As hard as it may be to believe, your humble servant majored in writing (and radio) “back in the day.” I’ve taken numerous writing courses since. Perhaps one day their impact will magically appear in my prose – I wouldn’t hold my breath, however.
One of the key writing truths drummed into me, whether by Dr. Bob Gardner @ Ryerson, Roy Williams, Chris Maddock or Jeff Sexton @ Wizard Academy, or in books like Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird is “Show, don’t tell.”
I occasionally think of this as I read the Scriptures – there’s a lot more showing than telling (especially in the New Testament.) I think of how John’s Gospel ends, (in Peterson’s paraphrase),
There are so many other things Jesus did. If they were all written down, each of them, one by one, I can’t imagine a world big enough to hold such a library of books.
Why don’t we have more of what Jesus did written down? We would then be able to more easily practise an “if, then” Christianity; if X happens, then do Y. Systematic Theology would have been sooooo much easier.
Instead, the New Testament spends a lot of time showing us the Gospel in action – telling us stories of the Kingdom of God being at hand. Yes, we are “told” lots of thing – there is instruction – but not enough to answer all the questions Christians ask – which (I believe) is why Jesus said this,
“I still have many things to tell you, but you can’t handle them now. But when the Friend comes, the Spirit of the Truth, he will take you by the hand and guide you into all the truth there is. He won’t draw attention to himself, but will make sense out of what is about to happen and, indeed, out of all that I have done and said.”
What point am I attempting to make (feebly or otherwise)?
We spend far too much time promoting an IF/THEN version of Christianity. The latest gurus, whether mega, missional, missional-mega, mega-missional, young, old, restless or otherwise offer us keys to unlock the secrets of “growing the church/solving the world’s problems.”
“Listen to me. IF you’d just do this, THEN it would work out the way Jesus wants it to, eh!“
It’s all TELL with very little SHOW.
When my kids were little (rather than the adults they are today) they used to ask me to “tell them a story.” I didn’t begin with; “the protagonist in this story is the Little Lion. The antagonist is the Littler Lion. The Littlest Lion is the 3rd gravitating body – providing intrigue and delight. The purpose of this story is…”
I told them stories about the Little Lion, his brother, the Littler Lion and their sister, the Littlest Lion. (I was never going to be an award-winning children’s author.) These stories were more or less about them – about adventures they’d had – trying to make sense of their world for them – or adventures they might have – exciting them about what might be.
I’ve said it here too many times, but we are wired for stories. (I love this line from Jeff Jarvis: “Gore hits the same points with different words again and again, not knowing which will stick so he keeps throwing. Bono, instead, tells a story.”)
Please. Tell me a story about how God is moving in your midst. Allow the Holy Spirit to show me His Truth and what He wants me to see in the midst of your story.
If you don’t have a real story to tell – simply prognostications based on your theories – please sit down and make room for the story tellers. We all might learn something.
Aside: Some of this is a result of the struggles I’m having in the editing of Imbi’s Documentary on Church Leadership for the 21st Century – the need to balance theory and practice. (Imbi conducted and I shot over 40 hours of interviews – while shooting many more hours of B-roll.) I need to be careful not to reject the prophetic because it sounds like theory – but also, not to accept that which claims to be prophetic when the “prophet” stands above and apart.