In classical rhetoric, narration was often presented by the voice of an all-knowing griot. The narrator would not only convey the action but would also explain the feelings and inward thoughts of the characters. This vehicle was known as diegesis and was about telling the story. In contrast, mimesis was the presentation method that practiced showing the story. By imitation and re-presentation, poetics could mimic the timeless elements of truth and beauty.
Within the contemporary discourse between Christian leaders, there seems to be similar divide when characterizing the Good News. Traditionalists have insisted that the Gospel is essentially a proclamation. God has a plan and that plan, found in the Bible, is the story of God reclaiming a lost and fallen world. As such, the Incarnation is the diagetic evidence which shows the Bible to be true. We, as devout Christians, live out our response of faith by proclaiming through word and deed the essential message that; “It’s about God and His Plan.” Or to put it in Rick Warren’s antiphonal phraseology, “it’s not about YOU!”
Interestingly the emergence movement has found a comity with Christian liberals in staking a claim for a mimetic emphasis in the gospel. As such, the covenant is an invitation to a modus vivendi, a way to live authentically in a post-modern world. Jesus is the mimetic exemplar for those who saw Pharasaical Judaism as an empty, impossibly dogmatic burden. Many younger Christians have balked at the dogmatic “precept upon precept” recipe that makes its way through fundamental church experience. Emergent leaders such as Rob Bell would argue that an adherence to Christian discipleship without the concomitant existential journey leaves faith as empty and shallow as Pharasaism. For he and others, faith walking is acknowledging the universal condition we all share. Clearly, Rob Bell would say that it is “about you!”
The consequence of this polarization is most markedly evident in the response to culture. Proclamationists will insist that we as Christians are to act counter to culture, while emergent Christians will emphasize living in a parallel culture. The debate will go on with many pointing to the bounded truth of Scripture and while others will emphasize the unbounded love shown by God.
Regardless of one’s ilk, hopefully, there will continue to be believers who have visions that are similar to the one found in Acts 16. There Paul envisions the needs of the Macedonian people and responds by traveling to Phillipi. While sitting on a riverbank near the city, Paul introduces Lydia to the prospect of worshipping God. Violating every cultural and religious more of the time, Paul spoke to this woman like few men would and then backs it up by going and communing with her family.
In my opinion, the potency of the story is not found in the radical behavior of Paul nearly so much as the compelling strength of the vision. Whether the emphasis is placed upon the personal nature of the vision or the Sovereign signature of the directive, the outcome is the same. Real people were touched and given new hope. A radical alterity is forever introduced to Greek culture and peoples. Hope was offered and experienced by all strata of social hierarchy and essentially Christianity re-oriented personal and communal experience within the Roman empire.
I’m praying today for young men, women and elders alike to have radical visions that free them personally and which also unifies them corporately with an intimate God and real, hurting people.