I live in a city that largely rejects evangelical Christianity. While I understand reactions of alarm, sadness, and frustration among people of faith – my reactions are different. First, I find their reaction understandable. People in my city care deeply about systemic issues of race, the growing divide between the rich and the poor, addictions that are tearing families apart, and the degradation of the environment. They find the image of Christianity portrayed in American culture as being, at best, silent on race, dismissive of environmental degradation and the importance of caring for the earth, and increasingly passive regarding the gap between wealth and poverty. Viewing Christianity as either irrelevant or antagonistic to real issues, many have turned turned away.
I don’t blame them, but I’m angry – because people who are rejecting the faith aren’t rejecting the real Jesus. They’re rejecting an Americanized, Capitalistic, Upwardly Mobile, Anti-Science, Anti-Environmental stewardship Jesus. What angers me is that so many, having rejected this fabricated caricature of Christianity, will never encounter the real Jesus, the one who loves all humanity, blesses enemies, disarms violence by absorbing it, cares for people on the margins, and points to Himself as the headwaters of a universal healing and restoration that humanity and our planet desperately need.
What’s needed in such a time as this is a reframing of faith – so that people come to understand that the good news of Christ is that in a world of broken stories, Christ has come to herald the beginning of a better story, one that will saturate and transform every atom in the universe by the final chapter. It’s a story of weapons being melted into tools of agriculture. A story of every dispute and broken relationship being settled. A story of creation, deeply scarred by grandiose human aspirations, finding healing, and more.
Wouldn’t it be nice if children could learn this better story early in their lives, and see it lived out in a faith community? Living it out is something churches are called to do. Telling the story is something parents and teachers are called to do and I’m happy to report there’s now a book written for children about “God’s Better Story.”
Cory and the Seventh Story, written by Brian McLaren and Gareth Higgins, offers a concise, accessible recounting of six failed narratives in human history:
Domination: Us ruling over them
Revolution: Us overthrowing them
Isolation: Us getting away from them
Purification: Us marginalizing and rejecting them
Victimization: Us feeling sorry for ourselves because of them
Accumulation: Us having more shiny objects than them
They’re offered in parable form as various forest animals live out from these narratives and experience ensuing disasters, both individually and collectively. Then a horse shows up in the forest and speaks of a better story, a seventh story, a story of reconciliation, generosity, unity, and contentment.
Like the gospel, the story is received by some, rejected by others, especially those who’ve made “gains” in the lesser stories. The whole thing harkens back to how Pilate and Herod and the Jews were all, for different reasons, threatened by Jesus – His invitation to live into the better story of God’s kingdom would have cost them; positions, reputations, comforts, wealth. And there’s the crux of it. The “good news of great joy, which shall be for all people” as the angels said on Christmas night, requires that I move into that story’s values – values of inclusion, love, peace, generosity, forgiveness, hospitality. And moving into that requires, for each of us, letting go of something – pride, hate, prejudice, victim mentality, rush to violence, individualism, materialism.
“I can’t live in two stories at the same time” seems to be a message of this book, and that’s appropriate since it was also a message of Jesus.
We’ve managed, though, with a little theological sleight of hand, to do just that. We’ve done that by saying that what’s most central to the gospel is believing the right things about Jesus. You know: His deity, humanity, virgin birth, death on the cross to absorb God’s wrath, resurrection to live and intercede for us…all that stuff. The trouble is that we’ve tacitly implied that if you believe this stuff and stay away from certain big sexual sins, you can have confidence that you’re “saved”, even though you’re still stuck in one of those six unsatisfying stories.
Um…. no. Jesus said that when the day is done, we’ll be known by our fruits. Are we hospitable? Generous with our time? Do we love our enemies or call them silly names? Do we care for the least among us, as Jesus did? Cross social divides, as Jesus did? Jesus made it abundantly clear that if our religious activities don’t lead to living out these values, something’s wrong.
These practices of Jesus’ don’t happen accidentally. They happen by waking up to the reality that Christ, living in us, desires to write Christ’s story of hope through us! Knowing God’s story, and drawing on the resources of the author to discover our part in it IS the Christian life, and the sooner we reframe our declaration of the gospel to include these truths, the better off we’ll all be.
I, for one, will make sure that this book, and the “Jesus Storybook Bible” are a regular part of my grandchildren’s reading curriculum.
NOTE: I was given a copy of this book for free in exchange for offering this honest review.