Why NothinsGonnaStopIt! is important
No one knows the story
Bill can say with some degree of authority now, having done this for almost twenty years that almost no one has heard the story from beginning to end. He recounts that the most profound thing anyone has ever said about NothinsGonnaStopIt! was by an elderly woman in Florence, Kentucky. She came up to him after the seminar and said, “I’ve been in the church all my life and today is the first day I get it.” He thought to himself, “What a tragedy!” How could this precious woman have been in Sunday school all her life, listened to thousands of sermons and only have pieces of a story? Bill has come to the conclusion that most of us are like film critics making authoritative comments about scenes from a movie that we have never watched all the way through. How will we know how to interpret the scenes without the larger context?
In a You Tube clip of Oprah Winfrey, who is essentially the pastor of the largest church in America, Oprah describes being a part of a dynamic church in her twenties and hearing the pastor describing the bigness of God. In the midst of his description of this big God the pastor also mentioned that God was a jealous God. Oprah could not fathom how God could be so great but be jealous at the same time. This is a very simple concept to understand within the context of the larger narrative but since Oprah did not really know how the story worked she saw it as a biblical inconsistency and began from that point on to look for other ways to get to God apart from historic Christianity. What would have happened if Oprah’s pastor had brought in a seminar like NothinsGonnaStopIt!? What if her Sunday school teachers had had curriculum that showed how the story worked? How different might things have turned out for one of the most gifted and influential people in our generation?
N.T. Wright is fond of noting that human worldviews are constructed not of propositions but of stories. Human beings, then, all stake their lives on the stories they are taught be their cultures. The one foundational human story is this: that if a person lives a good life he/she will live happily ever-after in their culture's version of an afterlife. On top of this most basic of stories are built the plethora of local stories unique to each particular culture. The problem is that these stories are many and varied. Can they all be true?
The relativism story:
On another You Tube clip Oprah states that God is not a belief but a feeling, and that there are many ways to connect to this feeling. An idea such as this is not new of course. Authentic followers of Jesus have been interacting with these kinds of theologies since the days of the New Testament. Today they are indicative of a new, emerging worldview that is known as postmodernism. Postmodernist thought sees Western culture moving beyond the so-called “modern” worldview that was developed in the Enlightenment. It believes that it is surpassing the arrogance of scientific law to embrace a relativistic universe where truth is defined by the individual. The highest value of postmodernism is tolerance. The codependent mantra of the new culture asks, “I’m OK, you’re OK, OK?” Above all postmodernists reject any higher authority that dictates what they can and can’t believe or can and can’t do.
The many ways story:
The French philosopher, Jean-Francois Lyotard in his book The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge: Theory and History of Literature, Vol. 10. (University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN, 1984) writes that for the postmodern mind, “the grand narrative has lost its credibility” (p. 37). Postmodern people completely reject that there is one, overarching story of human history, what is commonly referred to as a metanarrative, and affirm that each local story told by a culture is equal to the stories told by other cultures. The derivative of this is that it is believed that there are many paths to God.
The idea that there might only be one way to God is seen as both arrogant and dangerous. This, of course, is exactly the opposite of the story of the Bible where God declares that he has an unstoppable purpose for history that encompasses all the nations and that one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. In light of this, one would be logically inconsistent to say that the biblical story as defined by the Christian canon, which includes the New Testament, is equal, for instance, to the Jewish story. One says that Messiah has come and the other is still waiting for the Messiah. Can both of these stories be true at the same time? Either one of them is correct or they are both in error. In either case the postmodern value of tolerance as defined as "anything one wants to believe" makes no sense; the idea of tolerance at any price ultimately nullifies the concept of truth and the word no longer has any meaning.
Besides the foundational human story and the postmodern relativistic stories that are built on the basic platform, modern world offers a whole series of other stories that compete with the biblical story for people’s attention. Some of these competing stories are:
The Darwin story: Darwin’s theory of evolution and the big bang is assumed to be a scientific fact by many, thus standing against the Bible’s story of God's sovereign creation of the world out of nothing. Those who want to avoid referencing the Bible here offer the theory of Intelligent Design as the best explanation of science, to the horror of the Darwinists. Darwinism is experiencing a resurgence in the present day by a very sophisticated group of atheists who believe that the earth's problems can be blamed on religion--any religion--and they have become aggressive Darwin evangelists.
The Eastern story: Many have bought into the principles of Hinduism and Buddhism that see life as an endless cycle of birth and rebirth where advancement in the next life is based in the laws of Karma where the power of one’s choices accumulate in a kind of frequent flyer point system that teaches that if you rack up enough flyer miles (good deeds) you can fly to a better location (come back as a higher life form) in the next life. In this scenario, history has no meaning, no purpose, no direction. The goal in these systems is to deny pain by rising above it through meditation. In light of the current global financial crisis I can hear Dr. Phil asking, “How’s that workin’ for you?”
The Dark-side story: Throughout history people have sought to gain power over their lives. If good choices prayers don’t seem to be doing it then alternative power sources are often sought. Some have discovered that the dark side offers real power to manipulate circumstances, but before it's too late they find that they are caught like a fly in the proverbial trap. Suddenly the power has them, not they the power.
