Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Bible Storying and the Affective

     Mark, a Chinese man, came up to me after the story of Simon and the sinful woman smiling and shaking his head in amazement.  Referencing the previous stories about Jesus as well, he said, "Every time time these stories start, I wonder how Jesus is going to handle this situation."  He cocked his head and smiled again, then added, "And He always does what is best and most wise!"

     I've had several good conversations with Mark in our English / Bible storying class at church. He's genuinely inquisitive and has a good general disposition. The teachings about Jesus are very new to him and so his reactions aren't the same as your typical person who has grown up in church.  When Jesus says "love your enemies," the radical nature of the teaching can be seen in Mark and on the other incredulous faces in the room.

     Much has been written about the importance of Bible storying, so I'm not doing anything radical in the world of missions by focusing on telling the stories of the Bible to the internationals.  However, I want to look at this through what may be a unique lens.

     Paul Hiebert, the great Christian cultural anthropologist, taught us to see three different aspects of culture:  the cognitive, the affective, and the evaluative.  When sharing truth, Westerners tend to focus primarily on the cognitive (conceptual information) and then end with the evaluative (making decisions based on what is valued). However, we often miss the affective - that part of culture which describes the emotional side of truth. Emotions can be both a result of a truth and they can also be used to lead towards deciding that something is true.

     When we share the gospel in terms of the cognitive only, it usually comes out in a form similar to the "four spiritual laws."  These are good and true, of course. It's true that God loves us and wants what is best. It's also true that we are sinners, that Christ died for us, and that we should yield our lives to Him. However, all of this can be understood as simply conceptual information. People are given a cognitive outline of what Jesus did and how it's supposed to help them, but they don't really know who this Jesus is.

     Consider for just a moment the Great Commandment. The GREATEST commandment, that is.  "And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." (Mark 12:30, ESV) If we genuinely seek to see this become a reality in those to whom we are sharing the gospel, then two questions should jump out to us:
  1. Does a purely cognitive-based approach to sharing the gospel produce love towards God?  
  2. If not, then can you be genuinely converted to Christ on the basis of the cognitive alone?  
     To be sure, to love Christ is to obey Him, not just to have an emotional attachment to Him. But as is the case in marriage, a commitment towards certain actions without any emotional attachment signals that there is something wrong. There will surely be disastrous relational consequences in a marriage where a man has no affection towards his wife.  

     To use another example, when we eulogize people at funerals, we typically include more than cognitive information. Imagine a funeral where these are the only things that were said:
  • "He was responsible at work."
  • "His office was really clean."
  • "He helped land the contract to build the Citibank building."
  • "He was an efficient leader."  
These things are well and good and and appropriate for funerals. But left alone they are radically incomplete, aren't they? Even soldiers who died in battle for the freedom of others are not remembered for their sacrifice only. Those that love the soldier normally want us to know more about him. This is why we include stories! Funny stories. Touching stories. Stories such as:
  • The time he laughed so hard he fell off the top bunk just as the sergeant entered the room
  • The time he protected his little brother from the bully in elementary school
  • The time he asked his wife to marry him and uncharacteristically cried for fifteen minutes straight when she said "yes."  
     Why do we include these types of stories?

     It's the difference between giving information about someone and telling people what they were like.  

     I'm certainly not going to say that all of those who prayed to accept Christ after being presented the four spiritual laws aren't actually saved or that they had no love for God at the time they prayed to accept Him. The Holy Spirit is not shackled by our limitations.  

     However, I can clearly say that Hiebert was right. We can't ignore the affective domain. In addition to telling people "about" Jesus, we must tell them who He is and what He is like.  If our goal is for people to love Jesus, we must tell the stories. After all, these are some great stories!  

     To my knowledge, Mark has not trusted Christ as his Lord and Savior. However, after a few months of attending our English / Bible storying class, he is beginning to love Jesus. And that's' a great place to start.