THE BIBLE IS FUNDAMENTALLY A SINGLE STORY
THE BIBLE REFLECTS ORAL CULTURES
The Bible was given to highly-oral cultures, so it naturally contains many oral art forms: narratives, poetry, songs (psalms), and proverbs. About half of the Bible is narrative; poetry is another quarter of it. Most of God’s people in OT and NT times learned Scripture by hearing it rather than reading it themselves. The book of Acts describes the rapid spread of Christianity through oral and written communication. Jesus’ most characteristic form of teaching was storytelling, which is pervasive in oral cultures.
God in his wisdom chose to reveal himself in the Bible mainly by telling a story. Hundreds of individual stories link into a coherent, purposeful Grand Narrative of God’s mighty acts. It is natural, then, to study the Bible as a large narrative composed of individual stories, most of which circulated orally before they were written. Oral storytelling consequently is an honorable and effective teaching method. It is not, as is sometimes wrongly thought, a poor substitute for “real” teaching.
THE GRAND NARRATIVE UNDERLIES CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY
God made people “story-shaped.” That is, we find our identity in whatever story we accept about the world’s origin, the presence of evil and suffering, whether humanity may transcend evil and suffering, and if so, how. The Grand Narrative of the Bible answers those core worldview questions. Theology emerges through reflection on this story and God’s interpretation of it. The epistles are reflections on the Grand Narrative. Story, thus, is foundational for theology, not optional, and oral strategies reflect that.
BIBLICAL DISCIPLESHIP IS REPRODUCING DISCIPLESHIP
Jesus told his disciples to teach new disciples to obey everything he had commanded them. If we aim to make disciples among oral learners, we need methods of discipling that do not impede new disciples’ ability to make disciples. This insight leads us to adopt methods that every new disciple can use successfully. Oral methods are essential for making reproducing disciples among oral cultures. Print-based discipleship can be expected to stymie it.
ORAL METHODS OF DISCIPLESHIP EMPOWER EVERY CHRISTIAN
Jesus taught largely by modeling how to live and minister. Teaching by modeling and apprenticeship are typical in oral cultures. Effective oral discipleship uses both. Disciple makers encourage literacy, but they do not make literacy an unbiblical litmus test of discipleship. Some Christians may never become readers, but they can be fruitful disciplers if they are discipled orally. Bible stories, indigenous Scripture songs, memorized Scripture, role play, and audio Scriptures empower all Christians, including well-educated ones.
ORAL METHODS OF DISCIPLING SURVIVE PERSECUTION
Historically, persecutors close church buildings, arrest church leaders, and confiscate Bibles. Churches survive because they meet secretly, strong lay leaders step up, and they perpetuate Christian teaching largely from memory and a few Bibles that escaped confiscation. Imprisoned Christians depend on Scripture passages and Christian songs held in their memories. Churches and individual Christians discipled via oral means thus have advantages in surviving persecution with their faith intact. They will have committed these resources to memory.