Comparisons Between Systematic Theology & Narrative Theology

Mark Virkler's picture

I had been a Christian for many years before I ever heard the phrase “narrative theology.” I understood “systematic theology” as I used it to establish systems of truths which I believed, taught and sought to live. So what was narrative theology?

Narrative Theology – “Discourse about God in the setting of story” - Gabriel Fackre

Systematic Theology

  1.      Engages the intellect
  2.      Is a later reflection on the story of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ
  3.      A secondary process – thinking, commenting on the story

Narrative Theology

  1.      Engages the heart, the mind and the whole person
  2.      Is the first expression of the story of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior
  3.      A primary process – experiencing the story

Can we agree that commenting on the story can never itself legitimately claim to exhaust the truth contained within that story? Narrative is never exhausted by any schematic formulation. We always need to keep going back to the original story. 

The classtime is a time of sharing stories together

Since the core of life is story, since Jesus came to earth and revealed His Father by living an amazing life story, since the Bible is a collection of true stories and since conversion and spiritual growth consist of our life story being intersected by His Story, let’s examine ways of encountering Jesus by entering God’s story. Particularly, how would we do this in Sunday School, Bible school or home group?

The Bible models that life-giving teaching flows out of stories. Therefore, the most effective classes will be those which involve our lives' stories being shared together. This includes our stories from the past week as well as honoring the story taking place in the classroom between the students and with the teacher.

The instructor can tell his own life’s story, as it intersects the truth they are exploring from Scripture. He can tell what the Holy Spirit has revealed to him about how he has effectively appropriated this Kingdom reality into his life. In like manner, students in the class should be encouraged to tell their lives’ stories and what the Holy Spirit is revealing to them and how it is being worked out (or not being worked out) in their lives.

The most effective textbook will be that which includes life stories. These stories can explore the results of both obedience and disobedience. The Bible certainly explores both. The Bible is the most profound book in the world demonstrating storytelling, and therefore should be used heavily as the main teaching text. When other texts are used, make sure they use the medium of story as they teach. Seek out texts that combine and incorporate a thorough cognitive understanding while using the medium of story. 

Ways we can experience story within the classtime

Sharing our individual life stories - We can invite everyone to share a revelation God gave them during the last week and how it impacted them for the better as they applied it, or battles they are experiencing as they seek to implement the revelation.

As we come together we are experiencing life together in the Holy Spirit. We should honor our shared story.

  • As we quiet our hearts in God’s presence, we can share what He is speaking. This becomes prophetic words.
  • As we minister to a need a person has, we can listen to the Spirit and minister what the Holy Spirit reveals, thus operating in the gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:7-11).

Teaching times – where we receive revelation together from a Scripture

  • Tell a story rather than simply sharing didactic facts. One enters the story by presenting the material on the level which the students are at, using illustrations that relate to their walk in life.
  • Experience a Bible story and allow people to meet Jesus in it. As a small group you may corporately enter the Bible scene, becoming one of the characters, and experiencing it in the first person. A way of doing this is to sit in a small circle holding hands, with eyes closed. You then go around the circle, numerous times, with each person fixing their eyes and hearts on the scene, tuning to the flow of the Holy Spirit and sharing what they are experiencing. They may actually "become" one of the characters of the biblical scene. When a person is done sharing, he squeezes the hand of the person on his right. This is the signal for them to share or, if they desire to pass, they may in turn squeeze the hand of the person on their right. A good way to prepare for this exercise is to read the Bible story together first to help focus your hearts and minds. I have done this numerous times and the results are always profound as people share their experiences.
  • Drama – A small group could, in an impromptu way, act out a Bible story and then share the feelings each experienced.
  • Practice truth together – This involves DOING whatever it is you are learning about. You can practice prophesying, healing, deliverance, dream interpretation, serving and any other skill you are learning about from Scripture.
  • Dance, pageantry – Through dance or pageantry, express your heart to Almighty God.

Journaling  times – Make two-way journaling and reading of your journaling to one another a standard practice in each meeting. This is extremely powerful and faith building.

Resources to take you deeper


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