In the final part of this volume I want to draw together some of the main issues raised both here and in my earlier volume Tradition and Imagination. The very possibility of discipleship depends crucially on the plausibility of the wider framework within which its practice is set. In particular two recurring questions need to be faced: first, where authority lies in the process of the developing tradition in which both belief and practice has been moulded by changing narratives; secondly, how the truth content of that tradition is to be understood when placed in a context within which historical 'fact' and imaginative 'fiction' are inextricably combined.
The second question is the one which I shall deal with last in the final chapter, as it seems to me the more fundamental. Across the two books I have offered a series of examples of cases where in my view advance in religious understanding has been achieved through in effect biblical stories being retold. Sometimes there may have been no historical content in the first place, as with Job or possibly even the patriarchs, but even where incontestably there was, as with Jesus, his mother or Mary Magdalene, it has been my contention that the subsequent 'fictional' elaboration has not necessarily led to a reduction of the truth content of the narratives concerned. Of course, inevitably this was sometimes so. One instance offered in the previous chapter was the way in which a doctrine of immaculate conception came to be attached to the Virgin Mary. Sometimes the relevant faith community has seen for itself the inappropriateness of a particular line of development, as in the eventual rejection within both Judaism and Christianity of the suggestion that the command to sacrifice Isaac came from the Devil, or the modern abandonment of reading the life of Joseph as the story of Christ. But we need clearer criteria than the mere test