When the American branch of the Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion was active, one of the things we put most energy into was building up biblical preaching. Almost every gathering of EFAC-USA included a preaching workshop, at which participants would practice focussing on the Biblical text and preaching nothing but what was contained in it. A recent book, The Bible Story Handbook by John and Kim Walton, has applied this approach to Sunday School teaching, and in his introduction Walton summarises the basic points in ways that will be helpful to anyone who wants to apply the Word of God to human life, whether preacher, teacher, or mere Christian.

‘Only the things that Scripture intends to teach carry the authority of the text,’ Walton writes (p 16). ‘For example, we can learn much about leadership by studying Nehemiah. In the end, however, there is no indication that the author of Nehemiah was preserving and presenting his material so that readers could be instructed in leadership. Because of this, the authority of Scripture is not being tapped when leadership is taught from the book and life of Nehemiah. Leadership is an important quality, one worth learning about, but one may just as well learn about it from the lives of Abraham Lincoln or John Calvin. There is no special merit in learning it from Nehemiah simply because his story is in the Bible whereas the others are not. The Bible is unique because it teaches with the authority of God; in the case of Nehemiah we learn, among other things, that God fulfils His promises of restoring the city of Jerusalem and that He sovereignly carries out His plan through Nehemiah’s submission. God used Nehemiah’s leadership, but that does not mean that Nehemiah’s was the best possible leadership, approved by God in every way. Nehemiah’s success does not authorise his example as a Biblical model for leadership. The model itself has no authority.’

I’d be tempted to put it even more strongly: the Bible’s teaching on leadership suggests that Nehemiah’s example is of no value, at least as far as Christian leadership is concerned. The Bible’s teaching on leadership says things like ‘whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave’, and Nehemiah provides neither precept nor practice of this.

Walton’s book contains 175 Bible stories, with ideas for presenting them to children in ways that teach them only what the text teaches. Highly recommended.