Not everyone values good stories. Sometimes Christians can be the worst of all, afraid of being of the world. What we must remember is that everything we do is part of a liturgy we live in. If we are not intentionally discipling ourselves and others with the truths of God’s story then we will be discipled by other things—for good or bad. Everything you hear, see, taste, and touch is telling a story. Reading good stories is crucial to combating these destructive stories. Christians must wisely choose stories that will help them mature as disciples.
1. Stories help us shed the skin of our unbelief.
“We are narrative creatures, and we need narrative nourishment—narrative catechisms.” — N. D. Wilson
Stories in the most fundamental way remove the barrier of believing that the impossible could happen. We read of dragons, knights, wizards, looking-glasses and these stories help prepare our hearts to believe truths that could not be believed without them. God has placed in our hearts the creativity to create stories that reflect the big truths of the story he is writing. Without these smaller glimpses, we might hear his story and balk at the fantastical nature of Red Sea crossing, killing giants, controlling nations and kings, and a virgin birth, but with them we hear his story and shed the skin of our unbelief.
Perhaps you enjoy reading fiction and you’re a fan of Lee Childs’ Jack Reacher novels. I enjoy these books for many reasons, but partly because my gut wants to believe that someone will make the wrong in this world right. That someone out there will make sure those who have acted wickedly and grossly immoral will get their comeuppance. Jack does this in a limited way. He’s limited because he’s a human with his own sinful actions and his thoughts aren’t always pure. But reading these books helps me to shed my unbelief, namely that the wicked I see now will go unpunished. These stories make me hope for a final judgement. For Someone perfect, unlike Jack, to come to earth and make all things right once and for all.
2. Stories mature wonder, bringing doctrine to life.
“We are like astonishing tales because they touch the nerve of ancient instinct of astonishment.” — G. K. Chesterton
The book of Romans is masterpiece of logic and doctrine. Paul skillfully demonstrates his knowledge of Old Testament theology, the life of Jesus, and how it all connects for Christians who have been made alive. What I’m not saying here is that doctrine is boring. Romans in particular is one of my favorite books in Scripture. It’s a delight to read. But stories bring doctrine to life in a way that doctrine alone cannot. Stories create wonder and awe.
Paul understands this as he wrote Romans. His doctrine is attached back to the story of Israel—especially the Exodus—and what this means for Christians who have experienced this New Exodus from slavery to life. Also, a major theme in Romans is justification by faith and many have made the point (wrongly) that justification isn’t central to the Christian faith because Jesus never mentions it. However, what they miss is Jesus lives, walks, and breaths justification by faith. Jesus brings the doctrine to life—while Paul plumbs the story’s depth. Story and doctrine are protons and neutrons that make a complete atom. One without the other and you’ve got nothing.
3. Stories lay siege to our affections.
“We are essentially and ultimately desiring animals, which is simply to say that we are essentially and ultimately lovers. To be human is to love, and it is what we love that defines who are.” — James K. A. Smith
Stories have a way of grabbing our heads and our hearts. Suppose you were an atheists reading The Chronicles of Narnia and the crucial chapter is upon you. Aslan gives himself up for Edmund. He’s tied to the stone and wickedness and evil descend upon him. The darkness weighs in on the reader as well. In those short pages the reader is driven to grief and sadness, but Aslan doesn’t stay dead. He rises victoriously. Your heart will leap for joy as Aslan lives before your head realizes what your affections have been driven to.
It could be days, months, or years. You may be minding your own business when a perfect stranger intersects with you and shares another story with you. “This Man died and rose from the dead,” she might say. For a second time your heart leaps for joy within you—even if for a moment. Why is that? Why did that happen? Because C. S. Lewis’ Aslan has already prepared your heart to hear the truth of the death, resurrection, and reign of Jesus Christ. Stories matter because they lay siege to our hearts and prepare our minds. They are a narrative catechism, as N. D. Wilson says, maturing our hearts and minds to love rightly.
4. Stories brighten our sense of imago Dei.
“We know God’s character through story.” — Peter Leithart
Ultimately stories brighten our sense of imago Dei. They remind us we were created by God and placed in a story. That story continues on today and we are part of it. As imago Dei, we are more aware of what’s happening around us when we realize this. We do not have a meaningless existence. We do not serve a utilitarian purpose. There is love, beauty, and truth in this story. We must pursue these things.
We also must create a story of our own. Some of us play our part by writing stories. Some play music, paint, engineer, farm, mother or father, or pick up trash. These are all beautiful because we are all imago Dei. Tolkien reminds us of this when he calls us “sub-creators” and Lewis when he says, “There are no ordinary people.” Consider the superhero genre and one of the major fixed pieces—the mask. It could be anyone. Any of us could have these powers and be extraordinary. It could be the geeky news reporter, the teenager living with his aunt, the reclusive billionaire, or the blind man. Stories brighten the sense of the divine in our hearts.
Stories should play a crucial role in discipleship. Choose wisely. Read broadly. Let the stories grab your heart as they form you into a more mature disciple of Jesus Christ.
Mathew B. Sims is the Editor-in-Chief at Exercise.com and has authored, edited, and contributed to several books including A Household Gospel, We Believe: Creeds, Confessions, & Catechisms for Worship, A Guide for Advent, Make, Mature, Multiply, and A Guide for Holy Week. Mathew, LeAnn (his wife), and his daughters Claire, Maddy, and Adele live in Taylors, SC at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains with their Airdale Terrier. They attend Downtown Presbyterian Church (PCA). Visit MathewBryanSims.com!