The Power of the Backstory

My 18-year-old son is an avid gamer and at this point in his life, aspires to make some aspect of game design into a career.  Whether he does or not, who knows, but I’ve no doubt about his excellent chances for success.  One reason is his ability to bring the paradigms of epic gaming into epic reality and vice versa.  One of those paradigms is that of the "backstory".  My own history with gaming revolves almost solely around one racing game and I only got a charge out of the competition and sense of speed and skill that one can draw from it.  First person shooters or RPGs, etc. have never held my interest and I suppose one of the reasons is that I’ve not "had the time" to really engage with the "backstory."

What’s a "backstory?"

Most of you probably already  know, but I remember that the first context I heard that term mentioned in was in gaming (though wikipedia gives it a broader definition).  It refers to the over-arching narrative that has been crafted around the action of the game that can give the player more understanding of what’s going on strategy-wise (the "practical" value of the backstory), but it’s also a tool that facilitates a more immersive experience in the game.  Depending on how alive the imagination is of the gamer, they can really enter into what they are doing and what they are experiencing in the game. It enhances the experience.

The backstory to the Gospel of Luke

Imagine my surprise, having only a gaming context in mind for this word, to hear it come out of the mouth of "learned British theologian" NT Wright. In the this talk that he gave in 2010 as part of the British "The Big Read" project (various churches in Britain all reading through the same portions of scripture during the season of Lent), Wright gives the "backstory" to the Gospel of Luke.  It is vintage NT Wright – especially since he’s all about "narrative."  It brings together many of his best themes and lays a rich foundation for approaching the reading of the Gospels (and indeed the Bible) but with a focus especially on the Gospel of Luke.  When he used the term backstory it really made me think of what a backstory does in gaming and how that applies to how we engage with God and His Kingdom and this incredible vehicle of communication that He’s given us called the Bible.  My impression is that we are all too often stuck in the posture that I had with games.  I didn’t bother with the backstory or anything else that is really necessary to engage with a game and plumb its depths as an immersive experience…and so it wasn’t. 

Knowing and appreciating the backstory is a complete game-changer!

Mind the gap! The difficult path to “both and”

Well, it’s the eve of the US mid-term elections and here in France…well…no one cares I think. No, it’s All Saint’s Day (Toussaint) here and they’re mostly at the local cemetery putting chrysanthemum’s on grave stones. Tomorrow is “All Souls Day” where one prays for the deceased in Purgatory. Add to that the US import of Halloween last night and the ever important VE Day celebrations on November 11th where the French gather in every town’s war memorial (they call them “monuments to the dead”) and there’s a whole lotta’ “death” being celebrated over here!

The recent strikes and riots and fuel shortages have not helped either. The sense of “division/divisiveness”, at least for me, has a consonant ring with the “spirit of death”. To surmise that this period of time on the calendar and this period of time with respect to political events in the US and in France, is fraught with activity in the spiritual realm would not take a genius. The stakes are high and the tempers are too…prime territory for enemy seed to be sown in hearts. Kind of scares me that we cast important votes in such a climate!

What seems to be trumpeted around so often in American politics and, I see in French politics too, is that you have two real choices…no more…no less. One must fall on one side or the other and responsible engagement in the political process (aside from the ubiquitous call from all fronts to simply “VOTE!”) requires fighting for one side or against the other. As I’ve mentioned in other posts this sort of default engagement by the Body of Christ does no one any favors as we abdicate our priestly role to steward the land in which God has put us.

How do we get out of these deep ruts? Well, as one for whom concepts are primordial to shape certain kinds of behavior, I think we need to better understand what it looks like when the Kingdom of God is advancing…i.e. when God is King. What it looks like typically flies in the face of “either or” dualistic views of the social and political landscapes. Jesus bridges the gap and takes a path that doesn’t necessarily align with either right or left-winged expectations (no matter how hard we try to put Him in such “one-sided boxes.”

Recently, Duke University Divinity School held their Convocation and Pastor’s School where they had 3 outstanding speakers: NT Wright, Andy Crouch and Rob Bell. Each of these speakers, in different but complementary ways, outlined both concepts and practical application of how we “mind the gap”; how we, as the Body of Christ can and must embrace the tension of the “both and” and reject the easy slipping into left or right-wing ruts. I don’t do their excellent talks justice at all in this short blurb of publicity, but I’m much better at pointing you toward excellent source materiel than I am at summarizing it! So, I highly encourage a listen to these speakers. If you have iTunes and want to use the iTunes U. service, you can simply use the links here. If you, as I do, rather despise iTunes, feel free to take advantage of my efforts to extract these free mp3 resources from Apple’s grip and download them/stream them directly from here:

NT Wright Part 1

NT Wright Part 2

Andy Crouch

Rob Bell

Flourishing as Genuine Humans in 2009

I’m desperate to somehow dump all my pithy and profound thoughts about 2009 out in some elegant manner…but I’m more desperate to link to these teachings…where NT Wright does a much better job than I ever could in being pithy and profound.

