Friday, March 17, 2006

Winning the Oral Majority - Christianity Today Magazine

Winning the Oral Majority - Christianity Today Magazine:
Mission agencies rethink outreach to the world's non-literate masses.

by Dawn Herzog Jewell

"Nearly 2,000 years ago, Jesus and his band of disciples proclaimed a revolutionary message through stories, parables, and proverbs. Although few members of the early church could read or write, the message of the gospel took root, owing partly to its method of proclamation. Today, a number of mission leaders are calling for a return to Jesus' oral method of communicating. The majority of the world's people, they say, won't be reached any other way.

"Seventy percent of the world's people today can't, don't, or won't read," says Avery Willis, executive director of the recently formed International Orality Network (ION), a partnership of 22 mission agencies including the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board (IMB), Youth With a Mission (YWAM), Trans World Radio, Campus Crusade for Christ, and Wycliffe Bible Translators.

Since the printing of the Gutenberg Bible, Willis says, Western Christianity "has walked on literate feet," indirectly requiring literacy for evangelism and discipleship. Yet more than 4 billion of the world's people are oral learners. According to the 2004 Lausanne paper "Making Disciples of Oral Learners," nearly 90 percent of the world's Christian workers serve among auditory learners and often use inappropriate, literacy-based communication styles...."
What grabbed me in this article was the statement that Western Christianity has indirectly required literacy in order to participate fully in evangelism. As a reformed Christian, one of the key distinctives is that we can read the Scriptures in our own language. It never really occurred to me that it might be a bar to anyone who is not literate in their own language. What we take for granted may not be an option for many people in the world today.

I should note, though, that prior to the Reformation, what the average person knew about the faith was transmitted orally, so care must be taken to ensure that the Word is transmitted accurately. The article notes, though, that hearing the Word creates a desire to read it for oneself, thus encouraging literacy.

The points raised in this article need to be taken seriously, even by we Presbyterians who are known be strong advocates of a literate, intellectual, and reasoned faith.

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