By cultivating a culture that learns and tells biblical stories, we are writing them on our hearts, allowing the Spirit to use these stories in our and others’ lives.
My first exposure to biblical storytelling was at InterVarsity’s Urbana conference in 1996. I traveled to the cold midwest from the colder upper midwest to meet up with some former high school friends and attend the conference together. It was a reunion of sorts; we were attending different colleges, and I had moved away from these friends in the middle of high school, so there was a great sense of homecoming for me. I don’t remember too much about that conference, aside from our nighttime laughter and conversation about boys, but I do remember the scripture presentations.
Biblical Storytelling Captivates
Actor Bruce Kuhn told stories from the Acts of the Apostles, and I was riveted. As a music major but spending most of my time in the theatre, I had never seen classical theatre techniques applied to the narrative of Scripture. It was an experience of resurrection, the bones of the words enlivened by the pneuma of God, marching about on stage. Though I grew up reading and studying scripture, and even attended a Bible school for a year where I took a class about Acts, my past readings were blurry shadows. This presentation was sticky, with an urgency and vitality, that had me sitting on the edge of my seat, probably blocking the view of the person behind me.
These days, I have few opportunities to witness biblical storytelling, unless I’m the one leading or telling. But in the past few weeks, I’ve been experiencing it vicariously through Thomas E. Boomershine’s 1988 volume Story Journey: An Invitation to the Gospel as Storytelling. Reading this book was a bit like going to Urbana twenty-one years ago and again experiencing the Spirit in the text.
Boomershine, the founder of the Network of Biblical Storytelling, and a Bible scholar and pastor, wrote this book to both empower people to learn to tell biblical stories (all Gospel stories in this volume), to provide exegetical insight for specific techniques, and to show how the stories have journeyed with him. And it is through the combination of these three aspects that instructed, encouraged, and challenged me in my own continued interaction with scripture through preaching, biblical storytelling, and personal scripture reading.
Biblical Storytelling Changes One’s Lived Experiences
One of Boomershine’s primary focus is the engagement of the biblical story with the individual’s lived experiences by demonstrating how the stories have changed him. His sharing demonstrated great vulnerability: stories about recovery from an accident, experiencing writer’s block and the strange prophetic action God compelled him to do. These are the kind of stories rarely shared in sermons because they are so deeply personal, but they well-shared in books. Through his demonstration, Boomershine followed the primary rule of writing—to show, not just to tell. Learning and telling Bible stories has given Boomershine a lense through which to view his own life and relationship with God.
Biblical Storytelling in Worship
Another of Boomershine’s goals is to empower people to learn and tell biblical stories in worship. The concept is simple: study a story, divide it into little episodes, learn the episodes, connect with the story emotionally, and then tell the story. You can tell it to a child, a friend, a small group, or even your entire congregation. By cultivating a culture that learns and tells biblical stories, we are writing them on our hearts, allowing the Spirit to use these stories in our and others’ lives.
Watch Tom Boomershine tell Mark 6:14-30 by heart.
Watch Boomershine tell Mark’s resurrection narrative by heart.