Help My (Pastor’s) Unbelief: #9

Jason Micheli —  June 4, 2013 — 1 Comment

help_my_unbelief-1I mentioned in my sermon for this weekend:

“being a pastor, I’ve heard all the reasons not to believe before and, as a Christian, I struggle with all of them myself.” 

I thought it an innocuous line, but it yielded me 3 queries in the line of worshippers leaving church and 4 other rapid response emails.

They all wanted to know what it is I struggle to believe.

What questions to which I’m still seeking answers.

And what doubts make my faith remain like a too-small blanket.

Fair enough. I brought it up, and since I’m enough of a Calvinist to think the pulpit isn’t the most appropriate place to explore doubts (it’s a place to proclaim the Gospel) I can at least give space to such questions here.

Struggle/Doubt/Question #9: The Power of Story

But in a different way.

‘Story’ is a trendy word in the publishing world and the blogosphere of late, which is a sure sign some other perspective is just on the horizon.

Anyone who’s listened to or read a few of my sermons knows that I’m inclined to communicate via story. We’re story-formed creatures I believe, and, I believe, story possesses the capacity to convey truth and meaning in a way that deductive or propositional teaching does not. Story allows room for moral complexity and emotional resonance, accessing not just the head but the heart.

Most of scripture is story, after all, and even those parts that are not, like the epistles, presume a particular story in the background.

I think narratively and I communicate best that way too.

I signed on to narrative theology, with George Lindbeck and Stanely Hauerwas, quite a while ago and that remains that position from which I’ll debate any other perspective.

Yet here’s my nagging, creeping pastor’s doubt, the annoying question that comes over me like a cold sweat after each and every sermon:

What if ‘story’ doesn’t have the power we confer upon it?

What if, in other words, the biblical stories do not form, conform or transform people over time?

01stone-img-blog427On this very topic, I’d encourage you to click over and read a piece from the NY Times: Does Great Literature Make Us Better? 

Preachers like me love to point out how Jesus’ parables still have the power to shock, offend and turn the tables of convention, but what if we’re wrong? Or kidding ourselves?

After all, when Jesus told the stories himself they seem to have fell on deaf, uncomprehending ears and left those listeners’ characters largely intact.

And unchanged.

I struggle with wondering if it’s the same for us. Is our character largely formed by actions and habits regardless of the stories we tell, hear and proclaim?

Might this be the underlying reason that 2,000 years and counting so many of the Risen Jesus’ followers do not appear to be leading (or attempting) risen lives?

 

Jason Micheli

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One response to Help My (Pastor’s) Unbelief: #9

  1. Jason,

    By the way I wanted to say how much I liked your “Stars are the Light of the World” sermon and how it talked about faith. I felt that was lacking in your talked about Justification.

    My favorite verse on faith is Romans 4:21, which I believe is the best definition of faith I have heard. “(Abraham) being fully convinced that God was able to do what he promised”. Whereas faith in Hebrews 11 is not so much a definition as it is an expression of what happens when one has faith. And I believe this might help answer the conundrum of whether stories are the best way to change people.

    Hebrews 11 makes it sound like it is, but not stories in the sense of an allegory or parable but a testimonial. It was who Jesus was saying about himself and God collectively over his earthly life that is really impacting. That is why I encourage my parishioners to read whole letters or gospels or books in one sitting. This gives the overall testimony of his life rather than individual teachings or snippets.

    Also Hebrews 11:1 properly interpreted in my opinion, really says that it is a process. The more we trust God, the more he becomes a reality in our lives. But of course the Devil is always accusing God of not being trustworthy. So we must be growing continually.

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