Although my intent is to make posts primarily concerning exegesis, I recently read a post lamenting the difficulty faced in preaching narrative portions of the Bible, specifically those of the Old Testament. I share the lament. Therefore, I would like to make a few observations—which fall short of a methodology but set a foundation for later comments I would like to make—that I have found helpful.
I used to be under the impression that a man could only preach OT narrative if he were. . .
(1) a gifted storyteller. That is, only someone who could keep an audience riveted with the way he told the story would be successful.
But, I’ve learned that many men who are so gifted can abuse the text by hypothesizing about the thoughts, motives, and circumstances of individuals in the narrative. In an attempt to be interesting and contemporary, the text is displaced as the preacher moves beyond the narrative world into a world of his own imagination. Being a gifted storyteller is helpful, but it is not the be-all, end-all of preaching OT narrative.
(2) a discerning psychologist. That is, my narrative-preaching teeth were cut on men who could develop the character of the biblical men and women and apply it to our times.
But, I’ve learned that the OT narratives normally have intended meanings that are far beyond the character of people within them. This is not to say that this is always the case (e.g., Ruth), only that there is a tendency to abuse this.
(3) an archaeologist and historian. That is, to really get the details of the story correct would take years and years of drudgery through history books and archaeological magazines (or at least through good commentaries that did all of that for you).
But, I’ve learned that minute (superfluous?) details of Ancient Near Eastern culture and practice, which are wielded in an attempt to clarify the intent of the passage, often cloud the picture for the listener. To be more specific, these details are so intriguing that the mind of the hearer is drawn away into history and archaeology and not necessarily the theological intent of the author.
(4) a Jew. That is, who in their right mind would bother with these stories except to provide illustrations for sermons from the NT? Or, how in the world can I overcome my lack of familiarity with Hebrew customs and teaching?
But, I’ve learned that with proper diligence, OT narrative can become not so much a burden to the pulpit (or SS classroom) but a blessing. In fact, it is of utmost importance that it be preached.
I hope to post more on this topic, but here’s a start…
The guiding principle when I approach any OT text, but especially narrative, is to remember a statement from Rolf Rendtorff: “Das Alte Testament ist ein theologisches Buch.” In other words, I believe that the one most prepared to preach OT narrative is the biblical theologian, or at least one who understands the broad strokes of OT theology. This allows the preacher to weave the narrative before his people into the greater theological context of the book and OT. It helps to be a good storyteller and a crafty exegete, but what will help guide your preaching is to keep the theology of the OT before you and your congregation. Is this difficult? Yes. Can it still be interesting? It must.
More to come…