Archive for the ‘Orality’ Category


One of the big cultural differences I’ve encountered in Kenya is the perception of written communication. Each year, in the session on communication at our induction workshop for the new apprentices we ask for the advantages and disadvantages of oral and written communication. If you asked that question of a group of UK fresh graduates I’m pretty sure that you’d hear quite a lot of disadvantages of oral communication and quite a lot of advantages of written. In Kenya we come up with the reverse – lots of advantages of oral communication and hardly any advantages of written (beyond the fact that there’s a record).

It’s a challenge to the western mind to appreciate the sentiment of the elder John who would “rather not write with pen and ink” but “see you… and… talk face to face” (3 John 13-14). It’s a challenge to those of us who gravitate towards blogs and emails rather than picking up the phone or getting out and seeing people. Certainly there are great advantages in bodily presence, fellowship over food, really connecting. The great joy we look forward to is seeing Christ face to face. And there are advantages in the process of communication – body language and facial expressions helping us get the tone and mood more accurately, immediate feedback, the chance to work things through, clarify misunderstandings, negotiate, develop a conversation in new directions.

And I was reminded by our Eastern European sisters (whose culture may in some ways be closer to Africa than NW Europe) that coming and visiting someone to talk about something or request something, rather than writing an email, communicates effort and importance and humility. It is more costly and risky but at the same time harder for the person being visited/asked to say No!

So there are lots of advantages to face to face communication but as Harrison often reminds us and as Njeri reminded me a in a recent post, there are advantages to pen and paper too in this present age.

