Truth that comes in sideways

"Story Road"

What is the best way to teach the Bible?

I was formerly a lecturer in Biblical Theology, and my job was to train people to preach the Bible faithfully and well. I loved it.

I love preaching and teaching the Bible. I am a fan of the expositional 45 minute pseudo-lecture sermon, the well-illustrated sermon, the three pointer with alliterating and memorable titles – all of it. As long as God’s word is served up to me in a way that is meaty and not distorted, I’m happy. I think the Bible should be taught many different ways, and I don’t think that preaching needs to be labelled as outdated. The popularity of TED talks teaches us that much.

But – and here is my confession: sometimes, despite all my love of the Bible, I do not want to hear a sermon. Sometimes, despite my love of the Bible, I simultaneously do not love the Bible.

Sometimes I am weary, and my soul is weary, and I just want to cry and say ‘enough!’, and I don’t have the emotional strength to endure a slick presentation or dramatic and bold posturing, or humorous story from the news that links to a point in the passage, because I don’t feel slick or bold or humorous. I feel raw and vulnerable and small. There’s a part of me that thinks I should maybe just suck it up and receive from it anyway, and there’s truth in that, but I also think that sometimes the church’s pilgrims are so thirsty and sad and bone-weary, that we need something else.

There are times when I have not been able to read the Bible or listen to a sermon, much as I know that I need God’s word. For me, music does it best – I listen to Gungor or a Taize chant or old hymn, and like Saul, my soul is soothed. Or I read memoir or hear a testimony of God’s work in someone’s life. Through someone else’s story I see my own more clearly.

We all need to hear truth, but sometimes we need it told differently. Sometimes we need to have a friend confront us head-on with an uncomfortable challenge, and sometimes we need a friend to sidle up to us and put their arms around us. We need both.

I see lots of excellent examples of ‘head-on’ truth in the Church, but I am also seeking the truth-tellers who tell it so it comes in sideways. I am seeking the ones who put their arm around you and tell you a story or sing you a song, and before you know it, the truth has sneaked into your soul, gently, softly, without you even realising it was there.

This is what I aspire to when I write, because when you are a hungry, weary soul, that is the kind of truth you need, the truth that comes in sideways.


This is why I love hearing people tell their stories about the work of God in their life, and why there will be a new series of God and Suffering- Our Story starting in September. (I am so excited about the line-up!)

And this is also why I am trying something else that feels a little crazy.

Let me explain. I want to do a series on the theme of suffering in 1 Peter, digging deep and letting it write me. But I wanted to integrate story somehow into a letter that is all doctrine and commands. I believe there is story in the New Testament letters, and when we find it, our understanding is deeper and our hermeneutics and application are more faithful to God’s word as a result.

So I am going to write a series about it like this:
I have a time-travelling Bible, and every time I open 1 Peter, I travel back in time to the home of one of the original recipients. I am not going to write a sermon, but I am going to write the story of our imaginary conversation.

I’m not going to lie: this feels a little bit crazy. I have no idea whether what I have suggested is cutting-edge post-modern cool, or just beyond-cheesy. I also know that there are people like John Blase and Ed Cyzewski who are inspirational masters at reimagining the context of the Bible in fiction – and well, the last time I wrote fiction I was fourteen, and it was not exactly Pulitzer-prize-winning, as my school friends would verify.

It doesn’t even feel very ‘bloggy’. It may not work! But the thought of trying to explore the Bible in this way excites me, and so I’m going to override my fears of imperfection (for that, read ’embarrassingly terrible writing and borderline heresy’) – and I’m going to do it anyway.


The church needs the preachers who exposit and expose and stir us to action; we need the prophets who prod and poke the church into being awake. We need the truth head-on, boldly proclaimed.

But that is not all that the Church needs. I want to teach and prophesy to those who are aching and weary, who need the truth in a whisper or melody. We need the poets, the artists, the storytellers, the singers of songs. I want to write truth that comes in sideways.


Over to you:

  • What do you most need to hear at the moment – ‘head-on’ truth or the truth that comes in sideways?
  • Which writers, artists, Bible teachers, musicians do you know who excel in proclaiming Biblical truth ‘sideways’?

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    66 Responses to Truth that comes in sideways

    1. Rick Dawson 22nd August, 2013 at 9:57 am #

      “If you’ve only seen Him as the child in a manger,
      how will you recognize Him in the eyes of a stranger?”

