Story and Reality

Story and Reality


202 Pages


No Christian will dispute the importance of properly understanding the gospel. And throughout the centuries the function of theology has been to aid that understanding. In good part, as the author of this challenging study indicates, theology has turned to philosophy, history, sociology, or yet other disciplines in an effort to make its own message clear; that is, theology has used philosophical or historical or sociological concepts of reality, and has then attempted to impose upon reality (so defined) a deeper theological significance.
But that effort, Robert Roth believes, can never be completely successful, since each of these disciplines -- valuable as they are in themselves -- are compelled by their nature to reduce both reality and theology to the level of what is human, thus leaving out the very thing that theology is all about: God.
Roth contends that theology must use as its model what he terms story, the kind of large, comprehensive tale or myth that takes into account the basic facts of the universe and human existence. The nature of story, he tells us, is essentially dramatic, filled with tension between opposing forces. The conflict between good and evil, for example, or between hope and despair, has always characterized great literature. And it is precisely those same conflicts that characterize reality. Little wonder that God's account of reality -- the gospel -- is cast in story form.
'Story and Reality' is an exciting and unusual approach to the question of what constitutes God's message to humanity; it offers as well new insights into the nature of literature, and the role story can play in helping us properly apprehend reality. Roth demands an effort on the part of his readers; but it is an effort that will be richly repaid.



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Published 10 December 2004
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EAN13 9781725212862
Language English
Document size 31 MB

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Wipf and Stock Publishers 199 W 8th Ave, Suite 3 Eugene, OR 97401 Story and Reality By Roth, Robert P. Copyright©1973 by Roth, Robert P. ISBN: 1-59752-012-8 Publication date 12/10/2004 Previously published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1973
WhenStory and Realitypublished more than was thirty years ago, I joined a group of Professor Roth’s other colleagues for a discussion of his book. We all sat in his living room, surrounded by his extensive collection of art. To read this book was to recognize how much more, than most of us, he knew of ancient as well as modern literature and drama, and that his book was full of theological insights into that body of literature. Two years later David Tracy published his Blessed Rage for Order, analyzing the “New Pluralism in Theology.” Alongside political theology, liberation theology, Black theology, third-world theology, among others, Professor Roth had written what he calls “literary theology.” Reading Roth’s book again in 2005, I now know that it does not easily fit any of Tracy’s types: orthodox, neo-orthodox, liberal, radical, or revisionist. All theology tries to connect two things: the Christian tradition that we have received through sacred texts, and the cultural context of the one who is reading the texts. That connection can only be made through interpretation, or hermeneutics. The mind and awareness of even the most naïve reader—the way he or she thinks about the texts and about reality—is shaped by the social context of the reader, primarily through the language used by the reader in thought and speech. To make that connection, most theologians have more or less relied on some version of their culture’s philosophy. It is Roth’s contention that no philosophy—regardless of how relevant it may be to i
the latest science, psychology, anthropology, or political-economic theory—is adequate for theology’s function of connecting what the sacred texts say with what is the latest and best thinking about the reality on the ground of the cultural context. Robert Roth is a theologian deeply immersed in both the Christian tradition and in the world. For him the best way to show how these two are connected is to use the category of story rather than philosophy, or any of the intellectual offspring of philosophy that comprise much of the curriculum of the modern university. Philosophy and its intellectual children are not wrong or unhelpful for Roth, but they are not adequate to the task of understanding—or pointing to—the many dimensions of either reality or the truth of the Gospel story. Roth acknowledges that, on its face, “story” seems a poor substitute for the rigors of thought and language required to show how the Gospel connects with all the dimensions of the real world. In defense of his thesis that “story…as a category, gives us a clue to the nature of reality,” he dedicates the first four chapters to analyzing the richness, breadth, and depth of story as a demanding and adequate category for all thought. Because both a good story and the way story points to reality are open-ended, “story and reality” serve the Gospel message better than systems of thought which, like philosophy—to echo the complaint I often heard from students—“put God in a box.” For all of its brevity and “few sketchy suggestions,” this little book in its opening chapters makes a very bold claim that story is “the vehicle of reality in the ii
Christian message.” Note the definite article. And then in five subsequent chapters the author draws upon his wide knowledge of literature and the classical Christian tradition to make a strong, persuasive case for that claim. In the closing lines of the introduction he writes, “…I do not propose that we stop our philosophical and scientific investigations. I propose only that we recognize their limitations and in addition consider this new field.” In the intervening years, others have added to this “new field” sometimes referred to as narrative theology and the like. Feminist readers have rightly insisted that the power ofherstoryhas been neglected for too long. And while those readers who happen upon this book will not be comfortable with the exclusively male pronouns, they should remember that this book was written before 1970. Today Robert Roth would certainly avoid sexist misunderstandings. Moreover, I hope they will grant that Professor Roth was also breaking open the language of theology to the revelatory power of story.
Lee E. Snook, Professor Emeritus, Systematic Theology Luther Seminary, Saint Paul, MN