Story as Theological Form

[The following is the abstract and table of contents to my Doctor of Ministry dissertation. If you would like to read the whole thing, please contact me.]


I have always been more moved—and to more lasting effect—by stories than by the sub-genres of non-fiction, including sermons, biblical commentary, philosophical argument, or self-help. I had this gut feeling that Christians should take stories more seriously, but I couldn’t articulate to my satisfaction why I felt this way. I wanted to know why stories capture our imagination. What does it mean to call a story a Christian story? And perhaps most importantly, how can we, as individuals and the Church, learn to tell better stories?

I began by studying the writing process. I compared popular Christian writers with students and faculty at Western Theological Seminary in order to understand the habits, attitudes, and beliefs of good Christian writers. Then I sought a way to develop these characteristics in other people. I did this by marrying the writing pedagogy of Peter Elbow with traditional Christian spiritual disciplines to create an explicitly Christian writing process. Only then did I move on to address the rhetorical, psychological, social, and theological aspects (and advantages) of the story form.

Yet the final, most important, and most vulnerable step was to put it all into practice: to write a story about what it means to be a Christian and a writer. This was not secondary or merely illustrative, but the inevitable conclusion of my work. After all, it would be ironic and hypocritical to celebrate the form of the story and then neglect to use its power.



Table of Contents

Introduction: A Storytelling Renaissance (4)

Chapter 1: Why Some Christians aren’t Embracing Storytelling (10)

Chapter 2: What is a Good Christian Writer? (21)

Writers are People (25)

Good Writers are Good Readers (28)

Good Writers are Craft Writers (31)

Good Writers Embrace Vulnerability (35)

Good Writers are Integrated Writers (41)

Good Writers are Pastoral Writers (45)

What about the Prophetic Voice? (49)

Chapter 3: Is There a Christian Writing Process? (52)

Embodiment and Incarnation (54)

Rest and Sabbath (59)

Read Books and Indwell Scripture (62)

Community and the Church (66)

Inspiration and Submission to the Holy Spirit (72)

Do the Work and Accept the Call (75)

The Lordship of Christ (78)

Chapter 4: Why The Church Should Care about Stories (84)

The Qualities of the Story Form (87)

Setting (90)

Character and Dialogue (93)

Point of View (95)

The Path to Transformation (97)

The Power of the Story Form (99)

The Rhetorical Benefits (99)

The Personal Benefits (100)

The Evocation of Emotions (101)

Stories Build Empathy (102)

Stories Build Community (105)

Stories Cross Boundaries (107)

The Theology of the Story Form (109)

What is a Good Christian Story? (112)

Chapter 5: Conclusion (119)

Chapter 6: Searching for E, a novella (122)

Appendix A: Research Details (184)

Appendix B: Reflections on the Writing Process (187)

Bibliography (192)



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