This morning at church, the Pastor Emeritus spoke to us, since our regular pastor and his wife will be in Israel for a couple of weeks. I enjoyed the pastor’s sermon because it reminded me of a post by Leslie Keeney on valuing the Bible as a narrative, rather than prioritizing principles and discarding the narrative once one arrives at the moral lessons that the stories supposedly teach.
This morning, the pastor derived principles from the stories. From the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth in the Gospel of Luke, the pastor derived the principle of praying and expecting God to answer our prayers according to his timetable, not ours. From the story of Saul of Tarsus’ conversion and the thorn in the flesh, the pastor derived the lesson of God keeping us humble. From the story of Esther, the pastor taught us about relying on God (which Esther may have done when she fasted, even though God is not mentioned in the Masoretic Text of the book) and of taking action, as well as God’s preservation of the Jewish people as a nation that glorifies him.
The thing is, I did not feel that the pastor was deriving principles in a manner that discarded the narratives. Rather, the pastor dived deeply into the stories themselves. When looking at Saul of Tarsus, he remarked that Saul was sure of himself before Christ appeared to him, but then he was rendered dependent on somebody else on account of his blindness. The pastor also remarked on how amazing it was that Saul was persecuting Christians one minute, and then the next minute he was proclaiming the very Gospel that he had once persecuted. I agree that deriving principles from the Bible can be done inappropriately, but I think that it’s good when one can do so while taking the narrative seriously—-by looking at characters, plot, etc. That way, we feel as if we are living a story with other human beings.