Bigger on the Inside
Imaginative Discipleship Podcast
5 - Reality and Other Stories: How do the Seven Basic Plots point us to the meaning of reality? with Pete Dray and Matt Lillicrap

5 - Reality and Other Stories: How do the Seven Basic Plots point us to the meaning of reality? with Pete Dray and Matt Lillicrap

Why do the same archetypes and story forms recur across cultures and down through history? Discover how Christopher Booker's Seven Basic Plots find fulfilment in the story of Christ

Pete Dray and Matt Lillicrap, authors of Reality and Other Stories (IVP, 2022), discuss the intriguing connection between the seven basic plots and the core Gospel story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. From overcoming the monster to rebirth, these plots reveal our deepest longings as human beings, which find their true fulfilment in the true story of Jesus Christ.

This interview was recorded in October 2022.

Peter Dray is Director for Creative Evangelism with UCCF. At present he is writing video scripts and supporting materials for CU Impact Groups (see He leads the evangelistic outreach in his local church, Redeemer Leeds.

Matt Lillicrap is Pastor of Hope Community Church, Cambridge and a tutor with Crosslands Training. He has written for Themelios and Primer and blogs at He is married to Anika and has six children and one dog.

Get Reality and Other Stories:


00:00 Introduction
00:44 Who are Matt and Pete?
03:43 What are your favourite stories?
06:49 How did you come to be captivated by the Christian story?
13:26 The Seven Basic Plots
18:01 What insights do the Seven Basic Plots give us?
22:08 Does evolutionary psychology explain the origin of story?
28:26 How do the Seven Basic Plots point to God?
36:16 How can story and imagination help us share our faith?




Caleb Woodbridge: Welcome to the Imaginative Discipleship podcast. I'm Caleb Woodbridge and this is a podcast for exploring the place that imagination has in discipleship, in following Jesus and in the life of faith. So whether you're a Christian wanting to go deeper in your discipleship or whether you're someone curious about faith and meaning making and what that looks like in the world today, I hope you'll find this a interesting and stimulating discussion. I'm really pleased to have Pete Dray and Matt Lillicrap. Welcome guys.

Matt Lillicrap: Hi!

Pete Dray: Hi Caleb!

Who are Matt and Pete?

Caleb Woodbridge: So Matt, do you want to kick us off and just, say who you are and just introduce to us Reality And Other Stories, the the book you've just written.

Matt Lillicrap: Yeah, thanks, Caleb, and thanks for having us. Yes, I'm, I'm the pastor of a church on the edge [00:01:00] of Cambridge called Hope Community Church. I've been there for about a year. Before that, I was associate pastor at City Centre Church called Eden Baptist Church for four years working with students and then the wider congregation.

And it was during that time that I met Peter. And we were able to share our mutual love of story and stories and particularly the story of the good news of Jesus. And I think share a mutual realization that we had both come to over kind of preceding years that that story is echoed by and kind of pointed to by so many of, in fact, all of the stories that we deeply, deeply love and engage within culture.

And it was that that really kind of prompted us to, to want to write this book as a vehicle for being able to do that, to, to show how the stories that we love, the tales we tell, points of the life that we long for found in the story of Jesus. So I met Pete back in 2017, I think it was just at my, the beginning of my time.

And I reckon he [00:02:00] can probably pick up the story there as to how the book came about.

Pete Dray: Yeah. Thanks, Matt. Hi, Caleb. Hi, everyone. Yeah. So my name's Pete. I am, I live in Leeds. I'm the Director of Creative Evangelism with UCCF, the British university Christian Union movement. University CUs for a whole number of years have found that using the theme of story is a great way of engaging the broader culture.

With the story of Jesus and so I guess what, what turned a vague idea into the first skeleton of the book was that I was asked to do one of these events weeks in Cambridge. With some of the students that Matt was working with, and I guess as, as a, as a kind of experiment, really, I thought it would be really interesting to take some of the basic plots that are identified by Christopher Booker, and on the premise that, as Matt said, Our favorite stories pique the desires that ultimately are satisfied in the [00:03:00] story, the Christian story to take four of those and to examine them more.

As that was well received, a couple of people said, you should think about turning this into a book. And that's what happened.

Caleb Woodbridge: Yeah, and that's where I came in. It landed on my desk at IVP Books, so I was really excited to see this approach. I'd been on the lookout for something that would communicate the Christian gospel in a story centered way, and so I was really excited to see what you were doing.

So yes, we we took that on. Tom Creedy edited the book and now it's, it's out in the world and I'm really pleased to have played some part in that. So it's great to be talking to you guys about that.

What are your favourite stories?

