No, this isn’t advice for parents reading The Chronicles of Narnia to their children at bedtime.
It is, rather, a set of tips to help the preacher get inside a piece of biblical narrative in order to find out how it is put together and how it works as a story. This is the preliminary work that a preacher needs to do in order to preach from the story in question. It is specific to narratives: letters, poems, proverbs, and parables required other approaches.
- How is it designed? Is the story told in the first, or the third, person? Does it begin at the beginning and continue straight through to the end, or does it use flashback or similar devices? Is the emphasis on the plot, or on the characters.
- What scenes is the story divided into?
- Who are the characters? Who is the star? Who are the main protagonists and antagonists?
- What action takes place? Who does what? What are the effects and reactions? What sort of climax is reached?
- What dialogue takes place? What does this reveal about the thoughts, feeling, attitudes and motivations of the characters?
- What language is used? Do any of the words require special attention?
- How is the story narrated? What does the story-teller reveal about the characters’ thoughts and hidden actions that might otherwise be unknown? What does s/he reveal about the mind of God in this situation?
- What is the plot? What are the main moves in the storyline? What are the points of tension or disequilibrium? How are these resolved?
- What is the tone of the story? What worldview is assumed? Is the overall tone one of displeasure, tragedy, commendation, and so on?
- What rhetorical structures are used? These may include repetition, contrast, and surprise.
- What is the context? What other stories surround the narrative, leading up to it or flowing from it? How themes do these have in common?
- Finally, what is the exegetical idea? It may be helpful to write down a descriptive title for each scene in the story, and then a descriptive title for the story as a whole.
Of course, the preacher’s work is not finished yet. The homiletical process – the task of creating a sermon – has not even begun. But it’s a good and necessary start.
Based on ‘The big idea of narrative preaching’, by Paul Borden and Steven D. Mathewson, in The Art of Craft of Biblical Preaching, Robinson & Larson, eds.