  1. Writing gives stability, consistency and longevity to a communication. As Njeri points out, how would we know anything about Athanasius and Augustine and Luther if they had never written? How much of the detail of Paul and his missionary journeys would have survived if Luke and Paul himself hadn’t written? Oral communication can carry words a long way over long time periods but over time it inevitably gets distorted and splits into multiple traditions and versions which all recite the history somewhat differently. You can imagine the confusion after a few hundred years when one story teller recites the teaching of Paul in one way while another recites it very differently. One says that Jesus said this, while another tells us Jesus said that. We end up with different gospels and little way to tell between them which is the true one. This is why the laws of nations are written down. Some of the earliest writing discovered is of legal documents. Imagine the chaos if law was passed on orally and each policeman and judge just had to remember the law as it was passed down to them with no fixed point to refer to (we may think that sounds rather familiar in our context but that’s another story). Similarly, when it comes to organisations, having written policies is what maintains consistency and impartiality (1 Tim. 5:21). Interestingly, when it comes to the Bible, although there was certainly some oral transmission involved at certain points, compared to most ancient narratives, God’s Word was written down very early, often by the eye witnesses themselves (Num. 33:2; Deut. 31:24; John 5:46). Luke clearly wanted to move things from oral to written (Luke 1:1-4). The Bible is not just a bunch of amorphous ideas, like a jellyfish, shifting, without sharp edges – according to Jesus it is very important that every word in the original languages is persevered precisely, unaltered (Matt. 5:18 cf. Rev. 22:18-19). Our faith rests on the fixed rock of truth.
  2. Writing takes responsibility, accepts accountability. Recently a friend checked with the local government whether he and his organisation were complying with all the statutory requirements to operate as an NGO in a particular location. The council representative checked through the requirements and said, “Yes, you’ve done everything you need to do.” My friend asked, “Can you put that in writing for us? Just a note to say that we have done everything we need to do and are legal here?” To which the answer was, “Errrr, no – I’d rather not do that.” When you put something in writing and put your name at the bottom you take ownership of your words. Walter Chen: “Good managers want to be held accountable and aren’t looking for ways to weasel out of responsibility.” When we just speak words into the air we can deny them or edit them later. When we have written there is something to stand by. When God puts his word in writing he is taking ownership of it. “Thus says the LORD.”
  3. Writing indicates the seriousness and trustworthiness of a warning or a promise. This flows from the last point. When we say, “I’ll put it in writing” we are saying that we seriously mean what we say. A written warning in the workplace is a step up the discipline ladder from a verbal warning. A written commitment to pay back a loan usually has more seriousness (and legal currency) than a verbal agreement. A particular case in point is a Last Will and Testament (which if you haven’t done you should get done today!) which is a written document. As Luther realised, the whole Old Testament can be looked at as a legal Will – a set of promises that require the death of the one who made them for them to come into force (cf. Heb. 9:16-17; Matt. 26:28; Rev. 5:1-10).  Sentiments also mean more if they are put into writing too. “I love you” said to my wife is one thing. “I love you” written down for her in a letter or card and given means something slightly different, perhaps even more. Another way of looking at the Bible is as a love letter – God has put his love for us in writing.
  4. Writing gives time to think, structure, craft and REVISE. This is one of the great advantages of written communication. Once my words are out of my mouth they are gone. Once they are on paper I can screw up the paper and try again, or today just tap a few keys to delete a sentence, substitute a word, change the order and flow. I can read and check it. I can leave it overnight and read it again in the morning and find that it is far too harsh. Even better I can ask my wife to read it before I hit send! When you read the Bible you see huge amounts of careful crafting. Think of Lamentations – the way the poetry is so carefully organised with each verse starting with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. That wasn’t something that someone came out with spontaneously. Or think of the New Testament letters, crammed with theology, where every word counts. When it comes to a carefully nuanced, precisely weighted communication, often writing is best.
  5. Writing develops clear, focussed thinking & communication. Harrison has reminded us of this a number of times. Prayer letters and reports have as much value for the writer as for the recipient. It is a way to discipline your thoughts. Walter Chen again: “Writing out full sentences enforces clear thinking.” Jeff Bezos of Amazon: “There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking” (RT Chen). There is a vagueness and sloppiness and incoherence that you can might get away with in verbal communication that gets ‘found out’ very quickly when you are forced to put your thoughts on paper. As someone once said, when your thinking is confused, “Write yourself clear.” And – old advice – write something out in old fashioned pen and ink and paper before you hit the computer – that will get you even clearer.
  6. Writing can be re-read multiple times. This is a major advantage of written over oral communication. Isn’t it great to get a letter from a friend or fiancée and be able to read it over and over? My daughter loves to read her favourite books again and again. And for understanding: when I’m reading J I Packer or John Owen I often have to stop and read a paragraph again, maybe two or three times to get the full impact. Paul tells Timothy to think over what he is saying (2 Tim. 2:7) and he can do that because he has it in writing. He can read the words about the good soldier and the athlete and the hard-working farmer because he has the letter in his hands. He can pore over it, read it slowly again and again. And we can do that with the whole Bible (thank God for Bible translators).
  7. Writing gives opportunity to develop complex arguments and accurately cite sources. Oral communication can communicate quite complex ideas – think of a science lecture or a Puritan sermon – but there comes a point where a book is a better form. You cannot convey 20 points in a sermon and you certainly can’t show all the interconnections and implications and look at the issues from different perspectives and address all the counter-arguments. This is why book writing and book reading is so important. Think how impoverished our thinking and theology would be if there had never been an Augustine or Calvin or Edwards or Dostoyevsky writing serious, long books. And particularly when it comes to scholarship and the academic exercise, writing allows you the format not only to structure complex ideas but also to give credit and evidence by citing very precisely the words and work of others, something that is essential not only to integrity but also to being able to check the truthfulness of our words.

So let’s long for face-to-face but let’s also keep writing…


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“The Forum of Bible Agencies, Kenya sponsored a Bible Reading Marathon at All Saints Cathedral in Nairobi. Starting in Genesis on Monday 7 September 2009, volunteers took turns reading scripture 24 hours a day until the last verse of Revelation was read on Saturday, September 12. Readers were invited to read scripture in whatever version or language they preferred.” (Source)

In contrast – Have you ever heard someone say, “Let’s not read the passage – it’s a long one and we all know it”?

