Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003. Paper, 198 pages, $16.99. ISBN 0-8010-2721-7.
As the field of biblical studies has become ever more embroiled in critical approaches, the gap between that discipline and homiletics has grown wider. The traditional seminarian’s plea that “this won’t preach!” is more and more valid as the disciplines diverge dramatically. (An aside: I’ll never forget the testimony of the Yale Divinity School student who told me that his professors “Don’t care what we say about God, so long as we don’t refer to God as ‘He.'”) As one of the editors of Narrative Reading, Narrative Preaching observes, “The text as imagined by the scholar is often separated by a great chasm from the world faced by the preacher.”
Into this fray step Joel Green (New Testament professor and academic dean at Asbury Seminary) and Michael Pasquarello (assistant professor of preaching at Asbury), who argue that narrative provides a common ground which can reconnect biblical studies and homiletics in the life of the church. In Narrative Reading, Narrative Preaching, they have paired New Testament scholars and homileticians to evaluate major New Testament genres (gospel and Acts, epistles, apocalyptic) from the perspective of a narrative approach.
In his introductory chapter, Green points out they are interpreting narrative not so much as a homiletical style as a theological category – a way of understanding history as presented in scripture. Narrative is used in this volume to refer to “a theological claim about the coherence of the Genesis-to-Revelation story.” The Bible, then, is understood as a single story – the story of God – and all reading and preaching of the text must be undertaken with that reality in mind.
The book contains a number of interesting insights, including the reminder to preachers that our task is not primarily to bring the biblical text into our world in a search for relevance. Neither is it to climb into the history of the ancient world ourselves. The task of the preacher is to lead the people in a task of “getting ourselves into the world produced by Scripture . . . In preparing this sermon, the basic question I have asked has not been, How can I make this ancient book interesting or useful for modern listeners? Bur rather, What is this story doing to change our thinking, willing and living as God’s people?”
In addition to the editors, contributors to the volume include William Willimon, Dean of the Chapel at Duke University, and a Contributing Editor of Preaching; Charles Campbell and Stanley P. Saunders of Columbia Theological Seminary; and James W. Thompson of Abilene Christian University.