The Power of Bible Stories as Teaching Tools of Impartiality

Great stories have a profound way of bringing people together in the process of helping to transform their behavior and beliefs. Who does not want to identify with the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Samson, and the endurance of Job? We all benefit from the narratives written about Bible exemplars, especially the paradigms of Godliness. Bible stories grab our attention, grip our imaginations, and guide our wills — whether we personally engage the written narratives or see them reenacted well, as in the "A.D. The Bible Continues" epic series.

Paul de Vries is an exclusive CP columnist.
Paul de Vries is an exclusive CP columnist. | (By CP Cartoonist Rod Anderson)

We want to be like some of the Biblical characters, and their stories are patterns that inspire us.  While we can use the logic of deduction to apply the principles taught in the Bible, we can use the logic of analogy to be instructed and inspired from the exemplars and paradigms of Scripture stories. Both deductive and analogous logics are enlightening and empowering—but analogies drawn from the Biblical narratives move us on a deeper level. For good reason, 75% of Scripture is story.

Of course, people should attend frequently to the great principles of the Bible, and apply them deductively. Those precious principles matter. Many Christian writers focus on Biblical principles. In my own writing, I often concentrate on principles, [such as here, here and here]. Knowing the principles is one thing, applying them to our daily lives is another, and both knowing and applying principles matter greatly.

To teach or preach a Bible text well is to discover at least one great principle in the text and to help people apply it. This is my mode of teaching and preaching—and how I teach others to teach and preach. Before a good sermon is over, all the people in the congregation should have some principled action in mind that can help guide them to honor and please the Lord more by their lives, by God's grace.

Besides, in Jesus' last command—what we call the "Great Commission"—Jesus commands us to teach others to obey vigilantly all that he commanded. Here we not only have a command as a principle to obey—we also have a command to teach his commands. We have a principle to teach his principles. In logical terms, Jesus' last command is an enduring "recursive principle." We teach his commands because in one of his commands he commands us to teach his commands! Support for living and teaching Biblical principles could not receive a clearer endorsement!

A holy "hurray" for Biblical principles! Do not leave home without them.

Nevertheless, as vital as the principles are, the narratives are also essential. The Biblical stories report on examples of the application—or examples of failures in the application—of Biblical principles, but they do so much more than that. Recently I wrote how so many Biblical stories are especially precious because of "their integration of diverse Godly values into one narrative," for example. Biblical stories have numerous other assets in addition to this remarkable integration, such as enabling our moral impartiality.

Exemplars, well-told paradigm stories, such as we have especially in the Bible, are the essential power-tools of impartiality. For good reason, the best ethics studies, conferences and textbooks make great use of case studies and well-crafted anecdotes. Using a case study from a different industry will allow people to drop their guard, not be defensive, in honest exploration of excellent decision-making—before following the analogies to their own challenging situations and decisions.

Jesus powerfully exploited this impartiality benefit in the way he crafted his parables. A story of the unusual father of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) frees us impartially to look again at our heavenly Father and at our own parental roles. Many in his urban audiences would not personally relate to the Shepherd of the Lost Sheep, the Woman Who Lost a Precious Coin, or the Persistent Widow—nevertheless the perseverance that each main character represented could all the more easily be understood and embraced by all. Furthermore, by also selecting models that were otherwise repulsive to his audiences—such as the Unjust Steward (Luke 16) and the Good Samaritan (Luke 10)—Jesus all the more effectively and impartially taught wise cunning in the first case and courage, compassion, and readiness in the second case.

Our guard is down when we begin to read or hear a parable of Jesus because at first we think that the story is not about us—but then we discover that analogously we are characters in each of Jesus' wonderful parables. Jesus is a genius at impartiality.

Dr. Paul de Vries is the president of New York Divinity School, and a pastor, speaker and author. Since 2004, he has served on the Board of the National Association of Evangelicals, representing 40 million evangelical Americans.

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