Saturday, April 28, 2012

Preaching the Narratives of the Bible

One of the challenges of theological education in Spanish right now is that resources are not as readily available. To service our Spanish MDIV, we have sought out as much as is available in Spanish (a lot of it goes out of print quickly or comes from hard to access presses).  We have translated or summarized some English resources.  We will eventually try to create some Spanish resources.

One topic on which we have not found ready materials in Spanish is that of Thomas Long's Preaching and the Literary Forms of the Bible. Thus far we have no plans to get permission to translate it.  We might summarize parts of it and translate them.  Since I have significant interest in this topic, I thought I would sketch this weekend what I consider to be the most important points on this topic, starting with preaching from the narratives of the Bible. Here is an outline:

What Is a Narrative?
A piece on preaching from biblical narratives should first identify what a narrative is.  The three core components are events, characters, and settings, which together constitute plot.  A plot has a beginning, a middle, and an end that involves some tension trying to move toward resolution.  This plot is told from a certain point of view, sometimes through the voice of a narrator.  Meanwhile, the author of a narrative arranges the story in a certain order, and the time spent on certain aspects (narrative time) can differ dramatically from the temporal proportions of real time (story time).

Biblical Narratives
Scholarship on the biblical narratives has raised unique issues relating both to the process by which various biblical narratives were created as well as the parameters of ancient narratives. While different Christians take different positions on these issues, it does a preacher well to be aware of them.
  • unintended meanings created by the juxtaposition of diverse source material
  • assumptions that biblical stories are straightforward history
  • filling in narrative gaps with modern psychological or socio-cultural assumptions
The soundest preaching will be aware of these potential dynamics.

Evaluative Point of View
Key to appropriating a narrative is to ascertain its "evaluative point of view."  This is inevitably God's point of view.  More than anything else, including history, God's point of view in a biblical narrative is the main take-away from a narrative.  Job is an excellent case in point, where the points of view of Job's comforters is less correct than Job's which is less correct than God's.  Then within the canon as a whole, it must be recognized that Job itself represents a point in a developing understanding of God that culminates in the New Testament.  With this in mind, the evaluative point of view of a narrative will preach.

Identifying with Events
The way a narrative flows usually involves significant meaning that will preach.  Narratives often have turning points which by their very nature involve contrast between what is before and what is after.  Narratives often climax, which implies significance.  We can identify with the unfolding of events, which often mirror the unfolding of events today and are full of lessons.  There are lessons of wisdom and foolishness, choices to avoid and choices to emulate.

Identifying with Characters
Similarly, we often see ourselves in the characters of a narrative.  Once we know God's point of view on those characters, we see what is virtuous and what is full of vice.  We adjust ourselves accordingly. We find ourselves in the story and look around, then return to our own lives and move.

Identifying with Settings
We can also find situations analogous to ours in a narrative.  There are settings in space, time, and ideology.  These "places" may be analogous to ours and our attention is piqued.

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