The Islamic story: five simple actions earn one’s way to heaven for Muslims, believing Mohammed is God’s ultimate and final prophet, observing a fast during the month of Ramadan, praying toward Mecca five times a day, giving alms, and making a pilgrimage to Mecca once during one’s lifetime. Seems simple, but it is based on the foundational human story of works, not grace. One of the principle motivators for blowing oneself up for the cause of Islam is the promise of eternal life for martyrs. This is the only type of assurance of salvation in the Muslim system. And if Islamic followers are true to the Koran they must be committed to jihad against the infidels until Islam dominates the globe. No love or tolerance here.
The Pleasure story: since ancient Greece Epicureans and Hedonists have pursued pleasure as the highest value of life. While Epicureanism sought pleasure in a modified form, Hedonism was an all-out pursuit of the philosophy “if it feels good, do it.” When taken to its extreme this pathology is known as "narcissism" and often manifests in either the pursuit of sex or escape through drugs. This too is a trap that numbs pain all the way to the grave.
The American dream story: Too smart to destroy life with sex and drugs? There’s always culturally acceptable pursuit of power and toys, which is considered a prerogative for people who grow up in America. Apparently we are entitled to happiness no matter what the cost. The ends justifies the means so we can roll people over in the process. Somehow this mindset came over on the Mayflower with an inflated sense that God had given America a manifest destiny and that we are under a divine commission to take our way of life to the world. Problem is that many many nations of the earth are happy with the way things are. In the end power and toys don't fill the soul and, oh, by the way, we can’t take it with us. All we really leave behind are the kind of people we were while we were here and the impact we made on others.
Do these competing stories spell disaster for the cause of Christ in the postmodern world? If postmodernists don’t believe that there is one story that explains all others, what is the Church to do?
Based on the Bible’s premise that God has left enough of the imago dei (God’s image) within human beings that deep inside the soul something resonates when the story is told (e.g., Ecc. 3.11; Rom. 1.19), the answer must be that we must tell the story afresh—contextualized to this generation. Jesus said that the gospel has its own power. The kingdom of God is like a farmer who sowed his seed and went away. When he came back he found that the seed had grown on its own. Jesus said, To him who has ears to hear, let him hear the word of the kingdom. The apostle Paul also explained that the power is in the gospel itself (Rom. 1.16); something deep within bears witness to a simple presentation of God’s redemptive events, even if this bearing witness is suppressed to support people’s lifestyle choices (Rom. 1.18).
This is exactly what we see in people’s eyes during a NothinsGonnaStopIt! seminar. The gospel resonates with those who have ears to hear. They begin to connect the dots of all the Bible stories they know and see how God has, and is continuing to do, one thing as he moves human history toward its appointed destiny. Even those who are not Christians often sense that the story of the Bible is somehow their story too.
So, as was mentioned above, we are at a crisis point in Western culture and only revival empowered by the Holy Spirit and a return to our biblical moorings will stop the free fall we are in. This is why it is so critical that people hear the story that the Bible is telling. God breathes life on it through the Holy Spirit and awakes the eternity that the Bible says is still in the heart (Ecc. 3.11). This generation is awaiting the good news of Christ and his free gift of release from the captivity of sin.
Acting our parts in the play
In a recent survey researchers wanted to find out if American followers of Jesus acted any differently than those who did not profess faith in Christ. When Christians and non-Christians were compared against fifteen behavioral characteristics survey results showed no noticeable difference between the two groups. Why is this? One answer could be found in an analogy by N.T. Wright in his book The Last Word.
Wright describes human history as a five act play. The first four acts are outlined in the Bible: Act 1, the creation prologue showing how and why the world is the way it is through the power of sin; Act 2, the story of Israel in the Old Testament showing God’s covenantal solution to solving the human problem of sin; Act 3, the gospel accounts of Jesus, the true and faithful Israelite who not only paid for sin through the exchange of his life for ours but showed perfectly how to be the people of God for the sake of the world; Act 4, the account of the beginning of the Spirit-empowered witness of God’s people to the ends of the earth. The book of Acts ends open-ended, thus implying that the Spirit-empowered witness of the church would continue throughout history until the consummation of the age as described in the book of Revelation.
In this analogy, Wright says that we are now acting out our parts in the fifth act. The problem is that we have no script. How, then, are we to know what our lines are? The answer is that God intends for us to be so familiar with the first four acts that we know how our parts are supposed to acted out. We, then, align our behavioral choices with how our characters ought to be living out our parts in the play.
This is a great analogy and gives us at least some insight into why there is often little difference between Christians and non-Christians in terms of our behavior. Not only are we the most biblically illiterate generation in the history of America, even those of us that do know lots of stories from the Bible don’t know THE STORY the Bible tells. Consequently, we cannot improvise lines to a story that we’ve never really heard or deeply understood.
You are missing some Flash content that should appear here! Perhaps your browser cannot display it, or maybe it did not initialise correctly.