Telling God’s Stories with Power: Biblical Storytelling in Oral Cultures

by Paul F. Koehler

William Carey Library, 1605 East Elizabeth St, Pasadena, CA, 91104, 308 pages, 2010, $17.99.

—Reviewed by Dr. Victor Anderson, chair, Pastoral Ministries department, Dallas Theological Seminary.

Over the last couple of decades, cross-cultural workers have gained a heightened awareness of the challenges of communicating from a literate world to one that is fundamentally oral. Paul Koehler’s book describes how one missionary successfully addressed this challenge in India by employing biblical storytelling. The heart of the book is to demonstrate that a biblical storytelling program can promote relayed transmission of scripture among peoples of oral cultures. The publication is particularly important as it seeks to argue from validated field research rather than compilations of anecdotes.

As a popularization of the author’s DMin thesis (2007), this work strives to persuade missionaries who work in oral contexts to utilize biblical storytelling methods for evangelism, church planting, and discipleship. Written in an easy-to-read style, the book provides readers with theoretical foundations of orality, as well as practical ideas for addressing people who do not rely upon the technologies of literacy.

After an initial chapter that describes primary differences between oral and literate cultures, the book proceeds through three major sections. Providing theoretical foundations, the first section argues from biblical, theological, and educational perspectives that biblical storytelling addresses communication needs in oral contexts. Koehler provides helpful connections to primary literature in the field, although he does not interact with it in a critical fashion.

The second section describes specifics of the field project, providing details when selecting biblical stories, giving training, and monitoring story transmission through sequential recipients (termed generations). The final division of the book summarizes research findings. The clearest of these findings is that well-told Bible stories generated a high level of interest in the trainees and in audiences. This high interest was reflected in substantial transmission of stories from one generation to another, and in this particular Indian context, the storytelling project helped initiate multiple church plants.

The book should prove to be a helpful resource for people just getting introduced to orality, as well as to those looking to refine their practices. The bibliography provides references to many important works in this emerging discipline, though the omission of Walter Fisher is glaring. I personally expect to recommend the book to missionaries and students.

With my recommendations, however, I will caution readers that Koehler’s attempt to link Pentecostal theology with orality is unnecessary and ill-advised. Further, one need not take this author’s perspective that theology is disconnected from textual intention. Such an affinity for reader-response theory endangers an evangelical hermeneutic.


EMQ, Vol. 47, No. 4, pp. 506-507. Copyright  © 2011 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.


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