Ashley Hibbard invites us to consider the power of storytelling both in the Bible and in our preaching and introduces a new CSBV resource.

Nearly half of the bible is narrative.

Most Western Protestant Christians communicate about God in propositional statements, especially when preaching and teaching.

And therein lies a massive disconnect.

The ways in which knowledge may be communicated are diverse. Scripture has rational propositional statements. It has poetry that runs the gamut of human emotion. It has legal statute and reflections on wisdom. But perhaps most of all, it has story. Some story is clearly fictitious, such as the story of the trees electing a king (Judg 9:7-15). Much story is clearly historical, such as the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians (2 Kgs 25). But all of it is story. This is not journalism. There was no Canaanite Post. It has been crafted and shaped in order to communicate not only events, but also to begin to provide a theological interpretation of those events. Stories provide not only information, but look towards transformation, and the authors of scripture—both human and divine—want to see people who are shaped by and through those stories.

Photo by Jason Peter on Unsplash

Much of that is quite similar to what we attempt to do in a sermon. It’s (part of the reason) why I would attend a worship service even if the text for the day is a text I know inside out. I am not likely to be surprised by any of the information that I hear (though God’s word is surprisingly deep and richly layered!). But what is important is not whether the information is new, but whether it will shape me. Such an act requires both a willing mind on my part, and effective communication on the part of the speaker.

But if both our conventional sermons and biblical story can achieve similar ends, then why is it so often our inclination to squash biblical story, already crafted towards the ends we desire, into a three point discourse? If the author has chosen to communicate so often through story, why do we tend to be so story resistant? While there are likely many factors in this, it may be that the modernist underpinnings of our education system is one of the most likely suspects. While students may take elective classes in creative writing, nearly all students will learn argumentative/persuasive writing. Many schools have debate clubs, but I have never heard of a storytelling club. We relegate storytelling to the world of entertainment, seldom stopping to think about the role that entertainment often plays in shaping our values and our perspectives.

Photo by Mathilda Khoo on Unsplash

This concern for truth by storytelling undergirds our newest study Miss.Judged. Research associate Peter King, author of many of the studies currently offered by the CSBV, was inspired by historian Suzannah Lipscomb’s essay ’How Can we Recover the Lost lives of Women ?’ (in Helen Carr & Suzannah Lipscomb (eds) What is History Now?, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2021) to commission a multi-author work of “creative empathy.” While being guided by the contours of scripture, four authors have expanded upon the details of the text and its world in order to give voice to and centre the experiences of four women in scripture, women who have been ignored, neglected, victimized, and judged by those who surrounded them, by much of Judaeo-Christian history, and sometimes still by the church today. It is not an effort to rewrite scripture, but rather to continue to communicate truth and principle through story and storytelling. These stories may make the readers uncomfortable, or disturbed—but then, so does scripture. Some readers may disagree with how we have told our stories—but then, each of us has at times disagreed with more conventional lessons and sermons. These are uncomfortable and disagreeable stories. These are stories of those who suffered at the hands of those more powerful and privileged. Our discomfort within the biblical text or in these stories is likely a feature, not a flaw. I believe Miss.Judged stands in the rich tradition of biblical storytelling that slips past our intellectual defenses to reach our compassion and empathy, that our hearts may be softened and moved to action for the good of those whose only advocate is the God who enacts justice for the marginalized (Deut 10:18).

Ashley is the Centre’s Director of Operations and lead editor of the Journal for the Study of Bible and Violence. Ashley has a BRE from Great Lakes Bible College (2010), an MDiv from Heritage Theological Seminary (2014), and a PhD in Theology from Trinity College/University of Aberdeen (2020). Her PhD dissertation was entitled, “Deep Calls to Deep: an investigation into a chain of intertextualities between some Genesis narratives and Deuteronomic laws.”

The Power of Stories
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