The Power of Myth

August 14, 2004

[Star Wars: The Power of Myth]Kay is an Olympic junkie, so we had to watch the opening ceremony. It’s always an amazing spectacle, like Cirque du Soleil done large. Talk about amazing creative expression — you’re not likely to see anything like this done by any church! But every church interested in image-centric experience should watch and learn.

And what did I learn last night? As I watched Eros moon-walking high above a parade of stylized Greek history, I said to Kay, “The church needs to rediscover the power of myth.”

In the modern era, the Message of God was explored for its logic. Folks, there was nothing wrong with that! Every culture needs to rediscover Jesus in their own context, and the Message is certainly “reason“-able. Now in the postmodern era, we are rediscovering how the Message is “sense“-ible, something to be experienced. But I have not heard anyone talk about the mythic elements of the Christ story. This has tended to be the domain of non-Christian sociologists, perhaps because naive Christians are scared away by the word “myth”.

But in my religion and sociology classes at Purdue (unusual fare, perhaps, for a computer science major), I learned that calling something a myth has nothing to do with whether or not the story occurred in history. It has everything to do with the power of the story to define what is important. I’d say the Christ story has that in spades! C.S. Lewis said it is THE myth that all other myths point to.

Jon Reid

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As an American missionary kid who grew up in Japan, I'm a child of two cultures, while not fully belonging to either. This gives me a sightly different view of the world.

8 responses to The Power of Myth

  1. Amen “The Christ story has that in spades!!!”
    It is awesome to serve a transformational God.

  2. Jon,
    when were you at Purdue? Were you involved with Purdue Christian Campus house by chance?

  3. Gosh Greg, Purdue was a looong time ago — 1980 thru 1984. I wasn’t at the Christian Campus House, but stayed all 4 years at the now non-existent Fowler Courts.
    I’ll see you in a few weeks, eh?

  4. I love your distinction between reason-able and sense-able. I hear that you see myth as a way to put people back in touch with the sense-ability of the Message. It’s a different hermaneutic, a different way of interpreting the Message.
    I confess I’m scared by using the word “myth” in relation to the Message. Perhaps I’m naive, but whatever “myth” means to you doesn’t indicate what it’ll mean to the culture at large. I think that if we start talking about the myth of the Gospel we’re not going to be triggering the listening we’re looking for.
    There has been a lot of thinking and writing about the Jesus story as myth during the 1800-1900’s. It wasn’t just sociologists, and it wasn’t people who started out as non-Christians. I think it led people to make the Message into whatever they wanted it to be without regard to its declaration of what God was doing. I just read “Dr. Zhivago” which is full of this. He reinterprets the Message as the catalyst for the emergence of the individual as the center of life, rather than the community. The author, Boris Pasternak, is mostly known as a poet. In his thinking–like others I’ve read about– Jesus becomes irrelevant, its the Myth, or whatever the Myth produces that becomes important. And the Gospel without the Lord of the Gospel seems pretty meaningless to me.
    Yeah, I cringe when people talk about the Gospel as myth, but I love making the Message sense-able.

  5. there is a program on pbs called the power of myth with works on james campbell.

  6. I hear you, Jor. I just looked up “myth” in the dictionary and while one definition says, “A traditional, typically ancient story dealing with supernatural beings, ancestors, or heroes that serves as a fundamental type in the worldview of a people…” another definition is, “A fiction or half-truth, especially one that forms part of an ideology.” Bleh. So I guess “myth” is not a useful word in this context. For as it says, “If there’s no resurrection for Christ, everything we’ve told you is smoke and mirrors, and everything you’ve staked your life on is smoke and mirrors.”
    I guess what I’m looking for comes back to a conversation with a friend a while back over lunch. I told him that the Bible wasn’t just a set of stories — it’s my story, and I want to be part of the story.

  7. I was going to say something agreeing with you but I just got lost in a train of thought that ended up with:
    “What *is* the Bible anyway, and what hermaneutics and practices do I need to produce Christ-in-me so those stories connect with my stories, and my stories connect with those stories? And when they were written they were the stories of the contemporary church, but now they aren’t, except when they are. And I think that’s what everyone wants to happen, so how does it?”
    That scared the original thought right out of my head.