Preach the Narratives

One of the most spiritually enriching periods of my life was the summer before my senior year in high school. I was working as a lifeguard at some local lakes, and it was perhaps the cushiest job I’ve ever had. These lakes had swimming areas that were roped off at a depth of about four feet, so all I needed to do to save someone from drowning was to tell them to stand up. That was also before the alligator population in Florida had rebounded, so the only wildlife I had to deal with was the occasional non-venomous snake. Best of all, the swimming areas were often empty of people, which meant I could get paid to work on my tan and read my Bible.

I spent that summer reading through the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles—mainly because a recent Hollywood movie about the life of David had piqued my interest. For a teenage boy trying to figure out what it means to be a man, these narratives about David’s successes, failures, virtues, and vices were incredibly instructive, and they sparked in me a desire to be a “man after God’s heart” (1 Samuel 13:14).

Up to that time, my personal Bible-reading had centered on books which tend to give easy-to-digest propositional truth and clear instructions for how to live: Proverbs, James, Paul’s epistles, etc. Yet somehow, it was these Old Testament narratives that really captured my imagination and drove me to reflect more deeply on my own relationship with God.

Today, Christian ministers all over the world delivered sermons to their congregations. How many of those sermons were focused on a narrative passage from the Bible? I suspect a significant majority focused instead on didactic passages which could easily be translated into a sermon. If you’re a preacher who has been neglecting the narrative portions of Scripture, let me exhort you to preach the narratives.

Teaching only the didactic portions of Scripture can subtly reduce the gospel to a moral religion we must strive to live up to. The narratives, on the other hand, show us the gospel worked out in the lives of real men and women who fell short, failed, and struggled to walk by faith. They encourage us to cling to God even when we too fall short of what He calls us to be.

As I explained in a previous post, Feet to Follow, Eyes to See invites readers to step into the greatest stories ever told and see them from a fresh perspective. Our preachers need to do the same from time to time. So if you’re a preacher trying to figure out what to do for your next preaching series, let me encourage you again to preach the narratives.

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6 Responses to Preach the Narratives

  1. James Tucker says:

    Thanks for sharing this, David. In the years of my participation in the church, I lament often that narrative is overlooked — as if it’s something okay to teach our children, but too lame for us adults, for we need the logic of Paul’s letters. Of course my lamentation is two-fold, for a lack of sermons on narrative typically means very little sermons that emanate from the Hebrew Bible in general. My love affair with the Hebrew Bible has its impetus in the current Marcionite-mentality our churches have towards understanding the Scripture and God. For we’ve far too long disparaged the wisdom contained within the narratives of the Hebrew Bible—and we have certainly overlooked the grand theological discourse it presents us.

    This may be of interest to you:

  2. Pingback: Preach the Ambivalence of the Narratives | Feet to Follow, Eyes to See

  3. Why aren’t the ‘didactic parts’ also considered narrative? Narrative isn’t just a particular literary genre, it is also the storyline that fits lives together as well as stories with other stories (try to read Galatians or Hebrews or Philemon without seeing a story being told, undone, retold…. And every Jesus Seminar fan uses the narratives of socio-historical, literary, political, religious and archaeological to address what Jesus really said or what Jesus really did. And that’s just for starters (recovering fundamentalists need better answers, not just a different simple answer).

    • langgang says:

      James, a seminary professor of mine once said, “You can’t say everything every time you say anything. Otherwise you’re too busy saying everything to say anything.” Of course you’re right that there is a sense in which the “didactic parts” are also “narrative.” I would argue that the entire Bible—including narrative, didactic, poetic, prophetic, and apocalyptic parts—is one unfolding narrative about God’s redemption of a fallen world. That’s why, when one part of the narrative is emphasized to the neglect of the others, we inevitably offer a skewed and unbalanced retelling of that narrative. That, of course, is precisely my point: that the whole narrative—or as fundamentalists recovering or otherwise often put it: the “whole counsel of God”—must be preached.

  4. No criticism of the post, just a suggestion about the depth of the subject of narrative (which you properly note in your follow-up on ambiguity). Keep ’em coming.

    If you’re interested in where I’m coming from, you might also take a look at:
    pp.812-814 have the entry on Narrative Theology and some comments on types of narrative approaches in recent theology

  5. Pingback: Preach the Artistry of the Narratives | Feet to Follow, Eyes to See

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