GenRev – the conceptual question
This is a beginning of a description of why a GenRev approach just might be the thing for our culture today. It is in no means complete, but will give you a sense of my thinking.
There exists in our society a widening gap between people and Bible stories.
I first became experientially aware of this gap in the late 90’s when I was sitting in the crowd at a amateur outdoor amphitheatre presentation of the story of Jesus called “The Promise.” I was there to view the production, but also to overhear the comments folks made as the crowd was packing up lawnchairs and blankets to head home afterward. Their words reflected how the story had affected them.
Once, I overheard a pair of women — having just seen the story of Jesus played out in front of them, from his lowly yet miraculous birth, to his calling disciples, to his teaching and healing, through the torture and trial ending in crucifixion, and ending with his resurrection — say “that was powerful and interesting, I wonder if this author wrote anything else?”
Their comments, and others like them, illustrate the gap in knowledge about the second book by which God reveals himself, namely the Christian Scriptures. That gap is growing in Western culture and even is evident in church members. What to do? Do we moan and lament a bygone day? No! We attempt to take action to help bridge that gap and bring the stories back into people’s awareness! But how?
Our culture has not lost it’s love of story. Movies, television shows and books that tell stories are as popular as ever. With the popularity of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Star Wars we see that good stories have great drawing power. Where the first gap is leaving space in people’s knowledge about scriptural stories, modern story tellers-writers-and-showers are busy, projecting their interpretations of the world we live in.
In our own home, around the supper table, our kid’s playfully once had an entire several minutes long conversation that consisted of only lines from movies and popular songs! It was a neat spontaneous game. Yet, after proudly appreciating their knowledge and linguistic agility and ability, I wondered if they could do the same with Biblical songs and narratives. I knew it would not come to them as readily as this did.
Events like that have me wondering: how can the Christian church get God’s stories, which in their telling proclaim the Good News, out into the public eye and ear?
We can certainly keep telling and teaching them in our churches. But that won’t help the world around our churches, and more and more the culture (language, symbols, customs) of the church are completely foreign to those who have no experience with it’s processes and narrative. Is there another way? I think there is.
We know of another book besides the Christian scriptures by which God reveals something of himself. It is the “book” of nature, or creation itself. The Belgic Confession makes clear that this book is one of the means by which people come to awareness of God. It states that we know God:
“by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God: his eternal power and his divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20. All these things are enough to convict men and to leave them without excuse.”
That ‘first’ or ‘prior’ book includes lived experience and culture. So cultural expressions, though definitely tainted by mankind’s limits and sin, also reflect God’s order and grace. We Christians of the “Always Reforming” (Semper Reformada) branch of the vine say that nothing in this world is totally and completely evil.
That being a given, we can say with confidence that all the stories our culture tells and appreciates contain some truth, and even some (or much) of what we would consider God’s capital “T” Truth. God’s order and image are stamped into the ones ordering experience into word and sight images, so that is inescapable.
Many of the stories mankind crafts are in themselves searches for order, searching for sense, for meaning. They reflect what people are longing for in their lives, and people respond well to stories that touch on that longing. When the wizard of Oz is found behind the curtain there is a recognition that some higher power is ordering things…. When E.T. the extraterrestrial is to call home, mankind’s yearning for a heavenly home is possibly reflected.
These stories are well known and well rehearsed in our society. They are part of common, shared cultural language.
So, I began to ask myself, why does the church not meet people at the level of common experience – the media stories of our day – and point out to them gently how God’s Truths are residing in these stories. Why not bridge the gap in scriptural story knowledge by meeting around the popular cultural stories and pointing out how they point to the scriptural story?
Out of that questioning the idea of GenRev was born.