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The Stories We Tell Book Cover Mike CosperThe art we consume says something about us, the lives we live, the ideas that drive us, and the beliefs that make up the fabric of our lives. We love stories that resonate with human experience and our deep longings.

The Christian faith also describes human experience by explaining that we are sinful people living in a fallen world with a hunger for a something greater and redemption after our lives here are done.

Mike Cosper’s new book called The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth shows the intersection between our love for stories and Christianity’s answer to our hunger for purpose and redemption satisfied in Scripture’s grand story of God reconciling us to Himself through Jesus Christ.

The Stories We Tell begins with a short disclaimer describing that this book isn’t meant to be a Christian discernment manual for entertainment, but rather a book that explores how our stories connect with various aspects of the gospel and reveal humanity’s deep need for Christ. Cosper describes the driving force behind the book:

“I believe that the motivation for our stories is deeply connected with the gospel, and by thinking about that connection, we can more deeply appreciate both.”

The structure of The Stories We Tell features ten chapters that begin by exploring foundational elements of stories, moving on to how Christians can engage with the visual storytelling world of TV and movies, and then continues following the four main parts to Scripture’s grand story: creation (which explores stories dealing with creation, paradise, and the search for love), fall (looking at human brokenness, suffering, frustration, fear, and evil), redemption (a chapter each on redemptive/sacrificial violence and also traditional heroes), and glorification (about how we long to be something better).

In each of those chapters, Cosper shares stories from a wide array of well-known and not-so-well-known TV shows and movies and interprets how they really reveal our heart’s longing for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Here are some shows and movies mentioned: The Wire, Dexter, How I Met Your Mother, Mad Men, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and movies like Tarantino films, The Hobbit, The Big Lebowski, The Mission, Superman, among others.

This book was a breath of fresh air to me. When God began getting a grip on me early in my college days, I pushed away from watching a lot of TV and movies because I felt they were an idol of mine. This soon turned to legalism and a self-righteous attitude that would look down on people for their entertainment habits, but then conviction from the gospel sunk in and I eventually became too busy to watch many TV or movies anyway. This book reminded me of the artistic and human value that TV and movies can have if consumed with the right intentions (while still practicing godly discernment) and watchful eye. This book encouraged me to expand what I typically watch to look for different glimpses of the gospel in each story.

Recommendation: The Stories We Tell is a book for every Christian because it engages with the culture-shaping entertainment we consume, showing us threads of the gospel interweaved into each story. Even for the non-movie buff like myself, it still proved immensely valuable and lived up to Cosper’s goal of deepening my appreciation for both the gospel and the stories we tell.

  • This is a must-read for Christian movie geeks for the reasons mentioned above.
  • This book will prove especially helpful for pastors to engage the entertainment culture and find natural paths to gospel conversations.
  • I could also see this book being an outside-the-box training tool for evangelism because it ties what is all around us to the gospel.

The Stories We Tell will deepen your love for the gospel by showing through popular media how we all long for and desire what only Christ can give.

Title: The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth
Author: Mike Cosper
Publisher: Crossway
Year: 2014
Rating: 5 Stars

Activism in the Age of Social Media

Social Media Activism

(HT Darren Carlson)

$0.99 Kindle Deal: Learning Evangelism from Jesus by Jerram Barrs

What Christians Should Know about the Ebola Crisis by Miguel Nunez (TGC)

Y en Espanol.

Free CD on the Psalms: From the River to the Ends of the Earth by Matt Searles

Just enter your email and receive a worship album based on the Psalms that I have enjoyed. (HT Tim Challies)

Learn Biblical Theology with D.A. Carson: Mp3 Audio and Video for The God Who Is There Series

Here is a brief description of The God Who Is There:

This series will serve the church well because it simultaneously evangelizes non-Christians and edifies Christians by explaining the Bible’s storyline in a non-reductionistic way. The series is geared toward “seekers” and articulates Christianity in a way that causes hearers either to reject or embrace the gospel. It’s one thing to know the Bible’s storyline, but it’s another to know one’s role in God’s ongoing story of redemption. “The God Who Is There” engages people at the worldview-level.