Caleb Woodbridge: But you say you love stories. So do you have any favorites in particular ones that you've found meaningful and resonant, growing up and maybe still now? What, what, what are some of the ones that really stuck with you?[00:04:00]

Pete Dray: Yeah. So yesterday I was with a group of students actually, and we were enjoying together the Hairy Maclary books written by Lynley Dodd. So they've been very much, very popular in our household, particularly since my boys were born. I guess beyond that I think growing up, I loved Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Then more recently I've, I've, I've really enjoyed Alan Paton's book, Cry, the Beloved Country. And then in terms of, I suppose, real life stories, I think the author Laura Hillenbrand tells an amazing story. So I guess her two most famous ones are about Seabiscuit, a racehorse, and if you never think that you'd ever read a book about horse racing, then that's the one for you.

And then Unbroken, her her biography of Louis Zamperini, which is perhaps my favorite nonfiction book.

Caleb Woodbridge: Amazing. What's about you, Matt?

Matt Lillicrap: Growing up, I was addicted to the Narnia Chronicles.

Caleb Woodbridge: Yeah. Love them. [00:05:00]

Matt Lillicrap: And in interesting in an interesting and perhaps even CS Lewis sort of prophetically foretold it, I sort of put them aside and didn't really pay any attention to them through my teen years and could have thought that I'd grown up past them until my children then started reaching the point at which they wanted to read them.

I have six children and I have read all of my children now, almost all seven – the youngest hasn't yet heard all seven from me – all seven of the Narnia Chronicles, and I have just fallen deeply, deeply in love with them again in a way that I'd sort of slightly fallen out of love with them as a teenager.

So it's difficult to get past them as my favorite stories of all time. I think other things that I've really enjoyed, I've really enjoyed just getting to know Michael Morpurgo's writing for children as my children have grown a bit older too. I think he really is an excellent author for slightly older children, young teenagers.

He can, he really wrestles with some very difficult themes in a way which is really effective for that age group. I find that very impressive. Yeah, and and like Pete, [00:06:00] I, I do like a good biography. I've enjoyed reading off the back of listening to another podcast. The Rest is Historypodcasts.

I've enjoyed biographies of Winston Churchill just recently, which have been which have been a lot of fun to read. So I'm always on the lookout for good kind of real life stories like that as well.

Caleb Woodbridge: Yeah. I spent quite a while when I was young trying to get into Narnia. I did know that it was a story, but my, my theory was that if I prayed hard enough God might indulge me and create the entirety of Narnia out of C. S. Lewis's imagination, just so that I could go and visit there!

Matt Lillicrap: That would be so special, wouldn't it?

Caleb Woodbridge: Yeah, maybe In the new creation, it's the whole thing of everything true and goods is just a shadow of something in Aslan's country. So we'll see!

Matt Lillicrap: Ha ha ha.

How did you come to be captivated by the Christian story?

Caleb Woodbridge: So how, how did you come to be captivated by the Christian story? How did that become something that you came to believe in as both [00:07:00] true and something life, life giving?

Matt Lillicrap: What a wonderful question. I think I've been in one sense captivated by this, the Christian story for as long as I can remember, hearing the Christian story well told by my parents and those around me from very, very young and feeling that there was something wondrous in it from a very young age.

But I can remember getting to around about 11, 12, 13 and being convinced that although it was a wonderful story, that's all it was. It was a great story and it didn't really have any reality to it. And I consciously rejected it around there, but all the while was yearning for some sort of a sense of acceptance.

I think that's probably quite common at that sort of age, 13, 14. I was bullied at school, felt very not accepted at school, and felt like I had to be somebody else in order to [00:08:00] be accepted and sought acceptance wherever I could find it, which is probably what made me a target for the bullies, if I'm totally honest.

But the only place I ever felt like I was being accepted for who I really was was in church, which is why I didn't stop going. In a strange way, the Lord sort of gave me something of my idol of acceptance in order to ultimately draw me to himself because I didn't stop going to church, even though I decided I didn't believe it, even though I sort of thought that all these people around me were kind of caught up in a fairy tale that couldn't possibly be true.

But I kept on asking questions and I can pretty much remember the day where I realized I was convinced in my mind that the resurrection was true, and it took a little while again. I was at a Christian camp in summer again, one of the very few places where I felt accepted for being me, which is why I went to that and sat down with one of the leaders who I think in a slightly perplexed [00:09:00] way was kind of I have a teenager here who says he's not a Christian, but believe Jesus rose from the dead and is absolutely convinced of that.

