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Yet Another Reply

Having thought about this stuff a bit more, I first want to address your second point, about narrative.

I'm beginning to think the question I originally addressed ("narrative" vs. "system") is not really important. Part of my reason for this is that narrative seems a very broad category and encompasses all sorts of things I previously would have classified as merely "propositional" (such as my quote from the Westminster Confession.) Here Peter Lamarque's "On Not Expecting Too Much from Narrative" (in the journal which I mentioned last time) has been extremely helpful. He begins by defining narrative:

"So what exactly is narrative? To narrate is to tell a story but the minimal conditions for storytelling or for what counts as a story are indeed minimal. One condition is that a story must be told, it is not found. More on that later. Another is that at least two events must be depicted in a narrative and there must be some more or less loose, albeit non-logical, relation between the events. Crucially there is a temporal dimension in narrative, not just in the sense that component sentences are tensed but there must be a temporal relation between the events, even if just that of simultaneity. ‘The sun shone and the grass grew’ is a narrative but ‘Bill kicked the ball and the ball was kicked by Bill’ is not because the latter does not involve two events temporally related but a single event represented in logically equivalent sentences. Narratives can be identified from formal features alone of individual sentences or sentence strings and no implications about reference, truth, subject matter, or discursive ends, can be drawn from such formal identification. Narrative per se is neutral on such matters, in the sense that narratives can be about real or imaginary entities, they can be true or false (or truth-valueless, depending on one’s view of fiction), they can be about virtually any subject, and can serve a multitude of ends, from entertaining or informing to philosophising. Very little of substance can be inferred from the premise that a piece of discourse is a narrative."

[At this point I realized people might be getting bored with our discussion so I thought I'd add a dancing hamster.]

Based on this definition of narrative, many basic propositional statements (like the Westminster quotation) are narrative, despite their lack of poetic/storytelling/fictional elements. I think one of the reasons the Emergent people seem so excited about narrative is they only have in mind a certain type of narrative (fictional) where there no actual correspondance between the narrative and the "outside world". Thus, when they think of narrative as comprising most of life, they think of life as a sort of create-reality-through-narrative that appeals to the postmodern mind. (I'm sure I'm grossly over-generalizing.) Lamarque says:

"The mistake is to treat some particular modes of narrative, notably fictional narrative, as archetypal. Narrative is not identical with fiction and to classify a discourse as narrative has no implications for reference, truth-valuation, or any other kinds of value."

All this to say, Lamarque's piece has challenged my naive acceptence that "narrative" is somehow different and automatically priveleged to propositional truth statements in describing reality.

Regarding the first discussion of logic and Christianity: At the heart of logic is the principle of non-contradiction. It is impossible for something to be both A and not A at the same time. This basic principle has to be true of God as well, if we're even going to say that God is logical and mean anything close to what is commonly meant by "logical". My point then is that if someone points out a real contradiction in Christianity (such as "God is loving" and "God is not loving," as opposed to "God is loving" and "God is just" which is not a contradiction) we either have to admit that something we believe is wrong, or that what we believe is true, but illogical. I gathered from the passage that Chesterton wouldn't really have a problem with saying the latter (although I think what he means by "logic" might differ from what we're talking about here). But if we go that route, we can no longer say that Christianity is completely logical, which is what Clark and you (and I) wanted to say in the first place. Also, if we go that route, we can no longer critique other systems of belief as being false because they are illogical (contradictory, inconsistent, or "self-imploding") because we have ourselves claimed that Christianity is contradictory but true.

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I think that Peter Lamarque's definition of narrative is entirely too broad for our purposes here, but that's more of a feeling than anything I can really back up in a scholarly style, so I guess I will, for the moment, concede narrative to being absolutely any sentence with two events that happen chronologically. Yuck.

That said, I think that you might be confusing "narrative story" with "narrative fiction." For example, I think that Genesis falls into the non-fiction category, but it certainly uses heavily narrative ("narrative" in my mind, not Lamarque's) elements. Without learning to read the elements of story-telling (much distinct from "fiction-telling"), you miss much of the richness of Genesis.

So, I would defend the emergent church people on the issue of narrative (although certainly not on other points of their ideas). First, I'm not at all sure they mean "fictional" narrative--instead, I think they might mean "story" narrative. This, though, is something I have absolutely no idea about, so take it for what it's worth.

Even if they do mean fictional narrative, though, I have major quibbles with your statement about fiction having "no actual correspondance between the narrative and the 'outside world.'" I think that the reason fiction is so powerful is that it has incredible correspondance with the outside world, although perhaps not factually (a decidedly modernistic hang-up, if there ever was one). Those thoughts, though, belong in an entire blog post, not just this comment.

I see what you are saying about the law of non-contradiction, and I finally see the weight of your problem. I would defend Chesterton, though--I think what he was actually saying was that Christianity is consistent with all of reality that seems to go heavily in one direction, but is also consistent when reality takes a sharp curve. He wasn't saying that Christianity had contradictions; instead, he was saying that Christianity follows what seem to be life's contradictions.

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