To help you understand the power of story, here is a question Paula suggested we begin to explore as we moved forward on this crazy assignment…
If your God is the Great Storyteller, did he design story to be powerful with human beings?
To begin our exploration to answer this question, look what we found to whet your appetite. First, let’s hear from four members of your own Christian family …
Everyone loves a story.Charles J. Chaput, Strangers in a Strange Land
Ocean is about connections: In the sense it is my “Theory of Everything”; it shows in a story the surprising, invisible, yet powerful connections among things. Philosophy, science, and theology can state, define, and argue for those connections, but story is more convincing because it presents them, shows them. That’s why story is more powerful than philosophy in convincing us. (How many Romans were converted by Christian theology? How many by the Gospel story?)Author’s Announcement of First Novel Publication, Dr. Peter Kreeft, June 2009
Stories allow you to say what cannot otherwise be said and, conversely, allow similar things to be heard. God himself chose poets, philosophers, dramatists, musicians, and prophets to tell the Holy Scriptures — storytellers who articulated divine mysteries beyond the scope of reason. Maybe it’s possible to know God without story; nevertheless, story is the form God chose. Story is a way to pull life from the void, it is a word that creates.To Have the Mind of Christ? Start by Telling Stories, By Lauralee Farrer, Fuller Studio
Everyone loves a good story.
I know I do! They may be funny and make me smile, or even laugh out loud. They may be emotionally moving—causing me to feel deeply what others have felt and even make me shed a sympathetic tear. Or the story might even be filled with new insights that lead me to an “a-ha” moment that can significantly change my life.
We all know that a good story does not simply tell you what happened, but engages you mentally, emotionally and even spiritually. Good stories often lead to a point designed to make an impact in your life and the lives of others. A good story draws your imagination into a vivid world that holds out the promise of transformation—a promise that it is often able to deliver. These are really the best kind of stories! God made us to be very complex creatures and we need all of our senses engaged in order to be moved to the point where we can actually consider changing our behavior or begin thinking differently about life.THE POWER OF A GOOD STORY, By Mitch Glaser, Chosen Ministries, October 16, 2015
But, as you might guess, it’s not just folks from your Christian family that talk this way. If you were willing to embrace the modern Aristotle of story, Robert McKee, you’d have seen this…
As Aristotle observed, the deepest audience pleasure is learning without being taught. When a tale dramatizes its meaning skillfully, the audience feels no mental strain and yet comes away with a fuller understanding of the workings of the world and the human heart.Storynomics, By Robert McKee and Tom Gerace
Story fits with us humans. It’s how we learn.
And that is coming from me — an atheist. But, if it’s the Christian story we’re in, that makes sense, doesn’t it? Only your God could create something that is universally human like that, a way of learning with no mental strain.
But, let’s get back to a few more from your Christian family…
According to a rabbinic saying, God made people because He loves stories. Henry R. Luce, founder of Time magazine, commenting on his magazine’s interest in personalities, quipped, “Time didn’t start this emphasis on stories about people; the Bible did.” One of the most universal human impulses can be summed up in the familiar four-word plea, “Tell me a story.” The Bible constantly satisfies this human longing for stories.“And It Came to Pass”: The Bible as God’s Storybook, By Leland Ryken, Bibliotheca Sacra 147 (April 1990)
Neuroscientists have piled up the research showing how narratives change our brains. We’ve all experienced it—whether at the campfire or in a movie theater, a scary story well-told often leaves us checking under the bed and behind the closet door.
We experience stories at the neurological level as if they actually happen to us—so much so that the chemistry and cells in our brains begin to mirror the characters we connect to. Infamous Adolf Hitler fell in love with the opera. From a young age he developed a particular fascination with Richard
Wagner’s Germanic epics. Historians credit the fantasies spun in the vaulted opera houses with setting Hitler on his course to German nationalism and, later, genocide. But he started as a young boy who listened to a story.
It’s little wonder, then, that God chose to reveal himself to us not only in facts but in the fantastic details of narrative. If we become—at a neurological level—like the character we love in our favorite stories, then it would follow that by telling God’s story, we’d become like him.Hope in Neverland: How God’s Story Shapes Our Own, By Jed Ostoich, DTS Magazine, June 27th, 2018
You can see the track so many from your faith have already started down. So, why wouldn’t you also embrace the true modern experts of story, like Robert McKee and Shawn Coyne? Wouldn’t you want to look into this, if this is indeed the way your God has wired his creatures, made in His likeness?
