narrative and wisdom

I once attended a seminar conducted by Dr. Alyce MacKenzie (Preaching Prof. at SMU/Perkins) whose work is on the wisdom tradition. She talked about the proverbs as an example and noted that we have modern-day proverbs as well (don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched, a stitch in time saves nine, etc.), calling them “freeze-dried stories.” She was calling pastor/preachers to reclaim a role as “wisdom-teachers” within the community of faith.

I wonder how this would comport within the discussion springing from my earlier post, “what kind of story are we in?

Here are some of my present challenges in preaching (not including improving study & prep!):

1. I tend toward an inductive plot-driven rather than a deductive point-driven sermon, but am preaching something of a hybrid, partly because I have been trying out providing sermon guides. Some folks really enjoy them, others don’t use them at all–it was something I decided to try out because you’ve got to try things out somewhere. In most of my sermons (the plot-driven kind, that is), I attempt to take the congregation on a journey in which we discover together what’s going on in the biblical passage, why, and what implications that might have for us. But I’ve noticed that some folks don’t feel like they’ve heard a sermon unless they’ve heard some points!

2. I need to construct/relay the Christian narrative world so that we may live within it instead of the other stories that invite us to live within them. At the same time, many people recognize Scripture “relating to their lives” through the “interpretation/application” paradigm that JD refers to in comments on the above post.

How do we bridge these groups of people and various concerns with our preaching? We have the twin issues of all ages of preaching: fidelity to the text (both in meaning and in the way that meaning comes to us) and connection with the people. I am experimenting with my preaching in an attempt to discover some of these answers.

Published by Guy M Williams

Christian | Husband, Father | Pastor | 8th-Gen Texan | Texas A&M ‘96 | Asbury Seminary ‘01 | Enjoy family, reading, running, golf, college football

8 thoughts on “narrative and wisdom

  1. thanks guy for continuing this conversation. i didn’t mean to say ditch the interpretation-application paradigm. it is essential. but to do this alone is to risk tree-ology at the cost of theology. ;>) in other words, we can miss the forest for the “trees.” in my experience, most people have no idea that there is a forest out there. they have heard 1,001 sermons extracting 3,003 points from 25 or 30 texts where the bigger picture of the narrative is completely ancillary if even present at all. i think we have to learn to set our interpretative task inside of a large and spacious narrative framework.

    for instance I can preach John 15 with an eye toward one’s “personal” relationship with Jesus all day long. I may even draw out into the wider Johannine literature to make some interpretative connections. But am I willing to allow the text to lead me back to Eden– the Garden (as in my Father is the Gardener) and then on to Israel–the Vine (as in the True Vine) and what difference does it make to the guy who works in a welding shop 6 days a week or the lawyer or doctor or nurse or housewife????

    the big question for me in preaching is this one: are we willing to get into the story or do we just want something out of it? if we are willing to get into it there are heaps of interpretation-application moves inside. but most of the preaching i am subjected to wants to cut straight to the points, leaving the story behind like a banana peel.

    what do you think?

  2. Ah-ha! I was running alongside, now I’m tracking with you 100%. Thanks for following up with that. That’s my basic approach in preaching and one, I must say, I credit by Asbury bible and preaching profs for passing along to me. The contextual issue is one for both the text and the audience. Thus, in addition to the interpretation/application work, we ask 2 basic questions: (1) how is this particular text situated within the larger narrative of God’s activity as revealed in Scripture? and (2) how does this point in Scripture’s larger narrative intersect the narrative that my hearers are presently living?

    My method of preparation helps with this–I use a combination of Joel Green’s “close reading of the text” and Bauer’s IBS version. those together help me find the plot elements of the text and how it is situated within the same author’s body of work as well as the larger scripture story.

    The NT writers themselves ask or even beg us to do this because they quote or echo the OT frequently. Not only that, they are concerned with interpreting the Jesus event by situating him within the larger story of God’s activity revealed in the Scripture narrative of Israel and proclaiming how Jesus and that story intersect with their hearers/readers.