      The line comes from an unfinished song of mine. I think it hits truth (it does for me) in the same way you describe. I’ll be back, Tanya – and thanks!

      • Tanya 25th August, 2013 at 6:34 pm #

        Thanks so much for stopping by – and I do hope you finish that song!

    2. Tricia 22nd August, 2013 at 9:32 am #

      I was just thinking yesterday, that I needed something different from what I’m getting at church. The pastor is a wonderful man of God, but I just need something that isn’t a sermon at the moment. I also think that we really do need to try to get into the heads of the people to whom the letters were written. So I am looking forward to your “crazy writing”.

      • Tanya 25th August, 2013 at 6:33 pm #

        Oh good! I’m so glad!

        • Tricia 9th September, 2013 at 8:37 am #

          Yesterday I came away from church feeling empty. I can’t even put into words what was missing, but I really was not fed by the service. I really need some sideways Truth!

          • Tanya 9th September, 2013 at 11:32 am #

            Hopefully you can get a bit of both/and! Let me know what you think of the 1 Peter series!

    3. jeanne 21st August, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

      Love your idea, and also the fact that you mentioned music because that’s where a lot of my inspiration comes from. My husband once said “live through the music and the music will live through
      you”….I have really taken this to heart lately. Some days I listen to the radio all day long and let the music deliver its message……there always is one if I’m looking for it…

      • Tanya 25th August, 2013 at 6:32 pm #

        It’s great that music inspires you so much! I think it’s such a gift.

    4. Tom Stanbury 21st August, 2013 at 10:03 pm #

      This post made me think on a different tangent. In the UK keen christians have recently been praying for christians in Egypt. This is a beautiful and remarkable thing. A lot of christians in London are busy looking for the differences. Yet we readily identify with Coptic christians in Egypt. Yet we would have little or nothing to do with the same christians in London who would have a similiar faith and practice. I am left wondering what could I learn from Coptic christians. I’m going to find out more.

      • Tanya 25th August, 2013 at 6:31 pm #

        Oo – an intriguing line of thought! Thanks for commenting!

    5. Ruth Norbury 21st August, 2013 at 9:58 pm #

      I think this sounds really exciting Tanya :). I’m so grateful for all the ‘up-front’ bible teaching that I’ve benefited from at different churches and conferences, but have most appreciated bible teachers who are willing and able to deal with big questions that come from real life mess and pressures, and who genuinely believe that God’s word can speak into our lives every day in all situations, and try to explore ways of helping me and others discover that – not just in their sermons. It’s fair to say that you fit into that category! (As do many of my friends who wouldn’t call themselves preachers but who are amazing at speaking God’s truth into my life in different ways). Looking forward to reading more xx

      • Tanya 25th August, 2013 at 6:30 pm #

        “It’s fair to say that you fit into that category” – this makes me VERY happy! Thank you. Thinking of you in your in-between-ness. X

    6. Alice 21st August, 2013 at 8:13 pm #

      YES. What you’re saying about wanting more than one way to hear God’s word speak to you is really, really so helpful to hear. I find I so easily switch off when it’s a bit too slick or a little bit too ‘I read this story online and I’m going to pretend its mine’. I am grateful because you’ve helped me see that my frustration doesn’t automatically mean I don’t love God’s word or want to be spoken to by him. I cannot wait to read more. And experiments always reveal something even if it’s not what you expected. Xxx

      • Tanya 25th August, 2013 at 6:29 pm #

        Thank you so much – for your cheerleading, and for your reminder that it’s okay to experiment (by which of course I mean ‘fail’…!) because it’s about the learning, the revealing. THANK YOU.

    7. Amy Young 21st August, 2013 at 8:08 pm #

      Tanya, I have been thinking on this all morning since I first read it in the early morning light. And isn’t a picture of straight on and sideways truth. Love the images you create!

      • Tanya 25th August, 2013 at 6:28 pm #

        Thanks, lovely friend!

    8. Helen 21st August, 2013 at 7:11 pm #

      Do you know, I think it matters not a jot how you present it, if our hearts are right, God will speak His word through whatever. I agree that music is the easiest way to lift my soul, but He can lift me to the throne of grace through the worst and the best preaching if only I ask. Hope that makes sense?!

      • Tanya 25th August, 2013 at 6:27 pm #

        Thank you – yes, this is a good reminder that receiving depends upon us and our hearts as much as it does the presenter.

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