THE Defining Story

Charles Kiser —  June 1, 2016 — 11 Comments

Last week I reflected on how we live out of defining stories that we constantly rehearse. These stories are based on experiences and are the basis of our beliefs about ourselves and the world. Our stories can be true, false, or probably in most cases, somewhere in between.

This week I want to share a fabulous quote from James K. A. Smith about the “narrative character of our faith” from the book Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?

The following excerpt articulates why we named our faith community Storyline, why instead of a “statement of faith” we share the story of God, why we use the lectionary to guide our worship gatherings, and how God’s story is the definitive story that shapes disciples of Jesus.

…Too many Christians have bought into the modernist valorization of scientific facts and end up reducing Christianity to just another collection of propositions. Our beliefs are encapsulated in “statements of faith” that simply catalog a collection of statements about God, Jesus, the Spirit, sin, redemption, and so on. Knowledge is reduced to biblical information that can be encapsulated and encoded….

….But isn’t it curious that God’s revelation to humanity is given not as a collection of propositions or facts but rather within a narrative–a grand, sweeping story from Genesis to Revelation? Is there not a sense in which we’ve forgotten that God’s primary vehicle for revelation is a story unfolded within the biblical canon?

….Why is narrative important, and how does it differ from propositional knowledge? First, narrative is a more fully orbed means of communication (and hence revelation), activating the imagination and involving the whole person in a concrete world where God’s story unfolds. Second, Christian faith–unlike almost any other world religion (with the exception of Judaism)–is not a religion simply of ideas that have been collected. The faith is inextricably linked to the events and story of God’s redemptive action in the world….The notion of reducing Christian faith to four spiritual laws signals a deep capitulation to scientific knowledge….

.…Crucial for our discipleship and formation is being able to write ourselves into the story of God’s redeeming action in the world–being able to find our role in the play, our character in the story. To do that, we need to know the story, and that story should be communicated when we gather as the people of God, that is, in worship.

In your experience, what are effective ways of locating ourselves within God’s story?

Charles Kiser


I’m a pastor, missionary, and contextual theologian in Dallas, Texas. I’m committed to equipping and coaching Christians to start fresh expressions of Christian community in Dallas County — communities of hospitality, inclusion, justice, and healing.

11 responses to THE Defining Story


    So does this mean that following the lectionary is keeping us connected to the story?


      Yes it does! I was just recommending to someone else the great intro book “Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God” by Bobby Gross. It’s set up as a personal devotional guide.


    There are strengths and weaknesses in the story approach to Christianity.

    I have told many stories about my journey before and after coming to saving faith. There were highlights like the morning I came forward for prayer about my new job when an elder at an Assembly of God church. At that moment I could not speak. He asked if I had received Jesus Christ as my Savior. I shook my head no. He asked if he could pray for me and I shook my head yes. Then he began to lead me in the sinner prayer and suddenly I could pray. While I was pray with him the choir was singing the Hallelujah Chorus with gusto. That was my experience in that moment. Then for 3 days I was on a spiritual high. Every little part of common life was super alive to me. I had been reading the Bible but it seemed like a jumble before. Yet after January 16, 1977 and for weeks it seem that every page had been written just for me that day.

    That is a true story and I have told it many times. I will include that on podcasts in the future. Yet there is a slippery slope that some will doubt their salvation because they did not have a dramatic conversion experience. Many will have grown up in a Christian family and there was not a strong memory of conversion.

    God had delivered me from alcohol abuse, drug abuse and a New Age cult. I had spent 18 months in a church based rehab. I lived in community household where we practices our faith 24 hours and 7 days. But they were liberal Episcopalians. While they were sincere and gracious they never mentioned the need to be born again. They just assumed that by diligent practice they would become better Christians and that is what pleases God.

    God used the Christian radio preachers after I left the rehab to make clear to me the many passages related to biblical salvation. Their passionate preaching and sound teaching led me to know I needed a Savior.

    Shortly after I was reborn I felt the call of God for ministry. My pastor recommended that I go to Houston Baptist University to get my education. I took Christianity and public speaking courses. But soon came to realize that the professors did theologically conservative. I was making good grades but I feared getting their fuzzy view of Scripture and low view of Christ. So I stopped enrolling after 2 terms.

    During that time I came to highly value Church of Christ teachers due to their commitment to biblical orthodoxy and sound teachings. God used them to give me some initial foundation that the charismatics did not offer.

    While working at the seminary I watched many videos about church history some of those are on You Tube as the biographies of the reformers. It struck me that over and over again the pattern of church history is a continual reaction to extremes. Over the centuries the expressions of the local church drifted to extremes. Then along came others to overcompensate. The charismatic renewal of the 1970s and 1980s was in large part a reaction to the boring legalism of the fundamentalist churches.

