Prayer and Story

There is a wonderful review of George Lindbeck’s classic The Nature of Doctrine over at The Fish Tank blog (H/T to Inhabitatio Dei).

While reading the review this quote from Lindbeck struck me as forcefully as it did the first time I read it:

To become a Christian involves learning the story of Israel and of Jesus well enough to interpret and experience oneself and one’s world in its terms.
My skeptical students on the edge of faith often ask me, "Dr. Beck, why to you pray?" They can't understand why a seemingly smart guy like me would engage in such hocus pocus.

Lindbeck's quote is about the best answer I could give.

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3 thoughts on “Prayer and Story”

  1. I just received Marjorie Suchocki's book, In God's Presence: Theological Reflections on Prayer, partly in response to the need I feel in trying to answer my own similar question.

  2. Richard,
    James--and it would take me a while to find the quote, since it was off hand in The Principles--once wrote to the effect that one of the consolations of faith is access to a conversation partner of surpassing goodness and intelligence. God as Supreme Therapist, more or less. And I suppose that could make faith an odd form of self-indulgence. But it doesn't have to be. For instance, when I'm about to go Nietzsche on humanity because of mass stupidity--as in so much of pop culture or political discourse--it is very helpful to consider that a Reality much better in every way than I loves humanity. For me, the tie between loving God and loving my neighbor sometimes is very real, but I struggle to maintain the tie.

    BTW: Mary Karr--literature prof at Syracuse--is out with a new book, "Lit," that narrates her struggle with alcoholism followed with her struggle with faith after prayer, introduced to her through a 12-step program, proved essential to her recovery. It's a good read.


  3. I haven't read Lindbeck, so I'm not sure I understand what he's trying to say, but to me this seems absolutely wrong. It's just backwards (and completely impractical) to expect people to start thinking like premodern Jews so that they can be Christians.

    But I guess that's exactly how we teach people to be Christians. We teach them that the universe works a certain way, and we include an understanding of God that fits right in. And that's absurdly fragile.

    Instead, we should interpret the Bible in terms of our world. What, the earth isn't the center of the universe? How does that help us understand ourselves? What, life evolved over time? How do we understand God if that's the case? What, all these diseases seem to be caused by microbes instead of a shadowy spiritual world? How then should we understand the Bible?

    I mean, you yourself just did a big series about how moderns can understand the Powers, which is exactly the kind of interpretation I'm talking about. So surely I must be misunderstanding what Lindbeck is saying here.

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