Questions Raised by the Story
How A Narrative Catechism Could Help Us
By Bishop Emeritus David W. Kendall
The church today is filled with people who do not know the Scriptures. Even though they claim to believe the Bible is God’s Word, pastors and church leaders often lament there is little evidence that such “belief” means much.
Indeed, religious polls reflect a sad reality. Many who identify as Christian — even as “born again” — do not know or subscribe to some of the most basic teachings of the Bible. For example, a surprising number of professing Christians are uncertain whether their faith or the Bible claims Jesus as the only Savior of people and the world. In one poll of 2,000 church people, 61% believe all faiths are of equal value, and 60% believe that people can earn their way into heaven if they are “good enough.” Likewise, 62% of respondents said that the Holy Spirit is not a member of the Triune Godhead but simply a vague representation of God’s attributes.1
Many who identify as Christians are confused about the differences between the Old and New Testament. Some assume that the New has rendered the Old no longer relevant. Others affirm both Testaments are inspired and thus apply select verses from either Testament in much the same way.2
2 This represents common ways Bible-believing church members understand and apply Old Testament passages especially.
Moreover, professing Christians believe and practice things they assume are in the Bible but are not. Consider these popular sayings commonly attributed to biblical writers: God helps those who help themselves, cleanliness is next to godliness, and God won’t give you more than you can carry.3 Yet, none of these expressions can be found in the Bible. Worse, how such sayings are used to promote or discourage action leads to conduct that is questionable if not simply wrong.
Finally, surveys on how Christians live their lives suggest there may be little difference between Christians and non-Christians. The incidence of adultery and divorce, the use of pornography, and spouse or child abuse do not vary radically among those who claim to follow the Bible and those who do not. Indeed, people who subscribe to the Bible as God’s Word are no more honest in their relationships than those who do not.4
Who can doubt that churches struggle to help their members understand the Bible and live according to its teachings? I suggest a “catechism” could help us all. And perhaps you wonder:
What’s a “catechism”?
3 Relevant Magazine (Online), January 16, 2020. Other sayings include: God wants me to be happy; we’re all God’s children; bad things happen to good people.
4 Consider the fact that respondents to surveys often misrepresent themselves, a fact that must be taken into account when interpreting survey findings.
The word “catechism” comes from a Greek verb meaning “to teach or instruct.” Early in the Christian Church catechisms were developed as a means of teaching children and new converts the essentials of the faith. Because many could not read for themselves, these catechisms were organized in a question-answer format to help learners remember what they were taught. And, for much of church history, the use of catechisms was central to the teaching ministry of the church.
Churches today could benefit from a catechism that helps their people learn how to follow Jesus well — a catechism of questions and answers that rise out of the Bible itself in the way the Bible presents them. I call it a “Narrative Catechism.” Or, more simply, “Questions Raised by the Story.” Let me explain what I have in mind and why I think it can help us.
To begin, I’m not suggesting a primary focus on a list of questions exploring essential doctrines we all must know and believe. Because, although what we know and believe is important, it is not most important. Rather, and most importantly, we must focus first on what God has revealed to us in our Bibles, how God has revealed it, and why?
Since the Bible is essentially a story, the focus will be on questions that rise out of the Scripture- Story as the Story itself raises and then answers them. Thus, we begin with an overview of the Story and note questions the Story suggests and observe how the Story answers them. A list of questions and answers like that has several advantages. Here are three of them.
First, we are honoring the nature of the Bible as God’s Word to us. When we allow the Story to tell us what is important and how it is important, we are submitting to the authority of the Word God has given us. After all, it’s not just a story, it’s The Story by means of which God has chosen to guide His people in relating to Him, one another, and the world.
Second, by observing how the Story begins and then unfolds, and how its various sections and episodes elaborate and clarify the unfolding Story, we are in a better position to answer the questions it raises. We will see how the Story answers a question at one point and then sharpens or adjusts the answer as the Story proceeds. We will also understand that some questions have more than one answer, depending on “where we are” in the Story. For example, a question about God’s Law will have an answer at one point in the Story that is different than at another point. And, by allowing the Story to direct us to the question and then offer its varied answers, we gain deeper and more comprehensive understanding.
Third, and most importantly, questions raised by the Story are more likely to draw us into the Story itself, where we meet the Triune God who invites us to follow His lead. As we do, we come to know the Storyteller who enters His Story in Jesus, and we learn to love His ways. It will be good to know the proper answers as the Story offers them, but even better to know the Storyteller and learn to love His ways.
Bishop Emeritus David W. Kendall is the author of the forthcoming book “Questions Raised by the Story:
A Narrative Catechism” from Light + Life Publishing. His other books include “Prayers for the Seasons”
“Follow Her Lead,” and “God’s Call to Be Like Jesus.” He has served the Free Methodist Church as a bishop (from 2005 to 2019), superintendent, and pastor.