What’s your all-time favorite movie? Think of just one. Why do you love that movie? I’ve asked that question of thousands of teenagers and college students over the years. Young people love movies, after all (so do I). I get all kinds of examples, from action movies (think The Avengers or Star Wars), to great epic tales (Lord of the Rings), or romantic comedies. We love movies and the stories they tell.
What if I told you the very reason novels grip us and movies move us is directly related to the grand gospel story of the Bible? We live in a world that has lost the story of the Bible (and many in the church have as well). I have found explaining the gospel story helps unbelievers to see the big picture of God’s salvation, but it does more: it encourages believers to share this great story with others. Missionaries overseas have done this a long time with people who don’t know the Word. We tend to put the gospel in such overtly religious and ecclesiastical categories many lost people don’t see its beauty and wonder.
Stories follow plotlines. I want to review three popular storylines for you. We see these in books and film again and again, each told with its own nuances.
1. Man falls in a hole.
This storyline (often called Overcoming the Monster) starts off with the main character doing well, but he falls in a hole of some sort, that is, he gets into a predicament, he has some evil thing or person cause him distress, or he finds himself in some other version of calamity. He cannot save himself, so ultimately a rescuer comes to get him out of the hole and back to well-being. Think of the Die Hard movies, any of the Marvel films, or any other action adventure film. We love stories that depict the evil and brokenness we see all around us, but we love even more the rescue and restoration that follows. Good storytellers take that simple storyline and rivet our attention and affections with how they tell it.
A version of this story is Kill the Dragon, Get the Girl, where some evil creature or person wreaks terror among people but at the end a hero kills the creature and rescues the damsel in distress. My daughter, Hannah, and I loved the movie Taken with Liam Neeson, which followed this storyline.
2. Boy meets girl.
This is the classic romantic story, made extremely popular in recent days with romantic comedies like Hitch, The Proposal, Along Came Polly, and a host of other often-cheesy movies featuring actors like Ben Stiller, Will Smith, Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell, Jennifer Aniston, Sandra Bullock, and others. (I’m not endorsing them; just saying.) It includes romantic dramas such as The Vow.
There’s a guy and a girl who somehow meet. A chemical reaction begins between them. Then you see two things depicted in these films. First, guys are dumb. Really dumb. The guy doesn’t get the girl’s hints, or does something dumb to hurt her feelings. They named a movie titled Dumb and Dumber about two guys, after all. Then you realize a second feature: girls are crazy. The girl overreacts, goes drama queen, and the movie continues with the two almost figuring things out, until the end when they actually do, and, to quote another movie in the genre, Love Happens.
3. Rags to riches. This is the story of Cinderella, or The Princess
Diaries, or the favorite of Hannah’s and mine from years ago, What a Girl Wants. Sadness ultimately leads to a rescue and restoration beyond the wildest dreams of the star of the story.
Why do I use these examples when talking about sharing the gospel? Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson, and Eric Geiger help us to see why through the eyes of two literary greats, C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien:
A conversation once held between colleagues C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien speaks to this innate human desire for being part of larger-than-life stories, quests, and victories—the draw of our hearts toward “myths,” which Lewis said were “lies and therefore worthless, even though breathed through silver.”
“No,” Tolkien replied, “they are not lies.” Far from being untrue, myths are the best way—sometimes the only way—of conveying truths that would otherwise remain inexpressible. We have come from God, Tolkien argued, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they do contain error, still reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily toward the true harbor.
These stories touch us because they speak to us, albeit imperfectly, where the gospel has the power to change us, to move our hearts toward the one who truly rescues and restores. We want a life of joy. We know something has gone wrong. We love and admire a rescuer, and we want a happily ever after, a rescue and a restoration. These stories touch us because they relate our lives to “the greatest epic the universe will ever know—God reconciling all things to himself in Christ.”
You can see that sharing Christ is helpful when we relate the gospel to truth we can see every day, whether in the stories we love or the design we see. This is so vital for a culture that no longer knows the story of the Bible. We don’t need to choose between the specific, propositional statements of gospel truth and the glorious story of the Bible. But we do need to help people see both the truth of the gospel and the great story of God’s redemptive plan.
My friends at Spread Truth Ministries (spreadtruth.com) have developed a wonderful tool to help believers see the whole gospel story of the Bible and share the good news of Jesus with others. The booklet they created called The Story has been a helpful tool for me.
Read more about The Story at viewthestory.com or download the app.
A few years ago I began realizing in my own witness how people I talked to didn’t seem to get the point of the gospel. It seemed more “churchy” to them than a message that would impact all of their life. I wanted to help people—especially young adults I interact with a lot—to see the great big picture of God’s plan and how their life related to God’s glory. In recent years I’ve seen more unchurched young adults come to Christ through sharing the whole gospel story than with any other approach. The gospel story offers a guide to help explain the gospel based on where the person you are talking with is at the moment. I will be unpacking this throughout the book, but let me walk you through this here.
There are many wonderful tools and apps you can use to help you share Jesus more confidently. Unfortunately, sometimes evangelism training unintentionally focuses too much on doing the evangelism program just right, rather than really knowing the gospel so you can share it in a conversation.
If you are at a church that uses a certain tool, such as “The Gospel Journey” by Dare2Share Ministries, “Two Ways to Live,” any of the free tools from The Way of the Master Television, or the courses offered by Christianity Explored, for instance, the principles in this book can help you share Christ using any of these and more. I also use the Life on Mission: 3 Circles conversation guide from the North American Mission Board (SBC). It’s another way of using the gospel story through circles. I’ve often drawn the three circles on a napkin at a coffee shop, and earlier this month I led a young man to Christ doing just that. My friend Jimmy Scroggins first developed this excellent approach while reaching unchurched people in South Florida. I want you to learn the gospel is more than a tool, although tools that center on the gospel can help grow our gospel fluency. We all need a baseline of gospel understanding to have conversations about Jesus, and tools like these can help.
Knowing and Sharing the Gospel Story
When you put a puzzle together, you start with the border, since a framework makes the rest of the image make sense. The grand narrative of the Bible follows the plotline of creation, fall, rescue, and restoration, the framework of Scripture that “frames up” our world and our greatest need as well as God’s
Alvin L. “Doc” Reid serves as Professor of Evangelism and Student Ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where he has been since 1995. He is also the founding Bailey Smith Chair of Evangelism. He is the author of several books including Gospel Advanced: Leading a Movement That Changes the World.