Once upon a time, books were rarely read quietly. They were read publicly, out loud, to an audience, and possibly even acted out. Since the 15th century, when Gutenberg’s printing press made books cheap, reading has turned into a silent solitude activity done by a fireplace or candle. One might even wonder if today’s society’s preference for Netflix and social media rather than books is a (failed) attempt to go back to those ancient days.
Ezra read the Torah out loud. Jesus taught parables and stories and presented them before a crowd. Even the letters of Paul were intended to be read out loud in the churches they were sent to. In 1 Tim 4:13, Paul encourages Timothy to attend to the public reading of scripture, and Revelation starts with “Blessed is he who reads aloud … and blessed are those who hear it.” The Torah is filled with commandments to tell our children what the Lord has done, and Moses commands the public reading of the law in Deuteronomy 31:9-13. The scriptures we have today were originally written for the purpose of them being read out loud to one another, not for us to read them alone in solitude.
Stories are also an amazing device to convey truth. This is why about 75% of the Bible is in story format. Imagine if Nathan the prophet had gone to King David and said, “Hey, God is pretty mad at you because you committed adultery and murder.” It wouldn’t have been as impactful as the story was, would it? Instead, he told David a story about a rich and a poor man and their sheep, making David furious at the villain of the story, thereby incriminating himself. (The full story is in 1 Samuel 12:1-4).
Maybe instead of worrying about how people read less, we should see how we can use this as an opportunity to make the Bible accessible in its original intended way? Bill Bjoraker, PhD, is an author, professor and teacher of the Bible and Jewish studies from Los Angeles. In an article he wrote for “Jewish Voice Today” back in 2010, he wrote:
“We may be rightly disconcerted about the loss of literacy in America, but this turn also offers opportunities. Oral cultures have always been characterized by relational face-to-face communication using stories, proverbs, songs, chants, drama, poetry, and other forms of communal and interactive events. Western literate people are hungering for these elements in an increasing way. When a wave like this arises in our culture, we who advance Messiah’s mission should get out our ‘surfboards’ and ride it for Kingdom purposes.”
Bjoraker lived in Israel in the 80s and 90s for eight years, and has been involved in Jewish evangelism since then. He was exposed to this idea of storying the Bible in 2008, through the ministry “Simply the Story” and immediately realized how useful and powerful this can be when used in its original Jewish context. Storytelling has always been a part of Jewish tradition, and it is present in Rabbinic literature throughout history. Every Passover, we sit around the table and read aloud from the Haggada, which quite literally means the telling or storying.
The ministry “Simply the Story,” or STS has used the storying approach in many different cultures and contexts, but Bjoraker has applied it in its Jewish context. The approach is engaging, it’s resonating, it’s seeker-friendly, and it provides a context for discipleship and training. Bjoraker is now coming to Israel to lead an STS workshop at Kehilat HaMaayan in Kfar Saba from February 12-17 and coach local believers on how to lead this storytelling.
“By storying, we mean the entire process of the oral and visual communication of a Bible story followed by group discussion, interpretation, application, accountability, drama and/or song and the retelling of the story such that the story is internalized by the group and can be retold to others,” he explains in the 2010 article.
Another interesting advantage of this approach is that it bypasses the empty circular argumentation cycle that we encounter so often here in Israel. Bjoraker explained it like this:
“Another advantage of storying is that it bypasses the pitfalls of apologetics and argumentation that goes nowhere. Jewish people, and especially those schooled in Rabbinic thought, can argue and debate you to a standstill over the Messiah’s identity and other theological issues. Head-to-head Messianic vs. Rabbinic apologetics is the naked-truth approach. Reflecting upon a story and keeping the group focused on drawing out its treasures shift the matter to a whole different dimension. We let the story do the work of speaking to hearts, rather than trying to convince the defensive rationalist mind.”
I would encourage any Israeli believer who is engaged in any kind of ministry here in Israel to seriously consider signing up for this workshop. The workshop will be offered in English, with Hebrew translation if required. For more information on the workshop offered and the costs, click here.
For registration and further information, contact Jean Smith at [email protected]