And even convincing in his own way when he argues why that's true. And so he, he sort of sat me down and, and he just asked me if Jesus rose from the dead, who does that make him? And what does that mean for you? And I think it was then that I, through that week, I, it was almost as though I heard the story for the first time as a story in which I was a character, in which Jesus was the hero and he was drawing me into it. And I think that that was, yeah, that was the moment at 15 years old that I, I realized this was a story for me to step into and, and find that it was becoming my own, really.

Caleb Woodbridge: So, yeah. So what about you, Pete? How did you come to see Christianity as a true story, as being a description of reality as it is?

Pete Dray: Yeah, my story would actually [00:10:00] bear aspects in common with Matt. My dad is a pastor, I grew up in inner city London. I was the only white English person in my class at school. So we were surrounded by stories, actually, both religious stories, we would celebrate every festival of every religion at school, and other stories too.

And then we ended up moving to, to Bournemouth. I remember hearing fairly early on, actually the story of the crucifixion. I remember, you know, in, in a very, you know, a childlike way of having my heart broken that this man who died, who I'd come to appreciate so much, would be treated in the way that he was.

And, you know, in a four, five, six year old way came to appreciate that at some element this was for me. In truth, it stayed, my understanding of the Christian story stayed about [00:11:00] there for about the next decade and beyond. And it was actually during my first week at university I had the, I would now count it a privilege at the time, it was something of a chequered privilege, of being put on a corridor in my hall of residence with a whole load of third year law students, all of whom love to argue literally anything. You know, so you'd say your favorite color was yellow and they would not let it rest until you said, no, actually you're right. It's blue. And so fairly early on we talked about religion. They said, what religion are you? All of them would say I'm agnostic. I said, I'm a Christian.

And they said, Oh, you know, that's pathetic. The only reason that you're a Christian is the fact that your parents are Christians. And, you know, I've replayed this conversation so many times in my mind and thought, well, I should have said, well, the only reason you're agnostic is probably because your parents are agnostic.

But actually it shook me and probably over the next three, four months, [00:12:00] I would say came to the Christian story, the gospels with fresh eyes. I couldn't step outside of my family, I couldn't step outside of the heritage that had formed me, but as much as possible wanted to I guess come to my own understanding of the truthfulness of the claims here.

The truth is I think that first time at university was the first time that following Jesus wholeheartedly was making my life more difficult. And I think every Christian gets to that point. That actually even if you've grown up, and more or less you follow Jesus, but it so happens that basically he wants what you want for your life.

Easy. The point comes where actually you have to think, is this just a story? Or is that something that I can rest my life and my death upon? And over the next sort of three, four months, I came to the point that, This is not only good news, but I think this is [00:13:00] true and that I can, I can rest my everything upon it.

Caleb Woodbridge: Great, amazing. So that's, that's really good to hear. And yeah. Wonderful to hear how the Lord's worked in, in your lives. And that brings us on to reality and other stories. Let's, let's walk through the ideas in that a bit. So we've already talked a bit about why you think stories are so important to us as human beings.

The Seven Basic Plots

Caleb Woodbridge: So why is it that you've sort of gone into this, taking this approach of the seven basic plots. How is it that that relates to the Christian story?

Pete Dray: The seven basic plots are an idea that was put forward by the theorist Christopher Booker. He went around the world collecting stories. And looked at stories from across cultures throughout time as well. And his project originally started, you know, what do stories have in common?

[00:14:00] What makes a good story work? And one of the questions that he particularly asked is, what makes a story last? Not all stories last, which stories last? And essentially what he was able to do was to identify that there are seven basic plots, plots that repeat across cultures and throughout time in the stories that we tell.

So one of them is, is Overcoming the Monster. The idea that there is this terrifying, chaotic entity, normally a monster, although not necessarily a monster that must be overcome if there's to be... peace re established.

Caleb Woodbridge: So I guess we're thinking stuff like Beowulf and Jaws and I don't know. What, what else?

Matt Lillicrap: Jurassic Park's your favourite, isn't it, Pete?

Pete Dray: I love Jurassic Park, yes. The Highway Rat. All sorts of stories that would fall into that category. So yeah, that, that would be an overcoming the monster story. To go to some of the others.

Caleb Woodbridge: yeah. Mm-hmm.

Pete Dray: Okay. So he would then say [00:15:00] that Rags to Riches is another common storyline. So there you might think about Aladdin or Cinderella.

Normally people who we recognize from the beginning have virtue, but who for some reason aren't honored and through their story arc they move from a position of shame to a position of of honor.

The third story type that he would look to is is the Quest and that's where somebody sets out from home. In order to do something, in order to get something, or in the case of The Lord of the Rings, in order to destroy something. You look at nearly every tale of, of Olympic sport, and when that's told, it's a quest. I just couldn't stay at home, I couldn't be comfortable, I needed to go. So, Around the World in 80 Days would be another quest story as well.