We’ve been thinking about public reading of Scripture recently at iServe Africa. The following is an abbreviated version of an article by Scott Newling (full article here) written particularly in the context of the Australian church but perhaps with plenty of challenge for our context in East Africa too.

The apostle Paul instructed Timothy: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Tim 4:13). Whilst we may be devoted to the teaching of Scripture, does the same hold true for our public reading of it?

1. Devotion

The question is not whether we read the Bible publicly; it’s not even if we recognize the importance or value of it. The question is whether we are devoted to it, whether it is readily and easily known to be our delight, our passion, our longing; the thing for which we joyfully labour and strive.

2. A mirror held up to our church practice

Many evangelical churches are today characterized by what we might call a ‘relaxed liturgy’ (the idea that we have no liturgy is, of course, a nonsense, since we all have habits and cultures of doing church, even if it isn’t ‘codified’ in text like a prayer book). Within this relaxed format the church will hear one or two Bible readings of about 10-15 verses each. If they’re lucky. Increasingly there is only one Bible reading—and this Bible reading is ‘preparation for the sermon’ rather than standing in its own right. In a service that runs for around 90 minutes, the Bible reading usually takes about three or four minutes. (If there are mid-week Bible study groups then there may be some more public Bible reading there but if these groups follow the sermon series then there is no increase in Bible coverage.)  In a given year, the church will publicly read about 780 verses, or 2.5% of the Bible. At this rate it will take 40 years for someone to hear the whole Bible read publicly. This is only if the sermons never repeat, and the congregation has an active policy to get through the whole Bible every 40 years. Which, let’s face it, they probably don’t.

Let’s compare this with the 1662 Book of Common Prayer order of Morning Prayer, which is largely the same as Cranmer’s 1552 morning prayer service. It includes:

  • various verses from Scripture to commence church
  • the Lord’s Prayer
  • Psalm 95
  • five Psalms
  • an Old Testament reading (about 30 verses)
  • a New Testament reading (about 30 verses)
  • Luke 1:68-79 or Psalm 100
  • the Lord’s Prayer again
  • the verses accompanying the collect
  • the Grace (2 Cor 13:14)

The service for evening prayer follows a similar structure. Further, with the assump¬tion that public services would be held morning and evening every day of the week, the Old Testament and New Testament readings would mean that over the course of the year the whole Old Testament would be read publicly once, the New Testament twice, and the Psalms twelve times. Compare that with 2.5%!

I want us to be honest with ourselves as people who love the Bible. As we compare ourselves to this heritage (whether it is ours or not), is it possible for us to say that we are, in our churches, devoted to reading God’s word aloud?

3. It’s not that difficult to change

Imagine for a moment a church had three Bible readings: an Old and New Testament reading each week moving systematically through books, and a third reading for the sermon. We’d move from 2.5% of the Bible being read annually to 7.5%. What if these readings were about 30 verses (or one chapter) rather than 15 verses (or half a chapter)? We’d get through 15%. And again, what if we stopped running our Bible studies in parallel (following the sermon series) but had Bible studies different to the preaching? We’d read 20% every year; we’d get through the whole Bible once every 5 years. What if we actively promoted church as being a ‘twice on a Sunday’ activity, with discreet Bible read¬ing programs between services? After two and a half years, the whole Bible would be read publicly to those who came to church twice.

