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Telling the Story Or Missing The Point?

May 17, 2011

What do you make of narrative preaching? My old colleague and friend, Peter Grainger (now Director of the 2 Timothy 4 Trust) recently preached a narrative sermon at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh. This is not Peter’s usual style of preaching – consecutive expository – which makes it all the more intruiging!

Peter answers some crticisms about narrative preaching (Narrative Preaching – Telling the Story or Missing the Point?) over at his blog and argues for a limited use of this style. For your interest, here is the sermon to watch.

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7 comments

  1. IMHO It usually just sounds arch, and makes the congregation uncomfortable. I’ve never heard anyone do it well. The bible already tells the story, and does it better than we can. Go act in an amdram group if you must, but leave thesping out of the pulpit.


    • A couple of comments:
      1. Having spoke twice at similar events at the Usher Hall (with a traditional sermon) I got more positive response (and nothing negative so far!) from the narrative sermon than anything ever before from those who were there.
      2. At our workshop on preaching from narrative, Alex MacDonald of Buccleuch Free Church of Scotland shared his experience of narrative preaching and then gave a 30 minute example based on the character of Barabbas. Despite the artificial setting, the 28 participants (many preachers/pastors) were gripped, even moved, by it.

      Even if congregations feel uncomfortable, my experience (and that of Alex) is that it can be an effective meanings of communicating to postmoderns (and especially women and children) if done well and is faithful to Scripture.


  2. [...] Colin Adams Categories: preaching, sermons, [...]


  3. “Expositional” preaching would not “build a topic” from different Scriptures, but would focus on one particular Scripture passage, or one paragraph/chapter/etc., and then spend the sermon explaining the meaning the author was conveying to his original audience, and then perhaps expounding upon how that should affect us today. Expositional preaching is more than simply a “running commentary” on the passages that are come across, but that could be a large emphasis (such as John MacArthur does).


  4. I offer these comments with a certain hesitation, not least because I count Peter a friend, respect him greatly and enjoy working with him. I enjoyed his presentation and found it moving but it is not, in my genuinely humble opinion, preaching, let alone expository. It is acting which is, of course, completely legitimate and profitable. I have sometimes heard this sort of ‘narrative preaching’ justified by comparison with some of the enacted prophecies of Scripture, but the big difference is that in those cases it was an immediate, inspired revelation of God through a human mouthpiece. I have absolutely no problem with this sort of acted monologue, and I can understand that it might well be effective in reaching the unchurched on a certain level; getting “under their radar at an event to which outsiders were invited in a neutral (non-church building) venue” as Peter himself says. I have a friend in England who has been doing just this sort of things for many years but he calls it acting, not preaching.


    • Thank you John – appreciate your comments and the spirit in which they are given. A couple of comments:
      1. I am using the term “narrative preaching” in the way in which it is used in the literature and I am not too concerned what you call it if it communicates truth.
      2. I certainly wouldn’t want to claim canonical status for a “narrative sermon” (but then what preacher would for any sermon?)

      When does preaching become “acting”. Here are two introuductions to the story of David & Bathsheba.

      1. He shouldn’t have been there. He should have been leading his army in battle but instead he was on the balcony of his palace one evening. And, just as the devil finds work for idle hands to do, so he finds things for idle eyes to see. So was set in train a disaster…

      2. “I shouldn’t have been there…(with “I” replacing “he” throughout).

      The first is how I preached it in the past; the second (not preached – yet!?) would be called a “narrative sermon”.

      Is 1 preaching and 2 acting?

      Either way, my concern is that we communicate effectively with today’s generation. Having listened to many sermons and preachers (after years of preaching sermons)I am concerned that many (most?) aren’t doing it very effectively.

      So let’s “use all means” – and let’s keep the conversation going!


  5. I am not an ordained minister and I was not at the Usher Hall but I watched the narrative sermon on the website. I was however, at the workshop when Alex MacDonald presented a very interesting version of the Barabbas story. I would make two comments. 1) The narrative style is much easier to follow than an expository sermon because your own mind engages in the story and paints the canvas on which the story is being played out. In terms of memory of the detail and impact I would have no doubt as to which was the more effective route. 2) In terms of the information actually delivered I don’t think there would be much difference between the two styles. Both require accurate historical and cultural explanation, both leave the listener with decisions and challenges in the application and both use words which the Bible does not use, in order to explain what may be hard to understand. Clearly this style can only be used in a narrative section of the Bible and could never replace other forms of preaching but when I look at the way in which Jesus and the Apostles preached to the crowds away from the synagogue, I see lot more like narrative preaching than I do like expository preaching. Let’s try doing what Jesus did from time to time and see if the Holy Spirit blesses the ministry more or less.



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