I want to play for a moment with a distinction that Merold Westphal makes, but without saying anything one way or another about what Westphal is doing with it.
If a metanarrative is a philosophically-derived account of Enlightenment hubris that is calculated to justify that hubris, then that would be bad. With that stipulated definition, let’s give the Bronx cheer to metanarratives. And if meganarratives are okay because they are kerygmatically-derived, and they give an account of the whole show, meaning creation to eschaton, then that would appear to be good. But not so fast. Like I said, I am not saying anything about Westphal here, but I do have a hermeneutic of hot and sticky things crawling up my back.
Let us go back for a moment to the old correspondence understanding of truth, which is a bugbear among many zeitgesisters. But here it is anyway. I say Adam, and 6,000 years ago there lived a man to which this name appropriately refers. I say resurrection, and this refers (accurately) to the event two thousand years ago that resulted in the empty tomb. That tomb was really vacated by the risen Christ or this Wilson is still in his sins. Moreover, there is a truthful correspondence between me saying He is risen, and that rising in history. Christ’s rising is not just an internally coherent part of the Christian story (although it is that as well), but it must also correspond to what Christians confess about it. And you cannot have this kind of necessary correspondence without having some necessity for correspondence. I am not attached to any particular mechanism that can account for the correspondence, and, as with most things, I think that philosophers have murked it up pretty good. I am talking merely about the necessary fact of correspondence. And, going up the stairs three at a time, this means that if my laptop is not currently on top of my lap, then I am still in my sins.
So a meganarrative, in order to be an acceptable Christian alternative to metanarratives, must be claiming more than to be an account, arising from our faith communtity, of some of the great issues. It must be more than what “we think” about all the “big stuff.” It must be more than our mega-account — it has to be our true account of the megas. The megas have to be found in the direct objects, and not just in the adverbs. And those megas have to be out there, acting the way they do, and being what they are, independent of whether or not I, or my faith community, or the horse I rode in on, ever showed up on this sorry planet. My word for this is objective truth — truth that remains true whether or not I had ever been born. Schaeffer called it true truth. Fixed truth, objective truth, granite truth, triune truth. And in calling it objective truth, I reject any dependence or hidden borrowing from Cartesian categories. Objective truth antedated the birth of science.
One time many years ago I was talking to a young man who was steeped in liberal theology, and he wanted to say many “high-sounding” things about Jesus, but at the same time, throughout our discussion, he kept singing flat. Something was wrong. We were at a mountain retreat, and so finally I pointed to a mountain across the way and said, “Look. Did Jesus of Nazareth make that?” He was not able to answer the question.
What kind of narrative is it when what is described in the narrative is actually the case? What kind of narrative is it when God really spoke, and there the universe was? No evolution anywhere? What kind of narrative is it when Adam sinned in the garden, and when he did so he was occupying a place on the latitude and longitude coordinates which remains to this day? God could put a bronze plaque on the exact spot if He wanted.
My contention is that if Christians insist, as they must, on our account being a truthful account of the megas, they will be accused by the pomos of calling it a meganarrative when really it is just a metanarrative tricked out with kerygmatic terminology. And if they insist on it being received as an authoritative account at every level, including the present level occupied by the throne of liberal democracy, the same accusation will be made. “You are betraying your modernist tendencies whenever you speak as though your categories are binding on others.” I like that. Christian proclamation offends the modernist sensibilities of human autonomy, and human autonomy has now figured out a way (the serpent was more subtil that all the beasts of the field) to turn the tables and accuse faithful Christians of being modernists whenever they declare this truth. “Yes, you took away my car keys because you say that I am sloppy drunk. But do you know who the real drunk is here? Yes, your blue uniform gives it all away . . . ha, ha!” The strange thing is how many people are buying this.