No need to “trick things up” with NT narrative

Few could believe what Edmund Morris had done. He was given unprecedented access to President Ronald Reagan during his eight years in political office, and he saw everything. Morris kept copious notes on 3 X 5 index cards and saved them in his own large filing system. After Reagan left office, Morris who was a well-respected historian, was poised to write a massive biography about one of the key figures of 20th Century American history. However, Morris will forever be remembered as the first presidential biographer to introduce fake characters into what everyone anticipated would be an accurate and scholarly presidential biography. Not only did he introduce fake characters into the life of Reagan, he even created fake footnotes to give the appearance of reality to his imagined characters. The book sold well but only modestly compared to what was expected. Never again would Morris’ recounting of history be trusted. Morris missed the opportunity of a lifetime.

What Edmund Morris missed was that good narratives based on real events are already compelling by nature. Rather than simply declaring his subject matter, he inserted his own perspective into the story. Contrast Morris’ perspective with that of another presidential biographer, David McCullough. Someone asked McCullough about his perspective on writing history. He said, “ . . . there’s no need ever to trick things up, to sugar this or that, or use dramatic devices to make it interesting. You just try as best you can to make it as interesting as it actually was.”[1] In a sense, this is the role of good expository homiletics. The task of the preacher is to get out of the way and let the people hear God speaking in the narrative. Having done all the necessary spadework, “This message should be clear and easy to follow, while remaining faithful to the biblical author’s progression of ideas.”[2]


[1] Diane Osen, ed., The Book that Changed My Life: Interviews with National Book Award Winners and Finalists (New York: The Modern Library, 2002), 106-07. I am indebted to Matthew Waymeyer for calling my attention to this particular quote (personal communication, Oct 18, 2009).

[2] Donald R. Sunukjian, “Sticking to the Plot: The Developmental Flow of the Big Idea Sermon,” in The Big Idea of Biblical Preaching: Connecting to People, eds. Keith Willhite and Scott M. Gibson (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 111.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. great words!

  2. Amen. Let us learn to how to tell the story better rather than trying to make a better story!

  3. Posted by Kenny Day on December 26, 2009 at 11:13 pm

    Even though Morris fabricated a lot of Ronald Reagan’s story as pres biographer,
    I do appreciate his volumes on Theodore Roosevelt which I think are much more accurate as they are based on the Teddy’s own diaries etc.

    But David McCullough is by far a better biographer and admirable writer. Instead of infusing his own opinions and politics into the writing like Morris, he simply tells it like it was…history and all of its ugly facts.

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