When I was a new Christian, I came across a book by Stuart Barton Babbage entitled The Mark of Cain: Studies in Literature and Theology. The thesis of the book was that human beings have an awareness of their own evil and sin—and of their need for forgiveness and grace. He ranged over the range of modern literature—from D. H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers and Lady Chatterley’s Lover, to Kafka’s The Trial, George Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara and St. Joan, Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun, Steinbeck’s East of Eden, Camus’s The Fall, Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, and Sartre’s Nausea and No Exit. He showed how these authors’ stories and fiction bore witness to important aspects of the Bible’s account of the human condition. In successive chapters he showed modern literature’s witness to the inveteracy of evil, the impotence of the human will, the horror of alienation, the indelibility of guilt, the gift of pardon, the longing for immortality, the joy of grace, and the mystery of love. In short, he showed the fragments of the Christian story even in the stories told by the great artists of the modern era. Or, put another way, Babbage showed how the Christian master narrative made sense of all these other dark, gripping, and moving narratives.
Babbage’s book had a profound influence on me. It was revolutionary for me to see how the biblical gospel’s power was not confined to my inward transformation and life within the Christian community. It also helped me make sense of everything, even the works of literature written by often passionately anti-Christian authors. It helped me see that human beings may hold down the knowledge of God’s reality (Rom. 1:18ff.), but in order to suppress and hold it down, they must actually possess it at some level. They know the truth, but they don’t know it. And that is why parts of biblical truth can often be found—sometimes expressed beautifully and clearly—right alongside the trivial or the false in the cultural products of the world.
In his new book, The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth, Mike Cosper, like Babbage two generations ago, turns to the main storytellers of our time—but in the case of late modern culture, they are more often filmmakers than writers. Mike also rightly assumes that human beings cannot escape being in the image of God. He quotes postmodern writer David Foster Wallace saying, “We’re absolutely dying to give ourselves away to something.” Indeed we are, and in the cinema of our time, we also see the filmmakers bearing witness to the inveteracy of evil, the impotence of human nature, the need for pardon and love—and redemption. God will not leave himself without a witness, and he makes even the wrath of man to praise him (Ps. 76:10).
Mike’s book will help readers learn to put the gospel on like a pair of glasses in order to see the good, the bad, and the ugly in our culture more clearly. This book will be especially helpful, I think, for Christians who preach, teach, and communicate the gospel. And, in the end, learning this discipline—of seeing God’s story in the stories we tell today—will be a way for us to deepen our own understanding of and joy in the gospel we believe.
Editors’ note: This article was adapted with permission from Tim Keller’s foreword to Mike Cosper’s new book, The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth (Crossway, 2014).