In the circles of Christian art (books, film, music, even visual arts), we often hear talk about the purpose of our work. Of how to make the end result positive. But what, exactly, does that mean? We tend to answer with things like “to make sure God/Christ is glorified” through our art. That’s a bit of a difficult standard, really, when you think about it. If the things of God are foolishness to those outside the church, then glorifying God in a godly way isn’t going to connect with the outside audience in a traditional way. Meaning that logical arguments for the Gospel message don’t make sense (all the time—there are of course, exceptions), and worldly appeals to the gospel risk damaging the message itself. You also can’t connect with the outside audience in the same way that you would with the church/Christian audience. We understand things completely differently.
What that means, to me at least, is that we have to be aware that we’re speaking foolishness to the outside world. I know that scares some people. They want a “clear presentation of the Gospel message.” But as storytellers it ought to thrill us. Confusion and wonder are awesome tools in our tool bag (as long as you’re being clear in the confusion you’re using – confused yet?) There are cases of truly bad storytelling where confusion brings the audience out of the story, but when done well it makes the audience wonder why a character did/said a thing.
So, confusion of the outside audience is a powerful tool. A great example of this doesn’t come from storytelling, but it is a great story. In the Roman era unwanted children were left exposed outside the city gates. When Christians came along and collected up these children and raised them at great expense to themselves, it made all of Roman society stand up and ask, “Why would they do this?” They’re confused – what the church did looked like foolishness to them. And then they were given an answer – because all life is sacred. Again, the answer to them was foolishness. Obviously, all life isn’t sacred. So the church had to keep playing the fool while showing the heart of the church and the Gospel message. And, so, while the ideas like Grace and Sacrifice (particularly for things lacking perceived nobility) looked to the Romans like foolishness it was the Christian’s passion that intrigued them. That passionate foolishness made the Romans wonder and that wonder brought many to Christ. That Church embraced the position of fool for Christ.
That’s one part of telling stories, from the Christian prospective, that changes the world. But playing the fool is just the catalyst in telling a good story. So what’s next?
We’ve now built up the Christian, from the POV of the world, as the fool. Now we need to show the world, not that they aren’t foolish (that’s just foolishness), but that, in many if not most ways, Christians aren’t that different from everyone else. We need to eat. We struggle. We love. The human condition is universal. Now you’ve established trust. And created more wonder—this time in other characters. They ask, “Why would this person who’s like me behave in this strange way?” Then they also start to wonder, Why do I behave in the way I do?
As a storyteller if you can get your characters to ask this question believably, you’re well on your way to changing your audience. If you’ve gotten them to connect with your characters, they’ll also start wondering along with them. Now here’s the hard part—don’t give them easy answers. Ever. Because there aren’t any. I know I hear you saying things like “Christ’s gift is free” and “His burden is light,” but remember while its certainly true it’s also foolishness. Remember we’re also to be slaves to Christ. When you tell me how being a slave is easy, then I (and the world) will agree with you. Until then remember that there are lots of reasons not to be a Christian and, frankly, not many good ones by earthly logic. It’s much easier to drive down a wide road than a narrow one (if you’ve ever driven in parts of England or Ireland, you know what I’m talking about).
So you can’t give them easy answers. That’s great, because your audience doesn’t want them! You’ve brought the audience on quite a journey so far—from being confused about why your characters are foolish, to realizing that your characters are like them, to wondering why they are the way they are. Now you need to provide them with real substantial motivation for why they should change.
And at that point, you’re kind of on your own. I’m not trying to give you a formula for writing a Christian Story (I really hope there isn’t one). This is where you decide how your story can be the vehicle for delivering that essential truth: that the things of God are foolishness to us…but that His foolishness is wiser than our own wisdom.
(This is the opinion of the author – it doesn’t necessarily reflect the opinion of WhiteFire Publishing or any of its authors)