by Sean Gladding
InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515, 193 pages, 2010, $17.00.
—Reviewed by Scott Hedley, a research associate in Asia.
Working with a Muslim language group and serving as a pastor in America, I have read many books on oral Bible storytelling. But this book is different: it chronicles a story-by-story approach and includes comments from the storyteller and questions from the audience.
The Story of God includes twelve sections: Creation, Catastrophe, Covenant, Community (Part One: Exodus), Community (Part Two: Sinai), Conquest, Crown, Conceit, Christ, Cross, Church, and Consummation. A number of the sections contain stories.
For example, the second section (Catastrophe) contains the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Lamech, Noah, and the Tower of Babel. Sean Gladding does a great job of linking these stories together, and this chapter has given me some new ideas and insights for telling these stories in my context. The seventh section (Crown) includes the stories of Hannah, Eli, Samuel, Saul, David, and the prophesy of the coming Messiah.
There are a number of strengths to Gladding’s approach: he provides good transitions between stories; some of the storyteller’s commentary to the audience is very profound (see pp. 36-37); and adding extra-biblical material—including an explanation of the sacrifices (p. 54) and the explanation that some people worshipped Caesar, whose image was on the coin held by Jesus (p. 183)—is effective. Embedding stories within stories is also helpful (p. 54), as are the storyteller’s thought-provoking post-story questions (p. 59). It is good that the storyteller had singers compose songs related to the stories. For example, the Exodus 15 song is found at the end of the story about the Exodus. It is helpful for the storyteller to share briefly why the Israelites found it important to remember and retell their stories (p. 85). This encourages readers to see the value of storytelling. Finally, the story of Christ includes a helpful flashback to a messianic prophecy (p. 157).
There are also a number of weaknesses to Gladding’s approach. First, most of his stories have dialogue between the storyteller and the audience. This is to be expected after the story. However, it becomes slightly disruptive to have the dialogue within the story, since the storyteller is forced to go off on tangents in order to answer the questions before he is able to complete the story (p. 34).
Second, my training as a storyteller has led me to believe that the storyteller should not tell the audience what they should believe and do. Instead, the learning experience becomes more powerful when the audience discovers on their own from the story what they should believe and do (Putnam et al. 2010, 209).
Third, I would have liked to know (1) why Gladding chose the stories he did for his story set, (2) what a central theme for the story set is, and (3) what issues the stories address. At times, it is difficult to know the purpose, direction, and overarching theme of the stories in the story set. However, I would recommend this book to field workers, pastors, and small group leaders because the book provides a helpful role model and example of the storytelling approach.
Check these titles:
Koehler, Paul. 2010. Telling God’s Stories with Power. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library.
Putnam, Jim, Avery T. Willis Jr., Brandon Guindon, and Bill Krause. 2010. Real-Life Discipleship Training Manual. Colorado Springs, Colo.: Navpress.
Sanchez, Daniel R., J.O. Terry, and Lanette W. Thompson. 2008. Bible Storying for Church Planting. Fort Worth, Tex.: Church Starting Network.
Walsh, John. 2003. The Art of Storytelling. Chicago: Moody Publishers.
EMQ, Vol. 47, No. 4, pp. 504-505. 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.