What does storied theology have to do with preaching and teaching?
I get asked that question from time to time, especially by students who are preparing to preach. I think about it sometimes when I’m writing a sermon myself, as I’m doing this week. I got asked it during a webinar I did yesterday with a bunch of preacher-types.
To my mind, how we preach is inseparable from what we think the Bible is and what, then, we’re supposed to do with it.
Three point sermons are great ways to talk through theology texts. Or instruction manuals. How good are they for plotting people within a narrative? Sometimes better, sometimes worse.
Communicating the gospel is telling the story of the Crucified Christ such that those who hear are drawn to recognize that his story is our story.
As Protestants, and as evangelicals, we do well telling and interpreting the story of Jesus as something that is “for” us. But we have not as often done a great job of telling it as our own–not our possession that we distribute through speaking, but the narrative that is to be enacted by the people of God.
Too often, our sermonizing entails a certain disconnect between who we are and what we are supposed to do: “God redeemed you in Christ. Therefore, obey because you’re thankful. Now go to Zimbabwe.”
But when the story is the thing, the connection becomes much closer: Jesus ate with the hookers and told the faithful who knew better that they didn’t have a clue. You are the body of Christ. Go and do likewise.
Jesus saved by his death, you have the same mind of humility in yourself, considering one another better than yourselves. Lay aside your own “glory” so that others may live. And then you will have treasure in heaven.
But more than particular stories with a particular story to be lived, what it means to preach the story of the crucified Christ is probably something along the lines of a long-term vision for conversion of the imagination.
As humans, we are inherently storytellers. We tell stories to understand and interpret the world.
Narrative preaching is hammering on the story to such an extent that we actually begin to hear the story of The Crucified as our own, and thus, in hearing it, to know that it shapes our identity–including what it means to act faithfully as followers of Jesus.