My granddaughter came to sit on my lap as I was typing a column in progress, and finding the title interesting, she asked if she could read it. She is a remarkably intelligent girl (everybody’s grandchild is above average), and so I happily said yes.
Two paragraphs into the essay my 8-year-old audience lost interest. “Well, I write for adults, not children,” I said, thinking to encourage her. But comprehension was not her problem. “Where’s the story?” my granddaughter said dismissively. A tad defensive, I replied, “Not all writing has to have a story.” She remained as unconvinced as Alice before her trip to Wonderland. Alice suffered a similar bad reaction to the reading fare forced upon her by her nanny: “What is the use of a book without pictures or conversations?”
Out of the mouths of babes comes perfect praise, says God (Psalm 8:2). And Jesus also paid a high compliment to children in His astounding statement that unless we become like one of them we can in no way enter the kingdom (Matthew18:3). But children are also valuable as literary canaries in the coal mine, sniffing out lifeless essays, those that are dead on arrival. And as a matter of fact, my granddaughter’s critique was uncomfortably like my editors’: Where’s the story?
As I think harder about it, it appears to me not merely a matter of style, but of something much deeper in the human soul. Jesus told stories most of the time, and you have to conclude either that He did so because He lived in backward, pre-literate, agrarian times, and had to resort to the blunt instrument of parables for conveying truth—or that He chose the story vehicle on purpose. Since it is incontrovertible that God could have arranged for His Son to be born after the Gutenberg press, I opt for the explanation that Jesus told stories not as Plan B but because stories are the best way to the soul and the heart.
As I think harder still, it occurs to me that this is why Christian testimony is so important to the health of the church. It is fine and right to teach and preach, but unless we offer testimony too, people lose interest. Not only little girls but adults as well benefit so much more if your teaching about the word of God is fleshed out with a personal story about how you (1) believed the Word of God; (2) obeyed it; and (3) saw God add his blessing to your obedience. Professor John Frame says that the norm of scripture always illumines a situation of some kind and is not an abstraction. My granddaughter could have told you that too.