Book Review: The Stories We Tell

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Once upon a time…. Those words always seem to capture our attention. Why? Because we love a good story. And the reason why we love a good story, according to Mike Cosper in his book The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long For and Echo The Truth, is that “we have a great storytelling God.”

It’s not just that we love stories, but it is stories that help us “to know who we are–to understand ourselves and our place in the world. We are made in the image of a storytelling God.” And this is why Cosper writes this book. He has personally been overtaken by the story world of TV and cinema and as a result, has discovered that the “grand narrative” of salvation history “subsumes and encompasses all the other comings and goings of every creature–real or fictitious–on the earth.”

Cosper provides illustration after illustration of movies and TV shows, many of which I have not watched, and “how they reveal the heart’s longing for the gospel.” Cosper does not presume to know the intentions of the writers or directors, but this much is evident to him, “if art is accurately depicting human life, it will reflect both humanity’s brokenness and the heart’s longing for eternity, beauty, and redemption–all of which are found in the gospel.”

Reading The Stories We Tell caused me to become aware of several things. First, I became aware again of just how powerful stories are. A simple night at the movies has the power to touch our deepest emotions. Just consider the recent release of American Sniper. When the final credits roll in this film, people leave the theater with a solemness that only a story can create.

Second, because story is so powerful, I need to work at becoming a better story teller. Specifically, I need to become a better gospel story teller. The gospel is not just a series of facts, but a story of rescue which has the power to replot our lives and the lives of those we encounter.

Third, if what Cosper writes is true, then there is the opportunity to allow the stories found in movies and TV to open doors for us to share the gospel with others. Stories are more than entertainment. The stories people are drawn to reveal to us that they have a longing for hope along with a hero to save the day.

As we think about what draws people to story, we must include ourselves in that discussion as well. Why do we like certain movies and TV shows? What do the stories we enjoy tell us about our own hopes and dreams? I think that we will find that we are like everyone else in this fallen world. “We long for an ultimately satisfying embrace,” writes Cosper, “that welcomes us as we are for who we are.” Ultimately, that embrace is found in the gospel.

Finally, Cosper has helped me to realize that it can be profitable to watch a good movie or TV series. “For centuries,” writes Cosper, “people have gathered and told tales meant to inspire hope and shed light on the struggles of life. They’ve told about men who conquered dragons and raised mountains, who rescued damsels and rose from the dead. Our hearts swell when we hear and see these stories.” The good news for us who believe, however, is that as we “hear these stories of life, death, and resurrection,” we know “in our hearts that it really did happen.”

I don’t suspect that movies and TV are going to disappear anytime soon in our culture. Therefore, I found reading Cosper’s book both helpful and enlightening. It’s a reminder of how good the story of the Bible is and how it “tells us that life, indeed, is heading somewhere. There’s an end to the story, and it’s an end that by God’s grace can be an experience of the greatest good and the most satisfying glorification that we’ll ever know.”

Crossway has provided a complimentary copy of this book for this review through Beyond the Page.

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