Is Storytelling Sermonics Sufficient?
Narrative preaching and inductive preaching have become popular in recent years. At one level it taps into Jesus' manner of preaching (parables), but preaching inductively is not easy. Simply standing up and telling a few stories may prove entertaining, but may not get us very far. Narrative preaching when most effective assumes that the audience has a connection with the biblical story, but unfortunately in most of our mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic churches there is a lack of knowledge of the biblical story. I might have issues with the way conservative evangelicals interpret the biblical text, but they do use it.
Now, I must confess that I'm not a good story teller. I'm much more likely to read non-fiction, theological books, than fiction. Much of the narratives I connect with come from movies or TV. I'm also trained as a theologian (focus on historical theology), so I'm probably more comfortable with theology than story. But, having made the confession, I am concerned that in our rush to experience focused faith, we may leave behind substance.
My reflections on this topic were stirred by my reading of Susan Hedahl's new book in the Fortress Resources for Preaching -- Proclamation and Celebration: Preaching on Christmas, Easter, and Other Festivals (Fortress Resources for Preaching), (Fortress, 2012). Hedahl is teaches preaching at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg.
She offers this critique of Narrative Preaching:
The impact of the last several decades of so-called narrative preaching, usually defined as "storytelling," a mode of sermonic construction, has been particularly troublesome in this regard [lacking doctrinal connectivity]. Doctrine and teachings often receive less attention in this more experientially slanted type of proclamation. It is a form of preaching that can be effective but is difficult to do well. Hermeneutical work is more heavily weighted toward what the pew sitter might make of the sermon than what the preacher proclaims.
This type of preaching frequently reflects lack of congregational instruction in evangelism, the catechumenate, mission, and Christian education. At its worst, it becomes only a "feel-good" form of proclamation., Unfortunately, the impact of such preaching, with its own set of beguilements and assets, has been so widespread that one must ask what new models of proclamation are in process today that might offset its problems. (p. 16)
Whether you're a preacher or not, I'd like to ask the question -- how do we bring into our discourse as Christians, the doctrinal component in a way that is open, but seriously attentive to the ongoing tradition of the faith. The Bible is, I would assert, more than a set of stories that we can use to begin our own conversations. It is the fountain, out of which we have been over the course of time, drawing to fuel our engagement with God. Doctrine need not be dry and off-putting. It needn't be tied into propositions, but it does, it seems to me, require that we attend to the substance of what we believe. What say ye?