Stories or Anecdotes

A good point of discussion from Jonathan Fitzgerald:

What are the distinguishing features of the story vs. the anecdote?

Storytelling is a central element of the Christian faith. From the story that unfolds over the thousands of years recorded in the Old and New Testaments, to Jesus’ use of parables, to the common practice of sharing testimonies among believers, storytelling is crucial. And yet, in contemporary evangelicalism, storytelling is more often a means to an end than an end in itself. That is, what we talk about when we talk about stories are actually anecdotes — little more than attention grabbing introductions to a larger argument we intend to make. Our stories need to come packaged with a “takeaway.”

I say “we” here, not simply to seem like I’m including myself in this misstep, but because I, too, have found that I’ve fallen into this routine. I tell a lot of stories in my writing, but they’re not very good stories. That is, they don’t have fully developed characters, or a true central conflict, or, often times, even a particularly compelling narrative arc. Rather, many of the stories I tell, like many of those I read or hear in sermons on Sunday mornings are not really intended to do much more than grab a reader or listener’s attention, before I hit them with my actual point.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Susan_G1

    Some anecdotes are better than most stories. Mark Twain (a great storyteller) had anecdotes that teach me more than many books I’ve read.

  • Scott C

    Telling anecdotes is fine. Telling and hearing well-developed stories takes more work. But the hardest question is, “Does anyone care to endure the monotony of my life over a long period of time”? Actually entering the stories of a few people – and thus, allowing them to enter mine – is the real labor of embracing true narrative in a way that will lead you either to ruin or glory.


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