Aristotle believed storytelling created a method to convey and establish the principles that are perceived as truth by a society or culture…Stories shape the truth… Stories put ideas into an understandable fashion.
Today I want to talk about modern storytelling
Did you know there is a certain structure to a story?
Whether you know that intellectually or not, you sense it. We hear countless stories—from speakers, TV, movies and in books. But if a story doesn’t follow “the structure,” we know something is wrong. That’s because a story needs to resonate with our souls
One universal story structure is this:
- Once Upon a Time
- The Villain’s Plot
- The Divine Dilemma
- The Hero’s Quest
- The Final Conflict
Almost every movie (and every genre) has a repeating formula. Take Chick Flicks:
- Man meets woman or vice versa. Usually through a chance meeting, but sometimes through a blind date or whatever.
- Man and woman either have rocky start before they fall in love or they just experience one of those “love at first sight” things.
- After a whirlwind romance, one of two things happens. The man either does something stupid to tick off the woman and she leaves him. This usually involves either him cheating on her or them just having a general misunderstanding. The other option at this point is that he’s either lied about something in his past or just lied to her about something in general, and when she found out, she left him.
- Turmoil ensues leaving both the man and the woman completely miserable (usually with scenes of them lying alone in bed staring out a rainy window).
- The man does something spectacular and romantic to either apologize to the woman or to make it up to her.
- She forgives him and they live happily ever after…at least until the sequel.
Our Characters have a formula:
- They must be EMPATHETIC, have an internal and external struggle. They must have an arc.
- VULNERABLE, they must tell us what their vulnerability is.
- Your character should be an UNDERDOG…
- But also be LARGER THAN LIFE.
- Give your characters STRENGTHS-Something that they are really good at, but…
- They need FLAWS that could be fatal. Characters with doubts and faults are more interesting and believable.
Let’s go back to the story structure, but this time I want you to see how the entire story of the Bible fits:
v Once Upon A Time
In the beginning, God created the heavens and earth.
v The Villain’s Plot
Because Satan hates God, Satan enters the Garden of Eden to kill Eve and her husband Adam by deceiving them into eating from the tree God forbade them to eat from.
v The Divine Dilemma
What is God to do? Adam and Eve have sinned. God has already announced that the consequence of sin is death.
v The Hero’s Quest
So what does God do? God goes on a quest to save mankind. He comes to earth in disguise to 1.) win back the heart of His beloved (people), and 2.) fulfill His own demand for their death by taking their death-penalty upon Himself.
v The Final Conflict
Satan discovers God-the-Hero has come in disguise and sets out to kill Him before He can save mankind! As Jesus hangs dying on the cross, Satan thinks he has succeeded. However Jesus’ death in fact rescues mankind when three days later Jesus rises from the dead, never to die again, and provides eternal life to everyone who trusts in Him.
This series is about teaching you how to receive, reject, or redeem our Pop Culture. So while I’ve shown you a universal storyline that you can use as a bridge, what next? How do you watch a movie with a Gospel filter?
Discover: What is the message/worldview?
Discern: How does it stand in light of the biblical message/worldview?
Decide: What do I do with it?
Jesus the Hero
*** Mark Driscoll said
Whenever we tell the story of God’s involvement and investment in our life, the plot line has to be: “I failed. Jesus didn’t.”
Isaiah 53:10 But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him
and cause him grief.
Yet when his life is made an offering for sin,
he will have many descendants.
He will enjoy a long life,
and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands.
2 Corinthians 5:21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Colossians 1:19-22 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation
Jesus is the hero in all of life. His story is THE story to tell. But as we’ve said before, culture is one of those things we are to develop, but our enemy wants to pervert. So that brings us to…
The Heroic Paradox of Anti-Genre
*** What is our new standard for Heroes?
Katniss Everdeen and The Hunger Games
- Peacekeepers are bad, the Capitol is bad
- Stealing and defiance are virtues
- Mom is a train wreck
- Deceptecons are police cars and fire trucks
- Sam is sarcastic and entitled
- His parents are buffoons
- The military is there to help him
- Vampires are no longer demonic but romantic
- Werewolves are furry guys with a tender side
Who is the one person who can never exorcise a demon? The priest.
- God is often portrayed as powerless, distant, or irrelevant
- Prometheus – we were created by aliens, who created aliens that suck the faces off of humans…the female protagonist: her only parent was a missionary (the rest of the film hints at this being laughable)
Remember, culture seeks to define what is our standard. Our heroes in movies today are 16-24 years old, sarcastic, and have distant parents. If that is the cultural standard, how can we redeem it?
Remember The Gospel
Look for allegory. How can this movie be used as a bridge to speak the truth of the Gospel?
I was asked about how to redeem something from culture, or if things like cussing disqualified certain media from being redeemed. This may help:
Redeeming isn’t purifying. It’s giving something worth. Braveheart (for example) was a great movie with a few cuss words in that totally preaches sacrificial love. To redeem culture simply means to give it value according to the truths found in the Gospel.
Prometheus – Nothing overtly Christian about it but it DOES ask where do we come from? What is our purpose? What happens when we die?
The Matrix is an allegory of Jesus. Neo Anderson in Latin is “new son of man.” When he wakes up from the Matrix in the goo and the Nebuchadnezzar fishes him out this is an allegory of Jesus’ baptism. When Morpheus escapes the agents and runs through the water, he gets shot in the ankle, stumbles, and Neo jumps out of a helicopter to catch him. This entire scene is about Peter walking on water to Jesus.
The Lord of the Rings is FILLED with scenes that point to Jesus.
Jesus the Hero
- Jesus was a carpenter from Nazareth; a nobody from nowhere.
- Jesus as a 12 year old in the Temple
- Jesus is already ready to go, but he won’t start his public ministry for another 18 years
- Jesus’ baptism, when God’s voice and the Holy Spirit manifested as a dove are present
- 40 days fasting in the desert (Mark’s Gospel, immediately)
- Calling the disciples, debating the Pharisees
- Final trip to Jerusalem before Passover, the Last Supper
- Sweating drops of blood in Gethsemane
- Death, burial, and resurrection
- Ascension into Heaven (it is better that I go so I may send the Holy Spirit)
- Armageddon, Jesus the Conquering King
- New Jerusalem, enemies cast into the Lake of Fire
Because of the hero arc we can almost always use movies to point back to Jesus. We can see the Gospel story because it is THE story to tell.
How Do We Respond To This?
The danger is in downplaying or diluting what Christ has done because we see the same story structure in almost everything. We have to remember the greatest story ever told and remember that culture does not define our standard. To redeem culture we take it back and point back to the Scriptures.
When we watch The Avengers, are we noticing themes that we can use to point to Christ? Do we notice elements of the Gospel in Star Wars? Snow White? The Lion King?
Movies are making billions telling pretty much the same story. But like all culture, our call is not to sit back and consume. We are called to actively engage movies as missionaries.
We don’t receive every movie. We don’t reject every movie. But we can redeem a lot of them. So next time you go out or queue one up on Netflix, try to watch it with a Gospel filter.
See if you can find themes of the Gospel in the characters and in the story and try to point it back to Jesus
The more you practice this, the more effective you will be as a missionary who engages culture.
So how can you use the next movie you see as a bridge to share the Gospel?