Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Using Bible Stories in Evangelism and Catechesis Part 2

As discussed in the previous article,Trevor McIlwain's course "From Creation To Christ" is the easiest tool to use to begin the process of rebuilding a congregation or community's familiarity with a panoramic view of the Bible. It works best, however, with teachers who are committed, students who are literate and who have some biblical foundation already and who are willing to be challenged. That does not describe the majority of those involved in Christian education programs, most of those we contact in the process of evangelism in our communities or even the tribesMcIlwain's associates evangelized.

While the concept of Chronological Bible Teaching is still valid (we reformed have always referred to it in preaching as lectio continua) it was still too advanced for many audiences served by McIlwain's associates. McIlwain's approach assumes our audience can and will read. Likewise his method assumes that they are not, in fact, hostile to what they believe the Christian faith represents. As a result, the basic method of teaching the Bible chronologically had to be adapted by others seeking to evangelize and catechize people who were neither as literate nor as eager as McIlwain's students. The method generally adopted by those convinced of the necessity of teaching the Bible as a whole has been to focus on the actual telling of Bible stories from memory. Depending on the audience addressed, the Bible Story is presented to determine how future teaching will be received. If favorable, Bible stories can then be followed by subsequent dialogue, guided discussion, teaching or preaching. Dialogue and discussion are most often used in evangelistic settings. Systematic teaching and preaching after the telling of a Bible Story are used in settings more likely related to training or worship.

Note: When the concept of telling Bible Stories is referred to throughout these articles, the reader should be aware that the method advocated here is the one championed by Rev. H. Jackson Day, retired missionary to Brazil ( Rev. Day has extensive experience using Bible storytelling with educated people in urban settings who were literate but hostile or indifferent to the Gospel as well as rural Brazilians who frequently had less than a 5th grade education. His method and the Bible storytelling method mentioned here is to relate the Bible story in the hearer's everyday language without extensive paraphrase or the addition of extra-biblical details beyond the explanation of historical details that are essential to understand the story such as the financial value of a "talent" or the animosity that existed between Jews and Samaritans for example. As such it seeks to protect against the contamination of biblical stories by adding or subtracting from the text of scripture while making the scriptures accessible to those who cannot or cannot easily read them.

After laying a foundation of Bible narratives from Genesis to Acts, advanced students are ultimately introduced to the doctrines of the reformed confessions and catechisms. Until the mind of the student grasps God's work of redemption in its historical unfolding, though, the presentation of the reformed confessions and catechisms will not have it's proper impact. These documents will just appear as another "party line" on a plane with the "Jehovah's Witnesses" or other cults and sects who come putting their "spin" on the scriptures but who do not dare to discuss the Bible's message as it unfolds historically. So that the reformed confessions and catechisms can be received as flowing from Holy Scriptures, the Biblical narratives are taught first. Then in Day's approach, the confessions and catechisms are first expounded by linking the relevant biblical narratives together. Then the actual deductions of the confessions and catechism are taught. This is the pattern followed by the Apostle Paul in Romans 4 as he discusses Justification by Faith by discussing the story of Abraham and alluding to the life of David. Dr. Chuck Baynard follows a similar methodology - scripture first, deductions following - in his commentary and discussion on teaching the 2nd Helvetic Confession today (

Any doctrine can be taught using this method even if the person being trained is functionally illiterate. Generally speaking, those trained through the chronological bible teaching method retain more scriptural information and are more likely to put it into practice as disciples than many allegedly "literate" M.Div. graduates. The oral learner's reliance on memory instead of books and reading forces him to "meditate on God's Law day and night" (Psalm 1) to master the Bible in the first place. Growing interest in the Bible also usually increases the student's hunger for literacy. If for some reason a person never reads well, this method still allows them to be trained for service in Christ's church.

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