Cultivate Blog

Should The Way to Joy Be in a Narrative Form?

Categories: Good Soil Questions

I like the narrative approach in The Story of Hope—why don’t you do something similar with The Way to Joy?

We've been asked this question a few times. In some rare cases, this concept is even presented quite strongly as a convictional matter, rather than just a question of preference—almost as if the current question and answer (quasi-Socratic), primarily propositional style of The Way to Joy is not valid and should not be used.

In order to support the concept of a narrative-based discipleship book (a narrative edition of The Way to Joy), several reasons have been proposed:

  • People today are interested in narratives.
  • Jesus discipled his followers by telling stories.
  • In some non-literate cultures, people are not able to understand propositional concepts, such as those in The Way to Joy.

In general, we agree with those statements. And we acknowledge that a narrative edition of The Way to Joy is a valid concept and could be valuable in some situations; we’re certainly not opposed to the idea. And we might create a narrative edition at some future time.

But there are reasons why we have chosen not to make the mainline edition of The Way to Joy a narrative-based book.

Larger Book, Larger Costs

First, to create a narrative edition of The Way to Joy (and cover all of the same topics) would result in a much larger book. Then, the cost of the book would increase significantly, making it more difficult to make it available at a culturally-appropriate cost to national believers.

For example, look at the (several) sub-topics covered in Lesson 6, dealing with the ministries of the Holy Spirit. If we included a story for each of these sub-topics, or created a larger story that adequately covered all of these sub-topics, the length of Lesson 6 would probably expand significantly beyond two pages. Narrative instruction is often very effective, but it is space-consumptive when done well. The current style of The Way to Joy is much more concise, allowing for a relatively small booklet.

Finding Bible Stories for Each Topic

Second, would we be able to find Bible stories (narratives) that address all of the topics and sub-topics that appear in The Way to Joy? Probably not.

For example, what Bible narrative would you use to teach the broadly multi-faceted nature of the gifts of the Holy Spirit or the fruit of the Spirit? What Bible narrative would you use to teach the eternal security of believers or the specific truths in 2 Peter 1:20-21? Etc. etc.

And if we chose to use non-Biblical stories, where would we find stories that are transcultural and how well would they fit Biblical teachings? And if we couldn’t find transcultural stories, then we’d need to create a specific edition of The Way to Joy for every culture.

Third, in an attempt to find Bible stories to teach all of the necessary follow-up discipleship concepts, we would tend to do what many preachers and Sunday school curriculum publishers do—we’d be tempted to twist Bible stories to make them teach what we want them to emphasize. And that would be teaching new believers bad hermeneutical practices that would lead to faculty interpretations of Scripture in other areas…perhaps leading to heretical practices. How we model the interpretation of Scripture is how they will practice it.

The Non-Narrative Nature of Scripture

Fourth, no matter how much we may prefer narrative literature and how popular it may be in our culture, we need to remember that a significant part of Scripture is non-narrative. It is interesting to note that much (if not most) of the Bible that is purposed specifically for the discipleship-instruction of believers is not narrative in genre, it’s in the form of propositional expositions (development and declaration of logical concepts) or it’s didactic (teaching), or epistolary (letters), sermonic (sermons), poetic, or in some other non-narrative genre.

That’s true of much of the book of Deuteronomy, a book that records Moses’ discipleship-instruction of the nation of Israel in preparation for their entry into Canaan. It’s also true of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, significant instructional books in the Old Testament, as well as much the content in the books of the prophets.

And we know it’s true with most all of the New Testament, once we move past the gospels and the book of Acts. If we commit to a narrative-only kind of discipleship training, how do we deal with the epistles of Paul, Peter, John, and Jude? Do we conclude that we can’t use the non-narrative portions of Scripture, or do we find ways to teach narrative-preferenced people to expand their capabilities for learning?

And remember that Jesus used other presentation methods, in addition to the stories He told. Often, for example, He used propositional questions and answers—in a quasi-Socratic form.

Conclusion

While there’s nothing wrong with using narratives to disciple new believers, the process does present some daunting challenges. For the most part, we don’t sense a compelling need to restructure The Way to Joy to that format, at least for the mainstream edition.

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