“I Love to Tell the Story”: The Shift to Oral Strategies
Larry Dinkins, PhD. came to Christ through Campus Crusade while attending the University of Oklahoma. After completing his Th.M. (1978) at Dallas Theological Seminary, he married Paula Robison. Later, they joined OMF International.
God had given Larry a life verse “For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). Larry was convinced his biblical training could be used to teach God’s “decrees and laws” in Thailand.
After six years of church planting in Central Thailand, Larry transitioned to the Bangkok Bible Seminary and served as Academic Dean and Dean of the Seminary. In 1995, he finished a PhD at Biola University and they moved to North Thailand to start a Theological Education by Extension (TEE) program. Larry served as founding director of the Chiang Mai Theological Seminary in 2000.
A Story of a Paradigm Shift
Larry is grateful for the solid foundation in Biblical studies and pastoral theology he received at DTS. However, his journey and God’s providence would lead him to a major paradigm shift in communicating the Scriptures and implementing his life verse (Ezra 7:10). In teaching the Bible, Larry realized his extremely literate, theological higher education, rightly prized in the Western world, was not as effective with the preferred oral learners he encountered in Thailand. He had a growing conviction that he needed to contextualize his teaching methods.
While in California, Larry learned of a ministry called Simply the Story (STS) from a Thai pastor who encouraged him to attend. Larry’s doctorate centered on narratives and since it sounded like an easy course he traveled to the week long venue. STS proved to be a bit shocking since as an oral method; no note taking, paper or pens are allowed. Printed Bibles are used only to absorb the Bible stories, which are told orally. Larry told a story for evaluation after the workshop. Long dependent on print methods and falling back into his default preaching mode, Larry did not do so well. STS director, Dorothy Miller, flunked him. He was aghast! He thought, “I am Reverend Doctor Larry Dinkins, PhD. She can’t flunk me!”
Larry went home and sulkily told Paula what had happened. She said, “That’s good for you, Larry! … You have always gotten high grades in all your education. This humbles you and gives you a challenge.” His dear Paula’s insight was the pivotal point in a major shift in Larry’s ministry. He looked deeply into the emerging field of orality, storytelling and the use of oral strategies to reach oral learners. Most of the world’s population are oral learners; up to 80% prefer to learn through story and oral means, not through printed media. This certainly includes the vast majority of the Thai people, to whom Larry is called.
Larry learned quickly the new paradigm of orality, the dynamics of oral communication, and oral strategies in ministry. The simple fact that Jesus used stories and questions as his primary teaching method, and that the Bible is 75% in the narrative genre took on new meaning. He attended several more STS workshops and improved his skills of inductive Bible study, oral style; teaching Scripture through storytelling and leading discussions that make transformative life applications, for literate and non-literate alike.
Larry asked many Christians if they could accurately recite even one Bible story by heart. Virtually none of them could. Larry realized there are many American pastors who can gain from oral strategies, especially now that younger Americans are conditioned through the digital and electronic age to get their information and learn by other means than reading print. Everyone is hard-wired for stories—young and old, educated and non-educated, every culture and nation.
I can attest to Larry’s passion and effectiveness as an “evangelist” for storytelling and orality. I am a PhD and am a minister to Jewish people who are a very literate people. When Larry first told me of his paradigm shift, I thought “That’s great for you, Larry! … you work among non-literate oral learners. I work among educated Jewish people.” But it did not take me long to reflect on the fact that there is a great storytelling tradition in Judaism and that the Old Testament stories would resonate with them, the stories are the stories of their people. Long story short— I have been using storytelling in Jewish ministry, with good results, since Larry’s effective input in during those days in 2008. I credit Larry with being a divine contact and mentor in my life, God used him to greatly enhance and transform my ministry. Highlights of my ministry since have been in team teaching with Larry in storytelling training in several contexts.
A succinct summary of much of the philosophy of education underlying oral strategies in the communication of Scripture that Larry advocates is contained in this recent quote,
“Propositional preaching effects some changes (mainly cognitive)…but storytelling seems to put oral people in a mode to receive “major” changes because stories impact holistically (head, heart, gut) and allows the Holy Spirit to enter at more entry points than just the head.” (Larry Dinkins, Newsletter from Thailand, 2012).
Storytelling in Thailand and around the world satisfies Larry’s “longings as nothing else can do”…except for finally meeting the One about whom all the stories are finally about.
STS has a website plus a free downloadable handout.* Larry’s two part video presentation is under the title: “DTS grad.”
*(STS Handbook: Exploring Scripture Through Discussion, Listening and Responding). Click this link to see more information on academicians that are using STS. The Shift to Oral Strategies
See Bill Bjoraker’s video for an example of storying.