What if story might even help make it a bit easier to connect with those outside your Christian family, if this is the way we are made, that is…
I believe that we all intuitively understand Story Structure. It’s in our DNA.The Internal Genre of The Tipping Point, by Shawn Coyne
Effective story-telling is ultimately an exercise of power.Don’t Print the Legend, by TED MCALLISTER, Law and Liberty, MARCH 1, 2012
Story is, after all, perhaps the most fundamental, universal human experience, and everybody has their own to tell.The Story of Story III: Which System Helps You Write the Best Screenplays?, By Justin Morrow, No Film School, August 1, 2016
We love stories. We respond to them in a way we do not to papers or lectures. Stories speak to our hearts. You might even say we have an appetite for stories just as we do for food and drink. Certainly, a meal is much more enjoyable when there are good stories going round the table. And certainly we can all remember times when we were so engrossed in hearing and telling stories that we forgot about food altogether.
People have a need for stories. Without stories they become less human.Why Secular Psychology Is Not Enough, By William Kirk Kilpatrick, Imprimis, April 1986
We are all in this human predicament together. Why not back off from your obsession with the rational/logical and come to embrace story? Because it looks like human beings have a compelling need for story…
Cyndi Stivers: So, future of storytelling. Before we do the future, let’s talk about what is never going to change about storytelling.
Shonda Rhimes: What’s never going to change. Obviously, I think good stories are never going to change, the need for people to gather together and exchange their stories and to talk about the things that feel universal, the idea that we all feel a compelling need to watch stories, to tell stories, to share stories – sort of the gathering around the campfire to discuss the things that tell each one of us that we are not alone in the world. Those things to me are never going to change. That essence of storytelling is never going to change.The future of storytelling, Shonda Rhimes and Cyndi Stiversat, TED2017
So, if you want to connect with other people, wouldn’t you want to use story? McKee would agree…
What it comes down to essentially is communication, how to talk to people. And story is the most powerful form to communicate to people. When a bunch of friends sit down around a table at a restaurant, and open a bottle of wine, and start talking, what do people do? They tell stories. Storytelling starts around the table: “You won’t believe what happened to me today.” And this is the way in which people communicate. It is the most natural form.Marketer as Producer: Storyteller Robert McKee on What Marketing Executives Should Borrow from the Entertainment Industry, By Rachel Haberman, Content Standard, February 28, 2018
And your Leland Ryken guy also agrees…
[I]t is a fact that one of the most universal human impulses can be summed up in the four words tell me a story. The appeal of stories is universal, and all of us are incessant storytellers during the course of a typical day.Leland Ryken, Christian Guides to the Classics
You see, if Christianity is the Story we are in, it looks like your God made it easy to connect with each other (and Him), through story…
Stories are at the heart of so much of our communications from novels to movies to songs, the human experience drives us to constantly seek out, and tell, stories. Good teachers do this. Good presenters do this. And good parents do this. Why?
Stories have a way of captivating us, of engaging our imagination. Stories have a way of taking settings and characters we can relate to, or understand, and inserting principles – life lessons – into them in a way that is easier to accept than if we were told a principle in isolation. In other words, they connect an important idea to a particular audience.
Stephanie Gray, Love Unleashes Life
Now that we have studied story, it’s astonishing to us that so many Christians want to dismiss story as merely empty entertainment. But you neglect something very important. Story is the very path to conveying meaning to human beings. You ignore McKee at your own peril…
Every story expresses and bears a meaning. And that meaning is either adding to the quality of civilization or subtracting from it. Nothing is neutral. No story is innocent. Every story has an impact somewhere in the world on someone’s life, and it’s either a positive or a negative impact.Robert McKee, McKee’s Final Draft Hall of Fame Award Speech
Meaning is found through story. Isn’t it insane to reject this?
Humans, as the late literary critic Frank Kermode argued in his book The Sense of an Ending, crave narrative structure. “We are surrounded by [chaos], and equipped for coexistence with it only by our fictive powers,” he writes. We can’t see the world as a sequence of events, one right after another, with no end or resolution in sight. “To see everything as out of mere succession,” he observes, “is to behave like a man drugged or insane.”The myth of an ending: why even removing Trump from office won’t save American democracy, By Dylan Matthews, Vox, April 23, 2018
One of the main differences between humans and animals is that we compulsively tell stories – to ourselves and to others.A creative writing lesson from the ‘God of Story’, By Tim Lott, Guardian, September 10, 2016
If you can’t stomach what my secular story allies are saying about this, digest this, from one of yours…
The fact that humanity obsessively tells stories is a bit of a mystery.
