Donald Miller is in a room of 500 or 600 people, all waiting for him to speak. But as he steps behind the podium and begins, his voice seems more suited to a small group of five or six.
"Okay," he starts, "what are some of your favorite movies?"
A murmur of response"Come on!" Miller encouragesand then people start shouting out titles. The Matrix! A Beautiful Mind! The Straight Story! Finding Nemo! The audience oohs and aahs at each other's choices. Little Women! Napoleon Dynamite! It's a Wonderful Life! The shouting goes on for a while; they forget this is a workshop.
"Okay, great," Miller says, bringing attention front and center. "Now, call out your favorite parts of the Nicene Creed."
Awkward giggles throughout the roomthey know they've been had. Then one man pipes up: "It's a wonderful life!"
Miller laughs along with, maybe louder than, everyone in the room. He's enjoying that his point was made for him: We know our movies better than we know our creeds. And now self-help banalitiesYour life can be wonderfulcompete for our attention with the classic truths of the Christian story.
In the next half hour, Miller delivers a variation on a theme ascendant in evangelical Christianity: Truth is rooted in story, not in rational systems. The Christian mission is not well served when we speak in terms of spiritual laws or rational formulas. Propositional truths, when extracted from a narrative context, lack meaning. "The chief role of a Christian," he says, "is to tell a better story."
In keeping with the movie theme, Miller quotes at length from Robert McKee, the Hollywood screenwriting guru whose book Story (1997) is at once a detailed guide to the principles of narrative and a primer on the principles ...