Can We Teach the Faith through Story?

Allow me a moment to vent some frustration and to solicit your contributions to the problem I perceive.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was embarking on a project to revamp educational materials for my church.  I was eager, in particular, to engage with the greater Story of the Bible as part of the process.  My question, in essence, was How do we teach one another such that we identify ourselves as part of the Story?  I wanted to find a way in which we could see our place in the narrative that begins with Adam and Eve, runs through Israel, the exile and return, climaxes in Jesus, continues through the Acts of the Apostles, proceeds through us to a final destination.

As part of that process, I’ve been reviewing a handful of study materials that are aimed at new believers.  These are materials that other churches (faithful churches, I might add) have developed to introduce people to the faith.  They are intended to help a new believer, in particular, get her bearings, as it were.

Yet, as I proceed through them, I find myself writing notes in the margins that all seem to circle the same theme.  These study guides seem eager to launch into how Christians ought to live, how they ought to conduct their faith, without telling the story of which they are a part.  In short, they are providing a systematic approach to a faith that the reader has experienced relationally.

This approach is best highlighted in two ways.  First, the tables of contents often illustrate the approach.  Week 1: Your New Life; Week 2: Your Identity in Christ; Week 3: Your Power through the Holy Spirit; etc.  This is the table of contents to Calvin’s Institutes (not really), a handbook, a manual.  But it is completely different than the way faith is experienced, the way people live and define themselves, and the book we claim as Scripture.

That leads the the next point, in how these study guides treat Scripture.  We’ve all seen this kind of study guide – A title at the top of the page; maybe a subtitle; a paragraph about some aspect of the faith; a verse, written in another font or in bold to reinforce the previous paragraph; another paragraph about the topic; another verse taken from a different part of the Bible to back it up; a question for further contemplation.  Is it any wonder new believers throw their hands up at trying to make sense of the Bible?  Their introductions to the Book are select verses pulled out to prove various points – one verse from 1 Corinthians, another from Leviticus one thousand pages earlier, another from the Psalms.  How is anyone supposed to know which verses apply to what when their reading on their own?

Lost in the mix is the Story.  The journey that the Creator has traveled with the creation and the people of the earth – with its spectacular beginnings, deep struggles and frustrations, glorious redemption, and hope for a happy conclusion – is disregarded.  Abandoned is the way in which all people orient themselves, that is, according to a larger story, of which they play a part.

So my struggle continues, to try to find or develop a way of acclimating new believers to the faith that provides them a greater context for their role in God’s story with the creation.

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5 thoughts on “Can We Teach the Faith through Story?

  1. Considering that every person experiences their unique role in the story differently, a more hands on (i.e. non-literature based) approach might be needed. Specifically, maybe pairing new believers up with a mentor (someone who is a more mature Christian) might be a good first step. Of course that requires training a little bit of structure, but it can be more adaptive than a “catch all” approach.

  2. I think that there’s a long term answer here: as more people experience this same frustration, as growing numbers of people insist on reading the Bible differently, people will have to write new and better books.

    In the mean time, I suggest getting away from Bible study books / intro to Christian living books because of the very issues you raise.

    I’d go to Scot McKnight, Embracing Grace. It give a holstic understanding of the gospel in somewhat narratological categories.

    Also, you should check out Michael Pahl, From Resurrection to New Creation as an alternative text.

    Finally, check out Sean Gladding, The Story of God, the Story of Us: Getting Lost and Found in the Bible.

    Then there’s Kirk, Jesus Have I Loved… 🙂

    It may be that getting folks to read a book that helps inform them of the story or walk them through it in overview fashion (Gladding) is going to be more to your needs than what you’re digging into right now.

    My 2 cents…

  3. Have you ever read John Eldredge’s book, Epic? It’s an incredibly short read and tells God’s story as a story. Not sure it could be used as book for new believers but it may help you to grasp how to use it or develop curriculum for them. Here’s the book description:

    “We don’t usually identify with the author of a great story. Instead we bond with the hero and heroine-the ones that the story is about. We share in their heartaches and triumphs. We cheer their accomplishments and mourn their losses.

    “When we think about our own story, we may see God as the author-an omniscient and omnipotent cosmic mastermind-but fail to recognize Him as the central character. In Epic, a retelling of the gospel in four acts, John Eldredge invites us to revisit the drama of life, viewing God not only as the author but also as the lead actor, exploring His motives and His heart. Eldredge examines the power of story, the universal longing for a “plot” that makes sense deep inside us, our desire for a meaningful role to play, our love of books and movies, and how all of this points us to the gospel itself.

    “It’s a story better than any fairy tale! Our human hearts are made for great drama, and the gospel, with its tragedy and grandeur, truly is epic.”

  4. Our church (all ages) is going through The Story, by Randy Frazee. It is 31 weeks through the scriptures (excerpted) in chronological order focusing on the upper and lower story aspects of the Bible. I think it is a great start on framing the Scriptures so that one can later dive into the rest of Scripture with a working knowledge of the Big Picture.

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