SINCE THIS ARTICLE GOT SUCH LITTLE FEEDBACK (being sandwiched between two more "controversial" posts on the Master's Seminary's take on Emergent), I THOUGHT I'D MOVE IT UP HERE AND HOPE IT GETS SOME MORE ATTENTION!
It's been my suspicion as of late that much of what narrative theology has to offer by way of answering the problems of Enlightenment modernism comport well with the presuppositional style of Reformed apologetics. While browsing through my Theological Journal Disc I came across an intriguing article by David Kelly Clark called "Narrative Theology and Apologetics" (Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, no. 36 (1993): 4). I remember enjoying reading Clark in my apologetics and evangelism class while in seminary.
In this article Clark, a presuppositionalist apologist and Reformed philosopher of religion, described both the promise and the pitfalls of narrative theology. He draws upon the interchange between Hans Frei and Carl F. H. Henry, giving an even-handed appraisal of the benefits of both approaches. After giving considerable time to pointing out the potential problems with narrative approaches (1. the unclear nature of what that might mean, 2. the detachment of narrative approaches from history 3. conceputal realtivism, "too much Wittgenstein") he goes on to say: "Despite all this, narrative theology does have some things right. Evangelical apologists would do well to develop their thought and strategy in light of these themes . . .":
1) Narrative theology focuses on concrete modes of understnading and communication - traditional apologetics are too abstractly philosophical
2) It encourages us to learn how to work in relativistic and pluralistic milleus - narrative can translate biblical truth into postmodern models of rationality without giving in to relativism
3) It highlights how difficult and complex apologetics really is - modernistic apologetics often prove futile in postmodern contexts
4) It promotes a flexible apologetic strategy, one that responds to particular needs in specific situations - Clark says, "The validity of a multiple-perspectives approach at a limited level (though not at the comprehensive level of worldviews) offers the apologist some flexibility in argument even though the goal, an experience with Jesus Christ, remains constant."
5) It allows for more varied sorts of evidence, including religious experiences - shedding straitjackets of foundationalist (evidentialist) critiera for knowledge means introducing the reality of religious experience can count as evidence.
6) It alerts us to the uniqueness of Christian thinking - narrative approaches refuse to imbibe secular standards for rationality
7) It reminds us that apologists often assume much cultural baggage - Clark says, "at our point in history this baggage includes Enlightenment foundationalism . . . if general culture shifts to postmodernism, however, those we meet may hold cultural presuppositions of which we are utterly unaware."
8) It suggests possibilities for significant cross-cultural apologetics - Again, Clark: "Let us build Christian defense not on traditions that are dying even in the west but on culturally appropriate understandings and strategies."
After concluding that "several significant movements are writing prapgraphs in the Enlightenment's obituary. In philosophy, Reformed epistemologists are decisively demonstrating the self-referential incoherence of classical foundationalism", Clark goes on to say "evangelical apologetics must adapt to a postmodern context. This does not mean jumping on bandwagons or chasing fads. It does mean concieving of apologetics so it functions in the conteporary mileu."
Is it possible to take what's good from narrative approaches while refusing to pitch notions of historicity (i.e., "it doesn't matter if Christ 'really' rose from the dead, it's entering the narrative world that counts) or cave to relativistic tendencies (i.e. "different stories have different criteria for rationality within those narrative worlds")? I hope so! While narrative theology isn't a panacea, it has exerted many positive effects on Biblical studies which shouldn't be neglected, least of all in its response to radical Biblical criticism. Conservative approaches by Kevin Vanhoozer, Joel Green, Richard Hays and others have attempted to develop these insights without falling into the ditch of postmodernist skepticism.