I think it’s rooted, to some degree, in the heart of God and in the fact that redemption has been his plan since before the foundation of time. To make us storytelling animals allows us to be receptive to his story, and it roots us in a sense of history. Mike CosperWe’re Story Addicts: Mike Cosper on TV, Movies, and the Hearts that Love Them, By Matt Smethurst, The Gospel Coalition, SEPTEMBER 12, 2014
Stories are not just mindless entertainment. Because, if Christianity is the story we are in, your God made us this way.
Check out who this California pastor quotes…
Austrian philosopher Ivan Illich was once asked about the most revolutionary way to change society. He answered the question this way:
Neither revolution nor reformation can ultimately change a society, rather you must tell a new powerful tale, one so persuasive that it sweeps away the old myths and becomes the preferred story, one so inclusive that it gathers all the bits of our past and our present into a coherent whole, one that even shines some light into our future so that we can take the next step. . . . If you want to change a society, then you have to tell an alternative Story.‘Justin Buzzard, The Big Story
Story brings change. And aren’t you Christians wanting to bring change to your fading country? Wouldn’t you do well to consider using story in your efforts to bring about that change?
Great stories stay with you and tickle the deepest corners of your imagination even when you think they have been forgotten. And this is the greatest of all, for it is ours, and it is desperately true. All of the stories that we love and cherish, those that really move us and change us, are all shards of this greater truth, embedded with the issues we know so well.When the Bible Gets Boring, by Kristen O’Neal, Relevant Magazine, October 5, 2012
This is important. Listen to Coyne…
Stories are the most important thing we humans can create.Shawn Coyne, The Story Grid
Storytelling is the most effective way to say anything to anyone.Taylor Robinson, in Truth and the Power of Storytelling with Taylor Robinson, by Larry Alex Taunton, LarryAlexTaunton.com, August 3, 2015
Storytelling is a universal human trait. It emerges spontaneously in childhood, and exists in all cultures thus far studied. It’s also ancient: Some specific stories have roots that stretch back for around 6,000 years.The Desirability of Storytellers, By Ed Yong, The Atlantic, December 5, 2017
Frustrated that your words aren’t sticking in your political debate? Check out your own brilliant James K.A. Smith…
Stories that sink into our bones are the stories that reach us at the level of the imagination. Our imaginations are captured poetically, not didactically. We’re hooked by stories, not bullet points. The lilt and cadence of poetry have the ability to seep down into the fine-grained regions of our imagination in a way that a dissertation never could. The drama and characters of a novel stick with us long after the argument of a book has been forgotten – and then change how we move in the world. Anyone who has truly absorbed Dante or Dickens or David Foster Wallace inhabits the whole world differently. Stories stick.James K.A. Smith, You Are What You Love
Hamilton gets it…
What we think and how we live is largely determined by the larger story in which we interpret our lives.James M. Hamilton Jr., What Is Biblical Theology?: A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns
And certainly, The Benedict Option guy gets it too. Won’t you listen to him?
Argument has its place, but story is what truly moves the hearts and minds of men. The power of myth—which is to say, of storytelling—is the power to form and enlighten the moral imagination, which is how we learn right from wrong, the proper ordering of our souls, and what it means to be human. …. Through the stories we tell, we come to understand who we are and what we are to do. This is true for both individuals and communities.Story Lines, Not Party Lines, by Rod Dreher, The American Conservative, July 10, 2013
Let’s revisit this question again:
What do you Christians in America want, here in the story?
Do you want to engage? Do you want to connect with us fellow humans, even if we don’t believe the same as you?
If you do, you will be moved by C.S. Lewis’ words here, and the comments Beshears makes about the story in your Bible…
The Bible itself is organized in a metanarrative that entices human curiosity to hear the story out from beginning to end. Writing on mythopoeia, of which curiosity plays an important role, C. S. Lewis (1960, xxvii–xxviii) observed that;
It arouses in us sensations we have never had before, never anticipated having, as though we had broken out of our normal mode of consciousness and ‘possessed joys not promised to our birth.’ It gets under our skin, hits us at a level deeper than our thoughts or even our passions, troubles oldest certainties till all questions are reopened, and in general shocks us more fully awake than we are for most of our lives.
Narrative stokes our curiosities, it guides and shapes them, all the while bidding us toward the exploration of things about which we never previously considered or cared. This is because we were designed with an instinctual drive to know what is around the corner, what is hidden under the rock, and how the story ends.APATHEISM: ENGAGING THE WESTERN PANTHEON OF SPIRITUAL INDIFFERENCE, By K. Robert Beshears Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, April 2016
We were designed, he says. So, it caught our attention that many Christians in America embrace the idea that the design argument for the existence of God is a legitimate argument to use …
Another argument for God has to do with the apparent fine-tuning and design of the world. …. So, believers in God argue, as long as you don’t beg the question and assume that God could not possibly exist, then the fine-tuning of physics makes much more sense in a universe in which there is a creator and designer. It is improbable that all the physical constants just happened to be perfectly tuned for life on their own. It would be more reasonable to conclude it was something intended and designed.
