My Literate Bible Study with Oral Learners

Written by Karl Dahlfred on .

One time I was doing a Bible study in Ephesians with a Thai couple.  The wife was from Bangkok and had a bachelor’s degree in accounting.  The husband was from the countryside and had the equivalent of an associate’s degree in sculpture, or something along those lines.  As we going through chapter 5, I pointed to a verse and asked, “What does this say about Christ and the church?”  The husband looked down at his Bible briefly, then looked up and gave some general answer about Christ.  I said, “Uh, that’s true.  But what does THIS verse say?”  He looked at the Bible again, and again gave an unrelated answer from his general knowledge.  He wasn’t getting it and I didn’t know why.  It was so simple.  Just look at the verse.  It’s right there in front of you.  But, in retrospect, I was asking him to think in a way that he wasn’t use to.  I was asking him to use a type of thinking that he wasn’t use to.  He could definitely read but he wasn’t a literate thinker.  He was an oral thinker.  And I wasn’t getting through.

Reflecting on this experience, and on insights from Walter Ong’s book, Literacy and Orality, I’ve realized that I should have adjusted my Bible study with this couple in two ways.  First, I should have focused more on Bible stories rather than an epistle like Ephesians, or tried to present the Ephesians material in a more concrete way.  Secondly, I should have figured out ways to simple step by step help this couple gain some more literate thinking and reasoning skills, not expecting them to see any major changes right away.  I am still not sure about the best ways to move people in that direction, but I take that as a discipleship challenge to apply myself to as I continue to minister in Thailand.



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