Compelling Stories & the True Myth

opened bible on wooden surfaca

Have you ever noticed that many of the stories that you love, all have the same core elements?

This is a reality which played a major role in CS Lewis’ conversion from atheism to Christianity, as he discussed it with his friend JRR Tolkien. I told that story in this post, called Addison’s Walk.

Lewis later articulated this concept in Mere Christianity, in which he described how the gospel story of Jesus Christ is the “true myth,” and the fundamental myth, which is written on the human heart, and to which all other myths point.

Joseph Campbell and the Monomyth

It isn’t only Christians who have observed this phenomenon. Joseph Campbell, an American professor of literature who researched comparative mythology, wrote a book titled, The Hero with a Thousand Facesin which he showed how there is a common structure in the mythological stories told in all human cultures of an archetypal hero. This structure has come to be known as the “monomyth.”

This podcast episode gives a very engaging description of the monomyth theory and how  Hollywood has now begun to use it as a formula for writing stories that people want to watch: Imaginary Worlds, The Hero’s Journey: Endgame

I first heard about The Hero with a Thousand Faces while recording a podcast episode for the Expositors Collective Podcast at a training weekend in Bradenton, Florida last December. That episode was released this past week, and you can listen to it here: Expositors Collective, Episode 45: Telling a Compelling Story.

The discussion in that episode is based on a talk I gave at that event on the topic of homiletics (the art of preaching), about how to use narrative format in order to craft compelling expository sermons.

Why Do People Like to Read These Kinds of Stories?

Interestingly, when Joseph Campbell was asked why he thought it was stories contain these common elements, which are all present in the biblical narrative, his response was that the reason people write in this way, is because it is what other people like to read. However, in that response he fails to answer the question and get to the root of the issue, which is: Why do people like to read these kinds of stories?

As Christians, we would agree with Tolkien and Lewis, that the reason for this is because we are created by God, and this story is the true story of the world, which we intuitively know because God has placed it in our minds and put it in our hearts.

This same theme was identified by Don Richardson, a missionary to Papua New Guinea who discovered that there are common virtues and mythologies held in all cultures in the world, and that these shared stories create a basis by which the gospel can be shared cross-culturally, even to people who have never been exposed to the gospel before. He documents and explains this in his books Peace Child and Eternity in Their Hearts.

Popular Examples

In our interview, Mike mentions a clip from the Simpsons in which Homer says something profound about the Bible: “Everybody in this book is a sinner… except for THIS GUY!” Here’s the clip:

I recently found out that at the end of the series, J K Rowling revealed that Christianity inspired Harry Potter. In an interview, she stated how she always thought that the influence of the biblical narrative was so obvious that every reader should have noticed it, and that the Bible verses on Harry’s parents’ gravestones “sum up and epitomize the entire story.”

What does all this mean for us?

It means that when you read a story that compels you, when you watch a movie that makes you cry, when you read a news story about heroism that touches your heart, there is a very profound reason for that: that story resonates with and reflects the true story of the world, the gospel story of Jesus Christ – the true story of the ultimate problem, the ultimate peril, the ultimate act of sacrificial love, the ultimate story of good overcoming evil, and the ultimate hero.

If you follow the ladder all the way to the top, it will lead you to Jesus. As you enjoy these stories, don’t fail to recognize that what you truly long for in your heart of hearts is nothing less than Jesus himself and the redemption that is found in him!

Advertisements

Something Worth Fighting For

A few days ago I was talking with a friend, who is also a pastor, and we got on the topic of marijuana legalization here in Colorado, and the issue of Christians and recreational weed.

This pastor friend of mine said something to the effect of: our twenty-somethings are already so apathetic, the last thing they need is to get stoned all the time.

While I agree that getting stoned and checking out on life is dissipation, I told this friend of mine that I strongly disagree with his generalization about young people being apathetic.

The words I would use to describe those coming out of high school and college would be much different. I would say rather than “apathetic”, they are heroic. They are idealistic. They are people of action.

It is a highly discussed phenomenon, that young people, especially in the age range of 18-30 tend to disappear from church, only to reappear in their 30’s. A plethora of conferences, books and blog articles try to solve the problem of how to get these people to stay in church. Many theories as the to reason for this have been postulated, such as that young people need to come to faith on their own, or that they go off to “enjoy their twenties” by sinning a bunch, and then return to the church once they are married and have kids and realize how much they need the Lord!

Here’s what I think: one of the reasons why the church has trouble retaining twenty-somethings, is not because they are apathetic, it’s because we struggle to give them sufficient outlets for their heroic aspirations to change the world and make a difference.

I believe that young people are chomping at the bit to do something significant and change the world. I was that way when I was fresh out of high school – I didn’t want to spend 4 years at college; I felt that time was of the essence, and I wanted to get out there and change the world NOW. I realize now that in order to make significant change and contribution, some investment is necessary, e.g. doctors go to school for a long time, and as a result they are able to save lives. But as a young man, I wasn’t apathetic at all, and I don’t believe young people today are apathetic in the least. I believe they are heroic.

But if young people are as heroic as I claim they are, why do so many of them waste their 20’s smoking weed and going nowhere?

I believe it’s because they don’t have sufficient vision and they don’t have sufficient outlets for their heroic longings. They haven’t been given something worth living for, something worth dying for – something worth fighting for. And so, as a result, they direct their enthusiasm towards useless things.

For many young people, the only vision the church gives them is to go to groups and sit around talking. That is less than compelling for many of them. They desire community, but they want dynamic community – and they want an outlet through which they can be used by God to change the world. I don’t think that’s wrong – in fact, I think it is very much in line with the Gospel.

Another thing about young people today, is that they don’t just want to be given a task, they want to understand the vision for WHY that task is important, necessary, crucial to a greater mission – and what the end goal of that greater mission is.

I believe the challenge for the Church today is to give direction and vision to these heroic young people for how they can be used by God to bring His love to others and instigate redemption and transformation in the world, so that their heroism doesn’t get crushed by the weight of life and turn into apathy.

I have heard it said by leaders before: “I would rather have to reign in a racehorse, than kick a mule to get it moving.”
I think that’s where we need to be with young people: giving them outlets for their heroic longings, while yet being present to teach, guide and direct, so that their enthusiasm isn’t wasted by being spread out in so many different directions.