Is this a conclusive proof? No, because its argument is only that it is more likely that there is a God than that there is not. Yet the argument does have real force. Many atheists feel required to engage it, most often by proposing the “multiverse thesis,” namely that there are an infinite number of different universes, so it is inevitable that some or one would be tuned for life. But MIT professor Alan P. Lightman, in Harper’s Magazine, writes of “science’s crisis of faith.” He says that the fine-tuning argument is strong enough that scientists put forth the multiverse thesis even though there is neither a shred of evidence for it nor any way to test it.7 In other words, either you have to take a great step of faith to believe there is a God who designed the universe or you must take a great step of faith to believe there is not. That’s a testimony to the strength of the argument.
As we saw just above, the perceived order and design of the world can work directly on people’s intuitions apart from a detailed series of logical propositions. The distinguished physician Lewis Thomas wrote: “I cannot make peace with the randomness doctrine: I cannot abide the notion of purposelessness and blind chance in nature. And yet I do not know what to put in its place for the quieting of my mind.” C. Stephen Evans says that Thomas is a man who felt “the pull of the sign” of perceived design.8 Evans also points out that the great philosopher Immanuel Kant, while concluding that the design argument did not constitute a rigorous proof for God, nonetheless spoke often and movingly about “the splendid order, beauty, and providence shown everywhere in nature,” which, he believed, led naturally to “faith in a wise and great author of the world.”Timothy Keller, Making Sense of God
That Keller guy haunts me. I must have faith—belief or unbelief– either way? Sobering.
But don’t get distracted by my faith troubles, and walk with me as we explore this more.
First, we saw that if we live in a universe designed by God, then we also had to buy into the idea that speech and language were distinctly designed for communication with human beings. Many have written about this, including this famous writer…
Speech is not one of man’s several unique attributes – speech is the attribute of all attributes! Speech is 95 percent plus of what lifts man above animal! Physically, man is a sad case. His teeth, including his incisors, which he calls eyeteeth, are baby-size and can barely penetrate the skin of a too-green apple. His claws can’t do anything but scratch him where he itches. His stringy-ligament body makes him a weakling compared to all the animals his size. Animals his size? In hand-to-paw, hand-to-claw, or hand-to-incisor combat, any animal his size would have him for lunch. Yet man owns or controls them all, every animal that exists, thanks to his superpower: speech.Tom Wolfe, The Kingdom of Speech
First, man is capable of speaking. Although some might consider this to be a trivial feature in man’s likeness to God, the Scriptures teach otherwise. God, in His dealings with mankind, has revealed Himself as a speaking God. The phrase “and God said” occurs ten times in Genesis 1 alone. God Almighty spoke to create the “heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is” (Exodus 20:11; Psalm 33:6-9), and He spoke to communicate to man (Genesis 1:28). Then, very soon after God created Adam, He expected him to name the creatures brought before him (Genesis 2:19). Adam named the animals of the Earth; he spoke of the helper that God had created for him as “woman”; and later, when attempting to justify his sinful actions, he “creatively” offered excuses and placed blame on others (Genesis 3:9-13)—all of which indicates that man was created with the ability to speak.
The fundamental failing of naturalistic theories is that they are inadequate to explain the origins of anything as complex and information-rich as human language, which itself is a gift from God and part of man’s having been created “in His image.”In the “Image and Likeness of God” [Part II], by Eric Lyons, M.Min. and Bert Thompson, Ph.D., Apologetics Press, 2002
And man is likewise alone in being in the image of God. What does this mean? And can it be true?