4. Why we don’t

  • Tradition – we’ve never thought about it before—we just inherited a church model.
  • Pragmatism – There seems to be an unwitting tendency to view theology as the fence that keeps us safe, while we adopt whatever practice seems to work (pragmatism) within the boundaries of that fence to ‘get things done’. Our theology remains abstract, and our practice consists of ‘plundering the Egyptians’ for what works. But theology isn’t abstract and pragmatism isn’t theologically neutral. Everything I do is theological—especially when it comes to church. However I choose to organize and structure a church meeting, whichever systems I put in place to shape church practice, I am saying something about what I believe church to be, of what I believe causes church growth. When we choose to reduce Bible readings for something else, do we then in effect say that our words are better than God’s to grow people? Imagine instead if we sat down together, and asked: “We believe in the clarity of Scripture. What would our church look like if we worked that out in practice?”
  • Unbelief in the power of the Word itself  – When you go to church, at what point in the meeting do you expect God to do his work of transformation in your life? My guess is that, for many, the honest answer is the sermon. Don’t for a minute hear me dismiss Bible teaching! But shouldn’t we expect God to change us in the very reading of the Bible, not just the preaching of it? Have you ever noticed how we tend to pray to understand God’s word after the Bible reading and before the sermon? That the focus of the prayer is directed to what is to come (the sermon) as opposed to what was just heard (the Bible)? It’s great to pray to understand God’s word, but what does the location, vocabulary, tense and tone of that prayer teach the congregation about where we think the ‘action’ is?  What confirms my fears is when I have raised this issue with lay people and pastors. When people have responded with a reluctance to have more Bible reading in church, it is almost universally because they believe that people won’t understand it if it stands on its own. And so we return once more to the clarity of Scripture. The lack of faith by ministers of the Word that the congregation can understand (by God’s grace) the Bible, which God chose to write as he did, places significant question marks over what people really believe the relationship is between Scripture, preaching and the Spirit in ministry.

5. The necessity and joy

  • The value of public/church reading over and above private/home reading – Public readings guarantee that those who are unable (children, illiterate, functionally illiterate, poor, persecuted) or unwilling (unconverted, lazy, workaholic etc.) to read the Bible privately still hear God’s word. Furthermore, reading the Bible in the presence of others—with whom we can discuss and pray about it—is in the end of more value than private Bible reading (as valuable as that is!). The reason for this is that we have a problematic tendency in our sinfulness to deceive ourselves (Jer 17:9). We need each other to prevent ourselves from hearing God’s voice and yet hardening our hearts against it (Hebrews 3-4).
  • The purpose of God’s Word – God’s word is living and active (Heb 4:12). God’s word is more than God’s word about himself, his plans and purposes (although it is that!). When we encounter God’s word we encounter God himself and He brings His plans and purposes about (Isa 55:10-11). And God’s plan and purpose is to gather a people to himself, to his glory – that is a corporate reality, not an individual one. He is creat¬ing a people to dwell amongst. And he dwells
  • The safety of hearing God’s Word – 1 Timothy 1:4 comes as an explicit contrast to what various elders and teachers in the church were devoting themselves to instead: the teaching of demons and myths, and promoting division and departure from the faith. By contrast, the sounding of the Word is a safeguard against and repudiation of false teaching. In our churches today, to what extent do we leave our congregations open and vulnerable to every wind of teaching because we are simply ignorant of what Scripture says? Could the prayer of Jabez controversy have lasted two weeks with¬out the general ignorance of the church about what the context of 1 Chronicles 4:10 actually was?

