Last weekend I attended Spark, a children's ministry conference near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The theme of the conference was "The Art of Storytelling." I think you'd be hard pressed to find a keynote speaker better suited to speak on that topic than Walter Wangerin. Pastor for 16 years in inner-city Chicago, father of four, grandfather of eight or so, and author of more than 40 books, Wangerin has lots of experience telling stories. And he's good at it—really good. In his two plenary sessions, he touched on a good many things that concern me—the role of the teacher, the power of stories, and the nature of the relationship between art and truth. What I appreciated most was his sense of balance.

You might expect (as I did) that when speaking to a room full of ministers, a person who makes his living telling stories would emphasize how story telling is superior to other forms of teaching, such as catechism or object lessons or memorizing facts. In fact, I've come to expect that perspective at ministry conferences in general. It's become very popular to claim that narrative is more important that systematic theology; after all (the argument goes) Jesus spoke in parables not doctrines, and the Gospels are narratives not bullet points. Fair enough. But Wangerin wanted to emphasize the relationship between story and doctrine, between the imagination and the intellect.

The value of story, for Wangerin, is that it allows people to experience the truth. You can tell someone, "Jesus loves you." That's a doctrine. But if you can tell a story that shows that Jesus loves me—maybe a parable like the Good Shepherd—in which I am invited to associate with a character that is receiving the love of Jesus, then I will experience the love of Jesus. ...

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Discipleship  |  Preachers  |  Preaching  |  Teaching  |  Theology
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