What if Bible stories encouraged curiosity and engagement?

Margaret wanted to encourage her elementary-level Bible class to ask questions about Bible stories. Just telling them was not promoting curiosity about the big issues these stories raised.

“I decided to change my approach and to tell the stories with no names. I just gave the people in the stories descriptions: ‘the one,’ ‘the man alone,’ ‘the one who listens,’ ‘the man who prayed,’ etc. At no point did I mention places or names. I retold the stories using small figures with blank faces so that the class had to work out what they might be thinking and feeling. I wrote a script for each Bible story that was a reflective presentation of the story. For a sample, see http://www.barnabasinchurches.org.uk/pdfs/9781841015323.pdf.

“I presented my reflective Bible stories while the class sat in a circle on the carpet. I sat with them as part of the circle, and the story was played out on the floor, on a piece of fabric, in order to draw the children in. At the end of each session, the students replayed the story using the figures and considered what the people might have been thinking and feeling. I wrote a series of questions to get them started on creating their own questions about the story. They made their own suggestions concerning the identity of the figures and then read the Bible story from a children’s Bible. The reflective script for retelling the story helped them engage with the issues it raised.”

What's going on here?

Margaret saw Bible class as an opportunity for stimulating questioning and engagement, and for inviting attentiveness to others’ experiences through the characters in a story.

She engaged students through the experience of storytelling and through asking them to reflect on the possible feelings and identities of the characters, creating an opening for empathy.

She reshaped her practice by reshaping her lesson structure (the Bible story last); using different wordsquestions, and objects to create fresh perspective on the story (no names, figures with blank faces); and by structuring students’ interaction (circle on the carpet).

What does this have to do with faith, hope, and love?

Asking questions is not the opposite of faith; it is faith seeking understanding. In the Bible, believers such as Job and Jeremiah ask very blunt questions. The security of a loving relationship with God gives people the freedom to ask about the difficult things found in the Bible and in the world. Asking questions does not mean there always will be answers. Sometimes we have to live with unanswered questions or ambiguities, but faith helps believers to live with ambiguity.

What difference does it make?

Margaret changed Bible class from a time of just taking in information to one of asking questions and engaging with issues. This drew the class into more active engagement with the Bible stories and changed their experience of a Bible lesson.

Where could we go from here?

This approach could be used with other subjects with storytelling elements. The small figures do not have to be used, just a reflective story with anonymous characters and places. Omitting key details in a story can provoke reflection.

Digging deeper

Belief in a God whose wisdom is expressed in his world means that curiosity and asking questions can be positive; they are how we find out about God’s world. Apathy is the opposite of curiosity. It is a lack of interest and involvement in the world, not being fully alive. Jesus said he came to bring fullness of life (John 10:10).

The glory of God is a man fully alive. Irenaeus

Curiosity and questioning are not the opposite of faith. They can feed faith and be part of taking God and his world seriously. In the Bible, people ask the big questions, such as “Why do the wicked prosper?” (Job 21:7 ).

The first key to wisdom is defined, of course, as assiduous and frequent questioning. Peter Abelard

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. Albert Einstein

For Christians, questions are asked within a framework of faith, but that does not mean that hard questions about key issues of faith cannot be asked. Spiritual apathy is seen as a serious condition in the Bible (Revelation 3:16 ). God looked more kindly on Job, who asked the hard questions.