Apologetics Tip #16a Say it with Stories


“All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables;
indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable.”
Matthew 13:34 (ESV)

Communication experts have been touting the importance of stories for many years now. Preachers and teachers are constantly taught, in school, to incorporate stories into their message. Apologists would do well to utilize the power of story.

Apologists often come off as socially awkard. That makes for uncomfortable conversations where we short-cut  into theological judgments and philosophical critique then launch into lengthy diatribes against some casual comment. Meanwhile we’ve lost our audience twenty minutes ago at the exact moment when we said “hermeneutics.” Brothers this should not be! Let’s retain the rightful artistry of Christian truth. And storytelling is one great way to do that.

People love stories. We live in stories, not in syllogisms, creeds, or propositions. We live in a linear world, moving forward in time, from scene to scene, along our own respective story-line of conflict, ever hoping for future resolution. It just makes sense to utilize stories. Stories, including everything down to metaphors and illustrations, are sort of like built-in wheels to aid transportation for ideas. Instead of extracting teaching points from stories and discarding the story. Why not keep our lessons, our points, and our logic in rich images, word pictures, thought experiments, and narratives.

I preached a sermon about 15 years ago on the problem of evil, with a little children’s story in it about a clay pot. I don’t remember anything else about that sermon. but I had the privilege of returning to that same church no less than 5 years later. And sure enough, a church member came to me and said he remembered that story. He remembered the little lesson it had. That apologetics lesson was the opposite of a formulaic 12 point series on resolving the problem of evil. But what it lacked in exhaustive scope it compensated with long lasting impact.

If I had to make a propositiona case for stories it would go something like this. Stories are easy to remember. Stories are naturally suited for us since that’s what our lives look like. Stories are concrete-tangible, so that abstract concepts becoming accessible realities. Stories engage the right brain and left brain by inviting people to imagine a life-lessen event along with you. Stories create an inviting world of discovery and curiosity, instead of a classroom commanding you to sit-down and shut-up. Stories communicate ideas dynamically instead of as static abstractions. Stories help honor the personal framework of Christian truth, after all, Jesus did not come to the world in the form of a really good syllogism, or a numbered list, but as a flesh and blood person. Sometimes this form is termed “Parabolic Apologetics,” in deference to the parables of Jesus. Ravi Zacharias is a master of this. He can tell stories that do all the heavy work in his sermons, leaving only a poetic application at the end–like a dinner mint after a rousing meal with friends.

[Continued on Apologetics Tip #16b Say It With Stories]

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