The story of modernity was able to come to power because the Christian story in the West had first been lost. Christianity itself had started to tell a bad story, one that did not capture the glory of the original revelation, and one that was not bearing sufficient fruits in its purveyors. I contend that most Christian churches today continue to perpetuate a bad story, one that’s not really Christianity, but instead, the story of modernity with a superficial Christian garnish.
In graduate school, one of the most helpful concepts I learned about was narrative theology. The basic premise behind it is that theologies are rooted in a narrative, or story, that forms the lens through which a religion’s adherents interpret the world.
Christianity itself is a story, one that captured the West’s attention for almost two-thousand years. According to this narrative—as contained in Scripture and expressed by Church Fathers such as Irenaeus of Lyons, the Cappadocians (Basil and the two Gregories), and Maximus the Confessor—God created all men to participate in His divine life, i.e., for deification. He created them in His “image,” and they had to freely choose to grow in His “likeness.” The “Fall” was an attempt to achieve deification apart from God. After the Fall, man retained the image of God (though marred by sin), but no longer had the divine life dwelling in him. God’s redemption of man, over the course of many years, culminated in Christ’s death and Resurrection, which “conquered death,” redeemed human nature, and enabled man to once again fulfill his original call to participate in the divine life.
In saying that “Christianity is a story,” there are many who will immediately smirk and say, “Why yes, it is.” What the smirks usually reveal about their owners, however, is a total lack of awareness of the narrative-based character of their own lives. They have rejected the Christian story—at least, the parts they’re conscious of—and merely replaced it with another story.
As theologian Robert Jenson pointed out in the title of his 1993 essay, the Western world has “lost its story,” the Christian story. For the past two-hundred or more years, its replacement in the West has been “modernity.”
“We live in a story that calls itself the ‘modern world.’ It is about the ‘time’ we live in. It invented terms such as the ‘Classical Period,’ the ‘Dark Ages,’ and the ‘Middle Ages,’ naming history in such a way that it inevitably yielded modernity. It is the story of progress and evolution, not the unfolding of a divine plan, but the successive work of increasing understanding, science and compassion.”