There are stories of voyage and return. So [00:16:00] think about Finding Nemo or Alice in Wonderland, where somebody is dramatically transported out of their normal world into another world, and eventually they get home, but their time away from home means that they see home in a completely different way.

We would then have stories of Tragedy. A tragedy is where normally a central character treasures something, which actually is worthy of treasuring. It's not a bad thing that they set their attention on, but they get so consumed by it that it consumes them and leads to their eventual downfall.

So, you know, you think about some of the Shakespearean tragedies like Macbeth and King Lear but also stories like The Great Gatsby we talk about The Social Network in the book as well.

There are Comedies and, you know, these stories aren't necessarily ha ha funny although very often they are. At the heart of them, though, is a misunderstanding [00:17:00] and also circumstances which make it seem that The happy ever after that we long for will never be found. Yesterday with students, I spent a good half hour talking about High School Musical. And you know, there are other higher quality comedies.

That's one that's particularly vogue at the moment. And then finally Christopher Wicker identified stories of Rebirth. is a story which looks as though it's going to be a Tragedy until there is an intervention such that the character is dramatically transformed. And the person that you see at the end of the film looks nothing like, or the book, the story, is nothing like the person at the beginning.

So, The Lion King would be an example of of rebirth. Scrooge in the Christmas Carol.

Matt Lillicrap: Me and my children watched Cars a couple of weeks ago, which is a really good example of a rebirth story, I think, as well. Lightning McQueen being transformed.


Pete Dray: So that's The Seven.[00:18:00]

What insights do the Seven Basic Plots give us?

Caleb Woodbridge: Yeah, great. So Why those seven? I mean, I guess if you squint hard enough you can kind of find commonalities between any kind of story. Everything's got a beginning, middle and end. That's one, one basic story. Yeah. Why, why, why do you think these seven are a helpful lens? Obviously, there's different ways you could slice things, different ways you could analyze things.

What, what, what does this bring to our understanding of things?

Matt Lillicrap: This is a, this is a really, that's a really good question. I think it's, it's fair to say that Christopher Booker's, he, he, he puts forward these seven basic plots. He spent 30 years or so writing a... It's about 900 pages book called The Seven Basic Plots. And it, in some ways, it's magisterial. It's just a fantastic book. It's very, very well researched. It's incredibly well respected, and it sort of is this, that sets a standard for this kind [00:19:00] of story analysis that everybody else kind of has to live up to. In some ways, it sets its own plot that all other story analyses have to kind of riff off.

He obviously suggests Seven, although he sneaks in a couple that might be slightly out of the categories later on in the book which is slightly cheeky. But since he has written, and, and before, people have, have argued over how many exactly there are, sort of, basic plots. Some people try, like you just said, to sort of boil it all down to one very, very basic idea.

Some people say there are three. Some people say nine. There are those who advocate for 30 and try and list 30 different plot categories. But what's interesting to notice is that everybody is saying there are a number. And we can identify them, that even in the story which has the biggest twist that you feel like, "Oh, I never really saw that coming", it still doesn't take you entirely by surprise, because you know [00:20:00] what kind of storyline you're sort of in. There's a, there's a familiar terrain even in the films with the biggest twists, things like The Sixth Sense and The Shawshank Redemption, no spoilers being given here but, but even those that have enormous twists in them, you, it's still, there's something that goes, you can be delighted in the way that it gives you some surprise, but it doesn't take you so far by surprise you never saw anything like that coming. Because if they they follow particular contours, and I think that the fascinating thing that both Peter and I really responded to in that is, why is that the case? Why do these stories have these structures? Where does this story scaffolding come from that we constantly reach for it?

Authors such as Stephen King will describe themselves as being like archaeologists rather than architects. Digging up stories, he describes himself as like a... an archaeologist [00:21:00] trying to dig up a fossil as intact as possible from the ground. That's the role of the storyteller according to Stephen King.

Dorothy Sayers says something similar about the way that she wrote her stories that it's a process of discovery rather than Sort of creation out of something completely new almost like they're rearranging material to tell a story rather than creating something out of the air. And that's fascinating.

And just begins to uncover the way in which those stories perhaps connect with with reality. One of my favorite current quotes is from the the poet Muriel Rukeyser who, who says that "the universe is made of stories, not of atoms" which is really where this is getting at. There is a structure to reality which storytellers reach for in order to tell their stories. And ultimately, that structure comes from [00:22:00] somewhere: the Storyteller, the one who invites us into the story of his son, the Lord Jesus. That's really why we wrote the book.

Does evolutionary psychology explain the origin of story?