The Epidemic of Male Body Hatred by Paul Maxwell

Russia Vs. Ukraine – How Did this all Begin? In a Nutshell

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Television is drastically changing our epistemology–that is to say that TV changes the way we formulate what we believe–at least according to Neil Postman, the author of the 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business.

Television, like any medium, has unintended consequences. One of the unintended consequences of television is that it serves more as a medium for entertainment than a medium for serious discourse. This is seen in the state of political TV commercials. TV is exploited by politicians who know that playing to emotions and mudslinging is more effective than explaining facts about one candidate’s position and experience.

And that is why Postman shared what I quote below, explaining why he thought all political commercials should be banned:

I am particularly fond of John Lindsay’s suggestion that political commercials be banned from television as we now ban cigarette and liquor commercials. I would gladly testify before the Federal Communications Commission as to the manifold merits of this excellent idea. To those who would oppose my testimony by claiming that such a ban is a clear violation of the First Amendment, I would offer a compromise: Require all political commercials to be preceded by a short statement to the effect that common sense has determined that watching political commercials is hazardous to the intellectual health of the community. 

I’m not very optimistic about anyone’s taking this suggestion seriously…

Television, as I have implied earlier, serves us most usefully when presenting junk-entertainment; it serves us most ill when it co-opts serious modes of discourse–news, politics, science, education, commerce, religion–and turns them into entertainment packages…

The problem, in any case, does not reside in what people watch. The problem is that we watch. The solution must be found in how we watch. For I believe it may fairly be said that we have yet to learn what television is. And the reason is that there has been no worthwhile discussion, let alone widespread public understanding, of what information is and how it gives direction to a culture.

It is worth noting that Postman wrote that in the 1980s, and that in many ways, we are worse off today. We don’t fully grasp how our technology like TV and social media affect how we formulate our beliefs. If we’re not careful, we can let our political beliefs be influenced more by a meme seen on Facebook or a headline on Twitter than the important things.

TV’s negative effects on political discourse can be seen in televised debates as well. Political debates used to be several hours long, with lengthy expository speeches, followed by a rival candidate’s robust point-by-point critique of the ideas presented. Our debates today are so short and TV-driven that they risk being totally useless. Candidates know that to the TV audience (which is just about everybody), their non-verbal communication and stories targeted at stirring emotions may be more important at swaying constituent’s hearts than a more fact-based, here-are-things-that-matter approach. (Oh, and one more rule for televised political debates: just don’t say anything awkward or stupid, because with the current state of internet discourse, that could seal your fate faster than you can say “Binders Full of Women.”)

The challenge I give to you and to myself is to not fall into TV’s (or social media’s) epistemological trap. Don’t let the emotional arguments, mudslinging ads, and all the unimportant things communicated during political TV commercials develop your beliefs for you. Hold to firm convictions, research the candidates on the ballot, and make your vote count.

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In the 1830s, two American Baptist missionaries set out to minister in a part of Indonesia known as Batak, on the island of Sumatra. The Batak people were known for being savage cannibals. The two American missionaries studied the people and language before beginning their preaching ministry to the Batak people.

In 1834, shortly after sending the reports from their study of the Bataks back home, the missionaries were brutally cannibalized.

Although the missionaries died, God did not let their dream die. That very same year a man named Ludwig Nommensen was born.

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Ludwig Nommensen

Decades later, Ludwig Nommensen would serve as a German Lutheran missionary in Batak. Nommensen learned from the research of the cannibalized American Baptists, and chose to go to the Batak cannibals with a new approach crafted in light of the missionaries’ data. He learned the customs of the Batak people and transformed many aspects of Batak culture with the Christian faith.

Over the course of many years, God worked powerfully through the ministry of Ludwig Nommensen to reach the Batak people with the gospel of Jesus Christ and establish churches under the name Batak Protestant Christian Community.

