We all live by stories. I don't mean that we use stories as illustrations for life principles or that we like to hear stories as entertainment. I mean that the only way to make meaning out of human experience is by believing you are part of a story. Stories are sense-making devices. We have some idea about a past and a future that help to make sense out of the things we are experiencing right now. This is simply inevitable, and part of what separates us from the animal world.
For the Incas and many other ancient cultures, it made "sense" to sacrifice virgins to the gods in exchange for good weather and plentiful crops. Why? Because of the story they were living in. The stories we live in have massive consequences for our lives.
It's really important, then, to make sure the story we are believing and basing our lives upon is the true one. Don Miller recently wrote about this (I think it's kind of a preview of his new book) in a great post titled "How the Stories you Believe are Screwing with Your Mind." In it, he outlines what he sees as a false gospel story that is told in way too many churches Sunday after Sunday:
It goes like this…
1. A Character: You.
2. That wants something: To be fulfilled.
3. And overcomes conflict: Jesus
came to fulfill you, either to make you happy, or to provide the things
that will make you happy on earth. But you have to be good, you can’t
sin. You have to get up and have your quiet time so you can be the
person God designed you to be.
4. To get it: You should be happy, and if you’re not happy, you aren’t doing religion right, or you aren’t a good enough person.
Yuck! Miller rightly calls this "heresy." In contrast, here's the true story of the world, from God's perspective and ours:
1. A Character: God
2. That wants something: To be reunited with the world, for their sake.
3. And overcomes Conflict: Sends his son to invite people (not force them) into a relationship through which mankind can be reunited with God.
4. To get it: And this will happen at a wedding in heaven.
And from our perspective:
1. A Character: You
2. That Wants something: Was
designed to be in relationship with God, who has agency. Was designed
to be affirmed and validated, less you feel like you are going to die.
3. And Overcomes Conflict: Trusts
Jesus, and walks in faith that someday he is going to reunite us with
God. And rests in patience that his promises are true, and someday the
validation and affirmation we are designed to receive will be received.
4. To get it: This hasn’t happened yet, but it will in heaven. And until then we are able to account for the hope that rests within us.
I definitely admire his harsh crackdown on the "false gospel" that gets preached in too many churches, but I have three beefs with Miller's explanation of the story:
- It's strictly individualistic. The individual is designed to be in relationship with God. The individual trusts Jesus and walks in faith. The individual will be validated and affirmed in in heaven. Where's the community of faith? The new humanity? This sounds like a loose collective of isolated individuals who could take or leave each other, because the important thing is that we all individually have a relationship with God.
- It's not "realized" enough. It would seem that all God does here and now for us when we trust Jesus is give us some kind of internal hope for a better future in heaven. While I don't doubt that hope is an extremely important part of what the Holy Spirit does in our lives when we are born from above, I think there's a lot more grace and power available to us here and now to see our lives transformed before heaven.
- Where's the resurrection from the dead? It's all about things being fulfilled "in heaven" as though that were the end goal: God affirming and validating us individually after we die. But I think N.T. Wright and others have been writing and speaking about this long enough that we can start to talk about what happens after life-after-death, i.e. the new heavens and the new earth, the resurrection from the dead, the renewal of all things, the New Jerusalem, etc.
I'm probably giving Miller a harder time that he deserves, though. It was just a blog post, and you can never say everything you believe in every blog post. Plus the point is that believing the right story is really really important. And Miller's version of the story is WAY more right than the "be good or you won't be happy" story.