Did Your God Give You the Very Kind of Story Human Beings Deeply Desire?


As we began to move forward with this crazy assignment, one of the greatest obstacles turned out to be that simple question – Where is the best place to find the Christians version of the story we are in?

So, how could we find our way?

Well, we started with Wikipedia. And the experience was both enlightening and somewhat frustrating.

On the one hand, we learned Christianity is the world’s largest religion.

That means our conception of Christianity as a primarily Western religion is totally false. If anything, it’s now African and Asian.

How come I never learned that during my time in Hollywood?

And look at this, about the African nation of Ghana…


Billboards advertising Christian meetings dot the streets, businesses and shops are named after religious figures and phrases, and pastors can be spotted giving sermons on avenues and aboard commuter buses. Streets, homes, and offices display colorful posters of Jesus, saints, and religious leaders.

Megachurches are as much social hubs as they are spiritual centers with popular pastors often gaining a celebrity status. Church isn’t just for weekends, either. Many people will attend services most weeknights, Reuters reports, and carry their Bibles around with them during the day.

Christianity first arrived on the shores of the West African country in the late 15th century by way of European explorers, colonizers, and missionaries. It slowly seeped into the culture, spreading steadily across the centuries.

Today about 71 percent of Ghana’s roughly 26 million people are Christian. A 2012 survey also found an overwhelming 96 percent of Ghanaians identify as religious, making it the most religious population in the world.

But in Africa, Ghana is far from alone: About 41 percent of the world’s 560 million Protestants live on the continent, Reuters reports, and that number could rise to 53 percent by 2050. Amid this wave of concentrated faith, West Africa is really at the heart of global Christianity.

The Beauty of Ghana’s Fervent Faith, by Kelly Gonsalves, The Week, April 16, 2017

And in the Wikipedia article titled “Christianity,” we found this…


The foundations of Christian theology are expressed in ecumenical creeds.


So, we began to look at the creeds to find the Christian story.

Turns out the term “creed” comes from a Latin word meaning “I believe.”

Here’s an English translation of what seems to be their most popular creed, one called The Apostles Creed…


I believe in God,

the Father almighty,

Creator of heaven and earth,

and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

born of the Virgin Mary,

suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, died and was buried;

he descended into hell;

on the third day he rose again from the dead;

he ascended into heaven,

and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty;

from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic Church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and life everlasting. Amen.


And, if you look at The Apostles Creed through the simple lens of story structure, you can see a beginning, middle, and end to the story.

By the way, The Apostles Creed is distinct from Apollo’s Creed, which our team learned American boxers ascribe to. It begins with the affirmation, “Yo, Adrian!”

 


And then one of our team members then showed us this…


I have argued that the Christian worldview begins with ontology – an abstract concept, but soon ontology becomes lodged in story form. The ancient Apostles Creed demonstrates this… Only the first line is utterly ontological. The second line brings in action and while it does not take a position on whether creation was in or out of time, it recognizes God as origin of the earth. It is in the fourth line that roots the Christian worldview in story…. The remainder of the creed is steeped in story.

….

When one turns to the Bible itself, the ground of all Christian theologies – Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox – the element of story is even stronger. Most of the Bible is story, and all of it is embedded in story – a history, a story of events that really happened (not just-so stories, or likely stories, or myths).

James Sire, Naming the Elephant

After seeing this, Paula Wong, our very special team member, had an idea.

She’d been part of a previous interrogation of a group of Chinese Christians and had found out that when it came to the content of their story, most of them depended on the Bible, which is the Christian “scriptures.”

“I bet this James Sire guy is right,” she said. “That’s where we’ll find their version of the story we are in.”

And all that led us to begin to see that your God, the Great Storyteller, has given you the very kind of story which he designed human beings – across both time and culture – to deeply desire.

Before we begin to explain how the Christian story is an archplot, we want to fill you in on something else. You see, one of our team members shared something he’d uncovered from a book titled The Complete Literary Guide to the Bible…


The literary feature of the Bible that is perhaps most noticeable is the heterogeneous nature of the material. Judged by classical standards of unity, the Bible is an untidy patchwork of diverse material. Nonliterary material like genealogies, historical notes, commands, and travel itineraries is mingled with literary material. Poetry appears right in the middle of expository and narrative prose. As we read the stories of the Bible, we seem always to be interrupted by extraneous documentary or didactic material. Narrative and discourse jostle for supremacy in the Gospels. Nearly every book in the Bible exhibits a mixed-genre format in a degree unparalleled in other literature.

The Complete Literary Guide to the Bible, By Leland Ryken, Tremper Longman III

As he read it, a sense of discouragement came across the room.

Several us had tried to skim the Bible and that description was just what it seemed to us – a jumble of literary odds and ends.

How were we ever going to get a clear story out of odd ends?