Here are some results of Nommensen’s ministry:

  • By 1876 there were 2,000 Batak believers.
  • By 1878 he had finished translating the New Testament into Batak with the help of fellow missionary Peter Johanssen.
  • By Nommensen’s death in 1918, there were 180,000 Batak believers, 34 Batak pastors and 788 teacher-preachers.
  • Although World War II drove all missionaries out of Sumatra, Batak leaders were already well established.
  • There are now over half a million Batak believers!

Was the work of the American missionaries in vain? No, and as 1 Corinthians 15:58 says, no labor for the Lord is wasted or in vain:

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

The American missionaries’ work played an important role in reaching over a half million people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God used the data they mined from the Batak people for His glory to be a launching point for Ludwig Nommensen in his ministry.

To pay tribute for the labors of the two American missionaries, there is now a large monument on their graves to recognize their help in preparing the way for the Gospel in this part of Indonesia. This also serves as a reminder that God does not let our work for Him go to waste.

Praise the Lord for His faithfulness!

Word and Words Conference Sojourn 2014

IMG_1083This past weekend I went to Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY (apparently that’s pronounced “Lou-uh-vul”) with my friend Joey Cochran to the Word & Words Conference which shared Christian reflections on reading, writing, and storytelling.

The conference featured Christian writers Mike Cosper, Greg Thornbury, David Dark, Karen Swallow-Prior, Bret Lott, Gregory Wolf, among others, and was filled with reflection, candid conversation, practical insight, writers’ lament, and no shortage of comments bashing Star Wars Episodes I-III (for good reason).

The conference got my creative juices flowing in a number of ways. I also enjoyed being around other people much more creative and talented than me and being challenged to appreciate more deeply the beauty of good writing and storytelling.

I took notes on what I could during the conference and thought I would share a random smattering of quotes, tips, and resources mentioned to give you the flavor of the conference and help you as a reader, writer, and storyteller.

A Few Quotes (see #WordsConf14 for more):

“Love your reader.” Said by several presenters throughout the conference.

“People read pop-culture religiously.” Gregory Thornbury

“Our lives are all worship all the time…worship doesn’t have a start/stop time.” David Dark

“Christians have a weakness for turning stories into hollow vessels to cram a message into.” Gregory Wolfe

“The best way to impact culture: do what you’re good at to serve.” Coury Deeb commenting on 1 Peter 4:10

“It’s hard to write about sin in the literary world because it is a world where often sin doesn’t exist.” Dave Harrity

“Being a writer is the equivalent of having homework all the time.” Bret Lott

“Always be writing something you have no idea how to write.” Bret Lott

Bret Lott quoting Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch: “Literature is not a mere science, to be studied; but an art, to be practised.”

“Let your faith emerge mysteriously as you write about human realities.” Gregory Wolfe

Art lost its ability to thrive when it was separated from worship.” Gregory Wolfe

“If the Christian message is incarnate in you it will incarnate into your creativity as well.” Gregory Wolfe

“Part of the craft of writing a personal essay is giving the reader space to feel.” Gregory Wolfe

A Few Tips for Improving as a Writer:

  • Write a lot. Read a lot. (If you’ve ever read anything on writing you will know this.)
  • Your work cannot (usually) have more than two of the following qualities: Cheap, Fast, and Great. (HT Coury Deeb of moreartlessevil.com)
  • Force constraints on your writing (i.e. a structure or model to copy) to sharpen your thinking. (HT Shannon Skelton)
  • Practice writing a six-word memoir.
  • Newspaper blackout activity
  • Quit using the word “that” so often. Also, don’t use adverbs of manner (that end in -ly). Quit using the word “would” when describing actions. (HT Bret Lott)

Some Books and Resources:

Below are a few resources either recommended, quoted, or read at the conference. (I was told that some of the conference audio would be available. I will post when it is released or you can check wordandwords.com.)