Caleb Woodbridge: So I think where a lot of people would go with this is to say that it points to something in human psychology that evolved over time. We've evolved certain patterns of doing that. Why do you think there's something else, or something more, going on than just a materialistic account?

Pete Dray: Yeah, you're right, Caleb. That is where, where some people would go. We talk about John Yorke, the script writer in the book, who would hold that view. And he would say storytelling is actually an escape from reality in as much as we're all headed towards oblivion as individuals, as a human race, and as a planet, and therefore stories are an expression of our evolutionary psychology as a means of distracting us from reality. [00:23:00]

Now, so they essentially are the two views. Stories take us deeper into reality or stories distract us from reality. Now I, I guess there would be several reasons why I would say that it's the former view.

One would be that we don't function like that normally when it comes to our desires. We don't normally believe that our desires are this kind of mirage or chimera which are out to deceive us. In fact, if you try to live like that, you'll find that your life is unlivable. Yes, following our desires can sometimes take us to false ends. You know, they seem to promise too much or, or they lead us into decisions which are foolish. Nonetheless, we don't generally speaking question those deep desires. So when we have a desire for justice, a desire for honor, I think it'd be unlivable every day to believe that those things are just [00:24:00] mirage.

A second thing I think they do is they actually destroy stories. So a story feels like much less than the sum of its parts. It feels much less satisfying, actually, when it comes to telling it, if you hold this materialist view.

The third thing, ultimately, though, I suppose, Richard Dawkins would say that Christianity, perhaps it's just the ultimate meme. It's this idea which fits like a glove to a hand, but that is a projection of our deep desires rather than the satisfaction of our deep desires. I mean, ultimately this is where story and reality have to meet each other. That Christians believe that in the person of Jesus, God has pulled back the curtain and stepped into human space and time, not only to make himself known but also to make himself knowable as well.

One of my favorite lines is from the Old Testament, that God has set eternity in the hearts of people. And if that is true, then the [00:25:00] idea that reality is baked into the human stories, that's not just a nice idea. Our desires are part of the living God beckoning us to true humanity and to enter life with him.

Matt Lillicrap: The remarkable thing is that when you read someone like John Yorke or even Philip Pullman when he starts talking about stories, where they come from, their desire to try and explain away stories with no transcendence at all ends up, it ends up eating itself. Because someone like John Yorke will say, well, story is merely it's merely projection. It's merely pattern recognition. We recognize some patterns that are there, and then we project meaning onto them, which in itself begs the question of why that pattern is there in the first place, and where it arises from. But then of course what they don't notice is that they root that very much, John Yorke roots that very much in an evolutionary worldview.

He says humans have evolved to [00:26:00] need to do this. It's an important part of our function. We can't survive without it. The real world being meaningless, we need to discover, project meaning onto that world in order to survive, which of course means that he is himself telling a story to explain, to give his explanation of the origin of stories. The question I, I'm, I'm constantly then needing, wanting to ask is, well, why should that story of the origin of stories be any more valid, than all the stories you're explaining away? Explaining away is a bit harsh, but in all the stories that you're sort of detaching from reality, why should the story that you're telling to do that be more attached to reality than any other?

 It undermines its own premise. I was very helped. C. S. Lewis writes a wonderful essay about theology being poetry. And then he talks about the science myth, and he talks about the fact that it's one of the most ingenious stories humans have ever come up [00:27:00] with.

The, the story of origins based in an evolutionary worldview. Now. Whether or not we hold to a an evolution, an evolutionary process, we have to say it's an incredible story. It really is.

It's pattern recognition. And again, so well, why then does it have any bearing on reality? That's the, that's the big question.

I think I, I want to ask, you know, where does that pattern come from? Could it actually be that reality is maybe built of stories because there's a storyteller behind it all?

Caleb Woodbridge: Yeah. It's interesting because I think Pullman in The Book of Dust, you see him wrestling with that, and that need for Lyra to find something more than the dry and empty demystification, emptying out of reductionist atheism. And I'm interested to see where he goes with the third one in that, and how he tries to resolve some of those those [00:28:00] tensions, but it's interesting to see him grappling with that. And perhaps if His Dark Materials more bears the mark of the new atheist type debates, I think his more recent stuff, it's more keyed into the more meaning crisis type grappling with questions of meaning in a way that goes, oh, actually that very reductionist materialist way doesn't give us enough to live with.

How do the Seven Basic Plots point to God?

Caleb Woodbridge: So, how do you think these seven basic plots then act as signposts to the story of Jesus or to God as a storyteller? How, how do you get that step from there are these stories to actually, jesus is the true story at the heart of reality?

