Nourishing Narratives: The Power of Story to Shape Our Faith
Jennifer Holberg’s (2023) new book, Nourishing Narratives: The Power of Story to Shape Our Faith, describes how our notions of story, even redeemed story, shape our thinking and reading. As Holberg notes, “We live in a world that, for better or worse, most often seems to process through narrative, not facts” (p. 3). Naming the features of stories that shape our Christian lives is important then. Christian narratives tend to elevate some stories and marginalize others. They tend to value “two dominant narrative paradigms: the “super Christian” or the “miserable sinner” (p. 11). Certain stories have primacy in Christian traditions: the dramatic story, simplistic stories that offer comfort, stereotypes of who should be called by God.
Holberg, an English professor at Calvin University, argues that what can result from a primacy of certain stories is the failure to understand the nature of salvation and the nature of sin. She observes how stories have shaped her faith. Throughout this book, she tells stories of God’s abundance in small stories of the ordinary (stories of “enough”) that work against the myth of self-sufficiency. She tells stories that conceptualize the lavish love of God as the author and finisher of our faith. She tells stories of great friends who planted the seeds of joy to allow the story of a known protagonist to be celebrated; she calls these characters “honeyguides”. She tells the stories of Marthas of the world who learn to be full participants in their faith by joining conversations with Jesus. She tells stories that name the miracles of freedom in Christ, abundance in Christ, Sanctity unto Christ, and bear witness to God’s slow but lasting work in us. She observes these are complex stories that resist the impulse to censor but find space for all in care for others. The stories that nourish dare to show our cracks as followers of Christ but also plant hope for the future.
The new stories that Holberg wants her readers to pay attention to are punctuated with examples from scripture, literature and art, and her lived experience as a professor and person. She concludes with components of the messages she wants her students to hear from her: “You are loved”, “You are enough”, “I want you to succeed” and “Your voice matters” (pp. 213-214). The book offers helpful paradigms for nourishing ourselves and others in our faith through story.