A Brief Review of
Teaching Through Storytelling:
Reviewed by Chris Smith.
In their new book, The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry, Andrew Root and Kenda Creasy Dean argue that the youth group in churches can be a place for significant theological reflection and engagement with God’s mission in the world (Watch for our review of this book in our next print issue). One of the key pieces of this task however, is introducing students to, and immersing them in, the biblical story. In this vein, comes Jon Huckins’s new book Teaching Through the Art of Story Telling: Creating Fictional Stories that Illuminate the Message of Jesus. For a number of years now, Huckins has been engaging the youth of his church by telling modern day parables that spur reflection and invite students into the way of Jesus. In this new book, Huckins explains why he has been drawn to storytelling, as a compelling way of engaging the hearts and minds of the youth in his church, and he also explains how he creates and tells such stories. In the final section of the book, he provides several sample stories that he has used. Huckins’s work here is refreshing in that he shows a deep understanding that humankind lives by stories and forms his practice around the ways that he has seen stories work in the teaching of Jesus, as well as in contemporary culture. He says: “There’s something about stories that engage not only the mind, but also the heart. We become part of the story. We picture ourselves living out this life that’s being revealed to us, and subconsciously we relate it to our own.”
The narrative approach that Huckins describes here is effective for teaching youth, and I would even argue that preachers – and those who would be preachers – can learn much from Huckins’s reflections that would benefit teaching those of all ages in the church. Although Huckins clearly intends this method of teaching to engage people in following in the way of Jesus, my concern with this book, as with most books that focus on “how to” methods, is that readers of the book might be tempted to be enamored with the means (i.e., the method) and not give sufficient attention to the ends. Storytelling could thus become just the latest means to propagate any of a number of culturally domesticated gospels that do not demand the sort of radical self-denial and love for God and all humanity that Jesus taught. I find Huckins’s work in Teaching Through the Art of Storytelling therefore to be compelling, and recommend it with the caveat that readers should not just take it as the latest fad in teaching or preaching, but rather submit themselves to Huckins’s narrating of his own work and seeing how well these ideas might be adaptable to their own contexts, be they among youth or among broader swaths of their church population.