First, a challenge: Open the nearest youth ministry, Sunday school, or Bible Study curriculum you can. What’s the session objective? Does it have something to do with the biblical narrative? How Christ is at work? God’s people? Truths about the Kingdom of God?
Or is it about life application and tying the Bible story up into a neat little package for learners to digest and parrot back if someone asks what they learned at church?
My guess is there’s much more of the latter than the former. It’s easy to boil Bible stories down into one-sentence statements that are easy to remember (and, in turn, to use as a tool to measure learning). I don’t think youth workers or Christian educators or curriculum developers don’t mean well, either. We may do it for the sake of good doctrine, or to equip volunteer leaders, or to be developmentally-appropriate, or for a number of other reasons. But I’m concerned that our interpretations are making the Bible stories about us–and in doing so, we strip the Bible of its power.
Contrast a typical lesson “big idea” statement with one of Jesus’ parables or miracles. For the sake of example, let’s look at the Parable of the Good Samaritan. I’ve participated in Bible studies on this text where the objective was basically, “Be the Good Samaritan.” There was even a service project to apply the story to my life today in an active, tangible way.
But I think there’s more to this text than “be the Good Samaritan.” Jesus is saying something about the most unlikely outcast showing mercy. About cultural norms and religious rules. About sacrifice. About grace.
This parable is beautiful to me precisely because it’s not that simple. Jesus’ story here is enduring, and each time I encounter it–whether alone or in community–the Spirit can speak to me in different ways that reveal more about God. This inversion means the text reads me and changes me in the process.
So I’m concerned. When we boil the complexity of a Bible narrative down to single point that teaches a life lesson, I think we dilute the Bible’s power and undermine (or at least underestimate) the work of the Spirit. We discourage the reader from thinking theologically. We limit the opportunity for wonder, struggle, discovery, and awe.
Instead, what would it look like to offer a foundation, but then trust kids, youth, and adults in our churches to engage Scripture–and see how God shows up and transforms us?
Full disclosure: I work in Christian curriculum publishing. That means I’ve been just as guilty of creating “the-point-of-this-story-is” statements as anyone else. However, I’m hopeful that we can move beyond using the Bible to teach life lessons and morality, and toward resources that equip Christians to wrestle with Scripture and meet God in the process.