Interest in narrative preaching has been on the rise as of late, and some leaders of emerging expressions of Christianity challenge the faithfulness of preaching propositionally from narratival texts. They argue that faithfulness to a narrative in preaching means drawing that genre into the sermon. This post aims to evaluate the strength of such a claim by looking at the question: Is propositional preaching faithful to narratival texts?
In seeking an answer to this question, we must ask how the authors of the biblical narratives (e.g., the cannonical gospels, Acts) intended them to be understood. Did the biblical authors intend their narratives to be bare narratives or did they also intended the narrative to carrry theological meaning and significance about God and his self-revelation in Christ and the Spirit? The obvious answer is that the biblical authors intended their narratives to bear meaning. The historical accounts of the life of Christ do not come to us without authorial interpretation of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. The historical accounts bear theological significance, and the narratives are intended to lead the reader or hearer to draw conclusions about the events narrated. Certainly the conclusions can be stated in propositional form. Thus, the narratives imply propositional truth. Sometimes the narrators make the propositions explicit; other times they are implicit. For example, Matthew repeatedly explains events in the life of Christ in terms of Old Testament prophecy. The propositional implication that Matthew intends his story to make is that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah king foretold by the prophets in former times.
The task of the preacher is to aid the church in understanding the significance of the narrative and to guide the church in living in accordance with the text. The most unambiguous way to do this is to elucidate the theological and propositional truths that flow out from the stories. The stories bear meaning. The question for us this: what do they mean? This question is legitimately answered in propositional form.
In light of these considerations, we need not think we are being unfaithful to the text or the genre of the biblical narratives by preaching propositional sermons from them. The narratives carry implicit (and sometimes explicit) propositions because history carries meaning. This is not to say that there is not a time or place for narratival preaching. The narratival genre can certainly be used faithfully in biblical preaching. It is to say that one can be both faithful to the narrative and preach the narrative propositionally at the same time.