Monday, March 4, 2013

An unexpected lesson from History Channel's The Bible

Millions of people, Christians and not, tuned in to see the premiere of the History Channel's new miniseries The Bible. It will continue each Sunday until the final episodes air the night of Easter.

From all accounts, Mark Burnett, along with his wife Roma Downey, from Touched By An Angel, have produced a high quality and faithful abbreviated adaptation of Scripture.

For Burnett, the man behind Survivor, The Voice and other popular reality TV fare, and his wife, this was a labor of love and an outgrowth of their Christian faith.

It garnered headlines around the globe and become the number one trending topic on Twitter, which means that not only were people watching it, they were talking about it and engaging with it. That is without a doubt a great thing.

Regular Americans, even Christians, have a hard time with basic Bible knowledge, much less seeing the entire book as a cohesive story that weaves smaller units into a much larger whole. Hopefully, this miniseries can help correct some of that.

My hope, however, is that it not only inspires Christians to read and know the stories of the Bible, but that it drives us to create new stories. It's time we became storytellers again.

Christianity continues to explode across Africa, South America and Asia, in so-called "hard places." Often, this comes with creative means of sharing the Gospel. One of the most effective ways is essentially what The Bible is doing – telling the grand story of Scripture in the form of smaller, interconnected stories.

Storying enables missionaries to exponentially spread their faith as stories stick with listeners, who can then share the same story with someone else. These stories display truths from the individual accounts, but they also point to the Truth personified in Jesus.

Unfortunately, many in the Western church have moved away from using stories at all, content with merely teaching practical truths. While there is always a place for that, we hinder our reach when we only teach and speak of truth propositionally.

Think of the Bible. Christians regard it as God's Word. He has revealed Himself to us through this book, which is over 70 percent narrative. The majority of the way God has chosen to show Himself is through stories.

We remember the story of Abraham almost sacrificing his son Isaac. That
story connects with us on an emotional level, making it easy to remember.
When Jesus came as God in flesh, how did He choose to speak to people? Often times, He spoke in stories – parables and illustrations.

God recognizes that stories connect with us on a deep, emotional level that goes beyond merely agreeing with an argument that may be presented. Psychologically, we are much more likely to accept truth when it is presented in story form.

C.S. Lewis, as someone who knew a good bit about both stories and rational arguments, spoke of the use of stories to convey truth in terms of "stealing past the watchful dragons." People have their guards up when they feel as if you are trying to convince them, but they are much more relaxed and open when they hear a good story.

Recognizing all of this, why are Christians still so reluctant to take their talents to Hollywood or a broader cultural context? In discussing the effective apologetic work, Lewis encourages Christians to not write "more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects — with their Christianity latent."

Can I expand that to say we don't really need more Christian fiction, but more fiction by Christians with their Christianity serving as the foundation for the story. Can we not write stories that convey spiritual truth without casting it as a blatant Christian story?

The characters in Jesus' parables were most often ordinary people in situations the audience would recognize. For too long, Christians have only sought to make stories with fake characters in unrecognizable circumstances. Our stories, unlike those of Jesus and the Bible itself, often fail to resonate with audiences.

The Bible miniseries is a great way to show millions of people stories from Scripture in an engaging way. That is not the only way, however. Here is where we follow our Creator in being creative and communicating our faith in a compelling manner through riveting stories.

Even if you can't create grand imaginary stories like Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia or J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, you do have a story that you can tell better than anyone else. If nothing else, tell that story well.

While the History Channel's series will hopefully encourage many to know their Bible better, I hope it will inspire Christians to tell stories that will cause people to know our Savior better.

What stories can you tell that speak of Truth? In what ways can The Bible inspire us to be original and creative in the way we present God's Word to those around us?

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