Telling a Better Story
Chatraw, Joshua D. Telling a Better Story: How to Talk About God in a Skeptical Age. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2020.
Chatraw is not the first to wrestle with an important issue facing the present church, but he does it in a well-organized and helpful manner. In decades and centuries past, the culture in North America was intellectually amiable to Christianity. It shared common beliefs about life, purpose, and logic. Today the stage is radically different. As Chatraw notes, "Now the cultural narratives that seep into our psyches have changed, and with this shift, what people view as 'common sense' has changed as well. The primary categories assumed in the Christian story are no longer taken for granted. And in many cases, this gospel story is presumed to not only be false but an oppressive leftover from the past" (p. 1). The solution is not brute force or armed revolution. We need to "no longer act like we're living in Christendom" and point the hopeless to a better story filled with hope (p. 13).
In recent history, apologetics was conducted through rationalistic arguments to win a case. However, while such methods have a place in certain circles, there are at least two significant problems. First, most people don't want to or can't engage in an intellectual debate without anger, frustration, or distraction. This leads to the second problem, Christians need to be reminded that no one gets shouted into the kingdom. As Chatraw argues, "we must habituate ourselves to understand foundational questions and assumptions of life and the human experience not before but instead of jumping into 'winner take all' arguments" (p. 41). Most people are also not walking around contemplating the origins of the universe, Hawking radiation, or the Hadron collider.
Most are trying to remember their grocery list, what to post on social media, and why no one really cares about them.
We are still humans, and humans create (spin?) stories to teach and entertain. The popularity of Netflix only highlights this fact. But the stories being peddled today are leaving people empty and aimless. There is a correlation between entertaining ourselves only with cotton candy for the brain and increasing depression and suicide rates. What is a way forward?
The goal of loving our neighbors is to glorify God by providing hope beyond consumerism and moralism's empty payoffs. The goal is to point them to Christ. Chatraw offers the simple steps (p. 70)
Inside their story:
- what can I affirm?
- what must I challenge?
- Where does their story lead, and is it consistent?
Outside themselves to Jesus:
- How are they borrowing capital from the Christian hope?
- How is the Christian story better news for them?
I like Chatraw's book and recommend it to all who are wondering how to love their neighbors. His approach and thinking align with two of my current go-to phrases. First, we need to remember empathy and sympathy before advocacy. We need to hear and hurt with the broken before we really appreciate how to point to Christ rightly. Second, we need to pray that Christ performs soul-therapy to those led astray by harmful passions and false pictures of happiness.
Rev. Dr. Chris S. Stevens
John Knox in Ruston