Pete Dray: Well, I think you can legitimately tell the whole Bible story, Genesis to Revelation, along the lines of these seven basic plots. So you can legitimately say[00:29:00] that the story of the Bible, Genesis to Revelation, is a story of Overcoming the Monster. That actually there is a chaotic reality in our world which must be overcome.

One of the things that I love about Overcoming the Monster stories is the means by which the monster is overcome. The hero never just takes the monster on in, in their own terms. It's never just a display of brute strength. And I was considering with these students yesterday, why is that? And the answer, at least partly, I think, is that we don't just want a bigger bully, you know, an even bigger bully that takes on the bully. Not, not only do we want the malevolent forces of the world to be overcome, but we want them to be overcome in a way that demonstrates the beauty of the hero's motives and it, and perhaps the means in which evil forces, malevolent forces are always liable to overstretch themselves as well.

So, so you see that in Overcoming the [00:30:00] Monster stories, that there's always an Achilles heel.

Matt Lillicrap: Dare I say it? Because I know you've got loads of thoughts on it, Caleb but I reckon that's one of quite the big themes being explored by the Rings of Power right?

Pete Dray: Yes.

Caleb Woodbridge: Yeah, I've not seen the finale yet, so that's out today, but yeah, it's yeah, very interesting what they're doing there, so yeah.

Pete Dray: That's right. So legitimately you can look at any of these seven stories as, as a means of, of telling the Bible story from Genesis to Revelation, perhaps with the exception of tragedy.

Caleb Woodbridge: Yeah, I think there is genuine tragedy in the Christian story in that there is Fall and there is damnation, that not everyone is saved, that not everything is redeemed in that sense.

There's that overall happy ending but for some within the story it is one of genuine tragedy. You can see tragedy as a partial truth, but you wouldn't [00:31:00] want to totalise them, they're not telling the whole story. So tragedy's there, but it doesn't have the final word.

Pete Dray: I think that's a very helpful way of putting it. But I think with, with all seven of these plots, if you see them as overarching themes, from creation to new creation, the Bible story all seven of them center on ultimately the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. And so in Reality and Other Stories, we don't particularly look at these as these themes of big Bible arches, although that would be totally legitimate.

Instead, we focus, as it were, on the climax of the action. And so therefore it's, it's unsurprising that if the zenith of the Christian story builds to the coming of Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection, that you would see episodes that exemplify these seven plots, in the ministry, death and resurrection of [00:32:00] Jesus.

And that's, and that's what we seek to do in the book to show that the weight of history and the way of prophecy that you would see in the Bible, but also the way in which this story is worked out today in our own lives, flows from what Jesus did in human space and time. Not just once upon a time, not just in a galaxy far, far away, but in human history and in real space. That continues to shape our desires and the stories that we tell today.

Matt Lillicrap: Yeah, one of the stories that I've really enjoyed reading in recent years with my children has been Andrew Peterson's Wingfeather Saga which I think it's wonderful and it's one of those series of books which gets better as you as you read on into it too. I think when we reached the end of the fourth of those books, and it's coming to what is it, a very real feeling ending in the sense that it's very bittersweet. There are some wonderful overcoming of monsters. There's some [00:33:00]wonderful rebirth that happens, but there is also some tragedy that happens too. And it feels like we're dealing with a world which is in some way reflective of the mixed nature of the world that we're in.

It was remarkable to see my daughter who was seven at the time, her eyes were filled with tears. She was really moved by the story and by it finishing. And she, she said that she said, "It's so difficult and so beautiful. I wish it were true," is what she said. To which her brother, the year older than her said, "it kind of is" and it was something and I'm not sure they quite understood exactly why they were having this little conversation. It was an amazing thing to witness. A seven and an eight year old grasping that there was something true about the desires and yearnings that this story that they just heard was drawing out of them and piquing in them would be the phrase that Pete would use. And I think that's one of the biggest things here is that, as Pete says that, [00:34:00] the bare storyline of the Bible and then of Jesus's life, death and resurrection draws all of these seven threads together so that they are woven together in the life of Christ. But there's something even more happening under there, under the surface as well, which is that the reason we love those storylines and engage with those storylines is because we know that the world is kind of reflected in them.

Either the world as it is, particularly in something like Tragedy, we face up to things that we wish were not true, but we know we need to deal with, or Overcoming the Monster. We're given, Pete puts it really well, he wrote this section of the book, he puts it really well in saying we're given a way of being able to express the fears that we would not otherwise want to name. Monsters in our lives that we wouldn't want to pay attention to, we can dress them up as a dinosaur or as a shark and then express our desire that they will be [00:35:00] overcome.

