I am not against principles or truths or topic based curriculum. However I do see a couple of inherent dangers in these types of approaches:
1) Bible stories are used improperly
I believe in the Bible. I believe it is the Word of God.
It contains not only the truth of God, but a vast narrative about the world He created, the broken people who inhabit it, and God’s redemptive work in making all things new.
So there is truth. There are principles, and topics are addressed in Scripture.
However, the temptation is to start from a principle-based or topic-centered standpoint and then go find a Bible story to support that principle or fit that topic.
I believe this approach to be backwards.
I think one needs to start with the Biblical narrative and allow the topics and principles, thus truth, to flow from it. I know it might be subtle, but I’ve heard all kinds of sermons about all kinds of things. One can easily make the story to fit the principle all the while doing great injustice to what the text is actually saying. I don’t think it’s necessarily “wrong”, but I think a Bible interpreter and expositor gets into less “trouble” when approaching the Biblical text first, then principles and topics second.
I can hear it now, though:
What if the principles were taken from the Biblical text?
Then I would say, start with the Bible story and walk your hearers through to discover that principle with them. Be careful with “traditional” principles that you have always heard quoted and supported with the Biblical text. It’s the Bible that is inspired, not a “principle.”
As children’s educators, the approach we take in Biblical interpretation models to students how to both read and apply Scripture. Therefore it is important “how” we approach teaching God’s Word.
2) Topics or principles are not always relevant to the hearer
Bible stories have been relevant and transcended millenia, while principles are often stuck in time. A Bible story might contain many principles. If one approaches teaching with just one principle, they run the risk that it won’t connect at the time. However, a biblical text has the power and ability to connect with a child, adolescent, and adult, all at the same time, albeit in different ways.
One caveat to starting with Scripture and ending with topics or principles:
It’s much more difficult to assess and apply.
Over the last nine years @ Hayward Wesleyan Main Street on Sunday mornings, we teach a chronological unfolding of the Biblical narrative and each time we let the story itself be applied to each student in the way they see fit. Each time we cycle through the stories things change. We offer different possibilities and seek to help them think through their own “current” story in light of “God’s” story. Thus the “Bible story” is always relevant, but it’s difficult to assess.
**This is my personal opinion. Feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments below!