Exposition, Narrative and a Pot of Soup

There is a common misunderstanding of expositional preaching in relation to Bible stories.  I’ve heard the analogy used of a pot of soup.  A narrative sermon is like a pot of soup prepared carefully to be enjoyed by the guests – an experience to be savoured.  An expositional sermon is like an explanation of the recipe of the pot of soup.  Recognizing the difference between narrative preaching and preaching narratives, let’s engage with this analogy briefly.

With some preachers this negative recipe description may be fitting, but that doesn’t make the analogy accurate.  An expository preacher is concerned about communicating the point of the passage, rather than seeking to explain the point of every detail.  A good expository preacher knows that a story has its own way of carrying and conveying its point.  Thus a good expositor preacher, preaching a story, will not dissect it into a lifeless and experience-free recipe, but will communicate the story as effectively and accurately as possible.

What needs to be added to the telling of the story?  Any necessary explanation to make sense of it.  An underlining of the point, exposed for clarity, but appropriately timed so as not to undermine the impact.  If not inherently implicit, some form of emphasis on the contemporary relevance of the story.

What isn’t needed is endless detailed explanation, or numerous unnecessary and disconnected illustrations, or ill-timed statements of the proposition, or commentary-style titles for each segment of the message, or a manner which robs the story of its emotion, tension or energy.

When you preach a story, be sure to be expository . . . but not the wrong kind that feels like the explanation of a recipe!

4 Reasons to Preach Bible Stories

Today I am leading a seminar: Preaching Biblical Narrative.  I have really enjoyed preparing for this event.  Hence I am writing about Bible stories on the site at the moment.  Here’s four good reasons to preach Bible stories, and there are more too!

1. Stories are plenteous. As I mentioned a couple of days ago, Ray Lubeck states that 44% of the Bible’s chapters are predominantly narrative.  There’s lots of stories in the Bible!

2. Stories are pervasive. They stretch throughout the canon.  We read stories throughout the Pentateuch, the history books of the Old Testament, in the wisdom books and the prophets.  We read stories about Jesus and from Jesus in the Gospels and throughout Acts.  We read glimpses of stories, or implied stories in the Psalms, in the Epistles, in Revelation.  They are everywhere, because life is lived story.

3. Stories are powerful. Unlike bare proposition, stories lodge in the memory.  They reach down deep to the emotions of the listeners as they identify with characters and get absorbed into real life action and tension.  They have a powerful ability to slip past defenses and reach the heart.

4. Stories are preferred. Historically humans have been primarily story—tellers.  Life legacies have been passed from one generation to the next by means of story.  Globally, most cultures are story cultures.  In fact, if we live in a time when story has taken a back seat, we are living in a blip in time and space.  But that is an if.  Even in the “enlightened” west we still are shaped and gripped by story.  Just look at Hollywood, or what predominates on TV schedules, or how advertisers shape many ads, or even how sports journalists frame big games – stories continue to abound!  And now as culture is shifting from modernism to postmodernism, story is increasingly preferred – authentic personal story is perceived to be of greater value than abstract truth statements.  People are, and always have been, everywhere, primarily creatures of story.

Ingredients of Delivery: Biblical Narratives 3

I just wanted to add one more important ingredient to the list.  We need to describe well and preach dynamically.  To effectively preach the story, we also need . . .

High Definition Imagination – To put it simply, if you can see it, they will see it.  Instead of just describing “about” the story, we need to describe the story.  We need to study well so that the image forms in our mind, then we need to describe what we can see as we tell the story.  We need to be careful to preach the inspired text, rather than the event itself.  However, in preaching the text, we do describe the event/story.  If that is merely facts, it will not communicate well.  If it is a foggy view through the mists of time, then people will only hear the fog.  But if we can study ourselves through to a point of clarity, then we have a chance of preaching so that the reality of the narrative forms in the minds and hearts of the listeners.

This certainly overlaps with description skill, but all the skill in the world will fall flat if we do not have a high definition imagination that is thoroughly informed by Scripture.  We have to see it, if they are to see it.