“Looks pretty bleak, right?” he said. “But lucky for us, they don’t stop there. Next they do an about-face.”


The Bible is also an amazingly unified book. The most obvious element of literary unity is narrative unity. The Bible tells a story with a beginning (the creation of the world), a middle (fallen human history), and an end (the consummation of history with the eternal defeat of evil and the triumph of good).


See that?

A beginning, middle, and end!

Then Paula jumped in. “Sounds a lot like something I found,” she said.

And then she showed us this…


The Bible is not a mere jumble of history, poetry, and lessons in morality and theology, comforting promises, guiding principles and commands; instead, it is fundamentally coherent. Every part of the Bible — each event, book, character, command, prophecy and poem — must be understood in the context of the one story line.

Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen, The Drama of Scripture

At the heart of our faith is the bold claim that in a world full of stories, with a world’s worth of heroes, villains, comedies, tragedies, twists of fate, and surprise endings, there is really only one story. One grand narrative subsumes and encompasses all the other comings and goings of every creature—real or fictitious—on the earth.

Mike Cosper, The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long For and Echo the Truth

The Bible gives us the framework within which we can start to imagine Christianly, not just winging it vaguely taking off in flights of fancy, but living within the great story. I hope when you read the Bible that you are aware that it is a single great enormous story, a great epic running from that original creation in the garden to the final New Creation when God brings earth and heaven together finally and forever — with the climax of that story being Jesus dying on the cross and rising again as we were just singing. And then the work of implementing that achievement being given to us.

The Bible and Christian Imagination, N.T. Wright, Response, Summer 2005


One day, Shih Tzu sent me this note…



Dear Comrade Chow,

You are loose brained. Such an idiot.

You really ought to pay attention to this, you looser!

You are wasting your time.

Look what McKee says in this interview about the nature of the story in the Bible:


LR: So, is this an unheard of time in human history, when it comes to this long-form…?

McKee: I think so.

LR: We’ve never written or even told orally told stories…

McKee: Nobody’s ever attempted that kind of magnitude before.

LR: Is the Bible compared to say, a Breaking Bad?

McKee: No. No. The Bible is a bunch of little short stories.  And there’s no true line. It keeps changing authors every twenty pages or so.

CHARACTER EVOLUTION IS ESSENTIAL TO GOOD STORYTELLING, Robert McKee on London Real, May 24, 2017


You have failed, failed, and failed, you pathetic loser.

Here is another one, you weak brained wimp:


If we ask what kind of book the Bible is, the answer is that it is an anthology – a collection of diverse works written by separate authors. We can make immediate literary sense of the Bible if we think of its external form (though not its content and worldview) as being similar to an anthology of English or American literature. The very name Bible (Greek biblia) tells us that the Bible is an anthology, inasmuch as the word means “little books.” An anthology of “little books” can appropriately be thought of as a small library.

An anthology implies multiple authorship, and the individual books in the Bible were written by at least three dozen authors.

Leland Ryken, Literary Introductions to the Books of the Bible


Give it up.

Go back to Beijing.

You are not getting the job done.

But I am and I will.

China Dream come true!

  • Shih Tzu


When I showed it to Paula Wong, she laughed.

“Comrade Chow, Shih Tzu is playing you. I’m familiar with that book, so look what he didn’t show you.”

And she showed me this…


Overall, we can say that the Bible has a narrative unity, even though it includes many nonnarrative parts. The essence of a story is that it is a sequence of events having a beginning, a middle, and an end. The beginning of the Bible’s story is literally the beginning – God’s creation of the world as narrated in Genesis 1-2. The end of the story is literally the end – the end of human history as narrated in the book of Revelation. The middle is the story of human history as it unfolds under the providential and redemptive oversight of God.

Leland Ryken, Literary Introductions to the Books of the Bible

And this, also from Ryken…


But if we stress only the variety of the Bible, we distort the kind of book it is. The Bible is also an amazingly unified book. The most obvious element of literary unity is narrative unity. The Bible tells a story with a beginning (the creation of the world), a middle (fallen human history), and an end (the consummation of history with the eternal defeat of evil and the triumph of good).

A Complete Literary Guide to the Bible, By Leland Ryken, Tremper Longman III

And this…


The Bible is not just a book of stories. It reveals one grand narrative from beginning to end. Borrowing from literary scholars, many Christians now speak of the Bible’s metanarrative – its all-encompassing story line. In the Bible, God has revealed the story that underlies every true story, and in which every other true story finds its meaning.

That is the story of God’s determination to glorify himself by saving sinners through the atonement accomplished by his own Son. As Christ himself made clear, every word of Scripture serves to tell this story.

Albert Mohler, The Conviction to Lead

And look how this fits…


When we hold the Bible in our hands, we aren’t holding an anthology or a bundle of scattered and miscellaneous thoughts. We’re holding one comprehensive, cohesive volume with a logical beginning and ending, telling us one story centered around one Person – Jesus Christ.

