Not everyone values a good story. 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 creating liturgies around the acts and words of God then we are being discipled by someone or something else. Everything you hear, see, taste, and touch is telling you 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.
Have you ever found your heart longing for something long before your mind wrapped itself around the truth and beauty you desired? I’ve found myself in this position time and time again as the Spirit matures me. There’s this deep longing in my gut for Jesus—for more of him. But often my understanding of him doesn’t grasp him fully (it never will).
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 bring doctrine to life.
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 be.
I think Paul understands this as he wrote Romans because ahis 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.
3. Stories lay siege to our affections and thoughts.
Stories have a way of grabbing our hearts and our heads. Suppose you were an atheists reading The Chronicles of Narnia and the crucial chapters is upon you. Aslan gives himself up for Edmund. He’s tied to the stone and wickedness and evil descend upon him. The darkness is palpable. It’s thick. In those short pages we are driven to grief and sadness, but Aslan doesn’t stay dead. He rises again victoriously. Your heart may well leap for joy as Aslan lives again before your head realizes what your affections have been driven to.
It could be days, months, or years. You may minding your own business when a perfect stranger intersects with you and shares another story with you. “This Man died and rose again,” 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.
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 play their part by actually writing stories. Many 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 set 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 crippled old man. Stories brighten the sense of 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 author of A Household Gospel: Fulfilling the Great Commission in Our Homes and writes for CBMW Manual, Gospel-Centered Discipleship, Borrowed Light, and other publications. He also works as the managing editor at Gospel-Centered Discipleship and offers freelance editing and book formatting services. He blogs at Grace for Sinners and is a council member at The Bacon Coalition. His family is covenanted at Downtown Presbyterian Church.