I have talked with many people over the years that were uneasy about the script they felt was associated with Christian faith. It looks to them like some kind of script in which Christians are expected to follow every line—leaving no room for free improvisation in the romance of living itself.
And yet I’ve also run into quite a lot of people who quickly tire of making up everything as they go along. This is especially the case when large groups of people are working together spontaneously in profoundly complex sets of relationships. What if one person wants to get married, but it’s the furthest thing from the mind of another? Is getting a job negotiable? What if a parent wants to write a script that includes their child leaving the house, but their child wishes to read a script of them staying in the basement rent-free?
Is there a script?
Most actors know that there are various relationships that films and productions can have to scripts. Some stick exactly to every word of the script, and others leave some freedom to the actors. But according to this metaphor, following Christ is a little bit more like being in the writing room.
Every writer knows that there are only a limited number of plot lines that make good stories. Technically, there may be an infinite number of possible storylines—but only a very small number of them actually work. The ones that work have character development, a clear and palpable setting, some sort of conflict, an escalation of that conflict, some set of climaxing events, some sort of resolution, and so on. You can try to use your freedom to get off these rails, but there’s something about stories that just won’t let you. So, you can write 100,000 good stories, but they will all share certain characteristics that will not let you go. Stories have a nature. If you move along the lines of that nature, you can write almost anything and it will be a decent story. But if you break the laws of story, even if you’re a very talented writer, you end up with a mess or a snore.
This is a helpful way to think about the Christian script. God has created certain laws in the nature of his good storytelling. These laws essentially amount to virtues and doctrines. Virtues and doctrines determine the setting of the story and its fundamental nature. From there, we have an enormous amount of freedom for creativity and improvisation. However, we don’t have complete creative control because we are telling an interactive story that God is also telling and that other people are living in.
Parameters bring peace
If we can get this metaphor straight, it will help us to sidestep both the anxiety that we have with Christianity making our lives too scripted and the anxiety of having no basic storyline that naturally brings us together and that sets the parameters for telling multiple stories in the same space. After all, every human romance has at least two writers, not including God.
When we think of doctrine and virtue as the set nature and laws of good human storytelling, we will recognize the huge expanse of freedom given to us by God within his perfectly reasonable parameters of what makes for a good story. And when we obey the contexts of doctrine and virtue, we always write a good and original story. It is God’s story and still yet our own. It is also a life that can be beautifully woven together with the lives of others—simultaneously upholding and expanding many good plot lines in the lives of people all around us. But when we reject the doctrines and virtues God teaches us, we not only unravel the threads of our own story, but those of our neighbors as well.
Beautifully original stories
In accepting the parameters of this storyline, some people will call us boring. For example, most of us will grow into virtuous adults, marry, work, rear children and enjoy peace. And yet that basic narrative, one of a number of possible storylines in Christ, can still be told a billion times with beauty. But the life of unfaithfulness, cynicism, and selfish attempts at inventing reality never have any good drama unless they are redeemed. They only find their plot with the entrance of Jesus himself to bring the story back around.
Does Christianity have a script? Not really. Do all good creators obey the laws of story? Yes, they do. And similarly, the story of reality has its own laws embodied in the doctrines and virtues that God has spoken and shown through his Son. Embrace God’s revealed truths and virtues, then write your own script. You’ll be amazed at its beautiful originality.