Controlling Narratives and Meaning

To continue from my last post, the controlling narrative has a function of determining and limiting the meanings of the smaller narratives it contains. It provides a framework through which and in which those smaller stories can be interpreted. It is something that, in interpreting those smaller stories, we are subject to.

Now, of course, in regards to Scripture, its status as a narrative isn’t as clear cut as, say, Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy. Scripture isn’t one seamless story – to continue the comparison, it resembles ‘The Return of the King’s’ appendix more than the actual story itself. Books of the Bible often take place years, even centuries apart. People in the Bible bear no resemblance to characters in normal narratives. Whole books of the Bible (Psalms, Proverbs) are very much not narrative but gain their power and meaning from their place within the controlling narrative.

The extent and degree to which the meanings of the smaller stories are determined by the controlling narrative, I’m not so sure of. Obviously, Scripture has, in a sense, an infinite amount of meaning – there are portions of Scripture that mean something to someone that don’t mean the same thing at all to me. Depending on how one has lived, Scripture will mean different things – one who has grown up in the lap of luxury will probably read Scripture quite differently than one who has grown up in crippling poverty. God may speak to one particular person through a certain verse in a certain way and to another person through the same verse in a very different way.

And yet, even given all this, there are still limits on the meanings that can be imposed on Scripture while remaining true to the controlling narrative. Flights-of-fancy interpretation should be questioned. Health-and-wealth prosperity preaching should be questioned. Various interpretations of Scripture have led to some pretty bad things – slavery, religious war, etc. This all serves to highlight what happens when, instead of subjecting ourselves to Scripture and the controlling narrative it is/has, we allow Scripture to become a wax nose which we can shape in any way we like.

So far, I’ve been looking at how we interpret Scripture, and the limits imposed on us by the controlling narrative, which is the framework in and through which the smaller stories can be interpreted and given meaning. I think I’ve given a fair account of the role of the controlling narrative as well as a good defense for why such a thing is something we’re subject to – I’ve left out a good deal (the role of tradition, the role of community, theological concerns, etc) for now, hopefully to be touched on later. The next post will deal with how Scripture interprets us, or how we are formed by Scripture.


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