Telling God’s Story: Narrative Preaching for Christian Formation – John W. Wright

A crushing blow to individualism.

The church should move from being a therapy session for individuals and become a peculiar people within society… A “people-group” that does not exist outside of culture, but witness to the grander story of God.

The question of the book becomes: How do you move as a church from being therapy to individuals, but translate people’s lives into the biblical narrative to portray and live apart of the body of Christ? This book becomes more than a how-to of preaching, it becomes a life-changing calling for preachers to move their congregations into partakers of the biblical narrative.

The Eclipse of the Biblical Narrative, a movement looking at the role of narrative, is re-told by Wright to show how North American churches ended up preaching the individualism of Scripture. The church became a place for individuals to get away from the busyness of their week, the stress of the office – basically, the church became a therapeutic centre of individual needs. It was not a community, but a…

Help me overcome, help me move past… Help ME.

The body of Christ was now individual body parts all moving to their own individual needs. The solution became a new message to the people, a movement of sorts that takes away this individual mentality and moves towards community. After all, in community can we only help each other.

The movement starts by moving towards a tragedy, the tragedy of the cross. Tragedy brings enlightenment, understanding, a new narrative. Is that not what the cross accomplished? A brighter hope, a new horizon, and a new narrative to the lives of those partaking in it?

In the individual context of Scripture, the narrative becomes skewed.

The individual turns to scriptures for assurance that he or she really is living within this spiritual path that leads to individual eternal bliss in heaven.

– Wright on Frei

If that is what we are turning from, then what are we being turned to? Well, first we must realize that we are apart of an ongoing story – that starts with creation and will end with God’s reign – but we are not there yet. Wright provides three turning points that we need to acknowledge in order to join the story:
[1] Acknowledge the contemporary horizon (worldview) of a congregation as they have been formed by the culture around them

[2] An anchor to move horizontally around the contemporary horizon

[3] Head in a new direction

These three steps allow for a turn towards the wonderful good news of living amid God’s story. I truly appreciate the fact that the author does go beyond providing the typical three-step solution, as he gives a whole chapter’s worth of hands-on teaching examples of how to turn your congregation toward a worldview that does not separate them from culture, but allows them to be visible witnesses through their newfound ability to have a worldview that is considered peculiar. In a strange way, this moves the congregation into the status-quo, allowing for their narrative to lie outside the lies they are fed everyday.

As I finished the book, I began to see the point. The biblical narrative is not a how-to negotiate the so-called secular divide of personal life, or even how to live a cushy life. The biblical narrative is an awakening to become one of God’s elect, to witness his love, as a partaker of God’s creation and as a witness that may require an element of suffering. For me, this quote sums up the key focus of Wright’s book:

The church does not exist so that individuals might seek intimacy with others, themselves of God. The church exists as a people, a distinct people, whose witness can bring opposition from the world through the fact of its nonconformity, but whose communal life provides concrete, embodied resources for support amid the resultant suffering.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone that does any form of teaching within the church. It gives a great formative history of the decline of teaching within the church, but it also provides examples that can help turn a congregation into strong witnesses of Christ’s work. It may be heavy, but the rewards and resulting call to God’s story are well worth it.


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