6. Where to from here?

  • Devotion in elders – Staff and eldership teams, can I ask you to set aside a meeting to discuss this very issue? To ask one another pastorally whether you secretly devalue reading the Bible to each other? To ask what the evidence of your devotion to publicly reading Scripture is, seen in the way church is conducted week-to-week and across the life of the church over time? To spur one another in this matter, to ask “how much more?”, to pray for repentance if repentance is due, and to ask how the coming year will reflect the fruit of devotion to public Bible reading?
  • Devotion in preaching and programming – Again, could I invite those involved in how church is structured to stop conducting the ministry of the Word in such a way that Bible reading is only a prelude to preaching? To have Bible readings that stand in their own right? When was the last time 1 and 2 Chronicles was read through in our churches? When will it ever be?  And for those of us who preach, let’s do away with a somewhat bizarre habit that has developed in narrative preaching. Take 1 Samuel 17 for instance. It has 58 verses in it, so more often than not the preacher decides to only read some of the passage, because “reading it will take too long” (i.e., another three minutes). As a result, the congregation is then treated to 15 minutes of scene-setting by the preacher. If length was the issue, I’ve yet to meet the preacher who retells the passage quicker than actually just reading it out loud.
  • Devoted readers – I suspect that some of us have feelings of reluctance about increasing our public Bible reading because we’ve sat through some truly awful attempts at reading the Bible. Attempts that confuse the meaning of the passage, rather than making it clear. Attempts that call for the ‘patient endurance of the saints’! And most of us have probably been perpetrators of such readings at some point in the past. I’m not writing this as a mockery of people who simply want to serve God and his people – but the fact remains that, in many of our churches, reading the Bible is the thing we get people to do simply to get them involved. Admirable in one sense, but in another it is predicated on a fundamental flaw: that just because I am literate and know how to read means I know how to read audibly. Public Bible reading is a gift—and not everyone has it. How much of our reluctance to sit under the Word is simply that we are so used to poor public reading that the idea of reading more than a few verses really does feel like misery? Let’s show our devotion to the public reading of the Bible by having gifted reading of the Bible where the Bible reader fades from view as they bring us into the text. That means training our readers, hand-picking our readers, and having the guts to ask people to stop (or step back ourselves) if they/we are not good readers. With a good Bible reader, we forget the amount of verses as we are immersed in and the reading ‘interprets itself’. As Mark Baddeley puts it: Clear public Bible reading is a weekly workshop in the clarity of Scripture. To have just one Bible reading, done poorly, as the introduction to the sermon, which then makes what had been unclear (the reading) clear is a weekly attack on the clarity of Scripture. Churches need to focus on doing public reading well—because it is a way of making the clarity of Scripture an ‘experiential’ truth.

What do you think of this? Are there additional challenges we face in a Kenyan context – a couple that have been raised are:

  • Linguistics and translation – Many people communicate very effectively by using a blend of two or more languages (e.g. Kiswahili and English or Kiswahili and vernacular) but would not necessarily speak sanifu Kiswahili or the ‘Queen’s English’ or be perfectly fluent in their mother tongue). This means that the Kiswahili Biblia, the KJV or a vernacular translation may all have unfamilar vocabulary and grammar and be quite hard for the average listener to access.
  • Literacy levels – To read a text aloud in public with fluency, meaning and passion takes not only gifting (as Newling says) but also a fairly high level of literacy. I have heard the Bible read in Kiswahili brilliantly but in some areas there may be few able to do this.

 Are these big issues to tackle? Are there other issues we need to raise and discuss? How can we be devoted in our churches to the reading of Scripture? Are the big problems practical or theological or both?

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Loots Lambrechts recently raised the issue of the orality movement.  Here are a few thoughts but please add your own below, particularly if you have experience in this area. I’m very aware of how little I have…

A few things are clearly true:

  • around 5% of the world’s population is illiterate;
  • perhaps 70% of the world population are functionally illiterate or at least much happier with oral than written/read communication;
  • it is vitally important that unreached oral people groups hear the gospel;
  • missionaries must seek to lay down their cultural preferences and to accommodate their communication style so that God’s Word can be heard clearly.

The question is whether ‘storying’ – that is selecting a number of Bible stories, crafting them to be heard well within a particular oral culture, and then telling or performing them (often in chronological sequence, i.e from Genesis onward) such that they can be reproduced and passed on – whether that is the best or only way to evangelise and disciple oral learners.

It must be said at this point that the orality / storying movement is diverse and often much more nuanced than its attackers allow. I’ll interact below mainly with the seminal Lausanne 2004 paper ‘Making Disciples of Oral Learners’ (called ‘MDOL’ below). The document is clearly full of a heart for Christ and the lost and full of good stuff. To dispel a few myths:

  • MDOL is not against propositional truth statements (as some in the ‘emerging church’ are): “propositional beliefs are generated by and reflected in the core stories.”
  • They talk of ‘crafting’ stories to be ‘sensitive to worldview’ but they seem to mean this mainly in terms of the communication form and style because they also talk about the importance of overturning untrue worldviews. There is an explicit and recurrent concern to counter syncretism and to check the oral Bible stories “to ensure biblical accuracy’”.
  • Furthermore they don’t want to downgrade the importance of literacy and Bible translation: “We wish all peoples had the written translation of the Scripture in their heart language… A Bible translation program that begins with the oral presentation of the Bible through storying and continues with a translation and literacy program is the most comprehensive strategy for communicating the word of God in their heart language… We do not want our call for oral approaches to be seen as setting oral and literate approaches in opposition to one another. It is not a matter of “either-or,” but “both-and.”

