p.ost

(how to tell the biblical story in a way that makes a difference)

A narrative statement of missional faith

I’ve been engaged in a little exercise with some friends rewriting a mission organization’s statement of faith. What I have presented below is my reworking of a rough, more cautious, but actually rather effective first attempt to make “a bit of a narrative out of our core beliefs, rather than a bunch of rigid, stand alone statements”. How much of my more elaborate and idiosyncratic version will survive corporate scrutiny remains to be seen. It has rather less missional oomph to it.

We didn’t set out with a very clear set of guidelines. My sense is that we wanted primarily to get away from the ponderous and defensive doctrinalism of traditional statements of faith. We wanted to construct it more or less in narrative form, though it remains explicitly a statement of belief—a way of saying, “These things matter to us.” We wanted to bring the full story of God’s people back into focus to counter the unremitting individualism of modern expressions of faith. We wanted to highlight the missional dynamics of the story. We wanted it to be compelling.

We didn’t want it to be voguishly postmodern or so unlike traditional statements of faith that people could not see the connection, though I suspect I may have erased a little too much of the language of orthodoxy.

Even so, it’s not as radical as I would like it to be. The third paragraph hardly does justice to the history of Israel. The significance of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in the narrative is hinted at, but mainstream evangelicalism is not prepared to let go of the belief that the parousia of Jesus belongs to the end of history and not to the end of pagan empire. I’m not especially happy with the phrase “kingdom ministry”—it’s popular, and I see the point, but I think it takes us too far from the meaning of kingdom in the New Testament. I doubt very much that we’ll be keeping the paragraph on the collapse of Christendom—though I think it is no less important than the other affirmations of belief in the narrative.

Feedback would be welcome. You can download the full (draft) scroll. For comparison I have appended a less restrained narrative-historical rewriting of the Apostles’ Creed that I posted a while back.

A narrative statement of missional faith

We believe that the God who made the heavens and the earth has revealed himself and his purposes—fully, reliably and authoritatively—in the powerful narratives of Scripture.

He created humanity in his own image to be partners with him, man and woman equally, in the management of our ecosystem; this relationship was broken by the disobedience of Adam and Eve, and since then human societies have consistently failed to honour the true and living God and seek his righteousness.

We believe that God responded to this breakdown by forming for himself a covenant people in Abraham to be blessed and to be a blessing to the nations; he remained faithful to them despite their intransigence and rebellion.

We believe that the God of Israel sent his Son, Jesus Christ, not only to save—by his atoning death—his people from the devastating consequences of their sins but also to break down the wall of the Law that excluded Gentiles.

We believe that God raised his Son from the dead and made him Lord over all things, above all powers of empire and commerce and culture, for the sake of his people and for the sake of his own glory in the world; he has given the Holy Spirit to catalyse faith in Christ, to empower godly living, to form compelling community, and to enable effective kingdom ministry.

We believe, therefore, that the one God is to be known and worshipped as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

We believe that the missional God sends his people into the world as faithful communities of new creation under the lordship of Jesus to mediate his presence, to walk according to his ways, to reconcile people to himself, to embody hope, and to be a sign of the final victory of the good Creator over evil and death.

We believe that in the aftermath of the collapse of western Christendom this same God is calling his people to a new relationship to Scripture and to new forms of community and mission.

We believe that the faithful people of God will in the end be vindicated for its belief and service when, through Jesus, God will judge the living and the dead.

We believe that he will make all things new; and the former things will pass away.

A narrative-historical creed

We believe in God, the maker of heaven and earth, who sustains the unfolding of all life;
Who called a people in Abraham for his own possession and for his own purposes, to be a new beginning, a new creation, in the midst of the nations;
Who entered into judgment against his people Israel, subjecting them to the heavy hand of pagan empire.

We believe in Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, Israel’s king;
Born under Augustus, executed under Tiberius;
Who died to save his rebellious people from destruction;
Who was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures and was exalted to the right hand of the Father;
Who was given the name which was above every name, for the sake of the glory of Israel’s God in the ancient world;
Who was made judge and ruler of the nations;
And through whom his persecuted followers came to inherit the empire and then the world.

We believe in the Holy Spirit;
Who is the presence of the creator God in the midst of his people;
Who gives life and form and endurance to God’s new creation.

We believe in one people under Christ, redeemed from the corrosive power of sin, transformed by the events of the New Testament story, justified by its persistent trust in the creator, called to live practically and prophetically in the light of the final renewal of all things.

We believe in a final justice, the final defeat of Satan, evil and death. We believe in the new heavens and the new earth, the reconciliation of creator and creation, and the healing of the nations.

Comments

At first read I thought it balanced the need to stay connected to evangelicalism with the need to find new ways of wrestling with scripture and our place in the world pretty well. There is awkwardness in trying to develop a narrative driven statement of belief that I am not sure you can fully get past. Lots to think about.

Question: Why do you think the church so quickly latched on to an “end of the world” perspective regarding so much of the NT (that is my perspective so correct me if I am wrong)? What is it about the Second Coming that is so engrained into evangelicalism that we can’t re-imagine eschatology from the perspective of the NT authors (pull the horizons back into history rather than project them out into the future)?

Thanks, Kevin. Good questions. I think it basically comes down to the fact that we inevitably read (and believe) from a particular historical perspective. As the biblical worldview was accommodated to a European perspective, it was filtered through a different interpretive and critical grid. The recent post on The end of narrative for Christians and Jews touches on this. It happens all the time as cultural narratives get absorbed into dominant metanarratives. What happened to native American narratives, for example? It would be exceedingly strange if this sort of distortions had not occurred in the case of the biblical worldview.