Ministry leaders from several African nations recently told me that story plays a vital role both in shaping and in preserving their cultures. Like all communities, most of their shared core beliefs are passed from generation to generation through true stories, myths, and songs. These narratives embody the essence of what they view as important to their children and grandchildren. Even as they welcome education that brings socio-economic advancement, these leaders are concerned that they avoid the mistake of teaching their succeeding generations with a literate, conceptual approach that disconnects them from their own story.
These leaders have analyzed their western neighbors well. To illustrate, story has contributed dramatically to western culture’s evolving views of acceptable sexual behavior within the span of a generation. Our collective perception of sex outside the bonds of traditional marriage has morphed from predominantly negative to overwhelmingly positive. Hollywood’s producers, directors, and actors have indisputably wielded a formidable hand in this seismic shift through effective storytelling.
Jonas Sachs lays out the case in Winning the Story Wars that we live in a world that has lost its connections to its traditional stories, and we are now trying to find new ones – we’re people, and that’s what people without stories do. These stories will shape our future, how we live, and what we do. These stories will touch all of us. Sachs predicts that those who win the “story wars” will win the culture.
Hollywood is currently winning over the culture by telling better stories. On the other hand, Christian efforts to shape minds and hearts with reason and logic alone are akin to holding back the ocean’s tide with a plastic bucket and toy shovel. It is not enough that our reason and logic bear witness to the truth.
But there is still time!
Succeeding generations need more than doctrine and abstract theology strung together with biblical proof texts to shape their beliefs and preserve the values we cherish. Our children need to see how the biblical story relates to their stories. They need to know the church’s 2000-year-old story that dramatically affects their lives today. These images embedded by story form our deepest convictions, and more powerful images informed by alternate experiences touch people’s lives.