Tell the Whole Story Out of Order Using Layers

Tell the Whole Story Out of Order Using Layers April 16, 2013

In the last post, I made a simple argument. It is very easy––if not common––for methods of oral Bible teaching to undermine any hope that illiterate people groups will interpret the Bible for themselves in a way that is faithful to the entire story of Scripture.

How are people supposed to interpret a story full of true facts but one that is told in a wrong way? In upcoming posts, I’ll talk about interpretation (or, “exegesis”) and contextualization. For now, let’s focus on telling the story in a helpful ways.rock-layers-3578_640I want to make a point that may seem a bit counter-intuitive. Teach the Bible out of order by using a layered approach.

What I mean is this: first tell the story in a few broad but very comprehensive strokes, followed by multiple layers of the story narrated in a balanced fashion that evenly ties together the few major points given in the first layer. In essence, move from the major few points to the many minor subplots.


Establish 5-6 key points in the story that act as pillars for the whole story. These markers should reflect the emphasis of the Bible itself, even if it does not fit into any traditional theological system. For example, to use all Cs: we might say something like Creation, Curse, Covenant, Christ, Church, and Consummation

Given the sheer breadth of the 5-6 points, there is no way to neatly read any one of two passages to encapsulate the whole point. The stories will have to be carefully written out in summary form and/or pieced together with the actual words of Scripture. The bigger goal is simply to give hearers a hearing of the grand narrative in their first sitting or at least within the first stage of learning. This provides a context into which everything else will be filed into the mind.


Decide upon 10–12 second level parts of the story that evenly connect the first layer of topics. Once again, the traditional western way of constructing theology will not like this. The temptation will be to highlight one’s own favorite stories.

However, the entire point of this stage, i.e. telling the story, is to prepare oral peoples to interpret the story. We must resist over-interpreting the story, as much as is possible.


Repeat step two but at a deeper level, and again…with points balanced across all the previous layers.

The immediate goal in telling the story is not interpretation (yet). Instead, it is simply to give listeners a mental map of the biblical terrain. In order to do this, biblical theology must be prioritized over systematic theology. This means our story will reiterate major themes like creation, covenant, and kingdom instead of simply anticipating the conclusions of systematic theology.

Even if one wanted to include big ideas like justification or a particular theory of the atonement, this shouldn’t be inserted into our story as if one could formulate such doctrines apart from the historical, biblical context. Even the conclusions of systematic theology must submit to context as king.

Don’t forget––if we tell the story right (i.e. balanced), oral peoples will eventually be able to deduce theologies like those of the first century Christians (many whom were illiterate themselves).

Tell Them About Israel

Tell the whole story in 5-6 even stages necessarily means having a pillar for Abraham and Israel’s history, which makes up 2/3 of the Bible. I’m not talking about randomly selecting Sunday school stories either, like David and Goliath or Daniel in the Lion’s Den. Likewise, we must be careful not to simplify the whole of Israel’s existence merely so a sacrificial system.

Keep in mind the Abrahamic promise forms the paradigm through which the rest of Scripture unfolds––God covenants to bless all nations through Abraham’s offspring. Paul calls this the “gospel” in Gal 3:8.

Do we really want to leave the gospel out of our story?

Israel is essential to the grand biblical story, not merely background. Christ is the title for Israel’s king. The Gentiles only come to God when Israel is restored from exile. As we convey the story of God in the history of Israel, we lay the foundation for the rest of the story and countless applications, not the least of which is how we/they are to view our ethnic identity (a major issue among oral peoples).


Photo Credit: Pixabay/PDPhotos

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