Making Disciples Through Media
LEM is committed to making disciples in the 21st century, and assisting churches to do so also. Today, we approach this task through four primary tools: Church planting, Preaching, Retreats and Creative Media. It is this last tool that I want to talk about this month.
In our Western culture we are very fond of what might be called “propositional truth.” We like facts and logic. The following statement is an example of it: “Jesus Christ came to earth to save us from our sins.” This is true. It is clear. But it is also a way of expressing truth that is relatively emotionless. It appeals primarily to the head, not the heart. By contrast, listen to how brilliant scholar and Christian apologist CS Lewis puts this same truth:
Enemy occupied territory – that’s what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful King has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.
When we read the propositional truth, we are inclined to analyze it, and then either agree or disagree. But when we read Lewis' paragraph, the response is more visceral. We are inclined rather to want to participate, to ask “What is my part in all that? Where do I fit in?” It evokes a response from the heart.
John Eldredge in his book Waking the Dead puts it like this:
Facts stay lodged in the mind for the most part. They don't speak at the level we need to hear. Proposition speaks to the mind, but when you tell a story, you speak to the heart. We've been telling each other stories since the beginning of time. It is our way of communicating timeless truths, passing them down.
And that's why when Jesus comes to town, he speaks in a way that will get past all our intellectual defenses and disarm our hearts. He tells a certain kind of story.
LEM has always been about the work of trying to communicate the gospel in effective, culturally relevant ways. We believe in the objective truth of the Bible. We strive to be relentlessly consistent in our Christian orthodoxy. But as we seek to reach new generations for Jesus, there is nothing as timelessly relevant as a story.
G.K. Chesterton, a brilliant Christian thinker who literally wrote the book on Orthodoxy (it is actually called Orthodoxy) describes his doctrine in this way:
I am concerned with a certain way of looking at life, which was created in me by the fairy tales, but has since been ratified by the mere facts.
He too understood the power of communicating the gospel creatively through stories, a power that was in fact greater for him than the mere repetition of propositional truth. Orthodoxy is a brilliant presentation of Christian doctrine in a non-propositional way.
We have no Chestertons or C.S. Lewis' on the board of LEM, but we do consciously value the use of creative means as we strive to make more people into disciples of Jesus Christ. In fact, we don't just value creative communication – we use it constantly. As I noted initially, the use of creative media to communicate the gospel is one of the core ways in which LEM seeks to minister.
LEM director Peter Churness and I have for several years been involved in creating a series of epic fictional stories which communicate the timeless truths of the gospel. In honor of C.S. Lewis' comments above, we call our mythical history “The Rebel Planet.” We are writing novels and developing a role-playing computer game which makes use of these stories.
Board members Kurt Linn and Bob Mabry have both been separately involved for many years in appealing creatively to the hearts of people through music in worship, concerts and albums. LEM ministry partner and author Sharon Knudson has used creative writing extensively in her ministry. Board member Jim Johnson has his own daily radio program.
In addition to the stories of the Rebel Planet, I write novels with the aim of encouraging people to draw close to Jesus. These novels do not preach – they tell stories. But the stories are supported by the timeless truths that we find in the Bible. Galedor is a fantasy novel with that aim. Superior Justice is a mystery novel set on modern-day lake Superior. The approach of that tale is more subtle, but the story and my writing are motivated by a desire to see more people get closer to Jesus.
LEM Director Peter Churness recently finished a very ambitious musical project, again with the aim of appealing to the heart with timeless truths of the gospel. A few years ago, he was the project director of another computer game called the Axys Adventures. This game was well received among teenagers, and provided them not only with positive entertainment, but with immersion into a story where the truth of scripture holds the key to success in the game.
These creative pursuits are not distractions from our mission. They are tools in our mission. In fact, they are an essential part of communicating the Good News. As Eldredge noted, Jesus himself used storytelling extensively. His stories were often not true in the sense of being factual. Have you ever stopped to realize that there was no actual Good Samaritan? The Good Samaritan is a fictional character, made up by Jesus. He never did save a Jew who had been brutalized by bandits, because the Jew, the bandits and the Samaritan are all fictional. Jesus himself never pretends they are real. Even so, we remember the Good Samaritan, and more importantly, we remember the truth that this make-believe story teaches us. The story of the Good Samaritan itself isn't true, and yet is a powerful tool to communicate eternal truth. And that is the key in creative media like stories, music, computer games, internet, TV and radio: whether or not they present propositional truth, they can be used by the Holy Spirit to convict sin, to lead in maturity and even to bring people to saving faith. We might compare creative media to the idea of “myth.” I don't mean “a false legend.” I mean, a way of communicating eternal truth.
Former Wheaton College professor of literature Clyde Kilby explains, “Myth is the name of a way of seeing, a way of knowing.” Not fantasy, not lies, but things coming to us from beyond the walls of this world. Rolland Hein observes, “They are a kind of story that wakes you up, and suddenly you say, “Yes, yes, this is what my life has really been about! Here is where my meaning and my destiny lie!” (John Eldredge, Waking the Dead)
If Jesus valued the use of this kind of communication, surely we ought to value it also. And at LEM, we do. It is central to fulfilling our mission.
Like all ministries, the ministry of creative expression is not limited to only pastors or ministry board-members. You may be called to express yourself creatively, and so allow the Holy Spirit to touch the hearts of others around you in a way that propositional truth would not. Maybe you are called to paint, or to write poetry, or to sing, or play the trumpet, or act in a play. Maybe you are called to blog, or to sponsor a radio show. Maybe you are called to help bring to fruition one of the Rebel Planet projects, or a new CD.
In addition, the resources I have mentioned here are available through LEM for you to pass on to your friends, family, neighbors and co-workers. We Christians have a rich history of Holy-Spirit inspired media. From great painters like Michelangelo and Raphael, to the plays and poems of T.S. Eliot and Dorothy Sayers; to the fantasy fiction of JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis, the Lord has always used creative media and myth to advance the truth of his Gospel. In our own ways, LEM is committed to continuing in that stream.
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