the weblog of Alan Knox

Narrative, Storytelling, and Discipleship

Posted by on Mar 23, 2011 in discipleship | 11 comments

Narrative, Storytelling, and Discipleship

This post will not be a complete study of either narrative, storytelling, or discipleship. However, I’d like for us all to take a moment to consider the intersection of these three: narrative, storytelling, and discipleship.

To begin, think about Scripture. By a wide margin, the most used genre in Scripture is narrative. Even those parts of Scripture that are not directly narrative (prophecy, psalms, proverbs, epistles) are written within a narrative framework.

Next, consider Jesus’ primary means to teaching: storytelling. He told short stories called parables which had a meaning deeper than the story itself. There are other examples of storytelling withing the narrative of Scripture. For example, consider Nathan confrontation of David which was done through a story. The prophets often voiced their revelation in story form.

How does this relate to discipleship? Well, in spite of the proliferation of narrative in Scripture and the use of story by the characters in Scripture, the most used method of discipleship today is through principles, explanations, or commands. (By the way, I think teaching/discipling by example is related to teaching/discipling by storytelling.) Could we be missing something?

I believe that we are missing something, and I believe that our understanding of God, of who we are, and of our relationship with one another is reduced by a lack of story. (By the way, I’m not talking about the occasional practice of sharing testimonies. I believe that “testimonies” can be good, but they are also limited. I’m talking about sharing both true stories from our life and sharing parable type stories that may not be true.)

What do you think about teaching and discipling by story? Do you have any suggestions that would help people use stories, narratives, and parables more while discipling others? Or, do you think I’m wrong and that we should stay away from stories and narrative?


11 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 3-23-2011

    You hit a hot topic for me. I’m not sure I can respond briefly in a comment. Maybe if I told a story:

    One day a rabbit was digging a hole. A turtle walked by and asked, “Are you digging a new home?”

    “Nope,” replied the rabbit. “Just digging a hole.”

    “Are you going to plant carrots in it?” pressed the turtle.

    “Nope,” replied the rabbit. “Just digging a hole.”

    “Are you going to bury something, or hide a treasure?”

    “Nope,” replied the rabbit. “Just digging a hole.”

    Now the turtle got upset. “Why won’t you tell me what you are doing! I know that you are not just digging a hole. So tell me what you are doing.”

    The rabbit stopped digging and looked at the turtle. “I like to dig holes. It’s what God made me for. Can’t I dig a hole just for the fun of it?” And with that, the rabbit went back to digging.

    The turtle shook his head, and as he walked off, muttered to himself, “Why can’t rabbit ever answer a simple question?”

  2. 3-23-2011

    Jeremy,

    What does that story mean? ;)

    Seriously, thanks for the example.

    -Alan

  3. 3-23-2011

    Alan,

    The summer before last, my then 21 yr daughter went to northern Uganda for the summer. They lived in huts in a village. They had been trained in story telling. Since the Karamojong for the most part have no written language, the only way to reach them with the gospel was to tell the story of redemption.

    I really believe discipling is about relationship and story telling. It’s not about three-point hermeneutical teaching. The life of the gospel is in relationship and personal interaction with the Lord vertically and with one another horizontally.

    I definitely see the need for congregational teaching on occasion, but once again true discipleship has got to be personal and I certainly see story telling as a big part of that.

    I have been wanting to be trained in story telling. The team my daughter went with was led by a friend who had spent ten years there living with the Karamojong. He uses the story telling all the time back in the states working with refugees in San Antonio.

  4. 3-23-2011

    Jack,

    I’ve heard of storying, and I know that it’s being used around the world. I’m hoping that the churches and believers in America start using more and more stories as teaching opportunities.

    -Alan

  5. 3-24-2011

    I’m not sure if you are really asking what the story means…

    Anyway, a large part of my view of stories is that often, they are just that. Stories. Like the rabbit, God tells stories because He likes to tell stories. Stories, in and of themselves, change us. Like the turtle, we think there is more to it than that. We want to ruin the story by digging for some deeper theological truth.

    Parables, on the other hand, like those of Jesus, are different. Each parable does have a truth, but he used parables to conceal truth and hide his point. I told the story to conceal the point I was trying to make.

  6. 3-24-2011

    Jeremy,

    No, I didn’t really want you to explain. I think there is truth and the possibility of learning in parables and stories.

    -Alan

  7. 3-24-2011

    I have some issues with the “post-modern” narrative hermeneutic. Some wish to declare the entirety of scripture as narrative, like N.T. Wright’s Five-Act Hermeneutic, and others say basically what you have said here.

    What evidence supports your statement, “By a wide margin, the most used genre in Scripture is narrative?” What exactly are the percentages of the different genres used in scripture and what are the criteria to determine which genre is which?

    To be fair, I still hold that the scriptures are propositional. A result from my biblical training. But to be fair again, I have problems with biblical theology, systemic theology, and whether or not we should focus on a deductive or inductive approach to the scriptures.

    Any overarching hermeneutic applied to the Scriptures is inherent with problems because those overarching hermeneutics generally have an agenda attached to them. I prefer to let the context, both immediate and amplified determine the meaning of any given passage of scripture.

    This I have taught, along with many other hermeneutical principles for years and the fruit of it always surprises me. Teaching others to rightly divide the scriptures and not imposing my interpretive inclinations has been challenging, but always rewarding.

  8. 3-25-2011

    Miguel,

    Just going by pages, the narrative books of Scripture (Genesis-Esther and Matthew-Acts) take up about half of the Bible. Obviously, there are some propositional passages within those narratives, but there are also narratives within other books of Scripture.

    You said, “Any overarching hermeneutic applied to the Scriptures is inherent with problems.” I agree.

    In this post, I’m not suggesting that we do away with proposition, but that we add narrative/storytelling.

    -Alan

  9. 2-25-2013

    Hi Alan!

    I enjoyed your post. I use storying and I teach others to use storying. I often tell folks I’m teaching that God did not reveal Himself to us in a Systematic Theology textbook, but rather through stories.

    I really like New Tribe’s video EE-TAOW. The storying of Abraham’s (almost) sacrifice of Isaac is wonderful. It shows the tribal leaders pondering whether God would allow Abraham to go through with it based on His character as it had been revealed in the previous stories. It is great!

    If you’re interested,I’ve even blogged on it twice this year already.

    One blog post (http://rockymeadow.wordpress.com/2013/01/02/the-resurrection-to-pentecost-storying-rough-draft/) is an example of how I selectively crafted several stories into one story. The specific direction of the story was that Jesus, after His resurrection, showed the disciples the prophecy stories and their fulfillment in Him. The disciples then used these stories to make disciples. So, it was a story about storying in early evangelism.

    The other blog post (http://rockymeadow.wordpress.com/2013/01/02/the-resurrection-to-pentecost-storying-rough-draft/) takes a different angle. I was sharing about what it means to “hide God’s Word” in one’s heart and shared about how storying can be a way of doing this.

    So, I believe storying is definitely something we need to return to for evangelism and discipleship, but that it can also be used, in a sense, for our own spiritual growth.

  10. 2-25-2013

    This is the primary “method” that I use in the verbal teaching (together with “withness”) for making disciples. We have developed a tool at http://www.yourpartinthestory.com to frame the gospel within the larger context of the story of Scripture. We have also developed resources to help equip disciple makers following that pattern at http://www.thestorytraining.com

    Blessings as you make disciples who know both the Author and their part in the story.

  11. 2-25-2013

    Stan and George,

    Thank you for sharing the examples!

    -Alan

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