This 3-part lecture series was part of InterVarsity’s Following Christ 2008 conference held at the end of December. I believe it dovetails well with some of the things I mentioned in our last Prayer Bulletin regarding prophetic words for 2009 and generally “what God is up to and wants us to be up to” right about now! 😉

For those who are used to listening to NT Wright, you’ll know that he speaks in a lot of “shorthand”, whereby a certain term or phrase has (literally) volumes of teaching behind it. This series is, in my opinion, particularly “dense” and bids you listen to it more than once…it will be worth it! Additionally, Wright uses as his text the book of Colossians. He refers to it almost as a “study” of the book. So, if you listen with a copy of Colossians in front of you, you’ll probably gain even more insight.




Surprised by Hope

Surprised by Hope is the name of NT Wright’s latest book. He’s been on a speaking tour about the book and there are several very good audio teachings from this tour linked out there on which cover more or less the same ground (but don’t let me stop you from listening to them all!) I chose these two (though one is not specifically from his book tour) because they are both only about 30 minutes long and they both give some very concise and succinct theology. I think this is what is so important about this book (which, I confess, I’ve not read yet…but I feel like I have after listening to all his talks on it!). It sheds light on popular mis-conceptions about the foundations of the Christian faith that, frankly, most of us in the Western world have simply not gotten right. Additionally, they are fundamental truths that, if skewed, really cripple the impact of the Body of Christ on the world…which, unfortunately, is what has happened in the last 200 years or so…to the point where we no longer realize we’re limping.

Enjoy and be challenged!

Interview on radio station KZUM (13Mb)

At St. Aldates church in Oxford, England The Roots, Basis And Fruits Of Christian Hope (8Mb – mp3)

But HOW do you know?

NT Wright is one of my favorite teachers and since discovering him (thanks Martin!), I’ve gleaned so much from his insights. While he lectures frequently in the States, it’s very often in the context of very “established” denominational streams…the sort that probably would invite a renowned New Testament theologian and prolific author. Consequently, many people that I connect with in the States, mostly from “charismatic” and/or “evangelical” contexts might not have yet stumbled upon him. One of the reasons that I find him stimulating is that he manages to place his feet firmly in more than one theological camp. I love those voices that challenge my boxes well, without simply being from “another box.”

I commend to you a web site dedicated to the cataloging of his writings, messages, etc. You’ll find text but also audio and video there. There is also a “log page” that details what has changed recently. I use the service to stay up-to-date with his audio teachings and find that a tremendous resource. Most of his more recent things can now be found at:

This particular message that I recommend here is “Can a scientist believe in the Resurrection?” It was given at the The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion in May 2007. What I found particularly interesting was NT Wright’s discourse on how we know something. Really worth listening and understanding!

You can find both text and video for the message at their web site:

Here is the audio link (18MB – mp3):

Reliving Acts

This year I’ve been reading my Bible a bit differently. Taking a challenge I heard from a Mike Bickle teaching once, I’ve read “10 chapters a day” in the New Testament, which effectively takes you through the New Testament in 1 month. I’ve since re-divided that into “10 pages a day” because not all “10 chapters” are created equally!!! 😀

I’m coming toward the end of this year of reading in this way and I’m anxious to try the same sort of thing on other parts of the Bible. This has been very rewarding to do this for one year. It’s brought me a lot of revelation and new perspectives on things. I recommend it.

Having said that, there are certainly parts that I come up on and am not too anxious to read again. God is faithful though and continues to speak to me even in parts that become tedious for me to read. Sometimes however, we still need a fresh perspective from somewhere else to help us get past our mental blocks in reading certain passages.

For me one of those “certain passages” was different parts of the book of Acts, and in particular from when Paul goes on trial until the end. Well, I’ve found some help in the form of a teaching from NT Wright. During a recent visit to Asbury Seminary, NT Wright gave a number of excellent messages (more posts to come!) of which one was an overview of the book of Acts.

Wright has a way of injecting life into passages with perspectives that one has not really considered and an historical context that sheds an altogether different light on things you’ve read over and over.

So, after too much ado 🙄 enjoy this teaching on The Book of Acts by NT Wright (mp3 – 29MB)