The Urgency Of Orality

There is an urgency to win the winnable. Much effort has gone into identifying the winnable and evangelizing toward planting growing churches. Within the past two decades the mission agencies have realized that while some progress was being made, that a vast improvement in speed and scope was needed, not only to do the task, but to move toward finishing the task of evangelizing the unreached unevangelized by empowering the oral learners.

I think that Bible Storying as it grew out of its roots in chronological Bible teaching has proved to be a wonderful tool for moving this task along. Many of us began to realize that through the new approaches in church planting and the new vision for making Scripture available rapidly to those lacking any Scripture, or lacking sufficient literacy to benefit from having translated Scripture, that it was possible to speed up the process of planting churches that could thrive and reproduce even where literacy was low.

It took awhile for some of us to realize that “orality” was more than just another word for “nonliteracy.” Orality implies a considerably different manner of learning, thinking, and reproducing what we have learned. It took awhile to realize that often we were the disadvantaged though we might know more theology, we did not have the skills to learn as rapidly as our less literate oral learner brothers and sisters. So it was a wake-up call to learn to be oral ourselves. I had read recently that an oral learner was more likely to find Christ as Savior through the work of another oral learner than from a literate. 

The urgency is reflected in the need to provide Scripture access to all ethnolingistic peoples in this generation, realizing that many perish each day without ever having access to God’s Word. In meeting this urgency it has posed some things to consider. First, I am guilty of working through interpreters to bring Bible stories to people who lack Scripture in their mother language. For some it is simply a matter of bringing “understandable” Scripture in oral format for those who possess translated Scripture that might be archaic translations or those written in high literary language as some cultures do for their holy books. I realize this process short circuits the wise system of carefully determining key terms and testing for accuracy. But in the process not only have many come to saving faith in Christ, but also their nonliterate oral leaders have become competent in using their oral Scripture to preach, teach and witness.  

Second is the difficulty often pointed out to me that I am denying people the whole counsel of God. Again, I plead guilty. I have made assumptions based on my understanding of a people’s spiritual worldview to pre-select Bible stories to prepare for them. I learned to teach wide (select more than enough stories) and let the listeners help to define the stories the Holy Spirit was leading them to use. This has not been ideal, but I rejoice at the number of oral brothers and sisters who now are competent to use God’s Word in their own ministries, and are hard at work on the urgent task of seeing that all their own people have access to Scripture and an opportunity to know Jesus as Saviour.