Everybody’s talking about the degree to which works of fiction shape attitudes about life and our understanding of God. This isn’t a new discussion, either. It seems quite obvious that fiction has a way of working itself into the fabric of human experience. Just think of the number of movie lines we use almost daily to describe the vicissitudes of life. Life is like a box of chocolates, right?
There is a widely reported anecdote involving the influential Swiss Reformed Christian theologian Dr. Karl Barth (pronounced “Bart”, as in Bart Starr or Bart Simpson, according those who are supposed to know about such things). He was once asked if he could summarize what he had said in his many massive works on faith. Reportedly, Dr. Barth thought for a moment and then said: "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so."
Here’s the really interesting part of this story about the power of story. You see, Anna Bartlett Warner (1827-1915) wrote a children’s book entitled “Say and Seal”. In this work of fiction, one of the characters is portrayed as comforting a child who was dying. This character sings a song called “Jesus Loves Me”. This song was discovered by William B. Bradbury, who in 1862 composed the tune we now sing, adding to it the “Yes Jesus Loves Me” chorus.
Now, that underscores the power of story, doesn’t it? A world renowned theologian summarizes his work in the words of a song which first was born into the world on the lips of a fictional character conceived by Anna Bartlett Warner. Fiction does, indeed, have a way of working itself into the fabric of the human experience, including our theology.
I’m sure there are other examples of the same sort of thing. Isn’t this one amazing?