Everyone loves a story, and Mike Cosper is here to argue that stories are built into our psyche. His new book, The Stories We Tell is an attempt to recover the value behind storytelling, rather than just conceding the area to “a trashy modern culture. The Stories we Tell looks at common stories and movies in our culture to show how even secular TV and movies long for and echo the truth. Cosper asks the question, “Can we learn something from our insatiable addiction to stories?” Read on for more.
For someone who loves stories, Cosper’s book is a breath of fresh air. Too many people routinely condemn the latest blockbuster or bestseller as automatic garbage. While it can be true in many cases (even Cosper admits that many of the movies he uses as examples aren’t worth recommending), occasionally someone is willing to dig a little deeper into the people behind these stories. All stories are, after all, written by people for people about people, so there can be common ground anywhere. Cosper maintains that all people are looking for belonging and meaning, expressing this hope in echoes of the bigger story of the gospel.
The book doesn’t waste any time on the “How is too far?” question that Christians are fond of asking. Personally, I find this question a waste of time. Instead, Cosper leaves the meat of the book to studying the stories themselves. The Stories we Tell is rich with biblical allusions as well as pop culture breadth and depth.
This is exactly the sort of discerning, level-headed analysis that Christians need more of, and Cosper lays out some excellent ground rules as well as providing lots of examples. The book is just fun to read because so much of Cosper’s enthusiasm for storytelling bleeds through in his writing. It’s clear that he is passionate about stories and wants to see Christians do them justice, whether secular or otherwise.
Cosper also draws parallels between the gospel story and echoes of it in secular movies and TV. Let’s be clear, Cosper does not attempt to wring overwrought gospel metaphors out of stories — instead, he tracks how Jesus’ life and death on earth lays out the same basic hero narrative that’s common in many stories. Rather than using this to equate Jesus to Neo (a comparison made time and time again), Cosper supports his thesis that stories echo the gospel, even unwittingly.
He closes the book by reaffirming the strength of the gospel. The Bible, he points out, is full of liars, cheats, and womanizers. Even David, he says, is the “closest thing we get to a king,” but is still an adulterer and a murderer. It turns out there are no human heroes in the Bible, except for one. “There are no human heroes,” Cosper writes, “Everyone’s hands are stained and dirty. Had any of these men risen to the challenge and lived up to God’s standards […], we wouldn’t need the Gospel. We wouldn’t need Jesus.”
This is the final thrust of Cosper’s book: not that stories have value, not that “how far is too far” is a mostly useless argument, but that God has kept his promise, sending the world the hero it longed for. Finally, he writes, “we can hear these stories of life, death, and resurrection, knowing in our hearts that it really did happen.” Because Cosper’s entire book is rooted in this truth of the gospel, all of his understanding of story filters through this lens.
It’s a perspective that Christians need more of: too often we descend to prudish condemnation without any root in what we believe. Cosper, by solidly standing in the stream of Biblical teaching, is simultaneously more and less charitable towards secular stories than most Christians. He understands, first of all, that all stories reflect a corrupted truth that humanity is clawing desperately to get back to, somehow, without acknowledging a God. But secondly, and more importantly, Cosper has the grounding in the gospel to understand that these stories will ultimately and always fall short: that only the gospel can give people the meaning and fulfillment that they are seeking.
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