Yesterday we touched briefly on poetry and noted how easy it is to preach without conveying the force of the text. Today let’s have a brief reminder regarding narrative. If the “force” of poetry lies in often emotive imagery, the “force” of narrative rests in the lack of rest, the tension necessary for a story to be a story.
1. We mustn’t sacrifice the tension for other details. It is easy to preach a story in component parts as if it were merely an illustration of propositional truths. I certainly am not prepared to give up the reality that a single story will be held together by a single sense of purpose, tension and thus, a proposition. However, preaching story requires telling story and feeling story. It is not enough to break up the text into segments and describe each as if we were writing a commentary. For the force of the story to get across, the listeners have to be aware of the tension in the story, more than that, they need to feel the tension.
2. We mustn’t lose the resolution in the rhythm of the message. If the story really becomes a story by the introduction of tension, then the story is rapidly approaching the end once that tension is resolved. It is in the resolution of the story that we usually have the key to unlocking the purpose and meaning of the whole. How is the prodigal brought into the family? (And interestingly, why isn’t the tension resolved for his older brother a few verses later?) What is God’s evaluation of the two men praying in the temple? Who demonstrates neighborly love to the injured man by the road? If our message is not built around telling the story, then it is easy for the resolution to be lost in the detail of our structure.
3. The text is lean, but effective engagement requires the forming of imagery. The Bible does not give much detail in the telling of most of its stories. Every detail counts and should be studied carefully. However, the listeners are not studying the text at length, they are listening to you preach it. So for them to be able to engage with the text, to be able to identify with central characters, to disassociate from others, to wrestle with the tension, they need effective and developed description of the events. It takes time for the mists to clear on the screen of their hearts so that they can feel the force of the narrative!