To Preach a Book: A Tale Told

[ 4 minutes to read ]

Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.
~ 2 Timothy 4:2
Follow one preacher’s journey preaching through a book.

[I] have divided up the scenes and am getting close to preaching the introductory message for the series through Ruth. I’m not there yet. I have found most of the heavy lifting for getting a book series off the ground is done up front, before the preaching begins. I have the scenes I need to work with, and I will work with those all the way through to the final message. I will make minor adjustments to those as I go along. Before I begin preparing to preach the introduction, I still have some work to do.

I have two tasks to complete before I am ready to start building the introductory sermon. I need to go through the whole story again and note the setting, plot points, and characters that constitute the story and I need to fill out what I am calling the book single sheet for Ruth. To explain what I’m looking for and why, I need to talk a little bit about biblical narrative.

Features of Biblical Narrative

I printed out the book of Ruth journal I downloaded from Sermon Audio and marked it up for setting, plot, and character. You can find a scan of what I did here. Rather than looking at every mark on those pages, I think we can discuss biblical narrative and that will explain what I was looking for.

Biblical narrative refers to a form of content in a book or particular part of the Bible. It is a Bible story, and narrative accounts for almost half of all biblical content. The book of Ruth is an historical narrative about certain happenings in Judah during the time of the judges. Identifying the book as biblical narrative means there are genre-specific conventions and features to look for in the book. I have identified eight features of biblical narrative and you can find the chart I made here. I am going to explain that chart as succinctly as I can, but I highly recommend “How Bible Stories Work,” by Leland Ryken, for further study. Ryken’s book is helpful on this subject, goes deeper than I will here, and provides examples from different places in the Bible.

Biblical historical narrative is accurate history, but it is also Scripture, meaning it is revelation. It is God’s revelation in narrative form. Biblical narrative tells a human story with people and events to communicate truth, reality, and life, and it is also a divine story revealing truth about God, his will, and work in the world to fulfill his ultimate purposes. I listed the features of biblical narrative down the left column: setting/time, plot, characters, devices, movement, theme, biblical theology, and systematic theology. Because biblical narrative is both a divine and human story, the narrative’s features will be present on both the divine and human level.

Using the work I have done, I can fill out a biblical narrative chart for the book of Ruth to identify how the book fulfills the conventions of biblical narrative on the divine and human levels. You can find that chart here. You will see the features listed down the right column with a Divine and Human column for each feature.

The Ruth Single Sheet

I am now ready to fill out the single sheet for Ruth. The idea here is to take all the work I have done to this point and put the necessary information for the whole book of Ruth on a single sheet of paper. I have divided the book into six scenes moving from inciting incident to resolution. I have the analysis sheet of the scenes and I have the biblical narrative chart for Ruth. I will pull from all those to fill out the single sheet. You can find the single sheet here.

The single sheet has two important functions. First, to get to the point where I can fill it out means I have to have a reasonable grasp on the book, what it is about, and how it communicates the truth to readers. Second, it is useful to have the book at a glance and it will be a guide for me as I progress through the exposition of the book. It is a part of the small library of my own resources for the book. It also gives me a way to analyze the book for myself before I read other books or commentaries on Ruth.

I am now ready to prepare the first sermon for the series, which will introduce the book of Ruth to the congregation and lay the foundation for our study of it. Every piece of information I have gathered at this point may not necessarily make it into a sermon. That’s fine, because it has been an essential part of my study to grasp the book. I am also ready to revise any of my work as I go through the book, if I see the need to do so. As I write this, I have actually finished preaching the series and I didn’t end up revising anything beyond minor adjustments and clarifications.

Up Next

In the next post, I will discuss the preparation and delivery of the first sermon of the series on Ruth.

This post is part a of series. To read the entire series from the beginning, go here.

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