If I have my finger on the pulse of the culture we live in, it is more inclined to entertain a story than an argument; something that stirs up their imagination rather than “doctrine.” Doctrine has become a pejorative word, when in reality all it means is “teaching.” If you are studying a story from the Bible, you are studying doctrine.
This article is about strategy. The strategy is: Tell the Story. Get to know the Story the Scriptures tell, and get to know it so well that you can tell it summarily in 5 minutes, or in 30, and if given more time, you could develop a 13 week class designed simply to tell the Story.
Here are some reasons why the strategy of telling the Story of Scripture is so important. First of all, much of the Bible is written with an historical impulse in the literary genre we call narrative, or story. Leland Ryken begins his beautifully written book, Words of Delight:
Because the Bible is a book with religious authority we tend to assume that it is a theology book. But if we look at how the Bible presents its material, it resembles a literary work more than anything else. It is filled with stories, poems, visions, and letters. The thing that it is emphatically not is what we so often picture it as being—a theological outline with proof texts attached (p. 11).
(Eugene Peterson tweets, “Isn’t it interesting that all of the biblical prophets and psalmists were poets?”)
We must give attention not only to what the Bible teaches, but to how it teaches as well. The largest portion of Scripture is written in narrative (Genesis-Esther; Matthew-Acts).
Stories are processed by readers differently than arguments. Imagine being able to tell the Story of the Bible in such a way that entire issues that may distract us are placed on hold for a later date, allowing you to present the whole of redemptive history to an open mind. I think this is what a presentation of the Bible by means of the Story allows us to do. I happen to be of the opinion that the Story told in Scripture is so powerful and compelling that some, perhaps many, will not be able to resist its ability to tap into the needs every man and woman has.
I fear that we are often sidetracked by arguments about a variety of issues that never allow us to set forth the whole picture. It is not that these issues are not important. We simply need to work toward putting first things first.
C. S. Lewis is usually described as one the leading apologists of the 20th Century. The first line in wikipedia.org’s description refers to him as a “Christian apologist.” But listen to what Mr. Lewis writes,
One last word. I have found that nothing is more dangerous to one’s own faith than the work of an apologist. No doctrine of the Faith seems to me so spectral, so unreal as one that I have just successfully defended in a public debate. For a moment, you see, it has seemed to rest on oneself: as a result, when you go away from that debate, it seems no stronger than that weak pillar. That is why we apologists take our lives in our hands and can be saved only by falling back continually from the web of our own arguments…into the Reality—from Christian apologetics into Christ Himself.
Alan Jacobs, notes that the statement above came from a talk on “Christian Apologetics” to a group of priests and youth leaders in Wales. Professor Jacobs characterizes the statement as a word of “confession and warning” (The Narnian, p. 229).
Some of you may be familiar with the name of the late Christopher Hitchens. His name was listed among the handful of prominent proponents of the “New Atheism.” Christopher Hitchens, I am sad to say, passed away in 2011. His brother, Peter Hitchens, wrote a book titled, The Rage Against God, subtitled, “How Atheism Led Me to Faith.” In the Introduction, Peter makes a statement that leaped off the page.
I do not loathe atheists, as Christopher claims to loathe believers. I am not angered by the failure of atheists to see what appears obvious to me. I understand that they see differently. I do think that they have reasons for their belief, as I have reasons for mine, which are the real foundations of this argument. It is my belief that passions as strong as his are more likely to be countered by the unexpected force of poetry, which can ambush the human heart at any time.
It is that last sentence to which I want to direct your attention. Peter Hitchens makes reference to the unexpected force of poetry, which can ambush the human heart at any time. I must admit that my approach to reading the Bible for the first 15 years was through selected teachings and books in the Bible, but it is the Story, all 66 books of the Bible when seen collectively, that has held me captive ever since.
It is not the form alone that has so possessed me. It is the Story within the whole collection of books that has captured my imagination. It is the Story of a God who served humanity as their King. When the whole thing went wrong, He eventually selected a nation through which He would work to redeem the world from the corruption to which it had been subjected. That nation rejected Him from being King, but through the prophets He promises to enthrone His Son through Whom He would rule the world again. Jesus is the fulfillment of those promises, and one day He will return and every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess.
I define the imagination as that part of our inner self by which we take all the parts of something and put them together—like a jigsaw puzzle. It is through the imagination that we take the individual stories told in the Bible and make a whole out of it. Through it, we begin to make sense out of life. C. S. Lewis wrote that “reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning.”
So, are people going to be won by the Story or through apologetics? It is not an either/or question. I think the Story is logically prior to apologetics. People must have a clear idea of what is on the table before they can talk about it or defend it.
There is so much that could be said to flesh out this idea more. I have said what I wanted to say on these matters in Turning Points, a book that takes readers through the whole Story by focusing on the pivotal events in the Story. I can only hope that others will experience the exhilaration of getting to know that Story better.
By way of summary, the culture we live in is open to hearing a story. We have a Story to tell, a compelling one. It serves as background to our own stories. It tells us where we came from; what went wrong; and how it is going to be fixed.
How well do you know the Story?