It’s as though a Master Author was behind it all, which there was.

David Jeremiah, Journey

And then Paula showed us this assessment from the famed British Writer J.R.R. Tolkien…


I would venture to say that approaching the Christian Story from this direction, it has long been my feeling ( a joyous feeling) that God redeemed the corrupt making-creatures, men, in a way fitting to this aspect, as to others, of their strange nature. The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels – peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving: ‘mythical’ in their perfect self-contained significance; and at the same time powerfully symbolic and allegorical; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy.

“On Fairy-Stories,” by J.R.R. Tolkien

And then she showed me how it looks like there are Christians who appear to recognize the multiple stories within fit into a larger, long-form story…


The Bible gives us the framework within which we can start to imagine Christianly, not just winging it vaguely taking off in flights of fancy, but living within the great story. I hope when you read the Bible that you are aware that it is a single great enormous story, a great epic running from that original creation in the garden to the final New Creation when God brings earth and heaven together finally and forever — with the climax of that story being Jesus dying on the cross and rising again as we were just singing. And then the work of implementing that achievement being given to us.

The Bible and Christian Imagination, N.T. Wright, Response, Summer 2005

It need hardly be stressed that the Bible is a story, the grandest of stories with countless smaller stories within it. Like all stories, it has a beginning and an end and therefore depends on development and on continuity.

Os Guinness, Impossible People

More broadly, the Bible’s many books and numerous literary genres are all set within a detailed storyline that must be deeply absorbed. Profound grasp of and adherence to that storyline will not only keep us from some important mistakes in our various disciplines, but will place us within a Christian worldview that marks us as different. Christians cannot long withstand the enormous and subtle pressures to “conform to this world” (Ro 12:1–2) unless they see the temptation in terms of a clash of worldviews. They cannot possibly understand the nature of that clash unless they have a firm, intelligent grasp of what the Bible’s worldview looks like and are loyal to it.

Can There Be a Christian University? By D. A. Carson, Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, Fall 1997

I went home and began to reread the Bible. In the light of these realizations, I understood it in a new way. This great story each life was telling, this story of the spirit all flesh was telling: here it was, beginning, middle, and end. The Bible was the story God wanted to tell us about himself – about himself and us.

Andrew Klavan, The Great Good Thing

First, although the Bible consists of sixty-six separate books penned by over forty authors over a period of several thousand years, it is an integrated message system. Every passage, every word, every number, and every place name is there for a specific reason. A skillful design pervades the whole.

Chuck Missler, Learn the Bible in 24 Hours

Although the Bible consists of a wide variety of historical narratives (stories spanning generations) and many other types of literature (laws, poetry, lyrics, prophecies, letters, etc.), many don’t realize that, at its core, the Bible is one, greater unfolding story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

You Are Here: Finding Your Story in God’s Story, by Steve Childers, Pathway Learning, January 29, 2014

The Bible is a rich collection of songs and letters, stories and prophecies—all forged in the crucible where people’s lives meet God’s Spirit. At its core, Scripture is a great drama, highlighting God’s battle to win back his rebellious children, overcome evil, and restore life and wholeness to our world.

How to Save the Bible, by Glenn Paauw, QIdeas

So, if Christianity is the story we are in, then it looks like there are plenty of Christians who believe God the Great Storyteller has tied it all together into one story…


The biblical drama requires the presence of the Lord God as the leading actor in its story line. Yet the Bible also requires that we acknowledge God as the scriptwriter, director, and producer of this grand drama.

Veiled Glory: God’s Self-Revelation in Human Likeness—A Biblical Theology of God’s Anthropomorphic Self-Disclosure, By A. B. Caneday, in BEYOND THE BOUNDS: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity, EDITED BY JOHN PIPER, JUSTIN TAYLOR, PAUL KJOSS HELSETH

Another parallel is our conceiving characters in a story. We do that because we are made in God’s image and God does that. We are his characters and history is his-story. The difference is that we are not quite so creative as to give our characters life outside our minds. He is.

Peter Kreeft, Fundamentals of the Faith: Essays in Christian Apologetics

We have a direct line to the One who knows what happens on the next page because He has written the whole story.

David Jeremiah, Living With Confidence in a Chaotic World

Hard to believe, isn’t it?

