Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

Category: Storying

Telling a Better Story is about listening to the stories of others and telling the Gospel story.

Telling a Better Story – a book review

What does telling stories have to do with apologetics?Telling a Better Story: How to Talk About God in a Skeptical Age by [Josh Chatraw]

My interest was sparked when I saw this new book on apologetics focusing on telling stories earlier this summer. Apologetics has traditionally been oriented to philosophy and logic. Yet most people understand life through stories they seek to practice. Expressing the reason for the hope within us (1 Peter 3:15) is best communicated through stories. People relate to stories better than to formal syllogisms. Josh Chatraw’s new book, Telling a Better Story: How to Talk About God in a Skeptical Age (Zondervan, 2020) reimages apologetics for today’s context. The book is divided into three parts: Part 1 – A Better Story About Apologetics; Part 2 – Offering a Better Story; Part 3 – Objections to the Story. He writes the following about apologetics:

Once viewed as a tool to win debates, apologetics is now becoming more focused on generating productive conversations that open doors for people to consider the gospel. Rather than encouraging others to use what Charles Taylor refers to as “conversation-stoppers” (e.g. “I have a three-line argument which shows that your position is absurd or impossible or totally immoral”) or what Alan Jacobs refers to as the habit of “militarizing discussion and debate,” many apologists are emphasizing the need for Christians to become better listeners who seek to understand the person thay are speaking with before making appeals. This enables us to meet people where they are and find points to affirm before finding points to challenge.1Josh Chatraw, Telling a Better Story, Zondervan, 2020, p 19.

Listen to their stories

The author wants us to listen to their stories because they are windows for understanding. Stories, both big stories and little stories, are purveyors of culture and worldview. Stories explain life. They answer the big questions about the meaning of life and how to live well. Chatraw writes:

Book Review: Two Stories of Everything

Why review another book comparing Islam and Christianity? Two Stories of Everything: the Competing Metanarratives of Islam and Christianity by Duane Alexander Miller take a different approach than most. Rather than comparing Islam and Christianity as religions, Miller compares the metanarratives that Islam and Christianity tell. Metanarratives are the overarching story that includes and defines all the smaller stories of a people. It is the story that communicates the worldview of a group. I find it interesting that Miller never uses the term ‘worldview’ (if he did I missed it). I think he wanted to stay focused on the stories of everything rather than get bogged down in a philosophic analysis. He has lived in the Middle East and has personal experience interacting with Muslims for whom he shows great respect. He explains his approach in the introduction:

People often talk of Islam and Christianity as competing religions, and compare their doctrines and practices. When I moved to the Middle East ten years ago I shared this opinion. But over that time I found this approach to be deficient. Which is not to say it is wrong, but it fails to grasp the genius of either of these collections of doctrines and practices. … In this book I will outline the stories that Islam and Christianity tell. Furthermore, all these stories (or narratives) find themselves included in a great story of everything, which is to say a metanarrative. Islam and Christianity, whatever they may be, certainly do propose to tell a grand story of everything, from creation of the world and time all the way to the consummation of history and the eternal fate of human souls. -Duane Alexander Miller, Two Stories of Everything: The Competing Metanarratives of Islam and Christianity, Grand Rapids: Credo House Publications, 2018, xi.

Book Review: Worldview-based Storying

Tom Steffen’s book, Worldview-based Storying: The Integration of Symbol, Story, and Ritual in the Orality Movement, is the first book in the Series “There’s More to the Story” written by the consultants of Worldview Resource Group. I reviewed book two (July 2018) and book three (December 2017) – the books were not published sequentially. Each book stands on its own yet reading them in the order intended would be beneficial to the reader.

In the Preface, Steffen describes the concerns addressed by the series:

Cross-cultural communicators of the gospel all too often neither provide adequate backstory nor sufficiently know whom they address, much less how they story. In fact, some even consider such awareness totally unnecessary! This all too often leads to an ineffective, truncated biblical story. This series “attempts to preempt the rapidly-prepared, quick-fix approaches that tell only small portions of the biblical story, and in their place, present a comprehensive, big-picture, local-culture sensitive, viable, reproducible, and thoroughly biblical alternative.” -Kindle loc. 259

Worldviews are interpreting your stories

In communicating the gospel message, whether through Bible stories or Discovery Bible Studies, we need to be aware that our hearers will interpret what they hear through their worldviews. In a 1993 issue of the MARC Newsletter, Bryant Myers wrote about what happened after showing the Jesus Film in a Fulani village in Africa:

The white missionary walked back to the village with the women, listening to their animated conversation. Something didn’t make sense. “What was it that so captivated your attention?” He asked.

“The Christian man from the coast who made the magic!” they exclaimed. Confused, he asked, “What magic?”

“We’ve never seen a shaman who had the power to make people get up and move about on a sheet and talk,” they explained.

What message had the village women heard? From the point of view of the missionaries showing the Jesus film, they had heard the good news about Jesus Christ, but most of the women talked about magic and power. The message that they took away was that the West African Christians from the city had a magic more powerful than any they had ever seen.

Bryant Myers, “What Message did they receive?” MARC Newsletter, December 1993, 3.

Teaching the Bible Story-line

Sometimes we approach the Bible like dining at a smorgasbord restaurant. At a smorgasbord there is no order or progression to the meal, you just pick what you want. Similarly, we can read a passage or story without thinking about where it fits in the story-line of the Bible. We gravitate to what we want to hear or what is comfortable. When we eat only the food we like at a smorgasbord, it can result in an unhealthy diet and indigestion. Likewise, we can develop an unhealthy theology and theological indigestion when we read the Bible and ignore the story-line. The Bible is more like a multi-course meal designed by a dietitian for our health and enjoyment. Each course prepares the taste buds for the next. The sequence is just as important as each item.

Each story and passage in the Bible is a part of the overall metanarrative of the Bible and placed in sequence by the Holy Spirit. The meaning is understood in the context of its time and place in the Bible’s story-line. Robert Strauss writes,

Book Review: A Novel Approach

Story is a common topic in mission circles, and often is understood primarily as a way of communicating the Gospel and Scripture in oral cultures. But story is more than a communication tool; it is a key to understanding culture as well. It is often overlooked when talking about ethnography.

My friend, Mike Mathews, has written a helpful book explaining how story can help us understand culture – A Novel Approach: The Significance of Story in Interpreting and Communicating Reality, 2017. He writes in the introduction:

A clear proclamation of the Gospel

Part 3 of a series on defining success for a missionary. Part 1 demonstrated that we, like Paul, can be confident in our ministry, despite all our detractors and critics. In Part 2, we talked about Paul’s need to once more prove his credibility as an apostle to the Corinthian church. By repeating the phrase “commend ourselves,” he points to some key criteria that he uses to demonstrate that God is pleased with his ministry.

The first criterion that I want to highlight is found in 2 Corinthians 4:1-2.

Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

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