in apologetics and Gospel-proclamation more generally. Someone asked me to unpack that a bit.

Briefly, by "story" I mean that the Gospel isn't merely a set of truths about God and salvation, but that there is a narrative about God's action in the world - particularly through the history of Israel, the events of Christ's life, and the ongoing life of the church - within which these truths operate and make sense. And history isn't just "facts," but an interpretation of facts by relating those facts to one another within a wider story about ultimate origins and ends.

Like all good stories, the biblical story isn't only a matter of getting the facts straight, but also of symbolism, drama, motifs, rhetoric, interconnections, and so on, that come together in an aesthetically pleasing and satisfying way. The biblical story isn't just more internally consistent than other stories about the world, nor does it just do a better a job of accounting for the reality of the world - it is also a better story as a story. And that's part of a Christian apologetic.

As for community, I mean that the Christian faith, again, doesn't simply give us a set of truths about God, humanity, salvation, and so on, but embodies those truths in a new community - the church - in which we begin to live out the biblical story as a new way of being human. Moreover, this new humanity is not merely a "means" to a final salvation that arrives only by some other route (whether immediate operations of the Spirit or a completely postponed eschatological future). Rather, this new humanity is of the essence of God's salvation in the present, already now beginning to anticipate what one day shall be when Christ returns - a people of God renewed in his image.

Thus, part of the "proof" of the Christian faith isn't just providing arguments for the truth of various propositions about God and Christ and the world (as important as such arguments may be). Rather, it is a matter of living out the Gospel as the truth about what God is doing in the world through Christ and his Spirit. The church doesn't just propose a salvation that is available someday, somewhere, but the church offers the beginnings of that salvation, concretely, here and now.

These realities, thus, are part of the Spirit's means to seek and save sinners as we carry out the task of commending Jesus Christ as Lord and savior to a fallen and broken world. The church has always known this and made this part of her apologetic, from Justin Martyr and Augustine to Francis Schaeffer and Lesslie Newbigin. So that's what I meant by referring to "story" and "community."