    Stories are vital in reaching those oral cultures in developing countries. Most do not have a written language. I have talked at length with a veteran missionary with New Tribes Missions They train up teams to go and embed in remote villages. There they spend years learning to speak the language and they make up a way to put it into writing. They live, work and serve among the tribe members. They use pictures of Bible stories like found in a children’s Bible to gradually tell the whole story of the Bible. They involved the tribe in acting out the Bible stories. Ee-Taow is an docu drama of how an entire tribe came to faith

    The follow up video explains how they grew in the Christian faith and they went out to evangelize their neighboring tribes.

    But the missionary was clear to say that putting the oral language into written form and then teaching them to read and write was essential so that future generations could not gradually change the gospel message and insert local myths.

    Many members of Storyline have a background in Church of Christ. They know lots of Bible memory verses and plenty of Bible based songs. From my perspective those are great treasures. I tell parents repeatedly that the greatest blessing you can provide for each child is to lead them to memorize the Word of God and that includes Bible based songs.

    In my long and complex journey around various denominations I have learned much about the strength and weakness of each. As I gradually move forward to make podcasts and create educational modules for college students I must find a solid footing that is not tilted toward a denomination or based on my personality. Along this path I have come to greatly treasure the Lausanne Covenant That document has been agreed to by all kinds of Christians for decades.

    As a person who came out of a cult and was tangled up with liberal thinking that kind of clarity is essential.

    Note that when the Olympics were held in Salt Lake City the Mormons put on a huge PR campaign to make the world believe that they were just a denomination. But they value the Book of Mormon that is a bunch of stories to be more important than the Bible. I have knows several missionaries to Mormons. And I have examined lots of websites explain that their view of Jesus is not compatible with that of the Bible.

    During the last 10 years there has been much teaching online about using story telling as part of marketing. Humans are creatures that love to hear, see and tell stories. That is useful to attract and engage a person. A story is enjoyable and memorable. But church history reveals that the creeds, confessions and catechisms were used to clarify and correct sloppy thinking about critical matters.

    Here are two excellent summaries by the same ministry that publishes Our Daily Bread.

    In our age of political correctness, tolerance and neglect of doctrinal matters along came the document Evangelicals and Catholics Together that is wordy. It clearly mentions what Roman Catholics and Protestants have in common. Then toward the end it lists the differences. These are the core matters of the Reformation. Martyrs were burned at the stake for not renouncing such matters.

    Evangelicals and Catholics Together–catholics-together-the-christian-mission-in-the-third-millennium-2

    Great clarification

    We note some of the differences and disagreements that must be addressed more fully and candidly in order to strengthen between us a relationship of trust in obedience to truth. Among points of difference in doctrine, worship, practice, and piety that are frequently thought to divide us are these:

    The church as an integral part of the Gospel or the church as a communal consequence of the Gospel.
    The church as visible communion or invisible fellowship of true believers.
    The sole authority of Scripture ( sola scriptura ) or Scripture as authoritatively interpreted in the church.
    The “soul freedom” of the individual Christian or the Magisterium (teaching authority) of the community.
    The church as local congregation or universal communion.
    Ministry ordered in apostolic succession or the priesthood of all believers.
    Sacraments and ordinances as symbols of grace or means of grace.
    The Lord’s Supper as eucharistic sacrifice or memorial meal.
    Remembrance of Mary and the saints or devotion to Mary and the saints.
    Baptism as sacrament of regeneration or testimony to regeneration.

    There is a community of Christian story tellers on Visual Story Network They are harnessing the online and offline technologies for the glory to God. They teach each other about story telling for the kingdom of God They offer a wiki with links to zillions of great resources

    Here are my pins on Pinterest related to storytelling from many perspectives

    In conclusion, story telling has value and importance. But like those who teach how to use it for marketing the power of story telling can be used for selling poor products or bad service. It can has been used as a political weapon called propaganda. So if you are using story telling make sure you are representing a useful product, valuable idea or honorable service.


      Thanks John. One of the things I appreciate about sharing the story of God as a substitute for a statement of faith is that it allows for a good bit of diversity of conviction. We don’t have to define and make policy for every doctrinal item because at the end of the day what’s most important is that we share the story of God in common. And if the story’s authors (in scripture) can have diverse perspectives, why can’t we? The story of God is the irreducible minimum of the faith. That’s also why I like the classic creeds – they communicate belief in the story rather than merely propositions.


