How and Why We Ought to Read Stories

When I consider “Reading Narratives,” I tend to think in terms of “what should I, the reader, do when reading a story?” or “how ought I to read a story?” Though that is something I have thought about way too much (and I am not really the more informed for it!) I am willing to throw in my two cents.

So I am more concerned, at the present, with how we ought to read a story. More from the reader’s point of view, of course, as a very large can of worms is opened up when you introduce the role of the author of a narrative. So, wishing to not complicate matters, I think that a thesis statement is in order…

We ought to read stories as Christians in the world.

“We”

Not just the blogalectic peeps, but all Christians everywhere.

“ought to read stories”

Because the Bible is predominantly a Story, the Christian must not despise stories. A story serves many purposes (as I am sure later posts will affirm) but not a small purpose is to help us to see the Story that we all inhabit; both the big metanarrative (yeah, I went there…) and our little narratives. It is not ethically necessary to read stories (outside the Bible) but I contend that it is secondarily necessary because reading the little stories well will help us to understand God and His Story better. Since this is a “good” that we must seek if we are to be “good”, then we ought to seek all of the means by which we can become better in that life-long journey. Thus: we ought to read stories.

But the point is to read stories in a specific way

“as Christians”

Before I get into “as Christians”, Vicki brought up a legitimate point about the presence of evil and sinful stuff in stories that are fundamentally dark and unbelieving. I would disagree about the whole “can’t use the Philippians test” idea because I think that the ethical realm is firmly seated (if the author is not considered!) in the reader, not in the text itself. I am not advocating an entirely subjective reading ethic, though, as I would say that we can still test a text by the Philippians standard within the context of the personal. The text has no ethical frame of reference without either the author or the reader. The words are not timeless Platonic forms of meaning, but rather are dependent on human (or greater) interaction to have their meaning. You have to just trust that i am not advocating subjectivism, as I know it sounds a whole lot like that (and I do wax postmodern at times!). It might have been sinful for the author to write something lusty and messed up because he was not considering the “excellent” or “praiseworthy” while writing it. And the reader that is having lust issues that reads such a text is made to stumble, and it is entirely the fault of him who chooses to read something (if false advertising is employed the question gets more difficult) that would cause him to stumble. Okay… this could go on forever, so I will stop. So I will conclude that by saying that the Philippians standard applies to the entire process and context of reading in terms of content, but to the text itself in terms of form. I know that is a large statement, but forgive me, I won’t defend it here… Comment or write your own post about the relation of form and content in relation to objective standards of the good, the true, and the beautiful!

We should read a text “as Christians” because of obvious Biblical reasons, not the least of which is that all things should be done for the glory of God. Sometimes it seems that with that we have to say that you should only read devotional books, theology books and the Bible… But that is not the case because of…

“in the world.”

We don’t exist in a little Christian bubble (unless you attend Biola haha) and so we ought to read with the understanding that “the glory of God” is achieved when we grow in our knowledge of others made in His image. We can see brokenness and fundamentally dark books as glorifying God, because there was no light at the crucifixion, and God was most glorified at that moment. Of course that is only glorious because  of the Resurrection, but a resurrection need not be spelled out in every narrative. There were two thieves next to Jesus at the darkest moment of human history. It is helpful to know about both the one who ended up “with Him in Paradise” and the one who hurled taunts and abuses at the Lord of glory and died in dishonor, hopelessly clinging to his sin all the way to Hell. If we are gonna be like Jesus we have to live in the same world He entered and He loved and He saved. We have to learn every lesson we can about the scoffing thief that we never be like him.

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  1. Will, this is an excellent post (unwarranted but totally true jab at Rick notwithstanding) and I’d like to say first that the analogy of the two thieves being a picture of the range of books being helpful as lessons to learn to imitate and avoid is not something I would have seen myself. Well written, and I agree whole-heartedly with that sentiment; my own testimony testifies the range of contrasting darkness and resurrection.

    That being said, you lost me on the “form-content” thing. I know you said you wouldn’t go into detail there, but the sentence seems to be lacking something that would make it understandable, or change its interpretation, if I were able to understand the difference between content and form being presented (again and again, due to my own slowness. Or forgetfulness. What?). I assume the missing phrase is “not only…but also.” Or, to make you, Rick, Vicki, and Ted exceedingly joyous, “ου μόνον…αλλά και”. Stupid Google Translate won’t do the breath marks I’m so accustomed to dislike.

    Also, I appreciate that you went there.

    • Will Sprague
    • January 26th, 2012

    I think the “form” vs “content” discussion is super complicated. Both form and content apprehend each other and influence one another. Nonetheless, I think that they can be judged in separate categories (like a Venn diagram, with tons of interdependence and overlap) and both are aimed at a singular end.

    For example:

    A children’s book (limiting context) may not have really long complicated dense words (form) and may not include sexual themes (content).

    The standard used to judge the form is objective and applied within the limiting context etc… There is an objectively beautiful way of writing children’s stories (of course an end must be ascertained!) and we can judge the form with its own standard and the content with its own. Of course, the standards are (as I just said) limited, or defined, by the context including the subordinate end for which the text was made. Both the whole text and the objective standard have a unified referent in the subordinate end (all the questions related to context and intent, and superordinate end (the glory of God) for which it was created.

    It sounds really complicated and that is because I am in WAY over my head in trying to put these thoughts down. I think smart people write dissertations on these sorts of things, and I am not up to that… There is a reason I did not go any further in the post… hahaha but thanks Joseph!

  2. I think I disagree with myself about Philippians too. I’m going to have to write about that again. I mostly just like this post. I have this idea about books and antibooks too, in which you can read a “bad” book, that is, a book which shows a lot of badness, and then once you know what is wrong with it, you read a book that shows the solution. I think that allows very non-Christian books to still be good, because we read them “as Christians” as you say and then find Christian/real solutions to the problems raised.

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