When some kids leaders hear the word story, they hear fiction. It is not surprising then that there is a reluctance to calling what we teach kids a Bible story. Some go further and think it is wrong and even dangerous to use Bible story, believing that it leads kids to think of the Bible as a work of fiction. But is it? There just might be more to this story than meets the eye.
The Gospel Project uses the word story quite a bit. Each session has a Bible story. And we always remind kids that the Bible story each week is part of God’s one big story of Scripture. We aren’t alone in using this phrase; other curriculums do as well. But should we? Are we being unwise, or even harmful, by calling passages Bible stories? Some think we are.
For some, story is synonymous with a work of fiction. When they hear story they hear fairy tale, myth, or a fable. It is unwise, dangerous, or even wrong then to use story in relation to the Bible. When we do, we communicate to kids that the Bible is untrue.
Let me pause here and clarify that we at The Gospel Project would certainly hold to the belief that the Bible is absolutely true. That is a deeply held value of ours and it is a big part of what drives our crafting of that resource. Why then do we choose to use story? Because story is a good word to describe the Bible and it is a helpful word to build bridges with our culture, which uses story in many different meaningful ways.
What Story Means
Here is the first definition of story according to Merriam-Webster:
a. an account of incidents or events
b. a statement regarding the facts pertinent to a situation in question.
As you can see, aside from definition 1c, story is a good word for what is in the Bible. (This will likely blow your mind: myth does not primarily mean something fictional either, which is why you might hear theologians use it at times in reference to the Bible as well, such as the creation myth in Genesis 1-2.) When we use story in relation to the Bible, we are telling kids an account of the incidents or events of God’s plan to rescue people through Jesus Christ. That is one reason why I like story: it connects every passage we study to the overall narrative of Scripture. One alternative word I hear suggested quite often is lesson. That’s not a bad word in many ways, but my concern with using that term is that it can give kids the wrong idea of what the Bible is all about. The Bible is not a collection of unrelated, self-contained lessons to be covered in 60 minutes or so. It is one big story.
How We Use Story in Our Culture
But let’s move beyond the dictionary and consider how we use story in everyday life.
When I was a journalist, I wrote news stories.
Facebook has “Top Stories” and a “Stories” feature for people to share what is going on in their lives.
Someone might ask you to tell them your story. You surely would not make up a work of fiction about yourself on the spot. You would know they want to know who you are.
You might tell your children the story of how you met your spouse or when they were born.
As we can see, our culture uses story quite often in a way that clearly means real story. This is another reason why I like story: It connects with the people we are trying to reach and it is deep within our wiring. Ever wonder why Hollywood is so successful? Because humans are drawn to stories.
How We Use Story in Our Faith
But the case for story gets even stronger when we consider its use in relation to our faith.
The word story appears in some of the beloved hymns many of us grew up singing. I Love to Tell the Story. Tell Me the Old, Old Story. You are Called to Tell the Story. When we sing these hymns, we know they are not positioning the Bible as fiction. We know that story means true story.
But here is the most important reason why story is a good word for us to use: the Bible uses it. That’s right, the Bible uses story to mean true events.
- 2 Kings 8:6 CSB
- 2 Chronicles 13:22 ESV / KJV
- 2 Chronicles 24:27 ESV / KJV
- Psalm 107:2 NIV
- Acts 11:4 NIV
If the Bible uses story and many hymns we sang include story without leading us astray, we should not be afraid of using this word.
Story is not a bad word at all. It is not a dangerous word. And it is not an unwise word. It’s a good word. Do you have to use story? Of course not. But neither should we think those who do are being unfaithful to Scripture. But for those of us who do use story, we need to recognize that the word can be used to mean a work of fiction. Because of this, let’s be wise and pair story with true at least at times. But if the only way the kids know we believe the Bible is true is by our use of a word or phrase to introduce what we are about to read from it, we have bigger issues to consider in what and how we are teaching and how we are living. Our kids should know the Bible is true primarily because they see its truth lived out in and through the story we are living.
Brian Dembowczyk is the managing editor for The Gospel Project. He served in local church ministry for over 16 years before coming to Lifeway. Brian earned an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a D.Min. from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his family live in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.