Thoughts on Narratives

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There are lots of ways to preach a passage of scripture.  One is to put the narrative into a formula such as this: Give it a title; identify a thesis, make three points, preferably alliterated, and find other stories to illustrate.

For Example:  David and Goliath:

  • Title:Taking on Giants
  • Thesis: You can overcome the impossible.
  • Three Stones:
    • Stand Tall
    • Say a Prayer
    • Shoot!
  • Illustration:  maybe an Olympic Athlete who overcome a hard life to win a gold medal.  If you are up to speed, play a video.  If you are a big church, invite the athlete to speak before the message.

Nothing really wrong with that.   You have heard a sermon like that if you attend a church with a preacher.  Maybe you can see a certain preacher delivering this message. You could probably preach it yourself.  But, do you think that is really what the story is about?

I’ve come to think of preaching narratives differently.  The Biblical stories are already crafted.  They need to be presented freshly. some obscurities need to be explained and the larger context of the story needs to be pulled in.  But mostly the preacher needs to stand to the side and let the story speak as intended.

Here are my thoughts in bullet points:

  • Narratives have a built in structure. Do not squeeze them into your formula – such as three points and a punch line.
  • Narratives are illustrations. They don’t need you to illustrate them so much as explain what is not clear.
  • Stories have power.
  • Use a little freedom in telling it, but make clear what is in the story and what is your own take on it.
  • Don’t over-principalize.  One author has built a book on a sentence of scripture. That seems to be using the text as a scaffold for adding your own thoughts.  It is not hearing the text.
  • Let them remember the story, not the preacher.  People will be telling the story of David and Goliath a lot longer than they will talk about Pastor Bob.  That is a good thing.
  • I prefer the word “Story” to “Narrative.”  Yes, narrative is a literary category, but it has also become an over used bit of semi-scholarly name dropping.  “Story” is  short and clear.

If I get my listeners to hear the familiar in a fresh way, and they have the Biblical story in their minds, I can trust that the Original Author can apply the story to His listeners.

 

 

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Limits of Narrative Worksheet: the Case of Deborah

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We need to gain our theology from teaching portions of the Bible, and then compare those to the Stories.  It is rarely a good idea to change what we think the bible teaches by comparing it to a story.

Deborah and Women in Leadership:

1.  Read Joshua 4 (bottom of page) together and look at what the Narrator highlights about Deborah as a woman.  Cite verse numbers and give a sentence or two of explanation.

 

 

 

 

 

2.  Are there other women in the story?

  • V. 17-22; 5:24-27
  • 5:28-31

 3.  Compare to Teaching passages in the New Testament:

  • I Timothy 2:8-15
  • I Corinthians 11:2-16
  • I Corinthians 14:33-27
  • Acts 18:1-3; 24-28

 Texts on Deborah in Judges 4,5

Judges 4:4-16 ESV

Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment. She sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali and said to him, “Has not the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun. And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him into your hand’?” Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” And she said, “I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. 10 And Barak called out Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh. And 10,000 men went up at his heels, and Deborah went up with him.

11 Now Heber the Kenite had separated from the Kenites, the descendants of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, and had pitched his tent as far away as the oak in Zaanannim, which is near Kedesh.

12 When Sisera was told that Barak the son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor,13 Sisera called out all his chariots, 900 chariots of iron, and all the men who were with him, from Harosheth-hagoyim to the river Kishon. 14 And Deborah said to Barak, “Up! For this is the day in which the Lord has given Sisera into your hand. Does not the Lord go out before you?” So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with 10,000 men following him. 15 And the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army before Barak by the edge of the sword. And Sisera got down from his chariot and fled away on foot. 16 And Barak pursued the chariots and the army to Harosheth-hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not a man was left.

Judges 5:1, 7, 12, 15,

9/29/2013

Blowing off the Dust from Walter Kaiser

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I have had a book by Walter C. Kaiser Jr. on my to be read for so long it was collecting dust. I just picked up and read his chapter on OT Narrative.  This chapter at least is excellent.  His advice for reading a narrative and finding its intended meaning follows in my summary here.

At least half of the Bible is written in Narrative form.  Much of my training in preaching assumed other genre such as gospel or epistle.  My adult class will take September to practice these ideas.  First sample will be Genesis 37 – the start of the Joseph cycle.

 

Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament, p.76

  1. Identify each scene: every change in time or location.
  2. Analyze the plot: Beginning, Middle, End; Climax and Resolution.
  3. Determine the “point of view” – what is the focal point that gives the subject of idea that the story is trying to tell.
  4. Observe if there is dialogue and see if this contributes to the “point of view”
  5. How is each “scene” related to the “point of view.”
  6. What stylistic devices does the author use:  repetition, key word, chiasm  (ABCC’B’A’), irony,  etc.

Tell me the old, old story

I was recently at a conference of the Urban Ministry Institute (www.tumi.org) which is engaged in inner city church planting and leadership training.  What is surprising is that they are very strong on what they call “Sacred Roots” or the “Great Tradition.”  By this they mean that essence of the faith that is “shared by all, everywhere” within the church.  This is summarized by the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed.

The other part of this, what makes it well suited to urban ministry is the commitment to the big story of what God is doing in the world.  It can be summarized in a variety of ways (note that the Apostles Creed, particularly on Christ is something of a story, “…born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate…”.

The big story is that God the creator of all things has sought from all time to redeem and rescue a people from all nations by the advent, life, death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord, who with the father has sent the Spirit to guide his people through the scriptures.  This is God’s victory in Christ over the ancient dragon.  One day we will enter fully the City of God, but now we are building the reign of God through our worship, witness and service to Christ.

This is grist for the mill at several levels.  One idea, however, is that this idea shares a few things with the old Schofield Bible narrative – it is a story, not a mere list of doctrinal points, it is clear and compelling, it celebrates Christ as the central actor, it puts the Christian life in a context of something bigger than the individual or a congregation, it gives a summary of the scriptures, and it is accessible to people who do not have academic degrees.

This is also similar to my Reformed and Baptist friends who insist that every sermon ought to be tied to Jesus or to “redemptive history.”