Monday, 15 September 2008

Gospel as story

I was reminded once again in reading this article of the power of stories. It's no coincidence that God's revelation to us is of a big story, which itself is a patchwork of different forms of literature (but very often in story form).

One of the frustrations as a Staff Worker is often that students will less discernment often like speakers who don't really unpack the word of God. So why are these speakers often so popular? Because they are great story tellers.

At the moment, I'm writing a batch of talks on Mark's Gospel. The temptation is to flatten these stories to find some 'kernel of truth'. So how can we best let these amazing stories of Jesus speak for themselves? One of the things I'm trying to do is to re-tell the stories in the present tense in order to preserve the feeling of immediacy. But I'd love to hear tips from others on how we can avoid robbing narrative of its power.


Dave K said...

Story is important and it is a great rediscovery that is going on at the moment. Even in the news at the weekend there were lots of Labour MPs talking about their need to present a convincing narrative!

The other reason I think that 'speakers who don't really unpack the word of God' are influential with people is because they recognise that the bible is God's word to us and about us. Too much evangelical preaching can be so concerned with understanding what it meant then that it loses its application to us. I sit through lots of sermons which talk for 25min about what God had to say to the Israelites (or Jesus to the disciples) but then devote 5min to what it means to us. We have to recognise that we are the Israelites and we are the disciples. They are warnings to us. They were written to our forefathers in the same faith. I once heard Don Carson say that John Stott spends 50% of his sermon preparation on application. I don't think that is a common evangelical preachers activity (not that I know for sure having never preached).

However, even more important than story and application, esp in Mark is the person of Jesus. Mark begins 'the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God'. What is the Gospel? It is not primarily salvation by grace through faith. It is not primarily the story of God's saving activity. It is not primarily a purpose to live for. It is the person of Jesus! Story-telling can help us meet him personally, as can emphasising that we are represented in the encounters recorded in the bible with him, but they are tools to reach the goal.

Sorry... I am preaching now, to someone who I suspect knows this better than I. The UCCF Gospel projects are great. Hope preaching through Mark is a joy.

Chris said...

I was influenced massively by a conversation with a mate in amsterdam who asked why jesus cried out on the cross. There was a bible nearby so i said he should figure it out by himself. He said "ok, i'll ask the questions and you show me where to look"

it totally changed the way i read the gospels with people. Practically, it meant i rejigged CE so that there were always tons of loose ends. The loose ends made people WANT to read the inbetween chunks. (Compare alternative: we answer all their questions in Mark 1-2, then just tell them to read Mark 3-6)

So for instance: Mark 1 - WEIRD! ok, so this messenger of God shows up, then the son of God, then Satan's there (3rd appearance in the whole bible), then the messenger of God gets slammed in prison. WHAT?!?

Mark 2 - your "sins" - 1st time that word's come up. Rather than tell them everything about sin & the temple, etc, ask how much we can figure out about sin from that interchange - an invisible disease, worse than being paralytic, it's not crime, cos it needs forgiving, and only God can forgive it.

I read Mark 2-3 this am. Jesus calls people to "come with me", so as a reader, I want to come with them & see where they go. 1st stop: pharisees (2v16) - with a load of questions...conclusion (3v6): they want him dead. BUT JEsus is still going, and leading his disciples ("come with me, reader"...where's he going? where's he heading? stop: Crowds (ch.3), and the bit with the demons begins to unravel what Jesus was doing with Satan in chapter 1...BUT Jesus is still going, with his disciples (ch4)...then the kingdom - weird - what's the secret? why do the demons get him? why's it a covert operation? ...when's the king gonna show up?...

Chris said...

my principle is this: if by the end of reading mark, you can't figure out all what's such good news about jesus christ, then either mark's not done his job or you've not read it properly. (I got a tenner right here...)

I also think that approach frees people up from thinking they have to know all the answers in advance. Perhaps Dan Leafe's "only ask questions you know the answers to" only works if you're teaching the bible in the bible study. If you're reading with a friend, you can genuinely do it together.

Dave K said...

Thanks for your comment Chris. Its helpful.

I think you are right about the importance of the loose ends in CE. It sometimes does go over the same ground unnecessarily. It does also raise a lot of questions early on which it takes its time to answer, and sometimes does not. Mark 1 includes so many strange new concepts which need to be filled out over the course of the gospel. esp:

'kingdom of God'
'baptism' esp with the 'Holy Spirit'.

I think if you keep asking yourself as you go through what has been added to the meanings of these words that is a exciting thing to do. I'll have to remember that for next time (hoping and praying there will be a next time).

Still I have a lot of respect for CE. It is very good in general.

peterdray said...

Thanks guys. I speaking next week on 1:1-2:17 in Manchester (a monster passage) and really working hard at showing Jesus to be the hero. More than application, I think the main thing to draw out when speaking from the gospels is to show people Jesus as he really is - and showing him to be worthy of worship. The narratives show Jesus as he really is.

dave bish said...

Chris - I want to see more of that, show us here or on your blog what it looks like. Please.