Reading the Bible as a story is an excellent way to engage with the Scripture. The Bible is full of stories; some Bible scholars calculate that the Bible is 70% stories or narratives. Jesus was the perfect teacher and Jesus taught through stories (Matthew 13:34). He answered people’s questions with stories, he explained what is true through stories, and he condemned the Pharisees through stories. Stories can change our lives.
It can help us to engage the Bible if we see the Bible as a story with many parts that all come together into one understandable whole. We can think of the whole Bible as one large story (metanarrative) portrayed as a drama/play in six acts. These acts are:
- Act One: God Creates the World
- Act Two: Rebellion in God’s World
- Act Three: Israel’s Mission (fails)
- Act Four: Christ’s Mission (succeeds)
- Act Five: Church’s Mission (Christians are carrying on the Mission of Christ)
- Act Six: New Creation
By saying the Bible is a story we are not saying it is make-believe. It is a story because it has plot, characters and authors.
The Bible is God’s story of redemption. It is a unified, coherent narrative of God’s ongoing work within his kingdom (God’s rule/mission in the world). The Bible needs to be understood as a unified whole. The Bible is not to be read as a jumble of history, poetry, lessons in morality and theology, comforting promises, guiding principles and commands. Instead, we are to connect each individual part (each proverb, song, letter, prophecy or parable) to the bigger story. Every part of the Bible must be understood in the context of the one story line: God redeeming all things back to himself.
The Scriptures tell us the story about what is real and important in the world, a story that is a much bigger one than our own culture tells us. One way to look at the Christian life is to ask yourself, “Whose story am I going to believe, the story of my culture, or God’s story as found in the Bible?” Come to the stories of the Bible and learn who God is, who we are, what we are to be living for and what is good and beautiful. Putting ourselves “into” the stories and story of the Bible is a life transforming experience.
With all of the options available to God of conveying Truth to us, why did he give the Bible to us with so many stories? Here are just a few reasons why stories are so powerful for learning:
- Some say that stories are the best way of talking about the way the world actually is. Stories are the chief way human beings make sense of their experience. When something important happens to us we immediately turn that experience into a story so we can give it meaning and share it with others.
- Stories are how we get to know each other. When meeting someone new we don’t tell general facts about ourselves, we share our stories. The Bible is God telling us his story, revealing himself to us so we can encounter him and know him. The Bible is a revelation of God.
- Stories invite us to participate by engaging our imagination so we can find ourselves in them, connecting with our emotions and our thoughts. They call us to action.
- Stories span all age groups and create bridges across cultures. We can relate to the biblical stories because people then lived in a world full of messy, sinful people with the same issues that we struggle with today. Stories allow us to interact with people and events from the past and from varying cultures.
- People seem to crave stories. It’s why we read books, go to movies, and get excited to tell others what happened to us at the store last week. We love stories because we live in one. Each person lives his or her own story and watches others live theirs. They are the fabric of our lives.
It is estimated that oral learners (people who learn through listening, not reading) make up over 70% of the world’s population. Oral learners include not only people who can’t read or write, but also those who don’t prefer to read or write. There are many literate people who prefer to learn by oral means because they are not only oral learners, they are oral thinkers. Oral thinkers tend to understand things relationally, learning by observing and imitating. This is different from literate thinkers who are more idea-based, linear, logical, and analytical in their learning. Both ways have their benefits, but we, as members of Christ’s body, need to meet the needs of both. The question really is, “how do you disciple an oral learner?” If a people won’t or can’t read the Bible, how do we help them grow in Christ? We can help them the way Jesus did: through stories.
Storying the Word is the process of helping people discover the truths of the Bible through hearing the stories of the Bible. Have you ever noticed how often the Bible uses the word “hear” and not “read?” Bible scholars tell us the Bible is really a book designed to be listened to, not to primarily be read by an individual (which really wasn’t practical until the printing press was invented and Bibles eventually became more plentiful). (See the “Selected Verses on Hearing God’s Word” sidebar↗.) If you haven’t tried to listen to passages of the Bible, I suggest you give it a try (listen to Free Audio Bibles on Bible Gateway, or you can purchase Audio Bibles of many varieties in the Bible Gateway Store). Hearing God’s Word is an important experience.
There are a number of ways a person can “hear” the Bible. People all over the world listen to recordings of the Bible as a means of hearing God’s Word (if you are a reader, try reading and listening to a recording of the Bible at the same time; it will enhance your experience). Scriptures can also be read aloud at worship services. Another technique is called “storying” and has been used by missionaries for years.
In storying, a teacher tells a Bible story by memory to a group of people. The listeners then retell the story together back to the teacher as best as they can. The teacher than tells the story again until all of the listeners have the story in their memory. The group then discusses the story and relates their own lives to the story (see the “5 Questions to Ask” sidebar↗ for examples of discussion questions). The goal is for the listeners to learn the story so they can share it with others; in a sense, becoming walking, talking Bibles.
Storying is a particularly powerful means of engaging Scripture in a small group setting. Storying cultivates interaction among the group members as they come together to try to retell the story. It also provides an opportunity for the group leader to see into the hearts of the group members. As group members share what stands out to them and try to relate the biblical story to their lives, the group leader can start to gauge where they are with the Lord. Storying also keeps the leader from completely dominating the discussion. The teacher is an important facilitator, but the focus of the group is just where it should be, on the Word of God.
Try the storying method of engaging with Scripture. It is critical for all of us to realize that we are part of God’s story, that our life stories intersect with the Grand Story of God. The small group method of storying is a particularly powerful method of helping people, in a collaborative situation, to come directly to the Bible. It works for both readers and oral learners.