Recently we published an article online from a missionary named Nolan Sharp. Decades of ministry in Croatia had sensitized him, he said, to the ways divided people groups tell their stories. In a world riven apart, he argued, where warring camps spin tales that lionize their side and demonize the other, the biblical books of 1 and 2 Samuel model another approach.
The Benjamites supported Saul, and the Judahites supported David. The sides had every reason to despise each other. Samuel’s leadership ended in nepotism and failure, Saul’s ended in in bloodlust and insanity, and David’s was stained by the worst of sins. Yet the books of Samuel are unsparing in their storytelling. The narrative is not populated by angels on one side and devils on the other, but by flesh-and-blood human beings who are as remarkable for their failures as they are for their triumphs.
Sharp calls it a “reconciling narrative,” a story that affirmed their experience in all its complexity and brought a fragmented people back together with a common understanding of their history. The Benjamites and Judahites were indeed reconciled and survived in the southern kingdom when the northern tribes were scattered and lost. And thus centuries later, a Benjamite couple could name their son Saul, who became Paul and proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Lion of the tribe of Judah.
It’s a powerful summation of what we strive to achieve at Christianity Today: to be reconciling storytellers who record and reflect on the narratives of the church with honesty and humility. One example is our podcast The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. It has exploded in popularity, in large measure, I believe, due to its nuanced storytelling. Through the lens of the former Mars Hill Church of Seattle, Mike Cosper examines some of the forces that have torn at the fabric of our churches in recent decades. It’s a story “about power, fame, and spiritual trauma,” Mike says, “and yet, it’s also a story about the mystery of God working in broken places.”
And that’s the point. Whether we divide due to political differences, cultural preferences, or the power struggles of a church, setting the heroes on one side and the villains on the other is almost always a distortion of the truth, an injustice to our fellow human beings, and a theft of the glory that belongs to God.
There are no heroes in the church but Christ. When we are honest about our own brokenness, it illuminates the power of God. We marvel not only at our sinfulness, but also at the mystery and majesty of a God who nevertheless persists in working through us to bring what is true and good and beautiful into the world.
Timothy Dalrymple is president, CEO, and editor in chief of Christianity Today. Follow him on Twitter @TimDalrymple_.
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