Comedy again, it gives us it gives us a way of expressing the hope that we almost don't want to name in case naming it means that it's just get snuffed out because it just won't doesn't sound true. But in a comedy story, we can express that hope for everything coming right that we really have deep down in our lives because we feel like we had made for a world that isn't this one but we've never actually experienced. We miss a world we've never experienced and comedy enables us to express that somehow. And then we find those desires that all of these storylines rise in us being met in the true story and also being redirected.

That's the other part of it. There's a subversion of those desires that happens as well. We, we desire the kind of the big, strong hero to ride in and rescue us. Or perhaps we desire to be, be able to be the big, strong hero. And then we find that [00:36:00] actually Jesus is the one who is going to overcome that monster. Jesus is the one who's going to lift us from Rags to Riches alongside him.

We're not going to make our way there. There's a desire, the way that they're subverted as well as then being fulfilled in a really beautiful way. It's very exciting.

How can story and imagination help us share our faith?

Caleb Woodbridge: Yeah. Well, we better start moving towards wrapping up the conversation, but I'm sure we could go for far longer on this. I've got got many more questions that I'd written down that we haven't had chance to dig into yet. But one thing I'm keen to think about is, how would you encourage Christians to be more attentive to story and imagination in terms of sharing faith and in terms of trying to share Jesus with with people? How can this help us be better engaged with where our friends and neighbors and colleagues and people alongside us might be at?

Pete Dray: For me, I think this approach helps us to tap into what [00:37:00] is already there in the Bible, what's already said about Jesus, but potentially that we miss through the blinkers that we bring. I was kind of first jolted into some of this way of thinking about 15 years ago when a colleague said to me your messages, the talks that you give are really interesting apart from when you talk about Jesus. And they basically said at that point you, you roll out the same words, the same illustrations, the same kind of hackneyed approach.

And he said, you know, it's, it's so sad. It's too predictable. And I think I went away from that conversation thinking, oh goodness, he's absolutely right. That I would set up tension, I would explore these issues, and then essentially I would always copy and paste the same approach when it came to talking about the ministry of Jesus, and particularly when it came around to talking about the Cross and Jesus' death and resurrection the same [00:38:00] way. And I went away from that conversation thinking, goodness, if a Christian is finding this boring, if a Christian is finding this repetitive, then what about those who don't even have a sort of vested interest in this story when it comes to it?

And in fact, when I started writing these messages for Cambridge, I, I found that it was vocabulary stretching that I was being given new terminology. Fresh terminology to explain things that I'd held to for a long time. And not only did that recapture my own heart in wonder and redirect it in worship, I think I found that this, this multiplicity of approaches begun to do a little more honor to the work of Jesus. And, and I think, you know, sometimes the same thing that said in a different way, we all know in our own lives that, that something that somebody has said to us many times before, there's a particular metaphor that they use, [00:39:00] a particular illustration, a particular story, and it comes home with power and clarity. So I think both for Christians in just not being bored and in allowing our own imaginations to be recaptured and plunged back into this big story is essential.

But also I think even when it comes conversationally to talking to other people, I think, I think that's helpful. Matt, you've probably got things to add as well.

Matt Lillicrap: I think that's so, so helpful, Pete. I'm really struck by your description of you being captured to wonder and worship by the almost the release of imagination. Pete's heard this story before, but I think back to being taught GCSE RS at school. And we, we studied Mark's gospel and it was almost as though when it wasn't almost as though it was literally as an object for study and analysis.

And it felt like at the end of every lesson, and particularly at the end of the course, we basically taken Mark's Gospel and pinned it to a [00:40:00] dissection table and, and kind of tried to get inside the inner workings and then left it lifeless, just lying on the table. I can, I remember especially being struck by the sort of slightly outrageous kind of sort of amusing part of the transfiguration when Peter speaks about putting up shelters and Mark says he had no idea what he was saying.

And that, that always struck me as slightly amusing. What my, what I was told told to do in the RE lessons was to understand the significance of what Peter might be saying, he uses the word tabernacle, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, which all of which is important, but it sucked the imagination out of it.

It sucked the fact that in my mind's eye, I could see Peter totally terrified and being completely at his wits end and not knowing what to say. And once again, his mouth going faster than his brain, which is, which is funny. And I think it's supposed to be kind of funny. It's supposed to count. And there's, there are parts of the gospels, which is supposed to make us cry.

And there are parts of the gospel, which is supposed to fire our [00:41:00] hearts. But I think we we've become so used to, in a sense, so familiar with God's word, but also so kind of used to the idea that we have to observe it and analyze it because it's it's God's holy word that we don't enter into it anywhere near as much as we should.

