Samuel Thambusamyâ€™s interests are in Popular Culture, Theology and Politics. He has a Master of Theology (M.Th) degree from the Senate of Serampore University. He has served in a wide range of ministries such as children, youth, church and development ministries. He is now involved with Wisdomtree and reaches out to young people through cultural apologetics. He lives with his wife Lanusenla and daughter Vandana Yujasola in Chennai, IndiaView all articles by Samuel Thambusamy
Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is a fascinating story of God’s love. This life-changing story has been (re) told for the last 2000 years. In fact, followers of Jesus ( in every generation) have been ‘Story keepers’. They have kept the gospel story alive by re-telling it to their world. The followers of Jesus have kept the story alive despite opposition, oppression and persecution. Our fore-parents heard the story and their lives have never been the same again. The history of the transformation of individuals and communities in India through the power of the gospel is a fascinating read. We are story keepers too. We have heard the gospel story from our parents and we need to share this story to our generation as well. Our primary calling is to keep the story alive by being, doing and (re)telling the gospel to our generation and beyond.
The rules have changed
In order to keep the story of Jesus we must tell the story - attractively, intelligently and responsibly- to our peers. The first step forward is to understand the contemporary world we live in. Our world has radically changed in the last few decades. The engines of globalization have changed the hue and texture of our society. We live in a culture driven by Information Technology. The wide spread consumer-culture, leisure-culture, machine-culture and megabyte/mega pixel-culture have changed people’s tastes, needs, desires and questions. Moreover, the intellectual climate has also changed. Skepticism, Relativism and Tolerance are values that people ‘fanatically’ hold to. Worse, people’s sensibilities are hurt by facts, reality and truth.
So, (re)telling the gospel story in an information age can be a challenging task. Storytelling within an information culture requires a different skill-set. How are we to compete with the huge Hollywood budgets? How are we to compete with the creative programming of MTV? How are we to compete with the reach of the media networks run by powerful Corporations?
Contemporary Christian story telling/keeping
Entertainment media has an overpowering influence on our lives. That Media make up the cultural “air” in which we live, breathe, move and have our being is definitely not an overstatement. The dominance of popular culture is felt in every arena of life. How do we keep the story of Jesus alive against the dominance of the media? How do we re-tell the story in an information age? The immediate temptation is to adopt contemporaneous ‘forms’ that are popular with young people. There’s more style than substance. The pull-factor is more the “form” rather than “content”. The real tragedy of contemporary Christian storytelling is that we end up giving “entertainment” instead of the “message”.
How, then do we re-tell the story?
We need not present a different gospel, but we need to present the gospel story with a difference. The persuasiveness of the gospel story is in its ‘content’ and how its transforming presence and power can redeem the “tired-torn-and-tensed” generation. It is not just enough to re-tell the gospel “attractively” and “intelligently” to command a listening by contemporary audience. It is important that we re-tell the gospel story “responsibly” so that we capture the imagination of our contemporary audience with the truth, beauty, goodness of the gospel story. We are called to be Story tellers/keepers. We need to re-tell the gospel story in a manner that would capture the imagination of contemporary audiences. It is not just enough to re-tell the gospel “attractively” and “intelligently” to command a listening by contemporary audience. It is important that we re-tell the gospel story “responsibly”. How, then do we re-tell the story. We don’t have to grope in the dark. Fortunately, the bible has enough examples for the 21st century ‘story keepers’. Let us listen to a first-century ‘story keeper’ and learn some lessons.
Memoirs of a First Century Story-keeper
Many people have tried to tell the story of what God has done among us. They wrote what we had been told by the ones who were there in the beginning and saw what happened. So I made a careful study of everything and then decided to write and tell you exactly what took place. Honorable Theophilus, I have done this to let you know the truth about what you have heard. (Luke 1:1-4 CEV)
Firstly, there was a willingness to step out of his comfort zone. Luke was a physician by profession and yet was willing to venture into Philosophy, Theology, Religion and Literature. Contemporary Christian story tellers/keepers have much to learn from Luke. We must be willing to step out of our comfort zones and venture out into various academic disciplines to communicate the gospel story to a contemporary audience.
Secondly, there was a willingness to do homework/hardwork. Luke made a careful study of what has been handed over to him. He did a careful study of the various components of the gospel story. The bible accords legitimacy to research and historical investigation. We need to know the various components of the gospel story. Post Da Vinci Code (DVC) it is imperative that we know what we believe and why we believe what we believe. Only then, our story would have authenticity, authority and acceptance.
Thirdly, there was a willingness to present the story attractively. Luke arranged the different historical facts and eyewitness accounts and wrote them down in an orderly manner. Biblical scholars point to the fact that Luke had written the gospel story as a novel. Moreover, it could even be compete with the novelistic literature of his time. In modern parlance, it could be sold in any news stands and secular book shops. Luke helps us to understand that we need to reach out to a much wider audience, especially secular audience with the gospel story. We need to make an “attractive” and “intelligent” presentation of the content of the gospel story.
Fourthly, there was a commitment to excellence. Biblical scholars bear testimony to the richness of Luke’s language and vocabulary. His Jesus novel was no haphazard work. On the contrary, it was quality work that could demand a reading by a highly literary audience. We need to learn from Luke’s commitment to excellence.
Fifthly, there was a willingness to bring his expertise into his gospel story telling/keeping enterprise. Biblical scholarship point to the use of medical terms and vocabulary familiar with physicians of the time. The Christian church has a widespread talent pool. The cumulative of all our shared knowledge and expertise could be explosive. We can produce the best. We can be the best in any form of communication. Unfortunately, we dichotomize our professional and devotional lives. If each of us can add our professional skills to contemporary Christian story telling/keeping then, our story telling at the cutting edge.
Lastly, Luke was purpose-driven. He was not re-telling the gospel story without a purpose. This was to make sure that his audience would come to know the truth. That they would know the certainty of what they believed in. Luke wanted his audience to know “what” their beliefs were and more importantly, “why” they need to continue in those beliefs. The entire exercise was done so that his audience would learn to appreciate the truth, beauty and goodness of the gospel story.
It is said that he who captures the epoch, captures the story. Conversely, he who captures the story, captures the epoch. Who are the storytellers of our times? J.K Rowling, Dan Brown, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Carl Sagan and a host of Hollywood/Bollywood producers are the story tellers who capture the imagination of our generation.
We are called to be Story tellers/keepers. We need to re-tell the gospel story in a manner that would capture the imagination of contemporary audiences. It is not just enough to re-tell the gospel “attractively” and “intelligently” to command a listening by contemporary audience. It is important that we re-tell the gospel story “responsibly”. True, telling the gospel story in an information age isn’t easy.
But then, every generation of story keepers have done it facing the odds. We can (and we must) re-tell the story of Jesus and keep the story alive.
This article is written by Samuel Thambusamy of Wisdomtree: The Academy of the Faithful
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org