On Teaching Bible Stories, by David Chilton

The following came into my inbox this morning from God’s World News, and I thought it would be helpful to broadcast it further through this blog. For anyone who teaches children’s (or adult!) Sunday School, these will be helpful reminders:

How does a good teacher do it?
 

How should you teach Bible stories? The best way to learn is by seeing how an excellent teacher does it. One such teacher is S.G. DeGraf, the Dutch theologian who authored Promise and Deliverance. He wrote this book specifically for Sunday school and Christian school teachers. It is a masterpiece, and yet it is written in a simple, easy-to-understand manner.

 

“Our aim in telling Bible history,” DeGraf writes in his introduction, “ought to be the same as God’s purpose in recording it for us in his word. God had the stories recorded ‘in order that we might believe.’ Accordingly, even in grade school, this aim must be kept in mind when imparting knowledge. It makes no difference at all that the children in your classroom already believe. In their case, too, the story is told to evoke faith, to deepen and broaden it.”

 

We should keep three things in mind whenever we tell Bible stories, DeGraf says. First, “we are to view the entire Holy Scripture as nothing more or less than the self-revelation of God.” This means that when we tell the story of Joseph, for instance, we must not focus on Joseph himself as the main figure in the story. The story is, instead, God’s revelation to and preservation of his people. “Such an emphasis,” says DeGraf, “teaches children to fear the Lord instead of looking to Joseph as a moral example.”

 

Second, God reveals himself as the Mediator. “We will always have a great deal of trouble explaining the history in Scripture if we do not proceed from the Mediator’s eager efforts to reveal himself,” writes DeGraf. The point is not that we should disregard the various individuals in the stories. It is that we are to see these people in their proper context: their stories are told in God’s word, and God’s word is God’s word–not man’s–in which God reveals Christ.

 

Third, too often the emphasis in our teaching falls on God saving this or that individual, rather than on God’s relationship to his people as a whole. As DeGraf says about the story of Joseph, “The main point of that story is not what God meant to Joseph but what he meant to his people through Joseph; a people whose development was just beginning in the tents of Jacob. God always draws near to his people as a whole–never just to individuals.”

 

Now we can use the basic perspectives given here to flesh out the particulars of the stories we are teaching. I do not want to imply that we should treat our teaching of Bible stories as lectures in theology. If anything, lectures in biblical theology ought to resemble a story time!

 

For as the Dutch storyteller reminds us, “As we tell a story, it should come alive; it should draw the children in and get them involved. The children should get wrapped up not just in the adventures of certain people but especially in the historical unfolding of God’s self-revelation and man’s response to it. We must tell the children of God’s great deeds.”

 

— David Chilton

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