Human beings, alone among the creatures, speak, plan, create, contemplate, and judge.Leon Kass, Science, Religion, and the Human Future, Commentary, 2007
There are many ways in which people gain understanding of the world by interpreting signs and symbols, and even if there is an evolutionary explanation of how we came to acquire that kind of understanding, the understanding itself unfolds another vision of the world than that contained in the theory of evolution. Language is the most striking example of this. We don’t know how it arose; the very idea of intermediate ‘proto-languages’ which are steps on the way from animal cries to articulate sentences has been seriously doubted (for example by Chomsky). But we do know that language enables us to understand the world as no dumb animal could possibly understand it. Again there is a hump and a boundless field beyond it. Once over that hump, infinitely many representations are available; language users have access to the distinctions between truth and falsehood, between past, present and future, between possible, actual and necessary, and so on. It is fair to say that they live in another world from non-linguistic creatures. Since emotions and motives are founded on thoughts, their emotional life and their motives to act will be of an entirely different kind from those of the other animals.Roger Scruton, The Face of God: the Gifford Lectures
And if Christianity is the story we are in, and God gave us language, we also had to admit it’s possible he communicated to us through a book…
Is it reasonable to think that God has revealed himself? If our application of the method of inferring in this book has been well pursued, our expectation can be pretty high that God will reveal himself to the human race. If God does exist and he created the world and he has the moral nature that we inferred, then he made us with a purpose. It makes sense that he would want us to know the nature of that purpose and how to pursue it. If we think that our purpose has to do with our relationship to the Creator, we are even more justified in expecting that he will reveal himself to us. Our expectations, I think, can be fairly strong that God, if he exists, will reveal himself.
Now, if God created us and has a purpose for us and wanted to communicate it to us, what method might he use? Many people seem to think that he will give us vague feelings about him and allow us to try to figure out what it is he wants to communicate from these feelings. I think he would probably use language. After all, he made us to be language users.
The main monotheistic religions in the world (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) have been called the “religions of the Book.” Each claims that a particular text contains the written word of God. To contemporary ears, such a claim may seem very strange. I think it is not so strange. When we think about communication and human nature, it begins to make sense that God would use language in order to communicate. Putting that language into a book has several advantages. I will point out two. First, a book can preserve the record of God’s revelation for other people and generations. God’s revelation is not then left in the hands of the few who originally received it. Second, a book is a public sort of thing. It can be read, studied and analyzed by anyone with access to the book. Its meaning can be debated and different people can check their differing understandings against the text of the book. Thinking about human communication and the nature of books helps us see that the claim that God reveals himself through a book makes a good deal of sense, whether or not it turns out to be true.
There are only two basic ways we can know anything at all about God or about whether God exists. We infer what seems most likely to be the case from what we observe about the world and human nature, or God might reveal true things to us. In this book we have spent all our time inferring what seems most likely to be true about God. The further claim that God has revealed himself to us is quite important. I think what we have learned so far raises our expectation that he would reveal himself and makes it plausible to think that he would do so through a book.Gregory E. Ganssle, Thinking About God
God wants to communicate with you in the twenty-first century. He wrote His message in a Book.Living By the Book: The Art and Science of Reading the Bible, By Howard G. Hendricks, William D. Hendricks
According to Jewish tradition, God is, among other things, a writer.How Jews became ‘people of the books’, By Daniel Burke, CNN, April 12, 2017
I imagine you’re with me on all this so far. But allow me to take it a step further, a step you Christians seem reluctant to take.
Having our eyes opened by studying McKee, here’s our thought… what if God the Great Storyteller has designed story to be very powerful with the human beings he made… and then communicated to them by using story?
God himself chose poets, philosophers, dramatists, musicians, and prophets to tell the Holy Scriptures — storytellers who articulated divine mysteries beyond the scope of reason. Maybe it’s possible to know God without story; nevertheless, story is the form God chose.To Have the Mind of Christ? Start by Telling Stories, By Lauralee Farrer, Fuller Studio
And look at this, which continues to haunt us…
That the truth of his authorship is hid in our collective subconscious is seen in a myriad of ways. It is seen in our absolutist sense of right and wrong (“he has put eternity into man’s heart”—Ecclesiastes 3:11). It is seen in our poetry: “All the world’s a stage/and all the men and women merely players” (William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII). It is seen in our pantheistic tendencies, both ancient and modern. Given the intimate connection between story and storyteller, were the ancient Babylonians so far afield in imagining that the world has been formed from the flesh and bones of a god? Wrong in the technical details certainly, but as a metaphor, it’s not entirely inaccurate. Even Paul lent limited legitimacy to a pantheistic poet in Acts 17:28: “We are indeed [God’s] offspring.” The world is God’s self-exposing story. Indeed, the truth that God is telling his story through humanity is seen finally in humanity’s own penchant for storytelling.God Is the Author Who Enters His Story, By Andrew Shanks, The Gospel Coalition, June 9, 2013
And that caught our attention, because it pointed to one of the reasons why story is so very powerful with human beings.
After all, we all think of our lives as a story, don’t we?
Anyway, like we said before, we really want to know what you want. And if you are not interested in exploring the possibility that your God is the Great Storyteller, that is is good news to us.