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Narrative Preaching 2

posted by Scot McKnight
TomLong.jpg
The level of eloquence in this book,Preaching from Memory to Hope, is only outmatched by the depth of insight we find in Tom Long. What a delightful chapter number two is: “No news is bad news.”
It’s a chapter about the presence of God in living reality today and about witnessing to God’s presence — in the present tense — in preaching and living. 
It might work best just to quote the build-up in this chap:
 
Luther, who was struck in his first act as a priest; Charles Taylor, the philosopher who pointed out that modernity is an addition to belief and not an elimination of belief … illustrations by Long of the need in our world to assert, affirm, and embody the living presence of God.
But we have absorbed through psychology and science the tendency to downplay the reality and presence of God, and Long is summoning us to preach and to live in a way that makes God’s presence known and possible to others. To do this, we need a language:

Which is where narrative preaching comes in. Now some quotes:
“What Christians are called to do every day in the world, preaching does paradigmatically in the theater of worship: negotiate a hearing for the faith in, with, and for the world” (33).
But preaching in mainline churches, and he’s a mainliner, is not like this: “In other words, there is plenty of morality and good counsel, but no desert bush bursting into flame” (34).
“To put it in preaching terms, either God is present and active in our preaching, or we are poseurs and pathetic fools” (37).
He opposes sermons that are little more than conventional wisdom: “Sermons on ‘Five Ways to Keep Your Marriage Alive’ or ‘Keys to a Successful Prayer Life’ or even ‘Standing Up for Peace in a Warring World’ may possess some ethical wisdom and some utilitarian helpfulness, but the often have the sickly sweet aroma of smoldering incense in a temple from which the deity has long since departed” (38). Whoa.
So there is no “good” news and “no news is bad news.”
Part of the recovery of our ability to see God at work and to preach God at work is learning to capture the capacity of language to be the carrier wave for divine communication.
In the rest of the chp, Long proposes that we’ve got to get beyond analogies to an imagination that sees in the Bible the arc of divine activity and to dwell in that arc of God’s activity so we can discern God at work today.
I found this talk by Tom Long … 

Thomas Long, “Where You Never Expected to Be” from 30goodminutes on Vimeo.



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Rick

posted February 10, 2010 at 7:40 am


“He opposes sermons that are little more than conventional wisdom: “Sermons on ‘Five Ways to Keep Your Marriage Alive’ or ‘Keys to a Successful Prayer Life’ or even ‘Standing Up for Peace in a Warring World’ may possess some ethical wisdom and some utilitarian helpfulness, but the often have the sickly sweet aroma of smoldering incense in a temple from which the deity has long since departed” (38). Whoa.”
Amen! And we wonder why our churches, and especially our younger generations, are so influenced by moralistic therapeutic deism.



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theologien

posted February 10, 2010 at 9:11 am


Very good. This is where I’ve been trying to go with my preaching. Nice to know what I’m aiming for.



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Joey

posted February 10, 2010 at 9:18 am


Rick…..Ha, really? “especially our younger generations”?
What?



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Rick

posted February 10, 2010 at 9:52 am


Joey-
From “Summary Interpretation: Moralistic Therapeuitic Deism/Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers”:
“…it appears that only a minority of U.S. teenagers are naturally absorbing by osmosis the traditional substantive content and character of the religious traditions to which they claim to belong. For, it appears to us, another popular religious faith?Moralistic Therapeutic Deism?is colonizing many historical religious traditions and, almost without anyone noticing, converting believers in the old faiths to its alternative religious vision of divinely
underwritten personal happiness and interpersonal niceness….The language?and therefore experience?of Trinity, holiness, sin, grace, justification, sanctification, church, Eucharist,and heaven and hell appear, among most Christian teenagers in the United States at the very least, to be being supplanted by the language of happiness,niceness, and an earned heavenly reward. It is not so much that Christianity in the United States is being secularized. Rather more subtly, either Christianity is at least degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or, more significantly, Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by a quite different religious faith.”
It also states, regarding MTD:
“…it seems that it is also a widespread,popular faith among very many U.S. adults. Our religiously conventional adolescents seem to be merely absorbing and reflecting religiously what the adult world is routinely modeling for and inculcating in its youth.”
http://www.ptsem.edu/iym/lectures/2005/Smith-Moralistic.pdf



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Richard

posted February 10, 2010 at 10:04 am


Rick, I would posit that the second paragraph undermines your emphasis on the younger generations. If the youth are that way, it’s purely because of the adults offering the sugar- what teen is going to turn down Xbox if that’s what their church offers them?
I think Joey and I are both reacting to your use of the word “especially.” We don’t deny there are young people who adhere to MTD, but we strongly doubt it’s any greater tendency than the adults that raised them.
Amen Joey. In our congregation, it’s the boomers that tell me they didn’t come to church for a Bible study when we’ve explored the Grand narrative of Scripture- the 20s and 30s love it, as do the Builders. Same with the liturgy and the music.



