Posted by: Apostolic Oneness Pentecostals | January 8, 2009

Pentecostal Hearald: We Are Storytellers

We Are Storytellers

Simeon Young Sr.


In an article in U.S. News & World Report (July 3, 2006) titled “What Sets Us Apart,” Mortimer B. Zuckerman referred to an observation made sixty-eight years ago by Henry Luce (founder and publisher of Life magazine). Luce said that the only things that “every community in the world from Zanzibar to Hamburg recognizes in common” are American cultural artifacts—jeans, colas, movies, TV sitcoms, music, and the rhetoric of freedom.


Hollywood, according to Zuckerman, is the major storyteller of the American story. He said, “Most of the time, since World War II, we Americans have reflected the rule of law, individual freedom, defense of human rights, and the just use of American power against fascism and communism. … The message from American pop culture has long been antiauthoritarian, challenging power in ways unthinkable in many countries. The hero, going up against the odds, projected a populist narrative that celebrated the common decencies against the wicked authorities or the excesses of capitalism. Millions who saw such films around the globe derived a sense of phantom citizenship in America, an appetite for the life that only liberty can bring.”


Zuckerman claims that in an attempt “to reach the younger populations under the age of 25 … Hollywood has been offering more dumbed-down blockbusters based on action, violence, sex, and special effects.” The result of this approach is that America is associated with “crime, vacuity, moral decay, promiscuity, and pornography.”


Zuckerman believes the “media project defiance and ridicule not just of illegitimate authority but of any authority at all—parents, teachers, and political leaders” and that the media have “contributed to make Americanization a dirty word, with the American lifestyle and American capitalism widely viewed as an anarchic revolutionary force.”


He said that because of the media, American capitalism “is perceived as trampling social order in the ruthless pursuit of profits, creating a new class system, based on money, combined with an uninhibited pursuit of pleasure and a disordered sense of priorities.” Because of these factors, “America’s narrative, which has waxed for so long, is now waning in its universal appeal” and that “anti-Americanism [is] respectable again.”


Zuckerman concludes his essay by saying, “These perceptions are badly skewed. They fail to do justice to what is so wonderful about the United States: its individualism, its embrace of diversity, its opportunities for freedom, the welcome it extends to newcomers, and the uniqueness of an entrepreneurial, pragmatic society that is dramatically open to energy and talent. No other country provides the environment for self-help, self-improvement, and self-renovation. No other country possesses our unique mood of buoyancy, optimism, and confidence for the future.” He says Americans should “portray ourselves positively (while not ignoring the warts).”


The article challenges me to think deeply about how we Pentecostals see ourselves, how we portray what we are and whose we are, how others see us, and how they portray us.

Plato said, “Those who tell the stories rule society.”


“What sets us apart?” is a question that we, as Americans, need to answer honestly. It is even more important for us Pentecostals to answer the question honestly and to make sure that our answer does not betray our God-ordained identity. This article is not a call for an overweening self-consciousness, but rather a challenge for us to live in such a way that God is glorified. I am not even saying that we should seek the world’s approval, if we are required to surrender our core beliefs to have it. But at the same time we must keep in mind what Jesus said: “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).


Peter identified the people of God as “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people” (I Peter 2:9). These four distinctive characteristics are for one overarching purpose: “That [we] should shew forth the praises of him who hath called [us] out of darkness into his marvellous light.” To rephrase it, we have been called out of the darkness of a benighted world system and set apart by God Himself for the express purpose of being storytellers of God’s grace to the world.


God’s grace is the narrative—the story. That is the epic story that needs to be seen and heard. It is God’s story—not my story—that must be told.


“Those who tell the stories rule society.”


In verse 10 Peter said that we “in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.” The world must see the difference in our “before” and “after” lives. We were without God and had not obtained mercy. But now we are the people of God who have obtained mercy.


That is the story! That is the narrative! That is the plot line!


“Those who tell the stories rule society.”


In verse 11 Peter said, “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrim, abstain from fleshy lusts, which war against the soul.” As long as we see ourselves as strangers and pilgrims who have been placed in a foreign country for the purpose of telling the story of God’s grace, we will resist the constant pull to become like those we should be trying to reach. As the storytellers of grace, we have the potential to influence and change the culture in which we have been placed. We are not here to blend in with the culture, but to change it.


“Those who tell the stories rule society.”


In verse 12 Peter said, “Having your conversation (manner of life, conduct, behavior, deportment) honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify (to praise, extol, magnify, celebrate, hold in honor) God in the day of visitation.”


I must keep on asking myself, “Is my conduct such that those around me are so influenced and impacted by my good works that it causes them to turn to Jesus Christ?” That is what separation is all about. As someone said to me recently, “We are different to make a difference.” If the difference between us and the unconverted does not make a difference, we need to ask ourselves if we are staying true to the story line. Separation is not a curse; it is our most effective soul-winning tool. Separation enables us to tell the story of God’s grace with credibility. If my manner of life does not demonstrate that I have been called out of darkness into light, I undermine the story of grace, and a skeptical world is unconvinced.


John said of Jesus, “In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not” (John 1:4-5). The Greek word translated “comprehended” here can mean “overtaken.” Thus some take this verse to mean that darkness can never overcome light. Regardless of the actual meaning of John 1:5, light is always more powerful than darkness. The light of Jesus Christ shining through us is more powerful than the darkness of the world around us.


“Those who tell the stories rule society.”


Zuckerman said, “No other country possesses our unique mood of buoyancy, optimism, and confidence for the future.” May it be said of us who have been called out of darkness, “No other people possesses our unique mood of buoyancy, optimism, and confidence for the future.”


May we Pentecostals live in such a manner that we are able to convincingly tell the beautiful story of God’s amazing grace to a fallen world!


“Those who tell the stories rule society.”


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