History and Mere Stories

Udo Middelmann, Author and President of The Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation

In one of the special hymns for God's children of any age we sing: "This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine. You in your small corner, And I in mine."

Have you ever noticed that in a curious reversal of emphasis, a modern person of any faith, gender or political persuasion would now also urge you to do that? The only difference is that you are to stay in that small corner and keep the light to yourself.

The ‘small' corner of the hymn refers to our size and limited ability, while the corner we are now sent to is more like the ‘out' chair in the corner of the world at large. We are to confine our light to that.

Many among us may see this as an antichristian bias, a repression of our view and a rejection of the truth. All other views are admitted, but not the Bible. A quasi-new form of anti-Semitism includes Christians among those who should no longer participate in the public debate, since they claim to speak about what is true objectively and to hold a universal truth across continents and oceans, gender and even time lines.

The newly assigned corners are not within a common space at all. They are little worlds by themselves. In post-modern thought, in multi-culturalism and in religious pluralism the common dimensions of our world, such as reason, facts and mankind are given up as mere Western constructs, which inhibit the affirmation of individual truths, personal views and real diversity. Consequently the Bible is also assumed to permit only stories of personal interest outside of the criteria of truth, reason and the real world.

This means that any possibility of a common reality is denied. Truth can never be written with a capital ‘T' again. Facts are reduced to visions one may have and hopes projected outward. You see something your way, and I will see it my way. We each have not only our own definition, but there is nothing out there for sure to define anything in the first place.

For long now I have been very uncomfortable with Christians using the term ‘story' for both the Bible and their personal experiences as Christians. That term bows to the accusation that there is really no actual event in the public space of creation. The only things happening take place in a person's field of vision, sensation or interpretation. The objective is abandoned; the subjective is all that remains. Use of ‘story' makes the Bible and historic events similar, if not equal to fairy tales: "yours in your small corner, and mine in….my head"

And that is totally contrary to what makes Christianity different from religions: the relation to facts of creation and redemption, of birth, death and the resurrection, of wind battering the boat, before Jesus stills it in the storm; of 5000 stomachs filled, of doubting Thomas being satisfied with the evidence he demanded.

By contrast, Buddhism happens in your meditating head; Islam knows no distinct acts of God and no creation outside of God, since everything is from and in God; African tribal religions know no history: everything is a repetition from the past. Only the Bible speaks of real events, open to believers and unbelievers. This is no story, but history. We do not have a narrative in our corner, but a creator and a creation that none escapes. There is an account of what is evidently real, not merely a narrative that recounts what I happen to see in my corner with my blurred vision.

I don't for the life of me know why Christians have so often adopted the loaded language of relativism, denial and finally indifference. Stories are cute and touching, while history is sharp, heavy and consequential. Stories can be closed and forgotten, history continues even when I sleep. A narrative is imposed, history reveals. A story can be embellished, is perhaps allegorical and may teach the moral of kissing the ugly frog anyway. But the Bible treats real people in real history. Francis Schaeffer always urged people to consider that the only reason to become a Christian is that it is true to the real world.

Any embellishment is in the area of language, not in content. Poetry in the Bible has meaning, because it refers to what is found in prose, in the material world of cause and effect, of words and meaning. What could possibly be an embellishment when the prophets denounce Israel's sins? Did they have a pleasant time in Babylonian captivity? What is so lovely about Jesus lamenting the disciples' "oh, so little faith"? In what way could Jesus' tears and anger at the tomb of Lazarus be an embellishment? The Pharisees did not think so, for they sought how they might kill him again.

The beauty of the Bible is found in its accuracy to reason, facts and mankind in the flow of real history. It is a beauty far greater and totally different in kind than any dream, wishful thinking or search for meaning through foreign travel, drug trips, fame and success, or esoteric religion.

The resurrection was no metaphor for optimism, but a conquest of sin and death that includes a real lunch with disciples and lengthy explanations in Emmaus before ascending to heaven where he was then seen standing (Acts 7). The whole emphasis of the Bible is not to be a collection of stories or the narrative of a people in search of an identity.

If it is not history, against all the historical evidence unearthed through years of scholarship, the ‘little light' will go out and you will stand in your corner looking rather foolish while holding on to your story.

But that is exactly what modern man wants you to believe and experience. For then you will never come out of the corner, make no annoying claims about truth and rattle no one's preference for repeating their personal story.

Neither Christians nor believing Jews ever lay down on the couch to tell their story. They worked in the midst of people to declare the truth of God and creation, of life and love, of work and hope in word and acts. "They turned to the living and true God from idols, waiting for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead - Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath."

That's history and not a story.

Udo Middelmann serves as president of The Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation, which was incorporated in 1988 by Edith Schaeffer, Udo and Deborah Middelmann and several of their friends as a foundation of ideas. It attempts to serve as a resource to others and to advance the availability of Francis Schaeffer's ideas.

Udo Middelmann holds degrees in Law from Freiburg University, Germany, and in Theology from Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, MO, USA. He has also worked with Dr. Schaeffer as Associate Pastor as well as a long-time Trustee, Member and Lecturer at the Swiss L'Abri.

Udo has lectured widely on ethics and society in many countries on all continents and regularly publishes "Footnotes", which can be found at this site. Previous books Udo has written are Pro-Existence, The Market-Driven Church and, recently published, The Innocence of God. Another book to be released later this summer is Christianity verses Religions of Resignation.

Udo and his wife Deborah divide their time between the US and Switzerland. They have five children and seven grandchildren.

This article originally appeared at http://theschaefferfoundation.com in "Footnotes" 11'2 History and mere stories


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