Some strengths of the movement

  • The great thing about the orality movement is the concern to convey the gospel and the Word of God as the chronological Bible story of God’s redemption work. There is huge power in this. I know a brother and his wife in Dar es Salaam who have welcomed many Muslim ‘Nicodemus’s into their home at night for 1-to-1 chronological Bible reading – going through the key Bible stories in about a dozen sessions – often leading to faith in the true God of Abraham.  And it is very helpful even in nominally Christian contexts.  Instead of many gospel outlines that are simply four or five abstract propositions to grasp and which give an individual-centred “How to save my soul” version of the gospel (which can easily lead to a “Ticket to heaven in my pocket” understanding of Christianity), the story method wants people to be gripped and changed by God’s story.  Rather than putting me or my problems or my behaviour at the centre it says, “Just listen to the story of God.”  Instead of confronting behaviour or beliefs it strikes at the deeper level of worldview.  This surely is the key not only for evangelism but also for discipleship – getting the Bible story deeper and deeper into us till it flows through our bloodstream.
  • It is quite evident that the apostles and early church did not always open and directly expound the Scriptures in the course of evangelism – they very often do (Acts 2:14-36; 17:2; 28:23) but not always (Acts 10:36-43; 17:22-31). Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 and Paul’s sermon in Acts 13 quote some Scripture but also retell Bible stories in a rather free way. When you look at the way the NT authors quote the OT there’s often a certain freedom or paraphrasing going on (e.g. Matt. 2:23). John Dickson surely gives good advice when he recommends ‘gospel bites’ – responding to questions or challenges from non-Christians with a story about Jesus (e.g. sharing the story of the thief on the cross with someone who thinks Christianity is all about keeping the rules).

