Ramadan: The Power of Stories

May 24, 2019

Stories are an integral part of how our culture and worldview are shaped. Since most Muslims are born out of eastern cultures, the meaning of stories for individuals and families becomes even more important. Below is a blog posted by a former Snowbird staffer that now serves in the predominantly Muslim country of Chad. He also served as a speaker at the 2016 Snowbird Missions Conference. You can watch and listen to the sessions in our Media & Resources archive.

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By Robert Lane

The New Testament Scholar N. T. Wright said that stories provide a vital framework for experiencing the world. They also provide a means by which views of the world may be changed. “Stories are, actually, peculiarly good at modifying or subverting other stories and their worldviews.” – Vision of the Possible, p.275

Myth and experience have a fascinating relationship. A culture’s experiences affect their mythology and myths affect a culture’s experiences. This cyclical process is always in flux. The dynamic nature of experience is a topic that is not often discussed in church planting conversations. Wright tells us that experience is scaffolded by stories (myths). The effect of this is that the same reality experienced by people with different mythologies can code distinctively different memories. Perception is highly impacted by the stories we tell ourselves. In fact, it takes intellectual effort and faith to hold to a singular understanding of reality.

Why are memories so different within a group of common participants? This question is not easily answered. It is a complex problem where theologians, philosophers, linguists, psychologists, and neurologists rarely gain precious ground. The mysteries of human cognition do to not give up their secrets easily.

Cognition intersects our work as church planters at the point of worldview. The conversion to Christ is a reorientation of one’s worldview core. Salvation requires a marked change in worldview or there is no rebirth of the soul.

How is it possible for me to affect the unseen worldview of an individual?

I cannot sway their soul or save them by my human will, but I can impact their story. Much of our world is mediated by language and humans are good at influencing the minds of others with the use of language. Language provides a powerful opportunity to present new stories, which are, then, either affirmed or negated by future experiences. However, new stories are not often completely rejected but refined through experience. New stories are not only affected by experience but from other stories already residing in the worldview. The deeper the story in a person’s worldview the more pressure it applies to new stories to get in line with the values and beliefs of the more established stories.

This process of story integration is most active in evangelism and discipleship — not in salvation, which is true revelation. Story integration is a slow process, whereby truth is organized and false truths are exposed. This can remove barriers to salvation and accelerate spiritual growth but is insufficient to save. Salvation is not a cognitive process it is a work of the Holy Spirit.

I have too often seen evangelism as a formula: Teach good stories to expel the bad stories and God must save the person because of my evangelistic expertise. This is far from reality. Early in my career as a missionary, I erred on the opposite side and presented an incomplete Gospel and expected that through prayer and the person’s desire to better their life, salvation was inevitable. A person cannot believe in what they have not been told (see Romans 10:14). Herein we see the interplay of our effort as ministers, man’s free will, and the action of the Holy Spirit.

Robert (Bobby) Lane is a former SWO staff member who now serves as a church planter and missionary in N’Djamena, Chad (Africa). He’s now spent over a decade serving with the IMB (International Missions Board). He specializes in linguistics and training indigenous pastors to faithfully plant and shepherd new churches.

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