Lessons on God from Biblical Genre: Narrative, Apocalyptic, More…

Springing off D A Carson’s recent lecture on this subject, let’s look at a couple more genres, and add a few more for good measure (he was limited to just over an hour).

Narrative – Carson suggested that narrative is a very nuanced genre, allowing for significant fine tuning for the complexities of life.  As a preaching implication I would suggest that every narrative should be entered into fully, rather than touched on en route to a more generic sermon proposition.  Allow the full colour and vivid richness of human identification to work its way with power into the thoughts and hearts of the listeners.  Their lives are also full colour and vividly rich (often in complexity, challenge, doubts and struggles).

Apocalyptic – Carson suggested that apocalyptic literature reminds us that it is already known who wins in the end.  To be fair his time was running out and he gave no indication that he was avoiding this part of the potential content.  Many do, though.  Thus it is either neglected, or any reference to it quickly becomes an excessive lesson in apocalyptic genre explanations that can leave the listener wondering if there is anything that can be understood from this genre.  I suggest we need to think more carefully about how to honour God’s self-revelation through this genre.

Prophecy – Carson made no mention to this, but his time was gone.  It is important to understand both the overlap and the distinctions between apocalyptic and prophetic writing.  Prophecy speaks of God’s intimate involvement in the present (His concern, His responsiveness, His interest in the present) and His ultimate sovereignty in the future (His plans, His purposes, His right to rule in this world, in time and eternity).  Again, as preachers, we should not fear or avoid prophecy.  We should preach it.  Surely it is one of the richest biblical genres in so many ways.

Poetry – Carson spoke of wisdom literature.  I would want to ponder the particular features of poetry too, both within the wisdom corpus, and beyond it in places like Miriam’s song, or Hannah’s song, etc.  Doesn’t the volume of poetry in the Bible tell us something of God’s love for artistic forms of communication, and his awareness of the needs of the human heart (not proposition-free, but more than “merely propositional”).

Final comment from Carson: “The problem is that we live in a culture that loves moral ambiguity for it’s own sake.  At the end of Job, God wins, and don’t ever forget it.  If we only had the narrative of David’s life we might have excuse for immorality.  If you only had Psalm 1 you’d be encouraged or crushed, no subtlety, no recognition of the complex nature of each of us.  But in God’s perfect wisdom He has given us apocalyptic and wisdom to tell us he doesn’t bend or grade on a curve.  But he also gives narratives to show us how complex we are.”

As humans we need all the genre.  As preachers we must give what is needed.

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