Most of us are familiar with fables. A fable is typically a short story, often (but not always) involving animals as characters, that conveys a moral lesson. Aesop’s Fables* are among the most familiar. Who isn’t familiar with the tale of The Tortoise and the Hare? Steady perseverance can overcome impetuous speed. Such fables can be an important element in a child’s moral education and character development. But those concerned with training a child in the Christian faith should beware of the dangers of fablizing the stories of the Bible.
What Is Fablizing the Stories of the Bible?
It is not uncommon to teach virtually any story of the Bible and then, quite innocently, draw a moral application from the story. For example, the story of the Good Samaritan is one of Jesus’ best-loved and best-known parables. In its context, the parable is intended to reveal the lawyer’s narrow and inadequate definition of what it means to be God’s people. It is about the nature of the Kingdom of God. If we’re not careful, however, the parable can be easily “fablized” simply to teach that “God wants me to help those in need.” Such a moral application may be true in the same way as “steady perseverance can overcome impetuous speed,” but this is not teaching the real point of the parable.
Why Is Fablizing the Stories of the Bible a Problem?
So, why is this a problem? Don’t we want our children to “help those in need,” to do good things, and behave well? Well, yes, but that’s not the point of Bible teaching. When the point of teaching Bible stories becomes good behavior, we have fablized the stories of the Bible and that is a real problem. Fablizing the stories of the Bible converts the story to a moralistic tale which, most of the time, is NOT what the story is about. When we do this, we inadvertently teach that the Bible is little more than a collection of moral tales (fables). We may emphasize that a particular story “really happened,” but that makes virtually no difference when the goal of what we’re communicating is simply good behavior.
Fablizing the stories of the Bible also separates the story in question from its narrative context (the broader biblical story) and this undermines the real nature of the Christian faith. Christianity is not about good behavior. Yes, biblical faith will lead to good, moral behavior, but that’s never the starting point or even the ending point. Biblical faith calls us into a relationship with the God of the universe through the atoning work of Jesus on the cross. The biblical story places the cross of Jesus in its rightful place so we can understand what God desires from us and why redemption and restoration is necessary. Without this broader narrative context, Christianity is just another moralistic religion. Teaching such a notion is tragic, even when unintentional.
How Do We Avoid Fablizing the Stories of the Bible?
If we wish to avoid fablizing the stories of the Bible, then we need to start with understanding and teaching the narrative context. There are many good resources that can help a Bible teacher do this. One goal of Sunday School Zone is to help with this task. It all begins, however, with a good understanding of the biblical story itself. Then, make sure your kids know where in the larger biblical story the lesson’s story falls.
You can also avoid fablizing the stories of the Bible by appropriately balancing the facts of the story with any possible application. Many stories of the Bible aren’t intended to be “applicable” as much as informative. That may not be a popular idea in today’s relevance-obsessed church, but it’s true. Sometimes it’s enough to simply help kids know what happened. Further, the younger a child is, the less “application” is necessary. Help them understand the facts of the story, including what God was saying or what He wanted His people to grasp in THAT day. In time, children will be able to draw appropriate applications from the facts of what happened in the story.
“Correctly Teaching the Word of Truth…”
Paul admonished young Timothy to be sure he was diligent in “correctly teaching the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). We need to heed this admonition today as well. God has given us a great responsibility and privilege in teaching the Bible to children. God’s Word is able to convey its intended truth. We don’t need to convert the stories to moral tales. Let’s be careful to avoid fablizing the stories of the Bible in our Bible teaching efforts!
Author, Speaker, Bible Teacher
See a list of other articles by Rick Edwards.
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