A few comments and questions

  1. The Bible is already oral.  One of the big aims of the orality movement is to select between 100 and 200 Bible stories, rework them to make them more easily heard by the particular oral community and then compile them into an ‘oral Bible’.  This has the advantage of standardisation and stability – i.e. the stories don’t gradually change out of all recognition. But I think I’d want to say that the whole Bible is already an oral work for oral cultures.  Very large chunks (e.g. much of the Prophets, Deut., Jesus’ discourses) were originally spoken and only later written. The vast majority of the Bible is in forms usually thought of as ‘oral’ – narrative, proverb, song, poetry. The Scriptures are designed to be read out loud – think of the commands at Deut. 31:11-13 and 2 Tim. 3:13, the all-age Bible reading at Nehemiah 8, the instructions to read out the NT epistles (Col. 4:16; 1 Thess. 5:27; Rev. 1:3).  Increasingly, Bible commentators are recognising how many of the ‘literary’ features of the Bible – the repetitions, recapitulations, bookends, summaries, word plays, spiral or numbered structures – are oral features – designed to help the ear and the memory of an oral listener rather than the eye of a silent reader (even private reading in the ancient world would have been out loud – e.g. Acts 8:30). So it is questionable whether the Bible needs much re-working or ‘crafting’ to be heard in an oral culture.  While oral cultures obviously differ, they have much in common.  A friend working on Bible translation in Mozambique finds that the oral culture there is far better at hearing the Bible narratives and understanding the implicit message than Western culture. Other friends in Kenya, working with oral learners, are preparing discipleship materials using relatively short Bible stories with hardly any modification and finding that they are both meaningful to those hearing and ‘reproducible’ – i.e. can be memorised and retold – a key aim of the orality movement.  In fact the extent of allusion and free quotation throughout the Bible and the degree to which phrases from the Bible have entered into the English language is testimony to how memorable (‘reproducible’) this book is. A brother reminded me recently that we need to have more confidence in the clarity and power of God’s Word on its own – it is often fine just to read the Bible in church and let it speak for itself – to be devoted to the public reading of Scripture (but that’s a whole issue for another post).
  2. Is the orality movement a challenge to expository preaching or a critique of bad preaching?  “Literate approaches rely on lists, outlines, word studies, apologetics and theological jargon… They use the printed page or expositional, analytical and logical presentations of God’s word…  Instead of using outlines, lists, steps and principles… oral learners “enter” the story and as they absorb sensory data they live the story in the present tense — seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling and feeling what the persons in the story are experiencing” (MDOL).  This seems to be a critique of the sort of preaching that reduces every story to three propositions (I fear that I have done that twice just in the last week!), that is Western-individualistic (just about relaying information to an individual), and is ‘bookish’ (heavy on jargon, boring historical detail, pretentious discussions of the Greek and Hebrew, abstract argument). But that is simply not good expository preaching. Let’s get away from this idea that expository preaching is a style – a wazungu, 3 point, academic form.  Hapana! Expository preaching is simply preaching that is driven by the text. If the text is a gripping story then faithfully preaching that text will mean re-telling it in a way that brings out all the twists and turns – that does let the hearer “enter into” the story and live it and feel the tension and emotions.  Expository preaching should be relational and corporate and concrete.  It should never be about steps and principles (I’ll leave that rant for another post too!) and using jargon is inexcusable (I realise I’ve probably done it a dozen times in this article) – we need to crucify our style. The text gives us the content but as for style we can jump up and down or shout or sing or whatever comes naturally to us and (more importantly) will get the message across to the hearers.  Which leads me to another question…
  3. Is what the orality movement means by ‘storying’ not quite similar to good expository preaching just leaving out the primary text?  When I read stories in MDOL of pastors and missionaries taking on the role of village storyteller and communicating the Bible stories as vividly as possible with great sensitivity to the ears of the hearers – it sounds to me like the very best sort of narrative expository preaching. Isn’t that what happens in Nehemiah 8 – “the Levites helped the people understand… they gave the meaning” (v7-8). The only difference is that with storying you don’t have the opening of the Bible and reading it clearly (Neh. 8:3,5,8). As mentioned above, maybe that’s fine in first-contact evangelism but there are dangers if it becomes the regular pattern of a ministry or a church. Where is the authority? With the speaker or with God’s Word? How can you have Bereans checking out the message (Acts 17:11) if you haven’t first been reasoning from the Scriptures (Acts 17:2)? Is there a danger of a Medieval church where only the priest (or the pope) is allowed to handle the original Biblical text while the masses must rely on the reworked message that is served up to them? The issue here is that a reworked/crafted Bible story is not “pure”, free of “interpretative baggage” (MDOL) – it is an interpretation or exposition of the original text in the same way as a sermon (hence my point – aren’t they basically the same thing?). When you retell a story you are making interpretative decisions about what you think the emphasis is, what it’s teaching, how it fits into the big Bible story.  Anyone who has compared a few different children’s Bibles knows that it makes a big difference how you retell the story (is the feeding of the 5000 all about the little boy sharing his lunch?).  MDOL insists that the recrafted story should be carefully checked to ensure “accuracy” but who does this checking? Presumably an ‘expert’.  As mentioned above, MDOL does talk about bringing in Bible translation and literacy work after initial evangelism but as it talks later on about the value of oral Bibles in discipleship an leadership and discusses the increasing functional illiteracy in the West there is a bit of ambivalence on the question of whether bringing people to the text of the Bible itself and helping them read it for themselves is a priority.

I’ve got a bit more to say but this is already far too long so I’ll stop now.  Over to you – what do you think? Very open to correction and really appreciate any feedback on this…

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