Ministry in an Oral Culture

Tex Sample, Westminster-John Knox, 1994, reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

        Sample, professor church and society in St Paul School of Theology, Kansas City, holds that many Americans live and work in an oral culture, drawing on the folklore of their family and community, and suggests how pastors can better deal with questions of morality and social change by people who think in terms of communal relationships rather than in the abstract methodology used in academic settings and theoretical discourse.

        An oral culture makes use of proverbs, lives by story telling and emphasizes relationships. ‘An issue will be considered in terms of the family and communal ties. Social change will need to be grounded in relationships and religious beliefs will be understood much more in relational than discursive ways (p 5).

        Pastoral care recognizes the need for storytelling, gatherings, giving and receiving gifts, call things into question, class solidarity and eschewal of the political process. Sample presents a listing of eleven indigenous practices for a contextual ministry (p 72).

        Undergirding this analysis is Sample’s emphasis on the need to recognize the use of encoded language (‘words mean more than they say’ p 76), and he identifies three phrases: born again, washed in the blood of the Lamb, heaven, that are part of oral culture and how such phrases can be more helpfully incorporated into pastoral care.

        A helpful treatment of making pastoral communication more relevant for people more in tune with oral culture.

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.