What is Gospel Storytelling?

I attended The Gospel Coalition national conference this week as part of the Storyframes Collective team. Storyframes is a collaboration between The Gospel Coalition and the Story Team from my local church, the Austin Stone. I was humbled to serve alongside a great team that believes in the power of gospel storytelling, and to talk to conference attendees about how storytelling can impact the lives of believers.

I had good conversations with pastors and church leaders from around the world, but there was one question that kept coming up first, “what is gospel storytelling?” It’s a good question, because the term is not familiar to most people, or at least there is no obvious definition.

In my conversations, writing, and thinking on the topic I have developed this definition: Gospel storytelling is the work of kingdom artists sharing stories of human sin and the redemption, healing, and response of God’s people through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What does 'Gospel Storytelling' really mean?

The gospel is an announcement, it is the proclamation that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ has covered the sins of God’s people. To believe that good news and trust God's promises, all men can find salvation and eternal life.

All believing Christians live as heralds of the gospel, messengers of the wondrous saving work of the cross. A believer’s life already tells the tale of redemption, and gospel storytelling seeks to amplify, authenticate, and remind us of the gospel.

Steven Bush and Jeremy Rodgers serve on the Austin Stone Story Team and are leaders in the Storyframes Collective. In their workshops at TGC13 and the Verge conference earlier this year they explained the threefold power of gospel storytelling like this:

Amplify - Gospel storytelling increases the influence of an individual’s story. If a believer has cancer and suffers well, prizes Jesus, and depends on the Lord’s mercy and provision it can be a great encouragement to their community. But what if you could take that story and spread it? What impact would that story have if 1,000 people knew about the struggle and saw faithfulness in it? What if it was 10,000? 100,000? Storytelling and the internet has made this a possiblity for almost anyone in the world today.

Authenticate - A skeptical world can easily dismiss a believer’s faith in the good times, but it is harder when the tough times comes and the faith sticks around. When a storyteller shows a believer suffering well, and the comfort and help they receive from Christ, through the Holy Spirit’s work it can pierce the hardest heart. When a person opens up their heart and exposes their deepest struggles, and how Christ is victorious in those times, we are faithfully proclaiming the saving work of Christ.

Remind - Finally, stories serve as reminders to believers of the gospel. A powerful story of salvation and deliverance from sin reminds us of the power of the one who saved us. A look into deep loss prompts us to consider how we would react in the situation, it causes us to reflect on the nature and depth of our faith. A gospel-centered story is both an ebeneezer and an encouragement.

Where can I find gospel stories?

Visit the Storyframes Collective website and checkout our films, photography, and the written and spoken stories. There are many talented artists contributing to the Collective, and I think you will find real encouragement in the stories.

When you don’t even own your own library

I’m rethinking this whole buy-books-electronically thing.</p>

That's Rod Dreher in a recent post about the ebook readers in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. I'm right there with him.

I was a relatively early ebook adopter. I had one of the first Kindle models, and I have enjoyed it earnestly. I have also spent hundreds of dollars investing in a sizable digital theological library. The ease of carrying a whole library on one device, the ability to have all my books on my Kindle, iPad or iPhone at the drop of a hat, and the savings it typically brought over paper books captured my love and devotion from day one. But in the last few weeks, I am seriously starting to rethink things.

In the post referenced above, Rod relates his recent travel troubles with his iPad to position that the folks in Sandy-affected areas are in. If your device breaks, you cant get on the internet, or there is no power you have effectively lost your library. No matter what the likelihood of this is, the fact remains, this will not happen to your paper library. But these two examples are not even the worst side of my newly acquired ebook dilemma.

What if Amazon decided one day that you were no longer a legitimate customer? What if your account was hacked and used for an illegal transaction, or theft, or something worse? What would they do? Well, due to the unfortunate circumstances of a Norwegian woman named Linn, we now know:


Linn travels a lot and therefore has, or should I say had, a lot of books on her Kindle, purchased from Amazon. Suddenly, her Kindle was wiped and her account was closed. Being convinced that something wrong had happened, she sent an e-mail to Amazon, asking for help. This was the answer:

Dear Linn [last name],</p>

My name is Michael Murphy and I represent Executive Customer Relations within Amazon.co.uk. One of our mandates is to address the most acute account and order problems, and in this capacity your account and orders have been brought to my attention.

We have found your account is directly related to another which has been previously closed for abuse of our policies. As such, your Amazon.co.uk account has been closed and any open orders have been cancelled.

Per our Conditions of Use which state in part: Amazon.co.uk and its affiliates reserve the right to refuse service, terminate accounts, remove or edit content, or cancel orders at their sole discretion.

Please know that any attempt to open a new account will meet with the same action.

You may direct any questions to me at resolution-uk@amazon.co.uk.

Thank you for your attention to this email.


Michael Murphy
Executive Customer Relations

Well, there you have it. The post goes to recount a long series of back and forth correspondence on the issue. Sadly, it ends with no answers from Amazon and their promise to close any new account she opens.

