During my research stint with The Creation Project I had the luxury of being contractually obliged to read in areas that I normally don’t have time to explore. One result is a deeper appreciation of the relationship between reading and living God’s story.
Applying the Insights of Philosophers
Most of my research during my time with The Creation Project was spent exploring how Scripture can be both a work of historiography and a work of art. How is it that Scripture both faithfully depicts historical events while also telling a story that is shaped not primarily by chronology or cause and effect but instead is shaped primarily by the story movement from tension to resolution?
My reading took me to Plato (424–348 BC) and Aristotle (384–322) and then on up to Paul Ricoeur (1913–2005). Where Aristotle thought history and story are mutually exclusive, Paul Ricoeur argued that history and story are one and the same. It’s the very nature of humanity to not just tell stories but to live stories.
Along similar lines, here’s an interesting TED talk by Yuval Noah Harari. He talks about what makes humans special relative to other animals. What is it that makes humans masters on planet earth? For Harari, the key is in our ability to cooperate both flexibly and in very large numbers. And what is it that allows us to cooperate in such a way? Harari says, basically, story.
The Story Force Field
What makes a story a story is the movement from tension to resolution. That is the organizing principle of story that imbues story with a strong force that that both drives us to keep reading, directs our understanding of the text, and draws us in to live out the reality of the text.
Think for example of reading one of your favorite books. If you’re really into a book it draws you in to the point that you find it hard to put the book down. There have been times when I’ve been reading an interesting book and right at a crucial moment Jana calls me for supper and I find it hard to stop reading because I’m caught up in the force of the story.
That’s crazy! It essentially means that some guy I don’t know, whose been dead for maybe a hundred years or more, is exerting a greater force on my will than my wife, whom I love, who is alive right now and is calling me from the other room!
The story force field can be pretty strong.
There are more dimensions to this force field than just keeping me glued to my seat. The movement from tension to resolution also guides my reading. If I’m reading a murder mystery, for example, then as I read I’m looking for details in the text that could potentially help me discover ‘whodunnit’ before I get to the end of the story and the author reveals all. There are lots of details that don’t relate to the murder but if I follow well I will be able to pick out those that do. Again, that same movement from tension to resolution, the force that keeps me glued to my seat is the force that also guides my reading.
There is yet one more way the story force field draws us into its sphere of influence. Stories also create a force field that persuades us to adopt certain values or courses of action. They can actually shape our understanding of what is right and wrong. Some people can remember the stories from the album “Free to Be…You and Me,” stories like “William Wants a Doll” or “Ladies First.” These stories took the conventional wisdom of the day regarding gender roles, for example, and drew us into an alternative story world where the opposite values created a better place to live. Some people credit “Free to be…You and Me” with dramatically shaping Americans’ perception of gender roles (among other things).
Reading and Living God’s Story
The Bible is far more than an ordinary story–it’s a grand narrative that encompasses all of human existence from the beginning to the end of time. The story of Scripture is not just a way of looking at a particular aspect of life, it’s a way of looking at all of life. Because the Bible offers us a grand narrative, it creates a force field that invites me to align all of my life with the story of Scripture.
For me, this insight into the relationship between reading and living is important because it helps us see the importance of reading Scripture. As we read Scripture we do not just fill our heads with right morals and values–things we ‘ought’ to do. As I understand Scripture’s story movement from tension to resolution I understand its movement from creation and fall (tension) to the restoration of creation (resolution). In God’s story, all of history is about this story movement which creates a force field that draws me in, inviting me to shape my life so that I also contribute to the movement toward the restoration of creation.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2
To read the Bible, to understand its story and to conform my life to the story of Scripture is the essence of being a disciple of Christ.
If you happen to be a Slovak speaking reader of our site you might be interested in listening to a recent teaching session I did on Reading and Living Scripture at the Cikev bratská in Trnava.
David Duff says
This reminds me of Foster’s book A Celebration of Discipline. One of the 7 disciplines on which he expounds is Study. “Remember the mind will always take on an order conforming to the order upon which it concentrates. Perhaps we observe a tree or read a book. We see it, feel it, understand it, draw conclusions from it. And as we do, our thought processes take on an order conforming to the order in the tree or book. When this is done with concentration, perception, and repetition, ingrained habits of thought are formed.”
Todd Patterson says
Thanks for the comment and the connection to Foster’s classic. I must confess, quotes like that have tended to turn me off because the idea seemed overly mystical to me. I guess for me the insight came through Ricoeur when I realized there’s an actual mechanism by which we conform our lives to Christ as we understand and try to live out the story of Scripture.