But notice how the following insight from Robert McKee helps you see something very important about God as the author of what you Christians call the “Greatest Story Ever Told” …


Robert McKee: The term “ground rules” is inappropriate when talking about any aspect of writing, Inciting Incident included. As I’ve said many times: Art forms have no rules; all art is guided by principles. Rules are rigid. They say, “You must do it this way!” Principles are flexible. They say, “This form underlies the nature of the art and is conventional in practice. However, it may be bent, broken, hidden or turned upside down to serve unconventional uses that may enhance the telling. ”Rules are objective applications that require no feeling for the story’s characters or events; their use is justified by their traditional function and their comfortable familiarity to the audience/readers. Principles require a deeply subjective understanding of a technique’s effect forward and backward along the timeline of a story’s events. A principle guides the writer’s use of his materials – motivations, characterizations, coincidences, settings, flash-backs/flash-forwards, set-ups/pay-offs and the like – in terms of their effect on both characters and audience/readers. A rule is microscopic; a principle is macroscopic.

An Interview with Robert McKee, by Debra Eckerling, StoryLink, August 18, 2009

What McKee says there is very important, since the Bible is a very unusual book.

And it sure does fit with this…


Story duration refers to how much time the telling spans in the lives of its characters versus how much time it takes to tell. Telling time ranges from brief seconds on YouTube to the hundred hours, more or less, of a multiseason long-form television series. With a few exceptions, the life spanned within the telling covers far more time than the telling.

Storynomics, By Robert McKee and Tom Gerace

There is something else very disturbing for us, which we also discovered.

As we looked at your version of the story we are in, we came to see that you Christians have an archplot.

Here are some descriptions from McKee and Coyne which caught our attention…


Classical design is not a Western view of life. For thousands of years, from the Levant to Java to Japan, the storytellers of Asia have framed their works within the Archplot, spinning yarns of high adventure and great passion. …. The Archplot is neither ancient nor modern, Western nor Eastern; it is human.

Robert McKee, Story

Arch-plot is human life Story, the one we all use to evaluate and direct our own lives. This is why Arch-plot has the greatest potential for the largest possible audience. Every person on the planet is a potential reader/viewer. 

….

We love Arch-plots because they mirror the way we choose to privately examine ourselves. There is nothing more powerful in a Story than having a lead character desperately pursuing something. The reader or viewer cannot help but attach himself to that character because he has objects of desire too. If the lead character in a Story gets what he wants, our brains are wired to believe that we can too. Stories fuel our courage and offer the cautions that we believe will help guide our own paths.

Shawn Coyne, The Story Grid

CLASSICAL DESIGN means a story built around an active protagonist who struggles against primarily external forces of antagonism to pursue his or her desire, through continuous time, within a consistent and causally connected fictional reality, to a closed ending of absolute, irreversible change.

Robert McKee, Story  

At the top of the story triangle are the principles that constitute Classical Design. These principles are “classical” in the truest sense: timeless and transcultural, fundamental to every earthly society, civilized and primitive, reaching back through millennia of oral storytelling into the shadows of time.

Robert McKee, Story

That is a fascinating claim which has the full attention of our team.

And look at this, also from McKee…


Each of the arts is defined by its essential form. From symphony to hip-hop, the underlying form of music makes a piece music and not noise. Whether representational or abstract, the cardinal principles of visual art make a canvas a painting, not a doodle. Equally, from Homer to Ingmar Bergman, the universal form of story shapes a work into story, not portraiture or collage. Across all cultures and through all ages, this innate form has been endlessly variable but changeless.

Yet form does not mean ‘formula.” There is no screenplay-writing recipe that guarantees your cake will rise. Story is far too rich in mystery, complexity, and flexibility to be reduced to a formula. Only a fool would try. Rather, a writer must grasp story form. This is inescapable.

Robert McKee, Story

And McKee grounds this fascinating claim in… who we are as human beings


“Classical design is a mirror of the human mind. It’s how we see the world.”

The Real McKee, by Ian Parker, The New Yorker, October 20, 2003

Stories have been implanted in you thousands of times since your mother took you on her knee. You’ve read good books, seen movies, attended plays. What’s more, human beings naturally want to work through stories. Cognitive psychologists describe how the human mind, in its attempt to understand and remember, assembles the bits and pieces of experience into a story, beginning with a personal desire, a life objective, and then portraying the struggle against the forces that block that desire. Stories are how we remember; we tend to forget lists and bullet points.

Storytelling That Moves People: A Conversation with Screenwriting Coach Robert McKee by Bronwyn Fryer, Harvard Business Review, June 2003

Most human beings believe that life brings closed experiences of absolute, irreversible change; that their greatest sources of conflict are external to themselves; that they are the single and active protagonists of their own existence; that their existence operates through continued time within a consistent, causally interconnected reality; and that inside this reality events happen for explainable and meaningful reasons. Since our first ancestor stared into a fire of his own making and thought the thought, “I am,” this is how human beings have seen the world and themselves in it. Classical design is a mirror of the human mind.

Robert McKee, Story

All this opened our eyes to something huge for our crazy assignment.

If Christianity is the story we are in, then God the Great Storyteller has given humanity the very kind of story which people — across both time and culture — deeply desire.