Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Pious Fictions
I am looking forward to following this blog. I always think that it is a good thing when Christians engage in meaningful conversation with people in the world on such issues as science fiction. Many of the vexed moral questions of our era are dealt with by science fiction books and television programs. In science fiction many of the eschatologies of our age come to their fullest expression. The hopes, the dreams, the aspirations, the fears, the doubts and the nightmares of millions are revealed by science fiction films, novels and television shows. Many Christians are uninterested in talking these things over with the world. Some argue that fiction — particularly science fiction — is unimportant as the Christian faith is about reality. I would dispute this claim; it is because the Christian faith is about reality that we should have the greatest interest in the stories that people tell. Indeed, Christians should be the best equipped to tell stories because we are the most fully in touch with reality. I fear that too few Christians take the time to explore the resonance of many of the stories told by our culture. Society can often end up with the impression that Christians are arrogant and ignorant as we are unwilling to listen to their stories. We are too concerned with speaking at people to have time for such things as conversation. We try to bypass the world’s stories and shove the gospel down people’s throats. I consider this to be a terrible failure in our evangelism; the gospel can never bypass stories — the gospel is a story. Christians should listen to the stories of the world and engage them with Christian stories. We should also be ready to appreciate the power of some of the world’s narratives to convey biblical truth. Christian stories (and this is, of course, far broader than stories that fall into the category of nonfiction) can serve to subtly unravel unbelieving worldviews and plant the cross firmly at centre of the imagination. They represent an important part of evangelism. I would hold out more hope of our being able to write new Christian stories were we able to tell our own story well. The fact that many evangelicals go to great effort to extract the ‘gold’ of timeless truth from the ‘dross’ of the biblical narrative is concerning. As Robert Jenson points out—
…Protestantism, has regularly substituted slogans for narrative, both in teaching and in liturgy. It has supposed that hearers already knew they had a story and even already knew its basic plot, so that all that needed to be done was to point up certain features of the story — that it is "justifying," or "liberating," or whatever.
The fact that most evangelicals are unable to properly tell the biblical story is a sign of a tragic failure in liturgy and the impoverished imagination of evangelicalism is the daughter of its impoverished liturgy. The stunted nature of the evangelical imagination is a sign of our inability to speak truthfully about the world we live in and the gospel. A vapid gospel can never be the true gospel. Part of growing to maturity in the Christian faith must surely be the development of an ability to tell stories in a Christian manner. If we are to be faithful followers of Christ we must learn to be storytellers. When our Saviour challenged the society of His day He did not post up a list of theses on some door, nor did He write a systematic theology, pen some political pamphlet or invent some catchy slogans. One of the most powerful tools that Jesus had to confront the society of His day was that of story-telling. The parables that Jesus told were not the innocuous moral fables that all too many presume them to be — they were deeply subversive stories that gnawed at the fabric of the Jews’ understanding of the larger story that they inhabited. I am convinced of the pressing need for Christian storytellers in our day. We need Christians who will write Christian science fiction. We need subversive storytellers to challenge many of the popular conceptions of the future. We need subversive storytellers to confront the world’s attempt to escape God’s story, whatever form this may take, wherever it may occur — in science, in medicine, in family life, in city-planning, etc — and bring people back to the world as God would narrate it, in the Church. We need to learn to live lives choreographed by liturgy and renarrated by redemption.

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