This leads me to my dilemma. If I cannot ensure access to my library, or if the one who sold me the volumes in my library has the right and ability to summarily repossess the contents of my library, then is it even mine?

In a real sense, do I even own the ebooks that I have purchased? Logically the answer appears to be no.

In light of this, I can honestly say that I may not buy another ebook. That is a very big statement for me, especially in light of the fact that I was considering self-publishing some work via the Kindle platform just a few weeks ago. From where I sit now, that seems a long ways off.

The worst advice I’ve ever heard

What is the worst advice you have ever heard? How about this?

Do what makes you happy

Or, its corollary:

Follow your heart/feelings

I was prompted to consider this question by Rod Dreher's blog where he quoted this post. The question struck me hard because I realized this advice, this line of thinking, is the prevalent worldview of our day. And it is utterly destructive.

Following this advice will wreck a marriage over time, or all in one moment. Following this advice will lead you to ignore your responsibilities and obligations. It will erode your sense of duty to family, community and even yourself. This advice will destroy you, and what you love.

I'm sure some of you are not sold. I get it, it's a really hard sell these days. Everything in our society, philosophy, and media are telling you this is not true. They earnestly, and deftly, push the idea that if you would just follow your own feelings, and let others do the same, that we'd find ourselves in one big happy, tolerant culture-- and that everything would be fine.

Just one problem; it's all a lie.

Just ask yourself one question, and answer it honestly. What is the worst thing I have wanted to do today? Nothing today? How about yesterday? Last week? This month? If you are honest with yourself-- deep, deep down where no one else will ever know you-- you will find some ugly stuff.

Still maintain that's not you? Okay fine, how do you think your spouse would answer that question? Your neighbor? Your boss? Your nemesis? You won't make it very far without finding some very dark desires.

That is the point. You can't trust your heart, mind, or feelings-- not all the times. This is why culture matters. Having friends, family, and a community around that holds us to a certain moral standard keeps us in line. Because we won't do it on our own. Culture matters. Community matters. Morality matters.

Rod Dreher nails it on wealth

Rod Dreher has a great post on something I have been thinking about a lot lately:

I never have read economics knowledgeably or in depth, but I took it on trust that our economists were right about these things. Capitalism had triumphed, and the only real argument was between conservatives and neoliberals. Yes, social conservatives like me pointed out how an economic order that puts too much emphasis on the market undermines certain things social conservatives value, but most of us, I would say in retrospect, never really understood the depth of what it meant to say, as the Bible absolutely does, that wealth corrupts. I mean, we did not fully appreciate how the acquisition of money — which is to say, power — created a sense of invulnerability, and blinded us to the dangers inherent in the system we supported. We on the American Right may look at the Eurozone bigs today and think, “Well, of course; how could they not have seen that coming?” But very damn few of us — and not just on the Right (cough, cough, Robert Rubin) — saw our own epistemic corruption. (emphasis added)

Well said.

“Kurt Cobain wouldn’t have been hawking his Kickstarter campaign.”

Austin Kleon is absolutely right here. The new digital world will tear down the old institutions of culture-making. Our adaptation to this new world is, in a way, making us even more human than before.


While reading this New York Times article about Amanda Palmer’s Kickstarter campaign, this sentence, spoken by former music executive Greg Scholl, made me so fucking crazy. The underlying romantic and snobby sentiment here is that Cobain was a “real” artist who wouldn’t have subjected himself to such humiliations.

Well, actually, I’d argue that, aside from his substance abuse and mental and physical health issues, Cobain’s true humiliation was his rapid, inhuman fame — made possible only by the machinery of the record industry. (This isn’t to say that Cobain didn’t want to be a rock star. I think in a way he did, but didn’t know how to handle getting his wish.) It was a big part of what killed him. In his suicide note, he expressed how much he felt detached from rock and roll, from the fans, from the “punk rock 101…independence and the embracement of your community.” The thing had gotten too big, too fast. He quotes Neil Young’s “better to burn out than to fade away” line at the end of his note.

I wonder what if the fates had aligned to let him “burn slow” instead.

When asked how it felt to be handed a million dollars by her fans, this was Palmer’s response:

I have over $1 million of capital to manufacture a record that nobody’s heard. To me, that makes that entire pile of money look like a mountain of faith that my fans have in me, because they’re already on board with my music, my philosophy, my career. They’re on Team Amanda. That’s the kind of thing that a new artist can never do.

As Yancey Strickler says, it’s not about fame:

Fame is a lot of people caring about you a little. What Amanda has is something different. It’s a few people caring about her a lot.

What I see in Amanda Palmer’s model is a very human, a very healthy, a very slow and steady rise. A kind of antithesis to Nirvana’s rapid stardom. Who knows if it’s sustainable (when asked, Palmer admitted, “I haven’t made any music all month. I’ve been working on my Kickstarter.”), but it’s not an anomaly, it’s nothing to sneer at, and it’s definitely something worth stealing from.