The Need for Story

I went out for coffee today with my friend Cam. It’s been great having him here in between terms at Regent. He’s gotta be easily among the top ten people on planet earth, but he doesn’t always think so…

Anyways, we talked over a nice cup of java over the joys and perils of theology. Did you know that theology is punishment for shoplifting in some countries? Well not really, but I had a sudden burst of Mike Myers there ;)

We were talking about the need for story in Christianity. We both discovered that this emphasis has really been hammered at us as of late. I’ve been digging into the whole Emergent thing to some degree lately and Cam’s been having the need for Christians to live and preach in story while at Regent. So, we’re both hearing it, but what do we need story for? Shouldn’t we leave stories to the masters like Tolkien and stick with doing incomprehensible, academic theology?

Of course not. We always place ourselves within a story, whether it’s a story that is explicitly or implicitly defined and understood. The story that most evangelicals have heard about the gospel is something like this: When Adam and Eve sinned, they caused everyone who would come after them to automatically be sinful too. You were born a sinner and needed forgiveness. God’s justice demanded a sacrifice so in His great love He sent His only begotten Son to become a Man and die on the cross. He paid the penalty for our sins and we can now be forgiven if we just put our faith in Him. That’s right, assurance of salvation is a mere prayer away. Confess with your mouth and believe in your hearts that Jesus is Lord and you’re on your way to heaven!

Of course that’s essentially true, and it’s absolutely certain that we need forgiveness desperately. Incidentally, one of the things I’m concerned about in the whole Emergent thing is that in seeking to move away from this paradigm they’ll forget just how much we really are sinners in need of forgiveness. But I digress…

Getting back to the point, I find that the standard evangelical story (or meta-narrative for you philosphically-inclined nerds out there) is woefully deficient. It is missing the beginning of the story (Creation), God’s redemptive work in history prior to Christ and after Him until our time and, most importantly from a praxis perspective, it has nothing to say about the life that we lead between now and the end of our earthly days. The evangelical gospel story gets you ready to die, but any notion of how to really live like Jesus is written off as mere works. This leads to Christians looking just like the surrounding “sinful culture.”

I posted an excerpt from Scot McKnight in a previous post which does a much better job of tapping into a fuller understanding of the gospel. Incidentally, I think that he could take his notions further by couching them within a kingdom framework, but I love the direction he’s going. He deals with Creation, he deals with history and there’s definitely an impetus to discipleship. Oh, have you noticed that the Great Commission itself is woefully absent in the evangelical story? There is no call to become an actual disciple of Christ; no call to learn and do all that He has commanded within that story. Just “get saved.” No wonder the evangelical church doesn’t care about anyone in this world. They’ve never heard that it’s actually a necessary part of being a Christian. Sure, there’s some super-Christians out there, but why bother, right?

Todd Hunter makes the right shift in thinking in a terrific article called A Tale of Two Gospels:

Perhaps our evangelistic question should change from, “if you were to die tonight, do you know here you would go?” to “If you were going to live tomorrow, whom would you follow? What would you do?” What is the basic and fundamental story around which you are organizing the living of your life?

Too true. When I wake up in the morning and go about my day, what story am I a part of? Do I think life is a movie about me? (Ahh, Donald Miller’s the man. Read Blue Like Jazz) Do I think that the world’s on a slippery slope down to hell and I’m sure glad that I’m not going with it? Do I believe that Jesus is actually at work in the world today and wants me to work with Him? Do I think that I actually could do so? Yes. But I’m not there yet. I hope I’m closer when I wake up tomorrow morning.

A Simple Prayer:

Lord, help me to see that Your Kingdom is much bigger than just me.
Thank You that You loved me enough to want me in it.
Thanks for dying so that I might live.
What a life You have for me to live with everyone else that’s living in Your kingdom already.
What are you up to? Can I help?

2 responses to “The Need for Story”

  1. Too true.
    I think, in the same vein as Tolken, my paradigm for Christianity was profoundly encouraged, challenged, etc., from reading Lewis’ Chronicles and Space Trilogy. Story definitely brings something that mere theology and academic disciplines can – though, of course, they have their place.

    Do you ever wonder if it’s unique that their are so many flippin’ pioneers among our peers? Do we just associate with, like ourselves, a bunch of quacks…lol? Is every generation like this? Is God leading us in our quests, or is this just a normal part of spiritual formation and growing up?

    I wish I knew….
    It is nonetheless exhilirating to be on this quest discovering new questions to get stressed over….
    Just kidding, it really is cool. But by now I’m abounding in the bollocks department and will retire.

  2. Yeah, Jac just finished reading the space trilogy and it helped me to see the larger picture of things when I read it…

    There are many pioneers amoungst us, no doubt. I have no other generation to compare us to, but I know that God’s doing something special in our midst. May we have grace to cooperate with what He’s doing…

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