In giving my evaluation of Mark As Story, I will begin with my general reaction; then, I will discuss one of the main catalysts of thought. It took me the course of the book to really warm up to Mark As Story.
I was, perhaps, hyper-critical of the first couple of chapters, especially of the “story world” and their use of the “rule of God.” By the end of the book, I gained a better understanding of the “story world” concept and the wording “rule of God.” Mark As Story is now, perhaps, one of my favorite books, which is largely the result of my favorite chapters: the conclusion, which analyzes the audience and its role, and the epilogue, “Reading as a Dialogue: the Ethics of Reading.” After reading these chapters and reflecting on the preceding chapters, I have realized that I concur with the interpretive method of the authors. The approach they posit reminds me of the theological interpretation that is the subject of Joel Green’s Practicing Theological Interpretation. It also seems to provide a median between the historical-critical approach and the “devotional” approach. I also concur with their purpose in writing the book—enhancing “the experience of the story as story” and the ability of the story to transform the audience (8). Mark as Story maintains the integrity of the text, attempting to provide an accurate interpretation and analysis of Mark without jettisoning the authority of the text or its “theology.”
The concept of the “story world” generated the most inquiry on my part. This is mostly because at the time I was less familiar with the narrative approach to Scripture and the approach’s various devices. With this in mind I will provide my initial thoughts. The authors intention in setting up and developing the “story world” is prominently displayed in the quick guidelines they give for reading Mark’s Gospel as a story: (1) read Mark as story rather than as history, (2) read Mark independently from the other Gospels, (3) avoid reading cultural assumptions into the text, and (4) avoid reading modern Christology into the text (Dewey, et al. 5). Their approach to the text seems to attempt to place Mark in a hermetical vault when interpreting it. It seems to be the best way to get the most out of the text as long as one is staying within its parameters; however, it has its limits. Fortunately, the author’s admit that it is not fully, or “absolutely,” possible to employ the reading guidelines (5).
The employment of the “story world” concept brings to mind many questions I have been trying to answer concerning how one ought to read Scripture: What does it mean to read Mark as a story rather than history? How are story and history related? Are they opposites? Are they the same? Is history a subset of story? (I think I may be partial toward this construction.) If it is the case that “all we know of a given character is what we know from the story” (99) and that “unless otherwise identified as helpful background information from the general culture of the first century, all subsequent references to people, places and events refer only to the story world” (4), then what can we really know about the “historical” Jesus that N.T. Wright tries to identify in Simply Jesus, especially if we apply this method to the other Gospels? How do we read the Gospels together? How do we relate them to one another? Is this approach limited to reading Mark vertically? What about reading the Gospel(s) as historical and theological literature? How do we integrate these with the narrative aspect? Do we read the Gospel(s) in an isolated manner with these categories as well? Would it not be better to integrate the three in our interpreting?
I can only imagine the reactions of those who have even less familiarity with this approach than I had when reading Mark as Story. As it is the case that most readers are not likely well-acquainted with the narrative method of interpretation and the “story world”, it may behoove the author’s to give more explanation regarding the nature of the “story world” and its implementation. The afterword, written by Mark Allen Powell, was very helpful for me in this regard as it was at least able to make the qualification that the narrative method and the “story world” do not exclude the historicity of events in the Gospel(s) and our ability to discover (to some extent) the “historical” Jesus. They make a qualification on this topic on page four about “[identifying] helpful background information…”; however, that statement itself could use some additional qualifying, such as how one distinguishes “helpful background information.”
What is to be attained from Mark as Story? It has familiarized me with the literary approach to Scripture, the concept of approaching the Gospels as narrative. The approach given me by Mark as Story has enhanced my experience of Mark’s story as story and has catalyzed a transformative process as a result of the story: the author’s have achieved their purpose.
Dewey, Joanna, Donald Michie, and David Rhoads. Mark as Story: An Introduction to the Narrative of a Gospel. 3rd ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012.