Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wettstein on Narrative Theology

I have occasionally written about theology and theomythy in this blog.   And in my book From Homer To Harry Potter my coauthor and I attempted a longer defense of the idea that the heart of the Bible is not propositional theology but narrative theology and storytelling.  I am right now working up a review of a marvelous book by Howard Wettstein (the picture on his home page is worth a thousand words) entitled The Significance of Religious Experience.  His book is thought-provoking and illuminating -- I'll save the details for the full review -- but for now, let me offer two helpful quotes.
“We often speak of the biblical narrative, and narrative is another aspect of the Bible’s literary character.  The Bible’s characteristic mode of ‘theology’ is story telling, the stories overlaid with poetic language.  Never does one find the sort of conceptually refined doctrinal propositions characteristic of a doctrinal approach.  When the divine protagonist comes into view, we are not told much about his properties.  Think about the divine perfections, the highly abstract omni-properties (omnipotence, omniscience, and the like), so dominant in medieval and post-medieval theology.  One has to work very hard—too hard—to find even hints of these in the Biblical text.  Instead of properties, perfection and the like the Bible speaks of God’s roles—father, king, friend, lover, judge, creator, and the like.  Roles, as opposed to properties; this should give one pause.” (108)
“Biblical theology is poetically infused, not propositionally articulated.” (110)
I will confess that this is a difficult review to write; it's rare that I find a book that I'd rather quote at great length rather than summarize.  His writing is lucid, combining analytic rigor and pragmatic vision with Talmudic wisdom.  It is delicious in its suggestiveness.  It's the sort of book I expect will tinge everything I write for a long time.

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