“If he isn’t going to drink that I will,” I thought, as Karen, a Vietnamese manicurist, poured Buddha a portion of her morning latte. Karen lights incense and presents fruit, flowers, and something to drink to a statue of Buddha every morning. My mind raced with questions for this lady with whom I am seeking to build an evangelistic relationship, “Has he ever acknowledged your gifts?” “Has he ever eaten your fruit offering, expressed enjoyment of the flowers or interacted with you at all?” Followers of Christ formulate questions such as these as they observe and interact with adherents of Buddhism and other religions. How do we reach people like Karen?
Hoping for good luck, or maybe even winning the lottery, energizes Karen’s daily ritual. She sincerely offers gifts to a statue that has ears but cannot hear, eyes that cannot see, and a mouth that cannot speak. All the while, He who neither slumbers nor sleeps cares, not for a caffeine-charged Espresso Macchiato but, for an intimate relationship with her and all those whom He has created.
Personal theology evolves as people, both individually and collectively, seek answers to these worldview questions:
What is real?
Who am I?
Where am I?
What is wrong with where I am?
What is good and what is bad?
Who gets to determine or define the good and the bad?
How do I act?
Buddhism, for Karen and millions like her, attempts to answer the questions all people ask. In face, all world religions develop a system of beliefs to answer these questions. Even those who have no ‘set’ religion create god-less belief systems that answer the same questions.
What is real to you about God shapes your thoughts, values, and behavior, and even determines your eternal destiny. Thus, what shapes your view of God demands an investigation. What if that view of God is incorrect or warped? Is God simply a god of man’s own creation, one with hands—frozen at his side; a mouth—a stiff upper lip in wordless repose; and ears—without stirrup or anvil, unable to communicate at all? Is he just merely man-made, a “god-in-a-box”? Long ago the prophet Isaiah said, “No one considers in his heart, nor is there knowledge nor understanding to say, ‘I have burned half of it in the fire, yes, I have also baked bread on its coals; I have roasted meat and eaten it, and shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?’” (Isaiah 44:19)
The Four Spiritual Laws, Romans Road, or some other rote evangelistic method does not even begin to address the worldview issues of a Buddhist like Karen. How about using the story of Abraham? His story takes just minutes to tell, holds interest, and is worldview-relevant.
- For the first seventy-five years of his life Abraham lived among idol worshipers, including his own family (Josh. 24:2-3). His worldview was shaped by idolatry; like all idols, the gods of his father were man-made and local. Even some of his later actions demonstrated that Abraham had to move from the idea of a local god who couldn’t protect him (Gen. 20:11) to an unimaginably great Creator who took a personal interest in his life, family, future, and even the destiny of the nations.
- Genesis 12 reveals a startling change in the life of Abram—a change so significant that he leaves family, land and familiarity—as he hears the unmistakable call of Yahweh, the Living God. He comes to know Him as God-out-side-the box, the Uncontainable, God, the Invisible God whose hands cannot be seen but move in infinite power, whose unseen ears hear, and whose invisible eyes penetrate darkness—the One who sees and knows every hidden thing.
- God, who made the mouths of man, appears to Abram and speaks the words, “Follow Me,” “I will make you a great nation,” “I will bless you and make your name great” (Genesis 12:1-3). Something only God-outside-of-the-box can do. One only has to follow Abraham’s life to see the Living God, God in action.
- God speaks. He audaciously promises Sarai, Abraham’s barren wife, a child and then performs the impossible twenty-five years later in the shrunken womb of this post-menopausal woman.
- Consider also how the Living God intervenes on the couples’ behalf as He plagues the powerful Pharaoh until he releases Sarah into the hands of Abraham and then deports the couple.
- What about the time when God confronts the pleasant dreams of Abimelech in Gerar with a nightmare as He grabs him by the throat and threatens death if he does not release Sarah?
- Or, when God appears to Abraham and communicates His plans to judge and destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.
- Or, when God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah by fire as a watching Abraham stands at a distance.
- Or, when God provides a substitute ram on the crude mountain-side altar in place of his boy.
