Narrative Theology: An Evangelical Appraisal -- By: Carl F. H. Henry

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 08:1 (Spring 1987)
Article: Narrative Theology: An Evangelical Appraisal
Author: Carl F. H. Henry


Narrative Theology:
An Evangelical Appraisal

Carl F. H. Henry

Visiting Professor
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

For two generations the hermeneutical problem has been pressingly urgent. Modernism disowned miraculous theism as prescientific, rejected the authority and inspiration of the canonical Scriptures, and derailed the orthodox Christian understanding of the Bible. In its wake arose a multiplicity of hermeneutical theories which relocated religious authority in human experience, encounter, decision, psychic need, social criticism, and other referents. By its accommodation of immense differences of interpretation modernist criticism nurtured exegetical relativism.

To cope with this hermeneutical crisis a number of alternatives have arisen. Notable among them is narratiave theology, which focuses attention on the biblical text in a new way.

Before the modernist impact, divine revelation was normatively identified with Scripture which, as a supernaturally inspired literary canon, conveys propositional truths about God and his purposes and gives the meaning of divine redemptive acts. The sense of the revelation was to be found by grammatico-historical exegesis that aims to recover as accurately as possible the intention of the inspired prophetic-apostolic writers.

The Enlightenment nurtured the notion that what can be said reliably about the supernatural differs from what the Bible teaches. It proposed to interpret Scripture without any presuppositions, thereby holding at bay all tendential exegesis. But the assumption of assumptionless interpretation was highly debatable, and it soon became evident that all interpretation proceeds on presuppositions. The supposedly “neutral” historical criticism of the Enlighenment was in fact notably influenced by philosophical rationalism and speculative idealism. When the scientific method was subsequently enthroned as the supreme way of knowing, Scripture was divested of miracles and its essential content was diluted to universal moral truths. For a more trustworthy clue to religious factualities than the Bible offers, historical critics sought primitive pre-biblical documents on the premise that Scripture incorporates legends and myths that romanticize the objective data in order to promote the Hebrew cult.

Today a schism over the nature of the Bible vexes the Judeo-Christian world.

On one hand, a disintegrative stage has overtaken historical criticism because of the staggering diversity of its conclusions. A deep reaction is underway among formative scholars who reconnect Judeo-Christian concerns centrally with the Bible rather than with multiform higher critical theories.

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