The Importance of Story in a Biblically Illiterate Age

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I’ve been a pastor close to 20 years, and one thing I see is that we’re a Biblically illiterate generation. I don’t mean that as an insult. I mean it as a statement of fact. A great many people who claim to embrace Christianity have not read the book upon which their faith is based.

People have their reasons for not reading Scripture—some stemming from general disinterest. But others hesitate to open the Bible because they wonder if they’ll be able to track with what they’re reading. It can be hard for a new reader to get their bearings if they are coming to Scripture without much understanding of how it’s written or how it’s meant to be read and interpreted.

God gave us His word not to confuse us, but reveal Himself to us. One evidence of this lies in the fact that a great deal of the Bible is written as narrative. Stories. And if we human beings love anything, we love stories.

Story is one of the primary voices of Scripture. Adam and Eve took the fruit God told them not to touch. King David watched a woman bathe on her rooftop. The prophet Nathan later told the king a story about a shepherd who stole his neighbor’s sheep. Jesus told stories about the prodigal son, the sower and his seed, the good Samaritan, and the persistent widow. A viper bit Paul’s hand when he was on his way to Rome to stand trial before Caesar. Scripture is filled with story.

I wrote my new book series with Intervarsity Press, the Retelling the Story Series, to be a Biblical literacy tool—a narrative retelling of the story of Scripture from Eden to Rome. I set my focus on the narrative arc of Scripture and told it in a story-teller’s voice. I stayed close to the text as I wrote, including hundreds of Scripture references to lead the reader to the source of what I was writing.

My inspiration to do this came from what the Lord told Israel to do with His word in Deuteronomy 11:18-19. He said:

“You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

In other words, the Lord told his people to tell the story of God’s redemption and saving mercy to their children. Tell the stories often and tell them well. This was, of course, in an age where few owned scrolls and people relied more on oral tradition. But the resource of Biblical stories, and the Big Story they combine to tell, has not gone away. We still have them. We have them in the printed canon of Scripture. We can read them any time we like.

But Scripture tells us to do more than read the stories. It tells us to hide them in our hearts (Ps 119:11). And what better way is there to hide something in our hearts than by way of a story? Stories are trojan horses for truth, slipping doctrine, rebuke, correction, and inspiration past the guarded gates of our defenses.

Story-telling is a way to hide truth in the heart by way of the imagination. When we understand the story of the Bible, we’re equipped to grasp much more of the doctrine, poetry, and prophecy contained there as well. I wrote the “Retelling the Story Series” in a story-teller’s voice in the hope that the Lord would use my narrative as a humble tool to hide His word in people’s hearts as they read.

Russ Ramsey
Russ Ramsey and his wife and four children make their home in Nashville, Tennessee. He is a pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church and the author of Struck: One Christian's Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017), Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative (Rabbit Room Press, 2011) and Behold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Crossway, 2015). He is a graduate of Taylor University (1991) and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv – 2000, ThM – 2003). Follow Russ on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram.

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