    Another practical reason for preaching and teaching in this way is to promote biblical literacy within the congregation. the Scripture reading and sermon on Sunday is the only exposure to text and interpretation that many have, so it’s important not to abstract lessons or Jesus himself in the midst of applying the Scripture to the lives of the hearers.

    thanks for following this up. I’m enjoying this topic.

  3. oh yeah, i love this distinction that you made:

    the big question for me in preaching is this one: are we willing to get into the story or do we just want something out of it?

  4. This might be the funniest comment you read all day: for those of us (me) who didn’t have/take the opportunity to sit under Dr. Green, can you briefly explain what he taught in regards to “close reading of the text”?

    I say “funny” ’cause there may not be a “brief” way to explain it.


  5. hey Matthew,

    how’s Arkansas? brief? yep, that is funny.

    The primary parts are:
    1. Text
    2. Co-text (referring to the surrounding text)
    3. Context (referring to socio-cultural background, etc.)
    4. Intertext (quotes and echoes of the canon)

    Green’s article in “Hearing the New Testament” explains his method, but I found you’re email on your blog, so I’ll email you a one-page summary he provided. The IBS stuff fits in one section on looking at how the author goes about structuring his presentation of the material (be it narrative, epistle, poetry, etc.) and then a couple of overlaps that are readily apparent in a couple of other places. I like Green’s ‘close reading of the text’ as the overarching approach, with IBS fitting within it due to the amount of practice we got doing the IBS approach.

    I think I’ll paste it in a blog post too.

  6. After I asked the question I went to my folder from Exegesis of Hebrews with Ruth Anne Reese and found a hand out about interpretive assignments which covers the one page synopsis you sent me. Same thing, I just don’t remember hearing the phrase “close reading of the text.” Your handout is very helpful, though, because it’s 1 page and with all the examples my document is 13 :-)

    I loved IBS and incorporate it as best I can to preaching and teaching. My struggle in preaching is to take what I’ve learned and present it as a sermon. Until recently, 90% of the sermons I preached in were read exegesis papers with an illustration or 2 sprinkled in. That appealed to those who work at the local University, but it has really developed a chasm between me and a lot of folks who think I am unapproachable because of my style.

  7. As preachers we are living bridges between the Word of God and our people. In seminary we learn the Word and we find some tools to understand people (especially if we take a course with Darrell Whiteman). We then enter our pastorates knowing much of the Word – it is (mostly) unchanging – and completely new to our people. After spending years being enculturated into academia and learnign to communicate with its inhabitants, it takes a while (at least it did for me) to learn to talk to ordinary people.

    We preachers also find ourselves in the unique role of being both language learners (learning the local language) and language teachers (the language of faith). So at the same time we translate, we teach others to translate – both directions.

  8. preach it Matthew! and thanks for your honesty.

    as I’ve thrilled in my faith through the discoveries I’ve encountered in Scripture because of seminary training, I’ve found it challenging to preach the word to my people where they are instead of trying to get them where I am so that I can speak the word in the forms that I have been trained to understand it.

    Another thing that’s challenging, not just in preaching but more broadly in my life, is that with a graduate education in theology, I’m now in a new socio-cultural group. There’s a disconnection present at one level because I love reading people like NT Wright, Dallas Willard, and others that ordinary folks don’t really have enough background or interest in reading. Just enjoying reading sets me apart from some folks. I can identify with things I enjoy like sports, camping, etc. But what I think about a lot of the time is different than what folks in my congregation think about–the Trinity, Incarnation, ecclesiology, etc.

    I enjoy talking about these theological things in the depth that I got used to in seminary too, but I can’t because (1) I need to translate and give background info, or (2) Nobody really wants to talk about it on that level.

    I want to emphasize–I’m trying to simply describe, I’m not wanting to appear as though I think I’m superior or anything. I’ve just noticed that it is an interesting phenomenon that we are educated into a new socio-cultural group and then sent out. Challenges just come with the territory when that is the case.

    the blog world is turning out to be a good place to feed this need.

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