Book Review: Introducing Story-Strategic Methods

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Introducing Story-Strategic Methods: Twelve Steps toward Effective Engagement by Robert Strauss is part of a four-book series written by the consultants from Worldview Resource Group. I reviewed A Novel Approach in a December 14, 2017 blog post.

Tom Steffen’s book in this series, Worldview-based Storying, was published May 8, 2018. The fourth book in the series by John Cosby and Elena Steiner is coming out soon. I look forward to reviewing both of these in future posts. I’ve started reading Steffen’s book and it is looking really good.

The series advocates an approach to storytelling that recognizes that there is always “more to the story.” Appropriately, the book series is described in a website with that name: “There is More to the Story.”  That “more” is the worldview of both the teller and the hearer of the story.

But in this blog post, let’s focus on “Introducing Story-Strategic Methods.” In the Introduction, Strauss writes, “This book embeds storytelling in a broader methodology of communication across cultures” (xiv). The book is divided into two parts:  “Acknowledging Ambiguity” and “Aiming for Clarity.”

Part 1: Acknowledging Ambiguity:

Chapter 1 begins with a story that illustrates misunderstanding resulting from ignoring the local story. Strauss explains the importance of local stories:

There is no place we go or group of people whom we approach where a story does not already exist. It is there and has been perhaps for centuries. The local and regional stories are deeply embedded in the lived experiences of the local people. For the most part the local stories are trusted. They are retold again and again. From them people find meaning and direction for the future.

Strauss,  6.

What does Strauss mean by “story”? Strauss does not equate story with worldview; rather stories illustrate worldview. Local stories express and reinforce the worldview of a people. Multiple stories combine to form a metanarrative, a grand controlling story. The worldview expressed in the local stories provide an interpretive grid through which new stories are understood.

Strauss argues that ambiguity results when we fail to understand that our storytelling as outsiders (missionaries) will be reinterpreted in the context of the local story. The local people find their identity and understanding of reality (worldview) in their traditional stories. Any new stories will be understood in ways that fit this view of reality.

Chapter 2 critiques simple approaches to storytelling that minimize or ignore the need to learn the local stories. This chapter explores “descriptions from Scripture,” “empirical research from the field,” “analysis of culture,” and “insights from historical literature” to demonstrate the complexity of storytelling across cultures.

The need to analyze the “why” behind our methods is the subject of chapter 3. The author questions the basic assumptions underlying many approaches to storytelling which ignore or dismiss the need to learn the local stories.

Part 2: Aiming for Clarity:

In seven chapters, Strauss explains the strategic approach to storytelling. Strategic storytelling emphasizes the need to understand the local worldview expressed in stories prior to telling the biblical story. The storyline of the Bible is a metanarrative that competes with the local metanarrative. Story-strategic methods seek to minimize reinterpretation of the biblical story. Chapter 4 introduces the solution to the problems caused when biblical stories are told without an awareness of the local stories. Emphasis is given to the importance of understanding the worldview behind local symbols and stories. This chapter also introduces the 12-step story-strategic method:

  1. Investigate the cultural story lands through existing academic literature.
  2. Enter the story of the host society by establishing authentic relationships.
  3. Model the story in keeping the historic traditions of both Christianity and Islam where the “messenger” takes precedence over the “message.”
  4. Collect symbols and stories (based upon gender, geography, and generation).
  5. Analyze stories to determine how they make meaning.
  6. Understand local metanarrative and the resulting worldview as a basis for communication.
  7. Communicate the biblical story with targeted symbol-based content.
  8. Internalize the biblical story to facilitate extemporaneous delivery and authenticate legitimacy.
  9. Tell to teach (t2T) the biblical story by means of localized forms and functions.
  10. Validate meaning through feedback by means of symbol and story solicitation with key term verification.
  11. Train new symbol observers and storytellers.
  12. Reach the storylands.

p. 53-56.

Chapter 5 makes the case for strategic storytelling which includes interpretation and explanation of what the story means in light of the biblical worldview. Chapters 6-8 explain the 12 steps in detail. Chapter 9 analyzes the underlying theology, philosophy, and strategy of the twelve-step method. Chapter 10 provides a series of reflective questions to increase awareness of our reasons behind our methods.

The eight appendices provide useful information for analyzing cultures.

A Must-Read

From the back cover:

Often we assume that the biblical story trumps culture. It does not. The book affirms rigorously that culture is much more powerful than we first suppose. In fact, culture trumps the biblical story. Therefore, understanding and skills are required for effective engagement across cultures. Strategic storytelling is a twelve-step methodology that addresses the problems of miscommunication and syncretism that plague the cross-cultural context. It offers a step-by-step solution that promises success. Insights are firmly rooted in Scripture and equally grounded in empirical research from the social sciences. The stories told throughout the book are true. The answers are compelling.

Introducing Story-Strategic Methods: Twelve Steps toward Effective Engagement is a must-read for all cross-cultural servants of Christ. Learning how to analyze local stories to understand the worldview is a necessary step in creating authentic understanding of the biblical message. It will help us clarify the “why” behind what we do and lead to more effective communication of the greatest story ever told.

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: Introducing Story-Strategic Methods

  1. David Benzel

    Thanks, Gary, for the interesting review. It all sounds so logical, even the part about culture trumping the Biblical story (I understand that to mean that at first people will interpret the Biblical story in light of their culture, and not visa versa); but I’m wondering how to understand what we see in Acts with Paul — did he just go to people who shared his culture? How was he able to go from place to place and relatively quickly establish a community of believers? Is that what we should expect (or is it just what God did at first)? Did the apostles do what this book suggests? How do we square what the book says with the Biblical examples (or perhaps they are not to be regarded as “examples” but only as history?)? Does the book try to discuss this? I wonder if Paul only went to those who were “enough” like him, then sent others (disciples) who were more like those other cultures (but enough like Paul that they could relate to/learn from him). Are there Biblical clues for us about how to deal with the culture issue?

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    1. Gary Ridley Sr

      Dave, Thanks for your comments and questions. I think the book would be strengthened if it addressed these questions. The only places we see Paul addressing an audience that did not in some way share his Jewish worldview is in Lystra (Acts 14:8-18) and in Athens (Acts 17:22-34). In both situations we see Paul addressing the local worldview and proclaiming biblical correction. Strauss’s point is that if we don’t understand the local worldview and address it our message will not be understood as a rival worldview and be distorted in line with the local worldview they are committed to. I certainly see these two passages in Acts as examples of how we approach cultures that don’t share the biblical worldview.

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