We come now to the fourth spoke of our “worldview wheel.” We are not using this illustration for the sake of some sort of mandatory hokiness, but rather to fix the point in our minds, and, more importantly, in our lives. A worldview consists of far more than the thoughts a man thinks.
“And they sought to lay hold on him, but feared the people: for they knew that he had spoken the parable against them: and they left him, and went their way”
Jesus has just told the parable of the vineyard. In this story, a certain man planted a vineyard, leased it out, and then went into a far country. He sent various messengers to collect his rents, but they were all badly treated. Finally, he sent his son and he, being the heir, was killed. This is not a detached and timeless story about owners and renters, in the tradition of Aesop. Making that kind of application is legitimate, but one problem with this is that it can make us lose the primary point of the parable.
In His parables, Jesus is frequently retelling the story of the history of Israel. He does so in a way that challenges the current corruptions of that generation, but also does so in a way that reveals He is dealing with the history of Israel. And He does it in a way that subverts the common assumptions. We frequently miss this because we are not steeped in the imagery of the Old Testament. We don’t know what images, motifs, symbols, and so on, are being drawn on. Imagine someone today telling a story in which we were to find alabaster cities, fruited plains, and bald eagles. Those allusions would not be lost on us. The vineyard, according to the Jews understanding of themselves, was Israel (Is. 5:1; Ps. 80:15).
The Central Narrative:
The point in this is not that story-telling is a sign of mental health (although it is), or that well-adjusted people love stories (although they do). The point is that narrative is an inescapable element in all worldviews. It is not something you ought to have; it is something you will have, regardless. What you ought to have is the right story, not just a story. You can no more be without a narrative of “where you are” than you can be without a beating heart. So the issue is not storytelling or not, but rather faithful storytelling v. unfaithful storytelling.
At the macro level, there are two great errors with regard to this. The first is the error of modernity, which likes to pretend that Science is all we need, and that storytelling is for the simpler ones among us, who need to be periodically amused. But despite their pretensions, they still tell us the story of how science delivered us from medieval superstitions, they tell us how we evolved from the primordial goo, they tell us how the evolution of the secular state delivered us from religious fundamentalism and its twin, fanaticism.
The second great problem is the idea that storytelling is the individual’s prerogative, in order to express his inner, creative artesian well. But this radical privatizing of storytelling is a great tragedy. This really does reduce storytelling to the level of amusement. But great stories belong to a people, just as great creative geniuses do. Stories are corporate affairs, which does not destroy the great artist—it does, however, do some damage to some great egos.
God has given us a Book that reveals His mind to us. Most of this book consists of stories, not didactic outlines. A significant portion of the remainder is poetry. The same fundamental story is told over and over again, in astonishingly different ways, and yet in a way that leaves us with the unmistakable sense that we are being taught how we are to live.
We do this by hearing the story, internalizing it. We are to be Bible readers, Bible listeners, Bible tellers. When we walk along the road, when we rise up, when we lie down. We point to the moon and we tell our three-year-old the story of how it got there.
We do this, in the second place, by seeing ourselves in the story. We do this by seeing ourselves in the early chapters, those already written. We also do this by seeing Scripture as the first four chapters, and the history of the Church is the fifth chapter—still being written. We refuse to separate history from story, an evil suggestion from the dragon.
Third, we are then to tell our own stories, drawing on the stock of images, phrases, motifs, themes, and structures that we find in the Bible. The Christian imagination cannot be free until it is captured by the Scriptures and the Spirit of God. When it is, the world will stand back in amazement. This is because, at bottom, Christians are the only people with a genuine story. We must not just walk away from the pabulum that we tell and sell, but at a corporate level, we need to repent of it.
The Kind of Story That Never Grows Old:
The story line is this: grace, envy, sin, promise, sacrifice, resurrection, and fulfillment. We have Eden, the Fall, Cain, the coming Messiah, the Cross, the Resurrection, and Glory. We have Faithful dying in Vanity Fair. We have the Stone Table and the shorn mane. We have the battle of Helm’s Deep. We have Ransom calling down the powers of deep heaven. We have Roland and St. George, Beowulf and Dante. We have Br’er Rabbit, and we have the man who was Thursday. And beyond them all, we have the parables of Jesus, stories that would reward much more careful attention.