Guest post by A.K. Preston. Hollywood screenwriter John Truby, writing in his bestseller The Anatomy of Story, refers to every story as a “moral argument” expressing “the author’s view of how to act in the world.” This is not just (or even primarily) expressed in dialogue, but in the very structure and sequence of the narrative itself. To frame it in other terms, story embodies worldview. To read or hear a story is to enter into the mind of the author, perceiving things, if only for a time, as they perceive them.
This is a singularly powerful insight to me both as a Christian and as a writer. For Scripture itself presents the truth in exactly this form. Even when Moses is handing down the Law, he precedes the code with a narrative. The stories of the Old Testament pave the way for the precepts of the New, and even here Christ speaks in parables. Stories “incarnate” ideas and beliefs, giving a concrete form that can be readily understood and recalled to both memory and imagination. All of human history, both sacred and profane, can be seen as part of the same grand Moral Argument by a Creator who is Himself a Master Storyteller.
In a fundamental sense, every culture is built upon the stories it tells itself, for they embody its deepest hopes, dreams and aspirations. Without them, those things quickly become abstract and ultimately meaningless. From a Christian standpoint, this why any strictly academic approach to apologetics can have only limited influence. When you come down to it, what are people more likely to remember: a complex, peer-reviewed article with all the right citations or a powerfully moving narrative with vivid characters? We remember John Milton today not for the countless political tracts he wrote at the height of the English Civil War but for the enduring masterpiece that is Paradise Lost.
The reason the wrong side has the upper hand on so many moral issues today is precisely because they understand the power of story. Theologian Carl R Trueman, writing for the Catholic journal First Things, recalls an experience that illustrates this firsthand:
I became acutely aware of the latter fact some years ago, when I was challenged by a student while delivering a guest lecture on gay marriage at a very conservative Christian college. My arguments did not work, because . . . well, they were arguments, and did not take into account how the mind of my young critic had been formed. She had not been convinced by any argument. Her imagination had been seized by an aesthetically driven culture, in which taste was truth and Will and Grace carried more weight than any church catechism or tome of moral philosophy. [“Our Cultural Waterloo”]
You will find a similar phenomenon on issues as diverse as abortion, environmentalism, immigration, criminal justice, etc. For better or worse, we live in an increasingly emotion-driven culture. Trueman’s insight carries much truth, but is still incomplete – the student he debated had, indeed, been convinced by an argument and an explicitly moral one at that. Unlike Trueman’s, however, this argument was a story that resonated with her feelings at the time. Convincing her of an opposite view meant trying to dispel a monumental edifice of mental imagery. Without a countering set of imagery just as vivid, this was an ultimately futile effort.
Don’t miss A.K. Preston’s heart thumping first novel “The Gevaudan Project“. You can find him on his blog at Empyrean Voyager as well as his website at AKPreston.com. Sign up for his mailing list at either site to download The Gevaudan Chronicles, a free anthology of prequel stories for the novel.
The fact is, we often fail to recognize the very nature of the playing field when it comes to these sorts of debates. Even then, we seem reluctant to equip ourselves for it. The overwhelmingly “practical” mindset of many believers causes only a small minority to go into the creative arts. Those with creative inclinations usually have their talents encouraged by sources outside the Church. Within it, many feel outright rejection from fellow brethren who cannot comprehend their mindset and view it only as strange, bizarre or in some cases Scripturally dubious. The experience is not unlike walking through a minefield, and it can look like a stark choice between stifling one’s talents or abandoning the faith. Neither outcome is desirable – the latter puts salvation in jeopardy while the former robs both the Church and the world of an enormous contribution.
Many Christians are in the habit of defining themselves exclusively by what they oppose. There are reasons behind that approach, many of them very good ones, but it’s ultimately an impoverished approach to faith. Humans were made to be creators. God Himself is the most creative being that has ever existed. In some ways, you can even call imagination itself an aspect of faith – it requires a great leap of imagination just to conceive of the New Heaven and the New Earth. How can this be done if the imaginative faculty is never exercised?
The Christian worldview is, in fact, the most creatively inspiring of all. You need only take a glance through Isaiah, Daniel or Ezekiel to see that God inspired the biblical writers with truly vivid and fantastical imagery to communicate His message to the world. This makes the speculative genre, to me, one of the richest possible from a Christian viewpoint. Here we have a place where both writer and reader step completely outside of everyday experience to consider things from a radically new perspective – a forum for ideas to be sketched out to their logical conclusion and for the hypothetical to be explored.
When it comes to sharing the truth, the question we ask ourselves usually goes “How can I answer this argument?” In my own vocation, I rephrase it thus: “What kind of story can I tell about this?” For the latter is the most truly enduring argument of all.
A.K. Preston is the pen name for Preston Klopfenstein, an author (or at least someone pretending to be one) who aims to provide the world with riveting tales incorporating the real-world imminence of the modern technothriller and suspense genres as well as the grandeur of classic science fiction. His goal is to impart imaginative wonder as well as powerful stories of Good and Evil. Underpinning them all is a biblical worldview, explored and illustrated in myriad ways with an emphasis on the mysterious. The Gevaudan Project is his first novel. You can find him on his blog at Empyrean Voyager as well as his website at AKPreston.com. Sign up for his mailing list at either site to download The Gevaudan Chronicles, a free anthology of prequel stories for the novel.
Preston currently resides in Sioux Falls, SD with his wife, two children and a day job that still plans to stick around.