        Charles I strongly disagree with the concept that the story of God is a SUBSTITUTE for a statement of faith. I suggest that COMPLIMENT is a better term. And at the end of the day I tilt far more toward clear doctrinal statements than fuzzy personal stories.

        The Westminster Confession of Faith was embraced by millions from a wide range of groups for decades and it is not a collection of stories.

        I enjoy hearing the Myths and Legends podcast the man who retells the stories that have survived centuries says sometimes that during his research he found several variants of the plot or characters but he chose this one. So that reminds me that people like to embellish stories that they pass along.

        I believe that God has called me to minister to college students all around the globe using the Internet. Thus my audience will be very diverse in backgrounds. Shall I say to those in Latin America that Mary was equal to or more important than Jesus because that is what their peers say in their churches?

        Shall I say to those of Muslim background it is not important what you say about Jesus as long as you are sincere.

        Is there such a thing as right or wrong when it comes to doctrines and theology?

        I saw hours of video tapes made by ministers in gay churches in San Francisco who repeatedly said the main message of the Bible is love and do not judge.

        Kenny has a neighbor that brings Jehovah Witness literature to him and discusses it. Their publications have great illustrations and compelling stories. The neighbor is friendly. But there are websites that warn about the errors of the JW teachings. Shall stories and friendship trump biblical doctrines.

        It is popular in some circles to say that all paths lead to God. But the Bible says that Jesus said I am the way,the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me.

        You took seminary courses at a very conservative school. I know it is good to review and reevaluate personal theology in an ongoing basis. But Charles please do not throw the baby out with the bath water.

        To substitute for statements of faith is a slippery slope.

        I am reviewing the application to get licenced by International Ministerial Association They ask many challenging questions about my theology and ask me to provide scripture reference for each answer. Shall I tell them lots of personal stories and leave out the scripture references?

        The first question is as follows.

        Are modern day revelations, visions and prophetic utterances EQUAL IN AUTHORITY with the Bible? □ Yes □ No
        If one conflicts with the other, which takes precedence (check one)? □ Prophetic utterance □ Bible

        Note that this organization licences and ordains Baptists as well as Pentecostals. I have been a member of a church where functionally prophetic utterance took precedence over the Bible. That felt good in the short term but never bore good fruit in the long term.


        John I don’t think you’re reading my comments as I intended them. The story of God is not the same as “fuzzy personal stories”; it is not less than doctrinal statements. It is far more robust! If anything I am wanting to be more orthodox not less! When I say the story of God I’m not referring just to any story of God someone might tell, but specifically the story revealed in the Christian Scriptures. I think it’s better stated that doctrinal statements are a compliment to the story of God rather than the reverse.


        Charles thanks for the clarification.

        I worry about pretty detours from the narrow path of biblical discipleship. Pleasing God may mean not pleasing all the people all the time.

        There is that saying unity in essentials, liberty in nonessentials and charity in all things. After 2 hours of online research I found very few that would declare what were the essentials. I will go back to that research again later.

        I have heard too many goofy interpretations of the parables of Jesus like the 10 virgins and the oil to highly esteem story as a basis for personal faith.

        Some has said that this generation is big about stories and my generation was big about propositions. But I do not think it is an either or matter.


    I describe the story of God in six moves (see the Storyline site): creation; brokenness; partnership; messiah; church; restoration of all things.


    When I was doing research on my thesis (“Narrative…a theoretical model for adolescent faith development”) I read one rabbinical scholar who pointed out that Judaism doesn’t actually have a “theology” per se. This was because Judaism is primarily narrative in form. The narrative is the theology.

    Truth as a propositional statement is rather rationalistic and part of enlightenment thinking. Truth as a narrative is more closely aligned to the biblical worldview. Walter Fisher wrote an enlightening monograph on this. He pointed out the pre-socratic philosophers understood that logic was only one way to arrive at truth, but certainly not the only way. Poetics (art and narrative) was another valid way.

    As far as locating ourselves within the biblical narrative, let me tell you a story…

    When I was a youth minister I visited with a young lady over a cup of coffee. She had requested the meeting. Her story unfolded that she had been sleeping with her boyfriend and he broke up with her saying “I never really loved you.” As a result she felt guilty–she betrayed her mother who trusted her, she saw herself as betraying her faith, and she betrayed herself.

    She leveled her eyes at me and said, “What I want to know is, can I be forgiven?”

    I was about to launch into a discussion of grace and mercy when I heard a very distinct “voice” within myself saying, “Wait. Tell the story.” So, I just told her the story of John 8 without commentary. When I finished with “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more,” she nodded her head, smiled and said “Thank you, that’s what I needed to hear.”


    Nice Charles!! Well done on this last post.

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