April 21, 2014

Tell Me a Story

I’ve seen a lot of Tweets and Facebook posts about the atonement, recently. I find these somewhat interesting, but in an abstract, academic way. They don’t really stick. 

Earlier this week I came across an interview with poet and professor at Yale, Christian Wiman [link: ], who seems to have a similar experience. In it he says: 

"I seem immune to ideas that have no concretion to them. Most systematic theology—modern theology, I should specify, like Barth or Balthazar—just bounces right off the stone of my brain. I don’t mean that I don’t enjoy it—I do—but it seems not to stick with me in any meaningful way, seems ungraspable the minute I’ve closed the book.

"Embodied theology, though, ideas about God that have some music and physicality to them, ideas, that is to say, that aren’t primarily ideas—these sorts of works I understand and love and am able to carry with me in my life and faith."

I love ideas, and I think theology is important and useful, but I also find it easier and more interesting to connect to stories. 

We’ve known this a long time: that telling stories is one of the best ways to spread the Gospel. 
Holy Week is really a week-long retelling and reenactment of a salvation story. 

The fact that many (though of course not all) people connect with stories rather than ideas is useful to remember in our outreach. While a longtime Episcopalian might be interested in your theology of the atonement, someone less familiar with Christianity might be more interested in the story of your faith. 

You can say “God is with us in the pain, not taking the pain away” over and over again, but unless you tell me a story about how that works for you it’s kind of useless. You can tell me that “doubt is a part of faith” but unless you tell me a story about how to live with that truth, I’m just going to roll my eyes at you. 

I need a story. Unless I’m already open and looking for some advice or already deep in the weeds of Christianity and theology, I’m not going to stick around unless there is some narrative to pull me along.

We have a good story to tell, right from the Gospel. We each have our own stories to tell, as well, which can illustrate what the Gospel means in modern life. I think theology is important, but it is usually for the converted. The world may not need to hear your explanation of the atonement. The world probably needs to hear your story of salvation, though.