Over the last couple of weeks there have been some interesting blog posts on the issue of reading the Bible in oral and post-literate societies. With his usual subtlety, David Ker proclaims that Minority Langauge Bibles are An Endangered Species. I wish I could come up with snappy blog titles like that: the content is good, too.
In summary, I think those wishing to reach a certain saturation point for distribution of print Bibles and New Testaments in minority languages are going to face frustration and ultimately failure. A New Testament dedication has for decades been perceived as the crowning achievement of years of hard work. I expect we need to readjust our expectations and look to audio and electronic versions as achievements worthy of celebration and in fact more effective in reaching the most people possible with the Good News.
Ernest Goodman takes these ideas a bit further, applying them to the increasingly post-literate society of the Western World.
The answer to post-literacy may lie in missionary strategies among the pre-literate. Where people have no written language, missionaries tell the gospel through story. Rather than spending time teaching people to read, Christians are relaying the story of God’s interaction with humanity through simple, memorable, and easily-retold stories. This, of course, is how the Torah was handed down through generations, and how the gospel was retained through the early spread of Christianity, the Dark Ages, and the the 1970s.
Will this work to effectively share the gospel among the post-literate? I think it can, but we must improve our story-telling abilities. As we leave the realm of Bible translation for a more subjective scripture storying, we begin to compete with the best tales and tellers a culture has to offer. As we’ve seen with the mainstream public’s indifference to film and audio adaptations of scriptural events, non-believers are more used to being entertained than challenged. I’m not suggesting we try to outdo Hollywood, I’m saying that we can’t depend on Charleton Heston anymore.
Any discussion of scripture translation is incomplete without addressing post-literacy. While we must preserve both the words of scripture and the ability to read them, we must also be prepared to share the gospel with those who do not and cannot read.
I addressed these same questions in a lecture at the Wycliffe Centre last week, you can find out more about it, listen to the podcast, or download the MP3 here.
While on this theme, Tim Davy has posted a couple of interesting links talking about telling the Bible story through henna tattoos and pictures.
Mark Woodward has opened an epistemological can of worms with his post on the nature of truth. I would love to see some people interacting with what he has to say. This isn’t a field that I know much (or indeed anything) about, but it is my perception that the Church in the West has developed its notion of truth from enlightenment philosophy and then read this back into Scripture. As I read it, much of the Evangelical polemic against post-modernism is actually a defence of a particular historical way of reading the Bible, rather than a defence of Scripture itself.
Lots of people have written wise words about mission to the poor and disposed. Andrew Jones adds his own view, which is essentially that the best way to reach the poor, is to become poor like them. It is hard to argue with what he says, but his call is far from comfortable – but since when was Christianity meant to be comfortable?
– Jesus choose to be homeless and poor in order to complete his mission on earth. Abraham was homeless and nomadic when he received his vision from God (Gen 12). Jacob was wild camping when he had his dream of the ladder and God’s restating of the promise to his Grandad.
– You will think me biased here . . . but . . . I think Kiwis and Aussies seem to have the edge on both formulating a theological response to the poorest of the poor and creating an incarnational lifestyle inside squats that make a difference. Examples: Viv Grigg (NZ) and Dave Andrews (Aus) have both given me a lot of think of over the years. Ash Barker of UNOH has a Phd dissertation on the subject of squats and slums which is giving me more to think about. Check out Cry of the Urban Poor: Reaching the Slums of Today’s Megacities
On the lighter side, Phil Ritchie mourns the demise of REM with a video of their greatest ever performance (Shiny Happy Monsters…)
Lastly, this graphic is absolutely brilliant (click on it to enlarge).