While we tend to think in terms of seven biblical genres, I find it helpful to recognize three types of literature – narrative, poetry and discourse. These types occur proportionately in that order. Narrative is the most common, discourse the least.
In simplistic terms narrative consists of people in plots, poetry consists of parallelism and imagery, and discourse consists of direct speech or correspondence.
For the past weeks I’ve been bouncing around the field of preaching narratives, which I hope has been helpful. But here’s a thought with which I’ll finish this extended series. Maybe narrative should be considered a super-genre.
That is to say, the core features of narrative are not completely absent from the other types of literature. Let’s say the core features include the development and resolution of tension in the situation of characters. There are people with a problem in a plot.
What do we have with poetry? Often we have a person reacting to life in the form of poetic writing. If they are reacting to the threat of enemies, then we might find a psalm of lament. If they have been delivered and are looking back on the experience, then we might have a psalm of praise and thanksgiving. Poem’s often function as a snapshot into the response of an individual to the narrative of life lived in a fallen world, in response to our good God. Most poems are not narratival or complete in terms of plot line. But often poems are glimpses into the narratival nature of life’s experience.
What do we have with discourse? Often we have a person addressing others who are facing the realities of life. In the midst of a problem we might find the text offers guidance or encouragement. In the aftermath of a problem we might find gratitude and thanksgiving. Since no individual or church is ever beyond problems in this life, typically we will find the discourse to be engaging the realities of these tensions in some form. Discourse rarely reflects a complete plot (except in review), but it does give a snapshot into an ongoing narrative. Discourse offers a glimpse into the narratival nature of life for a person, nation or church.
We could go through the genres and see the narratival features of prophecy, apocalyptic, wisdom writings, etc. Space does not permit, this post needs a conclusion:
So what? Well, as preachers, this is important to recognize. This means that we can bring some of the skills needed for effective preaching of story over to the other two types of biblical literature. We don’t preach poetry or discourse as pure narrative. But we miss an opportunity if we preach either as if there is nothing narratival about it.
Our listeners are also mid-story in the narrative of life. They also struggle with the incomplete experience of tensions as yet unresolved. Perhaps a narratival engagement with the emotion of poetry, or the wisdom of discourse, might prove invaluable.
Our listeners are living life in narrative. There’s a reason that story engages listeners. Let’s not miss opportunities to engage present story with biblical story, whether that be a full-blown narrative, or the snapshot offered in poetry or discourse.
This is why I consider narrative to be a “super-genre.”