I must admit, that if I was ever likely to stray into an unhealthy level of admiration for a Christian speaker, Brian McLaren would be pretty close to it. While I don’t agree with everything he says, I really admire the guy and think that in many ways he speaks volumes not just through what he says, but by the humility and graciousness with which he says it. So hearing him speak at the Dangerous Stories Summit was too good an opportunity to refuse.
McLaren spoke on a number of different things, but the biggest impact for me came from his “plenary” on Saturday morning, where he spoke about “Framing Narratives” and the way that they impact upon how we approach who Jesus is. Basically, the premise is that in the mindset of people/cultures/subcultures/whatever there is what McLaren calls a “framing narrative”: an over-arching story that gives an indication of worldview. He proposes five, although readily accepts that there are likely to be more.
1. Empire Story – a domination narrative. This narrative asserts that peace can only be brought about through domination and submission to a greater power. Inherent in this narrative is the concept that the only route to mutual well being and happiness is through joining with the authorities. This story is relatively visible in biblical times (Babylonian empire, Roman empire) as well as in more modern expansionist efforts (Japan circa 1940, Communists circa 1980, USA circa 2000).
2. Victim Story – a revolution narrative. This version of the world involves the equal and opposite reaction – we are being dominated by the empire, therefore we must respond in time. This is very much the Al-Qaeda story: rejecting American imperialism and responding in violence. And once again, this is also a narrative that resonates with the biblical narrative, with the zealots. Inherent in the first two narratives is that while they see the problem as being completely different, they agree that well-being and peace can only come through violence.
3. Shame/Blame – a purity narrative. The Shame/blame narrative tells a story where the focus is on the cause of our problems being someone else – the Nazi’s in 1930s/40s in Germany, the “God hates homosexuals and liberals” type movement in churches being two of the particularly easy to understand examples. The world is broken because those people do that.
4. Prosperity – a dual narrative. The prosperity story holds that happiness is found in a strong economy, through financial security, and through riches and luxuries. McLaren labelled this as being a “dual narrative”, because he holds to the view that it’s very hard to hold solely to this perspective: you eventually have to believe in something else. But this is certainly a narrative that describes Australia’s current political position, where neither side could possibly rate anything above the importance of “keeping a strong economy”, because that would unquestionably be recognised as political suicide.
5. Elite Remnant – an isolation narrative. The story of the “Elite Remnants” is one of holding the faithful few separate from the world that is going to hell in a handbag. This is where you start getting the cults, the Amish, exclusive Brethren, that whole deal. But it likewise fits in well with some of the Christian sub-culture, resulting in the isolationist worldview purported by some Christian segments.
But where this stuff starts getting really interesting is when Brian started talking about the way that these “stories” and worldviews effect the way we see Jesus, to the point that we can’t imagine Jesus relating outside of our cultural “story” and worldview. So where we live as a part of the “empire” story, it can almost become impossible to relate to Jesus and to understand Jesus in any model other than that of a Warlord/Crusading Ruler. And each of the stories has their own version and distortion of what the Gospel is all about, and each believes just as fervently that they are reading the *true* gospel.
So, in the tradition of not wanting to make this be ALL about me, and just a little about you, the question is this: how do you consider the gospel story, without immediately being biased towards fitting that story into your own cultural biases and distort the central message? Once you’ve given some ideas, I might post on some things that came up at the summit, as well as some ideas of my own.