Lausanne World Pulse on the Bible and Orality

The latest issue of Lausanne World Pulse features an article titled, ‘International Orality Network’s Declaration on Making Disciples of the World’s Oral Learners through Audio Scripture Engagement’.

It it they make the point that

There are 4.35 billion people in our world who are oral learners. They are found in many cultural groups in the villages and in global cities around the world. We recognize that sixty percent of the world’s population can’t, won’t, or don’t hear the gospel when we share it simply because it’s often coming through literate means they don’t understand and to which they do not relate.

The word of God is unchangeable, but the manner or method in which it is communicated does change. We celebrate that God has worked intentionally throughout history to bring his word to the peoples of the world utilizing various media formats, including oral communication, scribe and hand written text, the printed page, and digital means.

The Gutenberg Press enabled a print revolution and unprecedented spread of the word of God. Oral means were available prior to Gutenberg, but a scripture literacy revolution was empowered by means of making the full Bible available to every person who could read. We stand today at another seminal point in history in which digital technology makes it possible for every oral learner to engage with God’s word in audio and audio/visual formats.

The International Orality Network aim

to influence the Body of Christ to make disciples of all oral learners. We believe that the foundation of discipleship is the shaping by, and obedience to, the word of God. It is the inalienable right and privilege of every person to have access to the word of God in his or her own heart language and in a media format he or she understands.

They then issue a number of challenges:

We call upon the Body of Christ to expand the reach of this revolution by making the entire word of God available to every person who can hear.

We call upon the Church to embrace engagement of the audio scripture among oral learners with great urgency.

We call upon the Church to engage all unengaged, unreached people groups and to place into their hands any and every available audio portion of God’s word in their heart language.

We call upon the Body of Christ to devote energies, strategies, and resources to provide access for all oral learners to engage the entire word of God through audio/digital means, so that every tribe, tongue, and people group may hear, understand, and have the opportunity to respond!

Henna storying the Bible

Henna and the Gospel image
Image from South Asian Peoples website

While looking through the excellent oralstrategies website in preparation for a new module on the Bible and orality I came across an item highlighting the way believers are using henna to communicate the biblical stories. The item linked to the website for South Asian Peoples, which said the following about the ministry:

Henna Storytelling

Henna, a temporary artwork drawn on hands and other parts of the body, is a popular beauty technique in parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Christian women use henna to illustrate Bible stories and share the Gospel in a non-threatening manner.

These pages describe how you can host a henna party in your home or church. Learn how to make henna and draw Bible story illustrations, and how to prepare traditional foods served in henna cultures. Then spend time praying for the women of the world who use henna and the missionaries who serve them.

They highlight links to videos explaining more (see one below), story sets and henna patterns, a guide to making your own henna, and a booklet entitled, ‘Henna and the Gospel’.

Please do check out the website. Even if it is not your thing, or you are unlikely ever to use this particular strategy yourself, just drink in the creativity and be inspired to do something appropriate and imaginative in your own context.

Creation to Christ Henna from South Asia on Vimeo.

We’ll be looking at this fantastic ministry, along with many others, on Redcliffe’s new module, ‘Story, Song and Social Networks: Bible Engagement and Oral Culture’, which is available to final year students on Redcliffe College’s BA(Hons) Degree in Applied Theology in Intercultural Contexts.

Bible Engagement and Oral Culture part 2

Translating the Bible into ActionThe theme of orality is one I return to again and again, especially over the summer with our MA module in ‘Bible Engagement in Intercultural Contexts’ and a forthcoming new undergraduate module called, ‘Story, Song and Social Networks: Bible Engagement and Oral Culture’.

We are also developing the Resources section of this microsite to include a whole section on the Bible and orality. There you will find links to websites, journal articles, books, etc. on the subject. Let us know if you find anything we’ve missed!

