Sunday, December 09, 2007

In Defense of Lists

Recently I heard - for one time too many - a speaker introduce his remarks by saying that the Christian life is not a list and that lists are inadequate for expressing the Christian life.

And then, rather apologetically, he said that despite that he was going to preach a sermon that used a list.

Well, good! I'm glad he bucked the trend, and it was a mighty fine sermon, but I really wish he didn't feel the need to apologize for something that is not only innocent, but positively useful!

I think perhaps the apology had something to do with the current postmodern movement that emphasizes "story" as the way to communicate and kind of looks down its nose at lists.

Fine. Tell stories. There are lots of them in the Bible. They're a good way to communicate. I like stories. But there are also lists. The - ahem - Ten Commandments?

I admit that stories are more memorable than abstract information, but that's the beauty of lists - they can make abstract concepts easier to remember and understand, and those who adopt a pointless bias against them will fail to teach all the Bible has to offer because some things simply do not lend themselves to being told as stories. For example, how do you teach the book of Romans - or Hebrews, or most of the other epistles - as a story? Are we just going to skip them, or try to force them into some artificial storybook format?

Yes, I admit lists can be abused. I've seen it happen. But I can also say from painful experience that stories can also be abused. I remember one sermon that wandered off into a story about the preacher's sick pet. I assure you that its being a story did nothing to redeem it.

So how about we all recognize that the Bible contains both stories and lists (and abstract information that is well-suited to being expressed with lists) and without apology simply use the type of format best suited for the topic and the audience.