Friday, May 18, 2007

Telling God's Story

I just ordered a copy of John Wright's Telling God's Story: Narrative Preaching for Christian Formation. A must read for any and all preachers of the Word! Here is a brief, get-to-the-point, summary. Wright's goal in this book is to promote a way of preaching able to call people into an alternative way of living, i.e. out of the world into the church. At the heart of his argument for narrative preaching is hermeneutics. Wright offers a very helpful survey of the landscape of hermeneutical developments in the last 200 years (Schleiermacher, Heidegger, and Gadamer). In the end, preaching and interpretation (homiletics and hermeneutics) are intricately related when it comes to scripture, the church, and the world. The scriptures are always read in local, concrete communities, with certain presuppositions about the way things are that need to be recognized and corrected. In other words, the goal of preaching is that we might find our lives in God’s life, our stories in God’s story. Through the lens of preaching, Wright offer’s a critical analysis and survey of North American Christianity arguing that the church has diverged from such an understanding of preaching and interpretation resulting in the eclipse of the biblical narrative (47). When the biblical narrative is eclipsed, the interpretive and rhetoric(al) framework of North American Christianity becomes individualism, nationalism, and capitalism (the market), a world quite alternative the world of the bible. Promoting a rhetoric of turning, Wright offer’s practical instruction as to how preachers might weave the story of God. Turning involves repenting from one world into another. Turning involves what Wright as a tragedy as opposed to a comedy. The goal of comedic preaching, essentially, is to affirm one’s convictions about the way things are. Tragedy, on the other hands, helps one see that our world is indeed false and needs to be merged into God’s. Through preaching the preacher must interpret the ways in which the church is being malformed in order to call the church to faithful living. Here's a sample:

“Human beings live habitually. Cultural convictions are deeply embedded in the bodies of a gathered congregation – everything is the culture around them works to make such convictions seem ‘natural.’ To allow the congregation to be formed as a peculiar people, to allow the biblical narrative ‘to replace the na├»ve understanding, student [congregants] must reveal the latter [their previous understanding] and have the opportunity to see where it falls short.’ We must embrace this tragic moment of difference if repentance is to occur.

Our post-Christian environment provides a challenge and opportunity for the preacher. This setting allows the preacher to present the genuine difference between the biblical narrative and the narratives of the failure for a congregation to heart. Rather than coasting on the narrative presuppositions of the reigning culture, the preacher may engage the congregation and then turn them to form the church as peculiar people, living within the biblical narrative as a sign of God’s redemptive intent for all creation” (91).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yesterday I completed Wright's book; it is awesome. You are right-- it is a must read. Every page is filled with a call to God's people to be a faithful, Scripturally formed, alternative community in the world. I love his conclusion: "Through faithful preaching, the Spirit forms a faithful people to witness to the love that is God in a world torn by sin and violence." Just about every sentence leading up to that final sentence speaks to how we pastors can participate in a true act of faithful preaching.
Thanks for my birthday present.