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Reclaiming Story for Christ?

As I have written before, in our modern Western culture we suffer from a disconnect between Reason and Imagination. Story, when it is rightly used in the service of Truth, can help to connect these two necessary elements into a healthy, God-focused whole.

However, reclaiming Story for the cause of Truth means more than just slapping a Christian label on the idea of storytelling. We must be clear about what Story is and how it relates to Truth.

Portions of the Christian church have wholeheartedly affirmed a postmodern understanding of Story. In this view, Christians have a wonderful story, one that brings meaning and joy and purpose to those who accept it, but it is a story that makes no claims about objective reality and objective Truth.

This movement has been reacting against extremes in both the secular and Christian world. On one hand, these Christians are reacting against the harsh extreme of scientism, which has no room for human spiritual needs. On the other, they are also reacting against the extreme of cold literalism in the church, which strips Scripture of its beauty and reduces our relationship with the living God to a set of detailed doctrinal principles to affirm and a legalistic code of behavior to follow. The postmodern reaction against these extremes is not surprising, and indeed in many ways the postmodern Christians serve as a canary in the coal mine: the Reason / Imagination split can't be ignored as something in secular culture alone.

The postmodern view of Story can be very appealing at first, but it fails because it does not connect Story to Truth. If our narratives are generated and sustained by our communities, eventually differences in beliefs will fragment those communities down to the individual: my truth, my story. Either we will be trapped in the particular story we happen to be in, or we will shop around for a story we like better. Ultimately the postmodern Christian view of Story disintegrates, because it acknowledges no transcendent Author of the story, and offers no way to determine if a given story is true.

Such a view is deadly, for it saps all the urgency to find the truth about spiritual matters. If Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life only for those who find that particular faith flavor appealing, then Buddhism or transcendental meditation or indulging in unlimited sex is equally valid for those who prefer those alternatives. Why pay attention to the Gospel if it is just one story among many?

Even in ordinary life, Story without Truth fails to satisfy. When I hear a story of my friend's life, I expect it to be true, that is, corresponding to the way things actually are. When I read a poem, I expect it to show me something true about the world, to illuminate some aspect of my experiences, or help me appreciate real beauty better. When I read a novel, I expect it to make sense, for it to add to my enjoyment of the world, or help me understand things better, even if those things are sad or terrible (since we live in a fallen world, much of what is true is rather painful to hear). Even a story read for pure escapism needs to have some connection to truth in character, setting, or plot (not necessarily all three!). Surrealist fiction does not make for good beach reading; adventure and romance stories do, because they connect with things that we do recognize as true, namely that people can have adventures and do fall in love.

On a day to day basis, we flourish when the stories we tell about ourselves, including our inner narratives, are true. The self-esteem movement attempted to help children live better, happier lives by telling them stories about their own greatness. But such stories were fabricated: kids were praised even when there were no objective grounds for praise. As a result, we have an entire generation of young people who have been trained in narcissism and brought up to believe that what matters is how they feel - the story they tell about themselves - not their actual accomplishments or character.

Simply telling oneself a new story is appealing. Americans are constantly reinventing themselves. It is good to have the freedom to make a course correction in life, but it is burdensome to think that one’s identity is one’s own responsibility. As a woman who grew up with no knowledge of God, coming to Christ at age 31, I have a keen personal awareness of the utter failure of any attempt to create my own meaningful narrative. As a woman now in my late 30s living out the Christian life in modern American culture, I am all too aware of the pressure to define myself according to other stories: workplace success, or physical beauty, or social conformity. These are powerful alternate stories, and a Christian "story" that is simply one more feel-good option among many does not stand up as a viable alternative.

We must reclaim and redeem Story, for the church and for the world to which we minister in the name of Christ. If Imagination gives us Story without Truth, and Reason gives us Truth without Story, what we need is Christ who is Truth in Story, the living Word.

 

Comments

I find the motivation GODd and I will pray for this target =)

Thanks Holly, reading was a real pleasure. Keep up your work, I bookmarked. vacation Alps

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About
Dr. Holly Ordway is a professor of composition and literature. She speaks and writes regularly on literature, especially fantasy literature and poetry, and literary apologetics.


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