- (The following was originally posted on March 3, 2006. It reappears here in a slightly edited form.)
“You can’t help nobody if you can’t tell ‘em the right story.” Jack Cash, brother of Johnny Cash, as portrayed in the movie, Walk the Line.
Every story is about fall and redemption in one way or another. There would be no plot if there were no problem to solve or conflict to resolve. The story of the entire human race is that of its fall and redemption. Your story is about your fall and your redemption. The mission of the church is to tell this story; to introduce the characters to the plot: they’ve fallen and they can’t get themselves up on their own, their problem is so bad, they can’t solve it themselves, they need Another to solve it for them, the conflict that has entered their life has killed them, and they need Another to return them to life.
Stories are often considered mere entertainment. And to be sure, the church in this Laodicean (Revelation 3:14-22) generation has caught on to the idea that entertainment will help them tell the Story. Even if at times they’re telling the right story, that of the fall of man into sin and the sinless Christ who was crucified and raised for sinners, they’ve wrapped it up in so much entertainment that many are in danger of overlooking the Gift because they’re so fascinated by the wrapping paper. If sinners are distracted from the Story by trappings geared toward appealing to their interests, or meeting their felt needs, the church can’t help them. At other times, the church forgets to get around to the Story at all because they’re so aware of all the other stories in the Bible. “Christians don’t need to hear the Story this week, they’ve already heard and believed and received it, now they need to hear what they need to do,” and thus the Story is placed on the shelf in the interest of relevance or practicality. But no matter how much they mean to help, they “can’t help nobody if [they ain’t tellin’ ’em] the right story.”
The church seeks to tell a story, but all too often it’s not the Story they were commissioned to tell (Matthew 28:19-20). Many times they tell their own story. A story about how they’ve picked themselves up by their own bootstraps, a story about what a great example they are. When this is the story they tell, the Holy Spirit won’t bring sinners to life, nor will he empower believers to serve. All applications and all examples, and all pastoral autobiography are not to stand alone. They are to be built on the firm foundation of the Story, explicitly told each week.
We’ve fallen into sin so there’s nothing we can do to redeem ourselves:
the sinless Christ was crucified because we are sinners who deserve to die;
Christ rose from the dead on the third day because God has accepted Christ’s death in the place of sinners who come to believe and repent of their sins;
saved sinners are called to be holy and to serve others, which brings them into conflict with the sin that yet remains in their natures and they aren’t always able to be holy and serve others (Romans 7).
That’s why the Right Story must remain central: The Gospel is for Christians, too!
They must be reminded that even though they’ve been saved they still need to hear the Gospel addressed to them (1 John 1:9) to cleanse them so they can progress on the journey to glorification by way of sanctification (Proverbs 4:18).
When the preacher neglects to tell the church the Right Story, he can’t help the church grow in grace.
- (Dr. R. Scott Clark gives a fuller, more Christ-centered summary of the Right Story at Westminster Seminary California’s Valiant for Truth blog. Read his post, “The Christian Life.”)