In the meantime, here is a quote from Hill and Hill in their book, Translating the Bible into Action: How the Bible can be Relevant in All Languages and Cultures

(for context, this is part of a section entitles ‘General barriers to engaging with Scripture’)

A. Literacy barrier

Printed Scriptures are effective when people know how to read and like to do so. But many people prefer to communicate using oral rather than written means, or they don’t know how to read. Even if literacy classes were available, people may not be interested in attending them. In some cases, those who do learn to read may still prefer oral means of communication, and soon lose their new skills. In other cases, people may want to learn to read but they are hindered by poor eyesight or other problems. If Scripture is only presented in written form to people who do not know how to read or like to read, this is a serious barrier. (pp. 3-4)

They then refer to five chapters in the book that deal particularly with this topic:

ch. 2  Using appropriate Scripture Products
ch. 16  Bible Storying
ch. 22  Engaging People with Scripture through Music
ch. 23  Engaging People with Scripture through Drama
ch. 24  Engaging People with Scripture through the Visual Arts

Bible Engagement and Oral Culture

International Orality NetworkIn a previous post I highlighted the Cape Town Commitment’s inclusion of the key issue of communicating the Bible in oral cultures.

The Bible and orality is a theme I will be returning to with more frequency, not least because over the Summer we will be preparing a new final year module as part of Redcliffe’s BA Degree in Applied Theology in Intercultural Contexts on ‘Story, Song and Social Networks: Bible Engagement and Oral Culture’.

As a helpful orientation here are a couple of excerpts from the website of the International Orality Network. The first gives a definition of their understanding of ‘oral learners’ or ‘oral communicators’. The second gives some statistics and facts.

Those of us who have tended to learn through literate means simply must get to grips with what this stuff means. Not only will it make our efforts to communicate the Bible more effective. I would argue it would also enrich our appreciation and understanding of the Bible immeasurably.


An oral learner or oral communicator is:

1. Someone who cannot read or write.

2. Someone whose most effective communication and learning format, style, or method is in accordance with oral formats, as contrasted to literate formats.

3. Someone who prefers to learn or process information by oral rather than written means. (These are literate people whose preferred communication style is oral rather than literate, even though they can read.)


Statistics and Facts

1. Over 4 Billion people in the world do not read as their primary method of learning – either they cannot read; they do not read; or they will not read.

2. The vast majority of missions work has been done for a literate audience. Unfortunately the vast majority of the true audience is therefore not able to connect with the Gospel.

3. Oral cultures are very relational – they share their lives with one another.

4. Most oral cultures will communicate with one another in narratives, dialogues and dramas, proverbs, songs, chants, and poetry. When asked what he thought about a new village school headmaster, a Central African replied “Let’s watch how he dances”

This leaves us with some serious questions to answer: how different would our missionary efforts look if we truly took the phenomenon of orality seriously? What could we learn that would apply to a (if I can use this term) ‘post-literate’ society? How much to I base my efforts to communicate on how I would understand something, as if my preferred learning style is objective?

Lots to chew over in the coming months. In the meantime, check out ION’s website

Storytelling the gospel

How do you engage people with the Bible when they live in an oral culture? The whole area of literacy, oral culture, Bible translation and ‘storying’ is a crucial one in mission today. After all, as Grant Lovejoy of SIL puts it:

Does the spread of the Gospel depend on literacy? Jesus Christ is the eternal and living Word, after all, as John declares (John 1:1). The timeless message of His saving grace is proclaimed from one generation to the next in the Bible, the written Word of God. Are those who cannot—or will not—read the Word on the printed page essentially cut off from the Good News of salvation?

For one resource, have a look at the Jan/Feb 2008 edition of Momentum, which looks at the whole issue from a variety of perspectives:

Here is the contents

The Gospel’s advance can’t wait for literacy by Grant Lovejoy
Storytelling: frequently asked questions by Karl J. Franklin
A case for the longer-term use of storying by Roy Sloane
Storytelling among the Kao Bu by Tai Kadai
Doing something different by Steve Douglass
Oral approaches to augment a Bible translation process by Jim Stahl
Orality and translation: focusing on images rather than words by Janet Stahl
My journey into the world of narrative by Larry Dinkins

There is also a very helpful page on resources, both in electronic and book form.