I stumbled on this promo for a conference the other day.
Aside from the fact that I hope the conference is helpful, the video contains these three sentences that I think are very profound:
“The Christian Gospel speaks into this confusion with revolutionary clarity. God sovereignly assigns a gender to people created in his image. The powerful grace of Jesus Christ redeems and restores to sanity and our thinking which has been corrupted by sin.”
First, I love the idea of clarity being revolutionary. That’s just interesting. But more importantly, my first though when I heard this was to think of the average person’s reaction, which I would imagine could run something like this:
“Right, but of course, I totally don’t believe that ‘God sovereignly assigns gender’ at all. That’s the whole point. Your statements are meaningless because that’s exactly the issue–I believe no one has the right to ‘assign’ gender. It’s an individual choice. And to say that GOD is doing the assigning is even worse. Now you’re taking your opinions and saying people are disagreeing with God if they disagree with you. That’s just mean. It might be evil.”
I think I would agree with this imaginary commenter in one way–this is the point of the whole thing.
And yet, I don’t think the promoters of this conference did anything wrong by simply, flatly contradicting the culture and everyone who disagrees with them. In other words, this is the essence of Christian witness to the world we live in: we simply state the truth. We understand that the truths we are stating are precisely the things our culture disagrees with. We understand that the ideas which underlie these truths (these foundational truths) are denied just as vigorously. If someone doesn’t think God created humans in any meaningful way to begin with, they certainly won’t think God assigns gender.
And maybe, right here, we Christians can get some clarity as to why we’d continue to keep saying things people disagree with. Maybe we could see that one thing we’re doing for those around us is inviting them to choose–choose the story you want to live in. Choose the story you want to get inside of, define yourself by, interpret the world through, and live out from within.
The world is full of competing, mutually contradictory stories. Are you made by lonely, aloof Allah, from a clot of blood, waiting for the spirit to grab the prophet while commanding him to recite? Are you a chance collection of molecules, coughed up by accident from an impersonal, blind universe, headed toward oblivion while you experience the illusion of consciousness for a few years? Are you a drop from the ocean of the Oversoul, destined to be absorbed back into the Everything? Are you a bag of hormones here to propagate DNA? Are you a mystic being of light who strives to transcend all distinction and boundary on your way to divinity?
See, so many people write off the Christian explanation of the world as absurd (“Who could believe that?”)–but then, let everyone produce their stories. Let’s have them all spoken openly, written systematically, and then lived out consistently. If people have a story that actually describes the whole of our existence, matches our experience, and guides their lives, maybe we’ll listen. But no, what actually happens is that people reject the good news of Christ and then live lives which are inconsistent at best, or consistently wrong at worst.
Which gets us to the real point: we’re not simply preaching that people should pick a story, as if all stories are equal, and it doesn’t matter which one you pick. Only one of these stories can be true, and to truly reject the Christian story, you’ve got to personally appraise and personally reject the historical man Jesus, including his claims, his actions, and most of all his resurrection. So which story you pick is the most important decision a person will ever make.
The strength of speaking about things this way, in terms of “choosing a story” is that it describes what it actually feels like to accept the gospel. It is to hear another narrative which claims to include you, and then to step inside of it and let it become your story. This seems to be exactly what Jesus did with a lot of his parables. He would tell a little story and people would have the choice–does this story include them or not? Would they step inside the story and see things from within its confines? If not, they rejected Jesus as any kind of authority. But then, his life was telling the Big Story, and he was calling all people to acknowledge that it was their story too, and that they were in it, whether they liked it or not. Everything he did was to validate that his story was the story.
And so we continue his work. We know people are living out of other stories. We know their stories are often unexamined. But we preach the Gospel. We invite people to see the power and reality of the True Story. We invite them to finally find their place within what is.
We have found that what is real is better news than any other story that’s ever been told.