The Superiority of the Christian Story

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Stories are fundamental to who we are as humans. Indeed, even if one is not conscious of it, reality itself is guided by the stories we tell and hear. We can see this in today’s polarized society, where being on the “right side” of any political or social issue is of utmost importance. Being on the “good” side of a story matters to most people.

The Christian Story Matters

Humans must choose some kind of story to follow, and the available options ultimately fall into the category of religious vs. non-religious narratives.[1] For Christians, then, society desperately longing to be a part of a good, meaningful story should be something that motivates our desire to share the Gospel. Why? The Christian story is not only true but also is deeply meaningful and hopeful.

What separates Christianity from other rival stories is that the meaning of it is not dependent on its ending. Rather, deep, profound meaning is present from start to finish. In this regard, Christianity is a purpose-infused pilgrimage. This idea of a pilgrimage is taken from Ross Inman, professor of Philosophy here at Southeastern, who phrases it this way: “The Christian life is one of pilgrimage from a place of restless spiritual exile to a homecoming of restful communion with God, and we are all somewhere along the way.”[2] The Christian appeal to meaning throughout the story – not just the ending – is not one so easily shared by other mainstream narratives, whether it be New Age Spirituality, atheism, or agnosticism. Christianity is therefore unique in its ability to speak to the human heart. What’s more, the Christian story can uniquely provide comfort and hope in the midst of life’s most challenging trials.

Take the problem of evil, for example. Eleonore Stump once commented that “philosophical reflection on suffering is better with the help of a story.”[3] She then impressively makes her case by going on to show that utilizing biblical narratives can indeed assist in grappling with the problem of evil.[4] Her overall point is that Christians have the ability to contextualize evil in the broader story of God’s redemptive plan, which is a readily available option to the Christian that other worldviews lack.

The Christian story is not only true but also is deeply meaningful and hopeful.

Hope and Beauty

A rival issue stemming from the problem of evil is many people’s apparent lack of hope. Here, the Christian story again can provide uniquely helpful resources. One such resource is the beauty of the gospel.[5] One of my favorite passages from C.S. Lewis’s classic Mere Christianity is his chapter on Christian hope. He criticizes those who make fun of the Christian doctrine of heaven by calling them people “who cannot understand books written for grown-ups” and therefore “should not talk about them.”[6] This sounds harsh, but if you read carefully, you can understand why Lewis says this. The beauty and hope of heaven was so obviously true to him that those who could not see it were simply missing out.

Lewis’s overall point was not to specifically focus on heaven, of course. His focus was on the whole Christian story. Lewis came to realize that the Christian story is the ultimate story – the one true myth – primarily thanks to his conversations with J. R. R. Tolkien. Tolkien argued that not only does the Christian story ground all other stories, but the stories we share also reflect God’s larger story.[7] That is beautiful.

Christians would do well to take the cue from Lewis and Tolkien and contend for the beauty of the gospel. Beauty not only corresponds to hope; it also arguably corresponds to truth[8] and serves as evidence for God’s existence.[9] Therefore, if Christians can capitalize on the beauty and hope of the gospel, we have a chance to demonstrate to the world that our faith speaks to the core of ultimate reality.

Beauty is also clearly on display during the most important event in history: the death and resurrection of Jesus. In this moment, Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world, thereby demonstrating the beauty of God’s love. Every beautiful story has drama, conflict, and hope within it. The story of the cross is the ultimate example of all three aspects. Drama is seen throughout the gospels as the reader gets to see who Jesus is and why he impacts the people the way he does. Conflict is seen throughout the various trials, temptations, and ultimate death of Jesus on the cross. Finally, beauty is seen when Jesus emerges from the dead and ministers to those He died for. This entire sequence of events is also all the more meaningful in light of God Himself being the providential author of the story.[10]

This last point is especially important because I think we as Christians often implicitly (and unintentionally) place ourselves outside of God’s redemptive story. We understandably wonder what plans God has in store for us and what role we have to play in these plans. Proverbs 3:5-6 calls us to trust God with all our hearts and not to lean on our own understanding, yet we consistently fall short in this endeavor. However, if we can only remember that “we are his story,”[11] as Gavin Ortlund puts it, then I’m confident that Christians – myself included – can begin to do better at placing our full trust in God’s unrivaled, beautiful story.

Image Credit: Lina Trochez / Unsplash

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[1] Paul M. Gould, A Good and True Story: Eleven Clues to Understanding Our Universe and Your Place in It (Brazos Press: Grand Rapids, 2022), 9.

[2] Ross D. Inman, Christian Philosophy as a Way of Life: An Invitation to Wonder (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, 2023), 136.

[3] Eleonore Stump, Wandering in Darkness: Narrative and the Problem of Suffering (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2010), 25.

[4] Ibid., 175-308.

[5] See Michael Rota, Taking Pascal’s Wager: Faith, Evidence, and the Abundant Life (IVP Academic: Downers Grove, 2016), 135-142.

[6] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (HarperOne: New York, 1952), 137.

[7] Gavin Ortlund, Why God Makes Sense in a World That Doesn’t: The Beauty of Christian Theism (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, 2021), 156-157.

[8] See Philip Tallon, The Poetics of Evil: Toward an Aesthetic Theodicy (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2012), 76-77.

[9] See Philip Tallon, “The Mozart Argument and The Argument from Play and Enjoyment: The Theistic Argument From Beauty and Play,” in Two Dozen (Or So) Arguments For God: The Plantinga Project, ed. Jerry L. Walls and Trent Dougherty (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2018), 321-340.

[10] See Jonathan T. Pennington, Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, 2012), 198; N.T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense (HarperOne: New York, 2006), 234.

[11] Gavin Ortlund, Theological Retrieval For Evangelicals: Why We Need Our Past to Have a Future (Crossway: Wheaton, 2019), 115.

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MA Ethics, Theology, and Culture

The Master of Arts Ethics, Theology, and Culture is a Seminary program providing specialized academic training that prepares men and women to impact the culture for Christ through prophetic moral witness, training in cultural engagement, and service in a variety of settings.

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Eli Kunkel

Eli Kunkel

Eli Kunkel (BS, College of Education, North Carolina State University) is currently pursuing MA degrees in both Christian Education and Christian Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition, he teaches middle & high school courses in Apologetics, Cultural Engagement, and Competing Worldviews at Bethesda Christian Academy, in Durham, NC.

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