In faith Abraham turns from his god made by human hand and imagination to the Living God. God-outside-of-the-box.
It takes only few minutes to tell Abraham’s story. But, you must know it to tell it!
Like a well-made documentary the Old Testament frames the story of the Living God as He relates to flawed people like us. No other religious book tells such a story. Only the Bible reveals the Living God and divulges God’s story—the story about the God who “declares the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done” (Is. 46:10). He dares to proclaim in verse nine, “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me.”
God, the Living God, cannot be ritually served by offering Him fresh flowers, fruits, and cookies. The Living God, is intimate, personal, and real. The stories of the Bible reveal God’s intimacy with Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to Hagar, Rebekah, Deborah, Huldah, and many others. He is knowable.
Stories convey embedded ideologies. Walt Ulmer, former commandant at West Point, was asked what he and his staff were doing to build values into future leaders. He stated, “The most effective transmitter of values is the use of value stories or parables. Written codes of ethics or standards are important, but the institutions that best set the tone do it by telling stories which embody their shared values . . . stories will be a far more powerful influence than a code in a manual or a set of maxims hanging on the wall.”
We underutilize the story in evangelism and discipleship. We teach people to follow certain steps, adhere to specific rules or principles, and sometimes lose God-engagement in the process. Evangelism and discipleship take place as the hearer becomes engrossed in the story much greater than his own—the story of walking with God in a world filled with sin, trouble, and moments of goodness.
God meticulously weaves together this multitude of individual stories into the greater story of His redemption of His people.
The book of Genesis begins the story with God. Following the creation account the next nine chapters chronicle, in rapid pace, the beginning of Satan’s deception of mankind, the Fall, God’s promise of redemption, the first sacrifice, curse, birth, murder, natural death, and global change in weather conditions due to judgment. The remainder of Genesis chronicle the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and reveal how God interacts with those whom He calls into His story.
No other religious writing reveals the love of God for His people, the activity of God to redeem His people, nor the prophetic voice of God fulfilling His promises made to His people. The stories make known the ways of God with His people—people just like us. What does the Living God intend that we glean from the stories of the Bible’s “big story” beginning with Genesis?
The Genesis stories reveal truths about God:
- God establishes boundaries (in the solar system, in reproduction, Garden of Eden rules, in society, in marriage, etc.)
- God evaluates what He has created (“It is good.” “It is not good that man should be alone.” “Cursed is the serpent.”)
- God judges sin (God curses the ground and the serpent and evicts man from the garden.)
- God makes reconciliation with man possible through the shedding of the blood of the innocent on behalf of the guilty when He slays an innocent animal and uses the skin to cover man’s nakedness
- God often gives illogical instructions which require great faith (don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, dip in the river Jordan seven times, etc.)
- God uses the difficulties of life to develop godly character and faith in the lives of His children (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob)
The Genesis stories reveal truths about humanity:
- All of humanity has a bent toward evil
- Man, by nature, walks by sight and not by faith
- Man either covers his sin, blames others for his sin, or comes to God His way—through the shedding of the blood of the innocent on behalf of the guilty
- Women have great influence (both positive and negative) over men
- Man’s view of God determines his response to God (obedience and submission)
- Faith comes by hearing the words of God
The Genesis stories reveal truths about life:
- Life outside of Eden is difficult. Broken people live broken lives. Suffering happens. Every man needs to be redeemed
- Things are never as they appear in the natural realm
- What one generation does or doesn’t do affects succeeding generations
- Life is short and death is unavoidable
The Genesis stories address issues with which we all can identify (these are but a few examples):
- Pretty women and their counterparts
- Power-hungry men
- Sexual immorality
- Marriage infidelity
- Scheming, lying and deception
- Relationship dysfunction
Biblical narratives introduce a God who is outside-of-the-box, loving, genuine, freeing. Tell the stories. Evangelize, preach, and disciple others through stories. After all, the Bible is HiStory.
Energized by the discovery of how powerful the individual stories are to dismantle secular worldview and build a biblical worldview Iva May developed story-based discipleship materials, W3: Women, Worldview, and the Word, Serious Discipleship in a Secular Culture. This article draws from her book.