I’ve already introduced the concept of orality in an earlier post. You can read that here. The article contains links to other sites that can add to the picture.
A frequently-occuring objection to the use of storying in evangelism, discipleship and teaching assumes that stories fit children’s spiritual needs, while exegesis and exposition necessarily satiate the spiritually and intellectually mature. One critic suggested that a storying approach to teaching required us to set aside “theological complexities” in favor of a narrative approach. “Talk to children,” came the rejoinder to the explanation of orality, “and they can tell you the stories you need to tell to oral learners.” This particular objection, as I said, stumbles into the room with relative frequency, albeit with all the grace of a drunken seizure. “Give us Paul! Let us do a word study! We can look at Hebrews word-by-word! Bible story? Please – meat, not milk.”
Having considered registering for a seminary class or two in my time, I can confidently share a key theological term that efficiently and clearly evaluates such a position.
Not to put too fine a point on it but in the pantheon of bad ideas, asserting that Bible stories are most appropriate for the spiritually and intellectually immature ranks right up there with Chlorox enemas and ejection seats for helicopters. Oh, and toddlers with markers.
Revisiting the Doctrine of the Thing Where the Spirit Told Those Guys What to Write
The classic passage to which we typically point in defending the inspiration of the scriptures can be found in 2 Timothy 3. I, like all other real missionaries and ministers, memorized the entire Bible years ago (assume this to be true). I’ll go ahead and quote it for the less-commited among us, going from verse 14 through 17:
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Paul encouraged Timothy to continue in the pathway laid down by a life of learning. Specifically, Paul red-lettered the Holy Scriptures. More than simply excellent reading material, these selections possessed the capability to make Timothy and presumably all who read them “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” That simple phrase contains a wealth of theology, from the definition of wisdom to the nature of salvation and the role of faith in the entire process.
The apostle continued to extoll the virtues of the Scriptures in possibly the most well-known passage ever to form the foundation of an entire doctrine: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
All Scripture. Every last bit of it.
At the risk of applying my point with all the subtlety of a warm jalapeno shoe-horned into your left nostril, the God-breathed Scriptures in their entirety stand ready to lead us into faith, salvation, good works, through training, rebuke, correction, teaching, and training in righteousness in order to equip us completely and entirely for every cotton-pickin’, heaven-blessed, gravy-on-the-taters good work. There is no aspect of Scriptures that does not play a part. I am possessed of the conviction that the Spirit did not fail to inspire a necessary word, and certainly did not inspire too many.
“But wait!” you might say. “Paul was referring to teachings that went beyond the basics. You know, Romans and Hebrews and stuff like that.”
Consider what existed when Paul wrote to Timothy in the mid-to-late 60’s. A good many epistles were finding their way into circulation, but they likely had not risen to the level of being widely accepted as Scripture to the degree that Paul could assume Timothy grasped his reference. Therefore, what else could Paul have been envisioning as he exhorted Timmy to continue studying?
Genesis. Exodus. Sections of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
Joshua and Judges.
Both books of Samuel. The annals of the Kings, and all that stuff in Chronicles.
Esther. Ruth. Jonah.
All those great narrative sections in Ezra and Nehemiah and Daniel and…man, wears me out just trying to think of all the Bible stories in those books.
Plus some legal stuff, wisdom literature, and prophecy.
The epistles, in all their expository-ready exegetical glory, provide great fodder for salvation and faith; however, that was likely not what Paul was considering when he wrote to Timothy. I think I am on fairly safe ground in my assertions, though I’ve been wrong before. As my wife and she’ll lay it all out; alphabetically, chronologically, ecumenically.
A point of view that claims narrative sections of the Bible are simplistic and fit for children, the socially backwards, and the unintelligent serves to reduce the value of the doctrine of inspiration. Either the entire Bible is fit for Christians, oral learners or literate ones, or Paul did not know what he was writing about.
Revisiting the Methods of That Guy Who Taught With Such Authority
We can’t stop with inspiration, though. What about methodology? Does the Bible address, either descriptively or prescriptively, the use of stories in instruction? Paul’s encouragement for Timothy to continue using the Scriptures – narrative and otherwise – has already floated past as inconspicuously as a Mardi Gras float in Nairobi, so we’ll not re-examine it here. Anyone else show us their teaching style? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
Now that I think about, there was this one other guy. He told stories like:
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock…”
“A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path,…”
“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat,…”
” If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills…”
Missing from this listing are shorter sections about wide paths, yeast, doves, vines and branches, true shepherds and lights on a hill. Jesus told stories, long and short, that contained deep meanings on multiple layers, narrating His way as He simultaneously skimmed the water and dived deeply into theological depths. In short, Jesus in all His wisdom storied to the sheep of Israel, His primary targets. Their rejection of His message was not based on the simplicity of its storying style, but on its content.
Revisiting the Parts of the Bible That Tell Us Nearly Everything We Know About Jesus
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – narratives.
That Part That Comes at the End of an Extremely Wordy Defense of Something New
Comparing the billions of oral learners who have existed for centuries to the intellectual level of children is bad enough. Denigrating the wealth of knowledge accessible through narratives, also a bad idea, isn’t the worst part of this objection. Even reducing the vast majority of Jesus’ teaching and the gospels that relate it to the realm of theological simplicity is in bad form, but it’s not the superlative in bad taste here.
The worst part is that we overlook storying as a legitimate learning tool for all students of the Bible, literate learners or not.