Affecting Culture Through Stories


HollywoodStreetPreachingHow important are stories? Next to actual Bible study, I suggest they are the most powerful teaching tools available.

Way back when—more than twenty years ago—I read a book by Gary Smalley (which, it turns out, was re-released several years ago) entitled The Language of Love. In that book, Smalley suggested a communication technique that would especially help women reach men, not with abstract information but at the heart level. The technique, in essence is, to tell a story.

After reading that book, I began to see ways in which our culture has been and is being shaped by the stories we embrace. Changes in attitudes toward a particular moral idea often follow the gradual changes in depicting the topic in the media. (The typical pattern is first to make a joke about the subject until joking about it is normative; then joking changes to acceptance and open discussion; acknowledgment, especially of the rights an individual has in connection to the subject then morphs to an attitude of “everyone does it” or “they’re just like us.” This pattern is evident in things such as the attitudes toward pornography and homosexuality).

I was reminded of this by two unrelated sources. One, a letter from a US-based ministry, quoted statistics published in the AARP magazine (that’s for seniors), including questions like, “Do you believe in God, in heaven, in hell?” The startling thing for me was this report:

There was a sizeable number of individuals who believed in a second time around. 23% believed in reincarnation (50 years ago the % would have been 1.)

Now for the second source. In a blog post including information from an interview about the non-fiction book, Rethinking Worldview author Mark Bertrand said this:

After all, the average Christian has been much more profoundly influenced by non-Christian art and entertainment than he has by non-Christian evangelism and apologetics.

That line made total sense as I thought about the 22% of our population who have converted to belief in reincarnation, without people standing on the street corners handing out tracts about it. Or holding reincarnation tent meetings.

Mind you, I am not against these kinds of evangelism tools in the hands of Christians. The point is, persuasion often comes in more subtle ways—through pop culture, through art, through literature.

I’ve ranted before about the “innocent” little Disney movie that so many Christians embraced, The Lion King, in which many New Age teachings were front and center. Shortly thereafter (at least here in SoCal), makeshift shrines began to appear on the street when someone died, followed with claims that “I know my deceased ____ is watching over me/helping me/looking down on me.” I’ve heard such anti-biblical comments from people who claim to be Christians. And maybe are.

The point is, the culture, and story in particular, has had a greater influence on forming belief about death and the afterlife than has the Bible and preaching about the subject. Well, to be fair, maybe not a greater influence. After all, the reincarnation number is still not the majority.

Sadly, however, only 29% believed they would go to Heaven because of a belief in Jesus Christ, though 88% said they believed THEY would go to heaven. Clearly, our culture is an eclectic hodge-podge of false teaching, with truth mixed in.

And how can we sort through the sludge to show the gospel? Next to Bible study and good expository Bible teaching in church, I tend to think stories can be the most effective tools.

With some minor revision, this post first appeared here in September 2007.

A Christian Worldview Revisited


Last Friday’s post, The Need for Christian Worldview SF/Fantasy, generated some great discussion.

I especially liked J’s comment:

So, a Christian worldview in writing is essential to understanding our universe.

I think that’s true. But what do we mean by this worldview term? Some people may be yawning right about now, thinking that we’ve been around this block more than once. Undoubtedly so. I defined the term, as I understand it, when I first started this blog. And just this past year, J. Mark Bertrand and I discussed the subject in conjunction with his book Rethinking Worldview.

But maybe this is one of those subjects that can never be discussed enough. I mean, we’re talking about the basic framework upon which all the rest of our beliefs hang. On top of that, the culture in which we live is racing further and further from a Christian worldview, so it seems to me that this discussion should be ongoing.

I ran across an event recorded in the Gospel of Luke that made me realize Jesus’s followers when He walked on earth faced some of the same issues Christians today face. I’m thinking here of our need to separate the trappings of cultural Christianity from an actual Christian worldview.

Too often people, both Christians and non-Christians, have this external do’s-and-don’t list associated with Christianity. Case in point: when I mentioned in the newspaper office that I would be attending a Christian writers’ conference, one editor immediately responded to the effect that they better start watching their language. Clearly, to him Christian meant something about being offended at bad language.

But back to the Biblical example. Jesus sent out seventy of his followers to preach, heal, cast out demons. Told them to go all over. Told them to take no money, food, change of clothes, nothing. Told them to stay with the first home they came across in a city. AND told them to eat whatever was set before them.

Why this last? It dawned on me, some of those seventy might have been offended if they knew they were eating food that didn’t adhere to Jewish dietary laws. So Jesus told them, essentially, don’t ask. Don’t research the matter. Take what they give you and don’t worry about whether or not the food passes “kosher” requirements.

On the other hand, Jesus also told the seventy to shake the dust from their feet on their way out of any city that didn’t accept them.

The point is, What divided the seventy from those showered with dust was not to be a matter of food.

Soon after recounting this event, Luke chronicles a parable Jesus told, one we commonly refer to as the Good Samaritan. Most noticeable to me as I read it was that the priest and the Levite who did not help the mugging victim were most likely concerned with their own safety and/or their own ceremonial purity. They well might have been doing what Jesus told the seventy NOT to do—ducking out of relationship for fear of breaking a Jewish law.

It strikes me, then, that we Christians of the twenty-first century must not accept a definition that marginalizes what we believe. A Christian is NOT defined as a person who reads the Bible every day, doesn’t drink, cuss, snort, and who shows up at church at least once a week. Mind you, that actually does describe me, so I am not advocating their opposites.

But the key is, those externals don’t define me as a Christian. My relationship with God does—a relationship I enjoy solely because Jesus Christ willingly took my just due, swapping in His righteousness instead.

That’s who any Christian is, and it colors how we see Truth.

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