Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Commissioned to Tell Stories

God's Message came to Ezekiel: "Son of man, make a riddle for the house of Israel. Tell them a story..." Ezekiel 17:1

I am asked about once a month to suggest books on storytelling for people interested in learning more. I rarely have a good response. I learned to tell stories from Mark Ellwood, my high school history teacher. I learned more from The Second City and The Groundlings. I learned about story as a kid from the wisdom of Joseph Campbell as translated to me via the imagination of George Lucas in the Star Wars Trilogy. Then I learned even more by reading the narrative of the Bible, particularly the gospels. To be honest, I've learned the most about storytelling by telling stories. It's kind of like driving or eating sushi...you just get used to it and then you are good at it.

Today I rediscovered someone else who taught me that storytelling is fundamentally a missiological activity. Lesslie Newbigin says the following in his tiny book, Truth and Authority in Modernity:

"Perhaps one final point needs to be made. If, in the postmodern world, we tell our story, we will be met with this rejoinder: "Yes of course. That is your story. But there are other stories. Why should I believe this one?" How does the Christian respond to this? Clearly we must resist the temptation to propose some supposedly more fundamental and more reliable truth on the basis of which the story of the gospel could be validated. Certainly we may try to show how the biblical story makes sense of human life in a way that no other can; but even this becomes clear only when one is a part of the story. In the end, the only answer we have to give is along such lines as these: "I have been called and commissioned, through no merit of mine, to carry this message, to tell this story, to give this invitation. It is not my story or my invitation. It has no coercive intent. It is an invitation from the one who loved you and gave himself up for you...That invitation will come with winsomeness if it comes from a community in which the grace of the Redeemer is at work. Whether or not it is accepted is not a matter in our power. To be anxious about it, to fret about it, is a sign of unbelief. The one who invites is in control, not we...We have to tell and live the story faithfully; the rest is in God's hands. What matters is not that i should succeed, but that God should be honored."

Seven years ago, I wrote this in the margin of that book: "If believed, this changes everything."

Turns out, for me, it has.

6 comments:

random blogger said...

sweet reminder that God is doing the work of salvation. our stories (as we tell them)cannot be refuted as if a piece of doctrine. the stories are our experiences; what happened and is happening to us. these stories cannot be denied because they are real. i am living my daily.

Dan Kalbach said...

Random Blogger (and Joe),

I struggle with this very point raised in your comment. I have often heard, often on the topic of apologetics, that our stories cannot be argued against. And I believe this. And I also believe that the greatest case for Christ is the restoration and healing found in peoples' life stories. But what about the Buddhist whose life has been restored? What about the Scientologist who has found a meaning and purpose for their life? What about the Muslim who feels they are living an abundant life? Are they to be argued or refuted? Can they be?

Just something I've thought about before...

random blogger said...

dan,
very good point you raise. i have also considered this. there was a season of my life where i took on the role of judge or "objective observer" over others lives (as was taught in my early church experiences). i've come to accept that i cannot force someone to accept my story as true anymore than i can force a mormon or scientologist to believe that what they are saying with their lips and their lives falls way short. i think it is an issue of faith. for the mormon or scientologist their story is believable to them but not me because it can't be placed next to my chapter in the book. the stories are inconsistent if told in truth. but i cannot judge that, only thank God for who He is in my life and pray that He revels Himself to others lives as well. For the non-religious who hear their stories and either accept an incomplete story or wonder what to do with it, i'll leave that up to God to figure out.

Dan Kalbach said...

Randy (I did some research),

Good thoughts. That's, more or less, the conclusion that I come to when I think over this. At the end of the proverbial day, I suppose I am thankful that it isn't up to me to convince someone of the Gospel. As Joe quoted, "whether or not it is accepted is not a matter in our power" helps me sleep soundly. We just keep telling our stories and listening to others'.

Sandy Maudlin said...

Thanks, Joe for landing such sound reasoning here. It really helps me now to know where to go when I'm faced with the arguments about the reality of Jesus and even God.

Dan, great wisdom, too. Leaving it up to God to figure out. My religious background taught that it was MY responsiblity to 'bring' people to Christ, but now I realize that it's my responsibility to only tell my story about who He is in my life. Big relief. BIG DIFFERENCE. He's sure good.

The Adventures of Lewis and Clark said...

GREAT INSIGHT from Leslie Newbigin! Quoting from the book - "Yes of course. That is your story. But there are other stories. Why should I believe this one?"... As the author mentions the most compelling witness comes through a genuine community of Christ followers. If we as a community (in unity as Jesus says in John CH.17) relate our true stories of what God has done for us and how He has transformed us, and there is evidence of that, we can be LIVING EPISTLES to the larger broader community around us. Sure giving educated answers when questions are asked about what the Bible teaches or how it relates to science and other observations is VERY important, but being genuine in a real community that exhibits the grace and love of Jesus Christ and sets an example of living like Jesus did, is the most powerful way to spread the Gospel. BE THE GOSPEL!!!