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Rick

posted February 10, 2010 at 10:18 am


Richard and Joey-
Now I understand your concerns.
Let me clarify. My use of “especially” was not to refer to “more than” the boomers; rather it was to emphasize the heavy impact such a mindset is having on younger generations.
No, I am not meaning to take blame off the boomers. In fact, I hold them primarily responsible. “Especially” was meant as a wake-up call to boomers, and especially church leaders, that are promoting these type sermon series, and are therefore not only negatively impacting themselves, but are also being very destructive to the next generation(s). The adults need to (can) snap out of it, but unfortunately the younger generations may not know the difference, thus may have a more difficult time snapping out of it.
Sorry I was not clear on that.



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Joey

posted February 10, 2010 at 10:23 am


Rick, I wasn’t sure how to respond but I appreciate your clarification.



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Richard

posted February 10, 2010 at 10:28 am


No problem Rick, thanks for clarifying. To be honest, I know I am very sensitive to it (possibly overly so) because I live in a community where the popular response is to wonder what’s wrong with the young people because they don’t want to go to church instead of asking what’s wrong with the church that they haven’t given a compelling vision for life/faith to the 1000s of youth that have gone through their youth ministries faithfully and walk out in college or just after.



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Scot McKnight

posted February 10, 2010 at 10:50 am


OK, let me call us back to the post… which is about the need for the ongoing presence of God in our preaching.
What’s happened to the thunder?



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Jeremy Berg

posted February 10, 2010 at 11:36 am


Scot – What’s happened to the thunder? Answer: The Enlightenment happened…and instead of trembling at the power of the thunder as in the past, we now scientifically explain it away…



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John W Frye

posted February 10, 2010 at 11:58 am


Scot,
So, where’s the thunder? And where are the “burning bushes”? This is going to be a hard nut to crack…to move from expositional, atomistic, verse-by-verse preaching to narrative, big Story, real Presence preaching. Some in the [cessationist] camp of evangelicalism get real jumpy about real Presence because it seems slippery and on the way to things not done “decently and in order.” Good exegetical study and homiletically astute sermons are much *safer* than praying about, preparing and preaching for real Presence of the LIVING God. Yet, as a pastor, I can see it in people’s eyes and hear it in their voices…they want to encounter the LIVING God, not hear another slick sermon. People remain objective and critical of “steps,” “secrets,” and “principles” because they’ve been tried so often and found wanting. A narrative sermon calls for participation and response and, if and when the LIVING God shows up in it, a deeply changed way of living. What do you think? BTW, I watched the video…it was good.



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David Grant

posted February 10, 2010 at 1:22 pm


I have a question. Is it possible to have the “thunder” or the presence of God in a sermon that is simulcast on a life size screen?
Is the power in the content of preaching or is there something powerful about live preaching itself?
Thoughts?



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Joey

posted February 10, 2010 at 1:31 pm


Good question David. I wonder how much of our experience receiving sermons is affected by the context. I know I have been deeply fed because of podcasts or downloaded sermons but that may not be a universal phenomenon. Live sermons are always more engaging.
John W Frye, I would just point out that many good narrative preachers do verse by verse exegetical preaching. They just set the narrative of those verses in the larger narrative of what God is up to. They help us understand the arc of God’s story and where the specific scripture in question fits into to that arc.
I feel like this question about “thunder” is similar to the one that is asked by people who have tried to reimagine preaching or the sermon like Doug Pagitt. In what way is preaching formative and to a great extent, in what way can sermons be ground shaking, life altering, and disemboweling?



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Matt

posted February 10, 2010 at 1:34 pm


I’m preaching a narrative sermon tomorrow. Still writing it. Read books about preaching from narrative texts, but they’ve been minimally helpful. I know a good narrative sermon when I hear it, but doing it is another thing. My biggest obstacle to re-telling the stories of the Bible is, well, the Bible. It’s written in (a) particular way(s), very carefully… especially OT narrative. How do you maintain the integrity of the story while expanding and adding to it? It’s an art… and a very delicate, dangerous enterprise.



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josenmiami

posted February 10, 2010 at 1:53 pm


good topic … i would add one thing to what Jeremy said… not only the Enlightenment but also consumer capitalism … the religious free market.



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Laura Flanders

posted February 10, 2010 at 10:37 pm


I think Grant asks two very important questions.
Seriously. These are very, very important.
More and more of my seminary students, who write learning contracts in which they will practice the art of preaching ask if they can do so on video or webcam. I do not allow this. I require that they preach to a group of people….live.
I require this for a very particular reason.



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John W Frye

posted February 12, 2010 at 10:03 am


Joey (#13),
I appreciate your push back, and I do agree with you. I know a gaggle of people who are spooked by the very idea of “story.” They have been weaned from “milk” to “principles,” “steps,” “secrets” and an infinite number of “how to’s.”



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