Theology and Story

I spoke with a friend of mine today who is a Baptist; she is active in a Baptist church near her suburban Atlanta home. We talked about faith and about what it’s like to follow the dictates of your conscience when it varies from the official or commonly accepted teaching of your church. Based on several things she said, it became obvious to me not only that she is a progressive, but that she and I share a number of perspectives.

I was ready to start recommending all sorts of wonderful writers to her: Marcus Borg, Bill Countryman, Brian McLaren, Anne Lamott, Donald Miller, Spencer Burke, Eric Elnes, Maggie Ross, Cynthia Bourgeault, Peter Rollins… but first I asked her if she liked to read theology. She wrinkled her nose. “Not really,” she replied. She’s lent me fantasy novels in the past and we just recently discussed the Christian imagery in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Simply put, she’s too busy reading fun stuff which she enjoys to slog through stodgy and turgid theological prose. And who can blame her? But I am reminded of the limitation that comes with choosing to  write theological non-fiction, especially for a non-academic audience. Sure, academic writing doesn’t sell hardly at all, but at least it conveys a certain credibility. But pop-theology? Yawn. Even when it’s about mysticism, contemplative prayer, blowing our minds through Union with God?!? Another yawn.

I am reminded that I need to keep telling stories. That even if I never write fiction, at least I should fill the non-fiction I do write with narrative tension and other “literary” qualities. In other words: if I want to write about the ineffable, irresistible Love of God, how do I do it in a way that’s — for lack of a better word — fun?!?!?

Preliminary Practices for Christian Contemplatives
Sanctity and Struggle, or, Why Saints Have Chaotic Inner Lives (Hint: It's Because We All Do)
Pentecost and Ecstasy
Mysticism and the Divine Feminine: An Interview with Mirabai Starr
About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • Brother Tadhg

    A great post. I guess it depends on how we define theology, too.

    Couple of months back, at one of our ‘film&theology’ evenings, we showed ‘Castaway’, and the dicscussion afterwards was pretty cool. People who would say they didn’t talk theology were thinking and giving opinons about what was important to them (whether or not they were stranded on an island), whether ‘Wilson’ in the movie was an ‘idol’ or a not and what our idols are, and the heart-wrenching decisions they would make if their loved-ones remarried thinking they were dead, as happened in that movie (and the self-sacrifice shown in the movie). In short, over a cup of coffee they talked theology (some without even knowing it). LOL.

    But, you’re right. Story is so important (and ofcourse films are great contemporary ‘story-tellers’) as a ‘bridge’ to relevance and fun. There’s nothing wrong with fun.


    Brother Tadhg

  • Mike Morrell

    Well you still need to recommend Lamott and Miller (and Lauren Winner too)–they’re creative nonfiction! And, point taken.