My work puts me in contact with young people on a weekly basis. In the last two days, I’ve spent hours with a variety of boys from 6-14 years of age.
One exchange really throws light on the problem Christians have in reaching people today. A bright–too bright for the teachers to handle–young fellow, about 12, is really into Percy Jackson and the Immortals. This series of books retells the ancient Greco-Roman myths. This fellow, I’ll call him Wyatt (not his name) literally inhales these books. He gave me a machine-gun delivery of story details, caught his breath, and peppered me with questions about Zeus, Hermes –“I don’t get who he is,” “Mercury.” “Oh, yeah”– Olympus, you name it.
When he found out I have published books, he asked what about. “My last book was about Jacob.” Blank look. “Jacob and Esau?” Shake of the head. “Jacob, in the Bible”
This was met with an open mouth and raised brows of recognition. “I don’t do the Bible, much.”
I let it pass, and we went on to other things. But the more I’ve thought of it, the more it troubles me. More of the Bible is narrative than anything else. Narrative. Stories. Our theology is largely formed based on those stories. Prophecy, especially Revelation, relies on a knowledge of those stories.
And we are losing the battle of narratives. Not because the biblical narratives are poor stories. Are you kidding? Hope, sacrifice, betrayal, murder, adultery, palace plots, heroic battles– some of the most compelling stories of all time are in the Bible. Cain and Able, Samson and Delilah, Jacob and Esau, David and Jonathan– as the author of Hebrews says, “the time would fail” to tell all of the great stories.
But we are not telling them. Not telling them in compelling ways. Reducing them to moral examples ends up as lecturing. No one really wants to be lectured.
Yes, these tales have moral and theological implications. But if we want to move people with the stories, we cannot drain all the blood and sweat out of the tales, and present them with the remains.
I believe if we hope to connect with anyone under 40, we’d better learn to tell compelling stories. Yes, the Bible stories. Yes, true to the original. But retold in today’s language, addressing today’s questions.
That’s what I hope to have done with Torn, Jacob’s Story, and hope to do with more Bible stories in the future. Right now, we’re losing the battle of stories. With some of the archetypal and most compelling stories at our disposal, and we’re simply not using them.
Wyatt knows all about Zeus. Who will write the story of Jesus that he wants to read?