Monday, November 24, 2014

The Story that Transforms Us

This weekend I was listening to an interview with Karen Armstrong and was struck by her description of contemporary religion - as a focus on believing. Meaning that religion devolves into simple beliefs rather than profound stories that transform us deeply. I see this in how we evangelicals tend to package up our gospel message as simply getting people to assent to a set of propositional beliefs instead of calling people to the difficult task of being Jesus' disciples. Armstrong really gets at this when she says that "people prefer to be right than to be compassionate." I can't help thinking of how Jesus himself preached the gospel to the rich young ruler: "Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." (Luke 18:22b)

Armstrong's argument then leaps into the thrust of those stories that religion tells. Stories orient us, often in stark contrast to our socio-political context, to being those who live a deep and profound faith. While she anchors this argument in the common religious teachings about compassion, I see Christian discipleship as more than just finding a common core to religion. It is about living in and through the whole story of our religion. As Christians that means living primarily in and through the gospels and secondly living in and through the whole of the Bible through the lens of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. This entails much more than simply assenting to some faith declaration - such as declaring Jesus as Lord. Central as that may be to Christian faith - the declaration isn't just something we say we believe, it is something we show we believe through accepting Jesus' lordship over every area of our lives. Discipleship is a lived out paradigm.

Stories are what bring us to discipleship. In our desire to distill faith to a set of propositions we've missed the power and beauty of story. When we read the story of the gospels, we don't see just the propositions - but we see the living out of such beliefs in ways that transform the world. This is the incredible power of religion. We can tell a story that changes the world.

So how has God's story impacted your life? How do you live in and through that story?

Frank Emanuel

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