And so actually my first, my first plea to Christians thinking about this would be be imaginative in your faith, engage with Christ in your imagination, engage with his story, engage with the gospels, engage with the Old Testament in your imagination. It's told as a story, we are meant to be able to imagine in our mind's eye what's happening.

Imagine kind of what it might be like to be the woman with a 12 years of bleeding, desperately trying to get close to Jesus to touch the hem of his cloak, knowing she shouldn't be in the crowd. We're supposed to feel some of that with her. And I think if we begin doing that, we will begin to [00:42:00]be able to speak of our relationship with the Lord Jesus in a much more real way that connects with the thing that's the reality that's really there.

And the other thing I would say, this is a really brief thing is: don't use it as propaganda, imaginative propaganda where we're telling stories that are designed to show the Gospel. Has its place in very small contexts, but I think actually what we need to be doing rather is telling stories, full stop.

Telling stories which reflect our desires. Telling stories which capture our hearts. And, allowing our relationship with Jesus to have the effect on the stories that it will, because we know that we are speaking about a world that is real, even when we're speaking about an imaginative world, because it's being infused by the real world and all our longings for it.

Caleb Woodbridge: Great. Yeah. And anything to add Peter?

Pete Dray: We live in a culture which loves stories. [00:43:00] We will always live in a culture that loves stories. I think that there is something particularly compelling about a story at the moment. But we quote Margaret Atwood in the book and says that you're never going to do away with stories.

Therefore, this isn't just something that we're talking about as, as something which is vogue in the early part of the 21st century. This is an opportunity to recapture a confidence in a storied existence, in a storied, Bible. And you know, I've come to see that it's massively important that we, we hold that the form that scripture comes to us is as important as its content.

In fact, you can't, you can't set them apart from each other. It's not as if there's a disposable husk at this, that we throw away in order to get to the goodness at the center. And therefore, I think when it comes to our own discipleship, and when it comes to our imagination as well stories aren't just a prop but there are certain things that you can only say in [00:44:00] stories.

And whilst, you know, one of the students that I was talking to yesterday is a little nervous about talking about story this March, as if, you know, this is just, the latest saga to add to many others, whether or not we use the word story, I'm not too, too concerned about. Nonetheless, let's recognize that narrative is something that God himself has given us, and I think we dare not ignore it.

Caleb Woodbridge: Yeah. I think there's a great, great quote you have towards the end of the book from Tolkien about how as storied creatures it's not surprising that salvation comes to us in the form of a story.

Matt Lillicrap: God speaks to us in a language we can understand. And the language that we understand best is the language of story.

Caleb Woodbridge: In my talk I've given recently on Imaginative Discipleship, I say that story isn't the spoonful of sugar to help the Gospel go [00:45:00] down, but it's actually a fundamental part of who we are as, as human beings.

Matt Lillicrap: Absolutely.

Caleb Woodbridge: Well, thank, thanks so much for, for the book and for this discussion. I think it's it's really helpful and yeah, a great one for Christians to read, for anyone interested in the, the meaning of life and of the power of story to read and engage with.

Where, where can people get hold of, hold of the book? Well, I know the answer

Matt Lillicrap: Yeah, yeah, yeah, indeed.

Pete Dray: Ha!

Caleb Woodbridge: You can get it from IVP Books,, but also from anywhere where good books are sold.

Matt Lillicrap: Yes, yeah, absolutely. We would, we would love Christians to read it, to engage with it, to perhaps have their own imaginations fired or re-fired. We would love people to consider giving it to, to others whom perhaps they would never normally give a book about Christianity to, because of all that Pete said about that finding new language.

I did that with a friend. [00:46:00] He told me about 15 years ago he would never read another book about Christianity again. But I passed him this past in this whilst we were writing and he said, you know, this is the kind of book that someone like me might read. And he really enjoyed it. So we're praying that it will be a book people be able to give to those who they might not normally consider giving a book to.

Caleb Woodbridge: Great. Well, thanks very much and thanks to all our listeners. I hope that you've enjoyed this too. And please do like and subscribe and review, wherever you've been finding this, whether on YouTube or iTunes or Spotify or wherever.

Please do let me know what you think of this discussion and spread the word about the Imaginative Discipleship podcast so that we can go deeper in our faith together and explore the richness of the Christian story.

So, thank you. Thanks, thanks Matt, thanks Peter, and [00:47:00] thanks, thanks to our audience.

Bigger on the Inside
Imaginative Discipleship Podcast
Be transformed by the renewing of your imagination. Join us for conversations exploring the importance of imagination and creativity in the Christian life for all believers, as we pursue Beauty, Goodness and Truth in the person of Jesus Christ.