Posts Tagged ‘narrative preaching’

Preaching NT Narrative (we’re just getting started)

When you preach from the Gospels or Acts, you begin with textual material that is engaging by nature. As preachers, we pray that we don’t get in the way by making powerful, interesting stories anemic and boring (Carter, Duvall, Hayes, Preaching God’s Word, 188).

Preaching NT narrative has received short shrift amongst those who write and talk about preaching. Look up at your bookshelf right now and try to find a volume that is completely devoted to preaching OT narrative. I see a few and some are very good. Now look up again and try to find a single volume dedicated to preaching NT narrative. It’s not there. Did someone take it and not bring it back? No, it has never been written. Trust me, I’ve looked like you wouldn’t believe. Some volumes look like they may fit the bill with titles that include phrases like “narrative preaching” but that’s another beast entirely. Some may have some self-published volume from the 1970’s but I haven’t seen that either. In the end, no one can readily think of a single book dedicated to preaching NT narrative that has been in print since most of us have been alive.

I’m not a pollster but I suspect that many fresh out of seminary types immediately begin their preaching ministry with a series in one of the epistles (I did). They then preach a series about the church and then return to preach another epistle. Call it a hunch but I suspect it’s close to the truth. Then there is another side of this thought where many seasoned neo-puritans spend long hours preaching narrative portions of Scripture because they are all about “finding something redemptive in the story.”  However, after listening to many of these so-called redemptive-historical sermons I can report from the front lines that they make Harry Houdini look like a toddler. Some preachers can magically make Jesus appear in the slightest mention of wood, water, or blood in the text. I don’t care how much one preaches about “social justice” or uses the word “gospel” as an adjective, the preacher does not have the right to make a narrative say whatever the home office in New York has dictated.

The positive side to all this is that I know many expositors who are seeking to faithfully preach NT narrative every week. I have been preaching Matthew for the last five years and know many men who have recently been in all the Gospels and Acts. I have no idea how long we will do this but I want to do whatever I can to aid expositors in understanding and proclaiming NT narrative more effectively. Today we begin a series that has been in the making for some time, “Preaching NT Narrative” (over time you will be able to find the series under the new category “preaching NT narrative”). Come back and enjoy the ride.

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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