Friday, April 07, 2006

Preaching OT Narrative

A young seminary student I know (younger than me anyway) recently finished his M.Div course work from the seminary he was attending and lamented the fact that he was graduating with plenty of helpful information and valuable experience but a few areas were never sufficiently covered in class lectures. The most glaring example he said, was instruction on how to preach from the narrative portions of Scripture and primarily those from the OT. Since I didn’t attend the same seminary as this fellow I can’t vouch for the accuracy of his complaint. Nevertheless, as I reflect on my own experience in seminary and that of fellow ministers with whom I have discussed this issue, there is a general consensus that preaching OT narrative is a weak point among expositors today. Another side to this dilemma is that many who do preach narrative resort to allegorizing and “character studies” rather than getting at the original meaning and then its implications for the modern hearer. Also, much of the OT narrative preaching that I have heard has lacked a God-centered focus. Now all of this is simply one person’s observation but I suspect that it might be a larger problem beyond my own perception.

One of the ways I have tried to overcome my own weaknesses in this area is to simply jump off the cliff of fear and just do it. So currently, I have put a much longer series of the Gospel of Matthew on hold and I’m preaching through the book of Ruth. At the same time I have tried to read anything and everything on the subject of narrative preaching. I came across the following simple but helpful reminder from Daniel Block in his commentary on Judges-Ruth”. Block says we have to ask
“the right questions of the text: (1) What does this account tell us about God? (2) What does it tell us about the human condition? (3) What does it tell us about the world? (4) What does it tell us about the people of God—their collective relationship with Him? (5) What does it tell us of the individual believer’s life of faith?” (604).
For a more detailed treatment of preaching narrative I would recommend “Guidelines for Understanding and Proclaiming Old Testament Narratives” by Steven D. Mathewson as a starting point. There is still much work that needs to be done in this area in the way of helpful materials and resources. If you know of any please let us know by way of comment.