choose your own adventure
It’s a pretty standard thing for Christians to say that the Bible is important. Typically we like to say that it is our ultimate authority for faith and life. But what on earth does that mean?
One problem is that there are so many areas of our lives where the Bible simply doesn’t tell us how we should behave. Another is that when we try to force the Bible to speak about every part of our lives, we end up twisting it and reading all kinds of stuff into it based on our modern assumptions and personal experiences. And where is the source of authority in that case? A final difficulty is that no matter how we squint at it, the Bible refuses to be a book of basic instructions for life. It remains, stubbornly and frustratingly, a great big sprawling messy story. And how can a story have authority over our lives?
Tom Wright has a bold suggestion that just might help. It’s so simple and profound it blows my little mind. He asks us to imagine that someone discovers a lost Shakespeare play, but that the fifth and final act has been lost. Rather than have someone write a fifth act, the existing parts are given to highly trained, sensitive and experienced Shakespearian actors, who are asked to immerse themselves in the story, and then work out a fifth act for themselves. You can see where this is going:
The first four acts, existing as they did, would be the undoubted ‘authority’ for the task in hand. That is, anyone could properly object to the new improvisation on the grounds that some character was now behaving inconsistently, or that some sub-plot or theme… had not reached its proper conclusion. This authority of the first four acts would not consist – could not consist! – in an implicit command that the actors should repeat the earlier parts of the play over and over again. It would consist in the fact of an as yet unfinished drama, containing its own impetus and forward movement, which demanded to be concluded in an appropriate manner. It would require of the actors a free and responsible entering into the story…
Wright suggests that in the Bible we have been given the first four acts of the Story (Creation, Fall, Israel, Jesus), as well as hints as to how it will end. Our job is to immerse ourselves in the Story, and then improvise the fifth act in the power of the Spirit. Simple!
There’s so much that is beautiful about this model. It allows the biblical Story to be a story. It means that we have been given a real part to play in the drama – we can’t simply ‘look up’ what we should do, or copy the actions of people in the Bible. We have to use our God-given common sense and capacity for responsible choice. There is an element of choose-your-own adventure to the Christian life. And there is room for colourful variety and diversity, since there will be many ways of continuing the Story which may be equally appropriate and consistent.
But at the same time we live under the authority of the Story. By immersing ourselves in it we have to repeatedly humble ourselves and submit ourselves to God’s Story, and allow it to question our lives. Crucially, you can challenge my improvisation if it seems to be in discord with the first four acts, if it is not in harmony with the whole flow and direction and spirit of the Story.
From where I’m standing, it seems like genius. What do you think?