I remember once being bothered by some guy's remark that he was taking the Bible "as story"--which I thought threatened to evade an absolutely crucial issue: "Is this story the truth?--or merely a fiction I happen to like?"
And now I'm slogging through NT Wright's The New Testament and the People of God. And one consideration I find compelling there is that we live in 'stories'--mental/emotional structures of intentions and outcomes--so that we make contact with physical "reality" within those structures, rather than having our stories determined by physical 'given's as people commonly assume. "... we find that human beings tell stories because this is how we perceive, and indeed relate to the world."
Normally we meet the physical world in a context where we're trying to accomplish some object, while various elements of "reality" help or hinder the effort. If we're trying to start a car, the state of the spark plugs may or may not be a physical 'fact', but we meet that fact in a process of interaction, making and testing hypotheses by trying 'this' and having 'that' happen, until we've arrived at some successful or unsuccessful outcome, and can get on to the story of our next subgoal.
But all this goes on within some larger story.
For the Jews of Jesus' time, the larger story was as follows:
1) Who are we? We are Israel, the chosen people of the creator god.
2) Where are we? We are in the holy Land, focused on the Temple, but paradoxically, we are still in exile.
3) What is wrong? We have the wrong rulers: pagans on the one hand, compromised Jews on the other, or, half-way between, Herod and his family. We are all involved in a less-than-ideal situation.
4) What is the solution? Our god must act again to give us the true sort of rule, that is, his own kingship exercised through properly appointed officials (a true priesthood; possibly a true king); and in the mean time Israel must be faithful to his covenant charter.
Of course, as Wright says, the high priests and other rulers of Israel would have rejected items 2-4, but the bulk of the nation would have more or less taken them for granted, reinforced by frequent communal services with prayers and psalms within that context.
I haven't read on to what the early Christian version of this would have been. What I've been meanwhile thinking about: What about us?
Some form of the Christian scenario served as backdrop for most of our previous 2000 years, but at some point we had people like Nietzsche observing that "God" (as a social fact in people's 'practical' lives) was "dead". And in this country, the official "American" story of triumphant capitalist-democracy getting better-&-better took its place. Among the pious, we have the AntiChristian "Jesus is going to airlift me & a few of my friends away to where we can watch the rest of you go to Hell" perversion of the story--but what about us?
It seems to me, that the core of the christian story--is that Jesus, despite the apparent failure of himself and his work, was preserved and vindicated by God, who is still in the (long, alas!) process of bringing it to fruition. This, despite my difficulties in understanding and observing it, is what must be true.
But I don't think I'm alone in finding it difficult, and my impression is that most Americans have found it literally impossible, are busy clinging to the "better-&-better" myth in a desperate attempt to fend off the "worse-and-moving-towards-unlivable" scenario we get from an unblinking look at the secular world.
What will you say?