Story-Shaped Theology

This morning I came across this beautiful question in a sermon from Randy Newswanger:

Are my understandings of God, my understandings of healing and redemption, my understandings of community and celebration large enough to hold the specific details of your story?

I think this question is at the heart of church. We base our shared life around the Story of scripture, but there are so many more stories that we hear and live together. And each story grows and shapes and sometimes even transforms the way we understand how God works in the world. At least it should.

I worry sometimes that this whole internet thing allows us to be too selective about the stories we let ourselves hear. That the cable TV craziness means we only have to watch TV shows that validate our already-held ideas. That the church-shopping syndrome lets us ease into worship communities where we only have to listen to stories that mirror our own.

But we don’t have to be imprisoned in our comfort zones. Stories from around the world are just a mouse-click away. Or a library trip. Or maybe even a walk to the corner coffee shop.

Are my understandings of God, my understandings of healing and redemption, my understandings of community and celebration large enough to hold the specific details of your story?

I want to hold this question in my heart today. I want to listen closely to people’s stories, to listen deeply. Then, tomorrow, I want to try to do it again. If enough of us can manage enough energy and enough grace to do this more days than we don’t, I believe the church–and the world–will be transformed.

(Also, imagine how the government shutdown fiasco would have played out if congress-people and our president had listened well and allowed the stories of others to change their minds and shape their policies! But that’s a post for another time.)

7 thoughts on “Story-Shaped Theology

  1. Joanna,

    Thanks for this! I’ve started taking the first Sunday of each month to “leave home” and with a friend visit other worship communities for precisely this reason, though your wording is better than mine. We stepped outside our comfort zone on October 1 and heard an absolutely amazing story about someone whose life is very different from mine in many ways, presented by a Catholic school teacher to our local Unitarian congregation. Watching the church and the world transform before my eyes by the power of God is an amazing experience!

  2. Listening to the story of “the Other” is one of the first things we should do BEFORE we start trying to speak to “the Other”. First of all, because by listening, we can hear their humanity, their struggles, their trials, and we can learn where to find our points of solidarity. Secondly, because in listening to their stories, we may find that there are points where the story of the gospel intersects their story and it is there where we may find a way of bringing the amazing story of God’s grace and love to bear on their lives and to show how their story fits into the bigger picture of God’s story and invite them to join the gospel story, interweaving theirs into it’s larger narrative.

    …at least, that’s how I was taught in seminary. šŸ˜‰

    • And/Or “the Other” might be able to show us how our story more faithfully fits into the bigger picture of God’s story. . . . at least that’s what I was taught in Bible study. šŸ˜‰

      • Hehe… yup… I heard that part, too. šŸ˜‰ I love looking at things as “story” or “drama” of the gospel instead of some logical, rational, systematic theology… it seems more… lively, than a bunch of propositions tacked onto a piece of paper…

  3. Joanna,

    I’m glad you found my sermon and pulled that question out of it for further reflection. That reflective sermon has gotten more circulation than anything else I’ve ever said or written.


    • Randy, I appreciated the whole sermon–the opportunity to hear part of your story. I found your piece while I was reading around on the BMC website in preparation for the board meeting at our church this weekend.

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