Why the Bible Tells About Messed-up People Like Us

by Carl Ellis at Creating Options Together™ 2016 — 26 December 2016

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Biblical Narratives: The Key to Urban Discipleship

Central to doing urban discipleship is doing urban theology. I use Dr. John Frame’s definition of theology, “the application of God’s Word by persons in every area of life. “

When we try to do urban ministry, we tend to use traditional Western methods of theology. Though these are good, they aren’t always adequate.

Think about it: What are the things we need to know to be right with God? If God just gave us the principles we need, God could’ve put the Bible on a four-page tract. We could boil it down to one sentence: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”

But the Bible is a thick book with stories of messed-up folks like us. The principles are embedded in these stories. Why? Because the narratives are important.

Narrative theology is a non-Western approach to Scripture. It’s the application of the basic patterns in the biblical life situations.

Here are 5 steps to applying biblical narrative:

1. Tell the stories. The stories are there for a purpose. For example, know about Mephibosheth – a young man, living in the projects, on food stamps, who didn’t know where his next meal was coming from. All of a sudden, all these black SUVs pull up. And he thought he was about to be arrested, but you know the rest of the story. He eats at King David’s table for the rest of his life.

2. Prayerfully look for the basic patterns in your life situation or the life situations of those you minister to. Look at their lives, ask them questions. How did you get here? What’s your story?.... Listen for basic patterns.

3. Prayerfully match them up with the biblical narrative when the basic patterns are alike. So I’ll tell a young man, “You remind me of Gideon.” And he asks, “Who’s Gideon?” So I tell him the story. This connects him with somebody in Scripture who has been where he is. This doesn’t mean that their story will have the same ending; it just means that they will have a deeper understanding of their situation and greater wisdom in how to navigate these waters.

4. Once the situations are linked, look back at the biblical narrative, and it will tell you 3 things:

  • how God was in control then,
  • how God was speaking then, and
  • how God was present then.

The Bible clearly reveals this information, giving us a good framework for understanding how God is in control now, how God is speaking now, and how God is present now.

Biblical narratives leave out many details of the original situation on purpose. Why? Because they are designed for us to get into their patterns and supply details from our own life situations or those of others.

5. God Himself must have the final say in all of this. If we do theology this way, if we begin to disciple people through these narratives and help them to understand biblical characters, then the Bible comes alive and connects with people.

Let’s look at the process.

Linking today’s situation to the appropriate biblical narrative will help frame it, even if we don’t have it all figured out. From that point, it’s a matter of asking particular questions about the situation. After formulating a question, take it to God in prayer. Then go to the Word of God which will correct the question and answer it.

Once you’ve applied the answer, new questions begin to pop up. Take these questions through the same cycle.  Each time you go around you fill in the above “framework” with greater detail.  This will give you wisdom to develop a theological understanding of the situation in question.

Here’s an example of what I’ve used in discipleship.

I have a close friend whose preaching I really adore. His name is Joshua Davidson. His mom got pregnant before she was married. She and her husband had to go to their home town down south, but by the time they got there, she was “showing.” Many folks in the town were relatives, yet the couple couldn’t find a place to stay or an inside place to have the baby. The couple had only been married for a few weeks and their relatives could count. After little Joshua was born, his family eventually returned to the urban North where he grew up. When Joshua began to do ministry, people would ask, “Where’s He from?” And many would say, “Oh, He’s from the hood. Nothing good comes out of the hood.” (Nazareth means separated or segregated from.) Do you see where I’m going? Joshua is the Hebrew name for Jesus and Davidson means ‘Son of David. This was part of Jesus’ story.

God puts those narratives and patterns there so that people can connect with Scripture – especially young men.

Those we witness to may say, “I may not think the Bible is all that hot, but at least Gideon speaks to me.” Or, “Oh, David, he’s my study buddy.” And after a while, they get the point that the Bible speaks wisdom and truth.

Carl Ellis, Jr., is the Academic Dean of the Makazi Institute and Associate Pastor for Cultural Apologetics at New City Fellowship. He serves on numerous boards and as a consultant on cultural matters. He studied under Francis Schaeffer at L’Abri in Huémoz sur Ollon, Switzerland, completed his Masters in Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, and holds a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Oxford Graduate School. He has authored several books, including Free At Last? and Saving Our Sons.

This article is based on his talk, “Biblical Narratives: Keys to Urban Discipleship” at Creating Options Together 2016, a training event for Cru’s inner-city ministry. You can listen to his whole message here and enjoy further media content from the Creating Options Together Conference here.

Want to learn more about Cru's inner-city ministry? Click here.

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