Classic iMonk Post
By Michael Spencer
From September 11, 2008
I have been reading a novel, and the protagonist is an Italian immigrant, and Catholic. At the end of a long introductory description, it simply said, “…he was a Christian.”
Now for some reason this struck me. It’s not that I’m enamored with the word. I’m on record as saying we might have good reason to give it a break, considering all the confusion and distortion that accompanies it.
But what actually got my attention was this: in the context of Roman Catholicism, you could simply say this man was a Christian, and that summarized a great deal without further explanation. He believed. He confessed. He communed. He prayed. He loved his family. He knew his calling. He tried to live the Christian life. He was a Christian.
And in this novel, that worked.
You are now allowed to say, “He starting to go Catholic,” because it seems to me that if this book were about a typical evangelical, we would soon have to start piling on the adjectives and hauling out the unique experience stories.
Saying the character was a “Christian,” would say very little about an evangelical protagonist. He would have to have a denominational label, of course. And he would need some descriptors like “a great Christian,” or “a zealous Christian,” or “a man who wanted to change the world for God,” or “a man who believed God was calling him to preach to his neighbors.” He would have to have a unique experience of God, one that was captivating and unique.
In the evangelical version of the story, the Christian would have to be closer to the front of the stage, with his or her own personal mission and story prominently described.
It would be unlikely that “the Faith” would be the solid fact on which his life would be lived. It’s more likely “the Experience” would be taking the reader along for an ever changing ride.
I know that there are Catholics with adjectives, too. I’m sure I’m guilty of a good bit of hyperbole, but I won’t give this up completely.
I think we are too much the stars of the story. It’s God’s story. It’s the Gospel that is the story.
Our stories — our testimonies, our experiences — can’t come to center stage. They can’t upstage Jesus and the Gospel.
You’ve heard it before. Yes, Paul gives his testimony when asked to do so, but does Paul ever make his story the largest story being told? Can anyone imagine Peter and the apostles going out on Pentecost to tell their own experiences.
I think our experiences are the coffee after the main program. The show is Jesus and the Gospel. Our experiences and all those adjectives need to get out of the way, and Jesus needs to be clearly seen.
Not as someone in our story, but as the one who gives us a story to be part of at all.