Monday, September 19, 2011

When is it Wrong to Share?

As you know from a previous post, later this month a national ministry will be using my church's facility to host a training in Bible storying. As the newest of the elders, this provided me with the opportunity to learn firsthand something about wrestling through the issue of what organizations we can allow to use our facility.  Here's the note we sent.

Dear David,
Thank you for extending to us the opportunity of hosting the Simply the Story training in our facility. We are grateful for the ways the Lord is using you to strengthen and encourage our brothers and sisters around the world, and to challenge the American church.
There is only one possible schedule conflict for use of our facility; that would be on the Friday of your training. We are still verifying whether it will indeed be a conflict. But since you will have a smaller number of people for the Thursday and Friday training, if nothing else, you could probably conduct your training at your office on those days, and then move to our facility for Saturday through Monday’s training. 
However, we do have some theological questions about the nature of the training. Knowing that our church facility ultimately belongs to the Lord, we certainly don’t want to be selfish about letting other groups use it. Yet we as 'shepherds' of God's people desire to ensure that any Biblical teaching that happens within the facility should meet a minimum theological baseline, especially since we will communicate and share with the congregation about this (possible) great opportunity.
“Storying” is a somewhat new concept for us, but we have invested some time in trying to learn about it, both from the Simply the Story web site, and from other organizations. The essential framework of “storying” seems a sound way (no pun intended) of reaching oral learners: telling a story, making the listener repeat it to ensure they really “heard” it, and then a guided discussion time afterwards.
Having said that, we do have the following questions about the specific storying approach that STS would be teaching:
  1. Will it be made clear to listeners that the stories they are hearing are authoritative facts, not simply nice, wise stories (like something from Aesop’s Fables)?
  2. Will it be made clear to listeners that these stories are ultimately not a substitute for the written word of God, translated into their own language?
  3. Will the “oral inductive Bible study” (discussion time after the story transmission) in fact include all three elements of inductive Bible study (observation, interpretation, and application)? The tendency in our day is to simply ask “What does this Bible passage mean to you?” which is founded in the postmodern idea that all truth is subjective. A better set of questions would be “What does this Bible passage say?” (observation), “What does it mean?” (interpretation), and “How should I apply it to my life?” (application).
  4. Will it be made clear to listeners that the stories must be interpreted on the foundation of the propositional truths of the Bible? (When taken alone, or given a higher priority over propositional statements, Bible stories are easily misinterpreted.)
  5. Will it be made clear to the listeners that if they remain only oral and do not someday raise up a generation who can read this book and study it in the original languages, they will remain dependent on outsiders for the divine truth God has given only through the Book?*
  6. Will the listeners be shown how each of the Bible stories is a part of God’s great redemptive plan and points forward to Jesus’ work on the cross? (See Luke 24:27 and Acts 8:35.) When separated from the big picture “Story” of Scripture (the gospel), Bible stories quickly become no more than lessons teaching moral behavior.
  7. Will the listeners be called to salvation by responding in repentance and faith in Jesus as both Savior and Lord?
Thank you again for the opportunity, and if you have any (for lack of a better word!) questions about our questions, don’t hesitate to contact myself or Jim Masters, our pastor.

The Lord’s blessings to you and your family!

Daniel Bartsch
For the elders of First Southern Baptist Church of Cottonwood
The founder and executive director of Simply the Story, Dorothy Miller, called me promptly to answer the questions.  After further discussion we decided the answers were acceptable and gave STS full approval to use the facility.

* This question we borrowed from a very helpful post by John Piper.

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