DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

A Spoon Full of STORY Helps the TRUTH Go Down.

Written by: on March 13, 2018


Several weeks ago, I began listening to the Audiobook The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement by David Brooks.  Brooks is a cultural commentator and a write for The New York Times. 


As I began listening to The Social Animal, I was intrigued by its design.  Brooks had compiled a massive collection of information from the areas of psychology, sociology, and biology in order to help give the reader (listener) insight into what it means to be human.  Yet, Brooks rightly understood that there is only so much bare data that a reader can absorb without being overwhelmed.  The solution that Brooks came up with was genius:  He wrote a fictitious account of two people:  Harold and Erica.  As Brooks told the story of their lives, from conception to death, he created an emotional vehicle to attach his many theoretical observations and propositions.


As Harold and Erica’s life unfolded, opportunities arose for Brooks to share some fascinating research and scientific information for example:


  • A disproportionately high percentage of successful people have had a parent die early in life.


  • Men usually overestimate IQs while women tend to underestimate theirs.


  • People who look at the faces of two candidates for a fraction of a second can predict with 70 percent accuracy the winner.


  • The more people that are at a restaurant, the more food you are likely to consume.


  • Most adults have a vocabulary of about sixty thousand words. To build that vocabulary, children must learn ten to twenty words a day between the ages of eighteen months and eighteen years.


  • If your friends are obese, you are more likely to be obese. If your friends are happy, you’re more likely to be happy. If your friends smoke, you smoke. If they feel lonely, you feel lonely.”


These “fun facts” make the book an enjoyable tour through the inner workings of development, life, morality, and relationships.


I was especially intrigued by the information about politics.  Brooks mentioned something that I believe to be true.  Most people do not choose their political party based on their values and beliefs.  They choose their political party because of relationships (family, friends, etc.) then adopt the values and beliefs of that party.  (I could go on a tirade at this point…why Republicans say they want a smaller government while wanting a larger military… or why many progressives are staunch fighters against animal cruelty but ridicule those who stand up for the rights of the unborn).


Yet, it was the last few minutes of this audiobook that made the biggest impression on me.  In the end, when Harold’s death was being described in intricate detail, I felt true sadness.  I was surprised by the wave of emotion which swept over me.  I did more than hear about Erica’s loss…I felt it.


I finished this book weeks ago, and as I reflect on it now, I realize that there is a valuable lesson for preachers and other Christian communicators here.


You see, God has given us the Holy Scriptures to steward and proclaim to our generation.  These truths are powerful and life-changing.  Yet, many Christian leaders preach and teach as if their listeners are all seminary students in a hermeneutics class.


There is a trend in many seminaries to teach that the only Biblical form of preaching is expository preaching (preaching verse-by-verse through a book of the Bible, going deep into the inner meanings of verse).  While this is a valuable preaching philosophy with a lot of advantages, I worry when one preaching philosophy is put on a pedestal and other methods are treated as unbiblical.


For example, when Jesus preached, he often used hyperbole, object lessons, or parables (storytelling).   When Paul was on Mars’ Hill, he connected the gospel to a local statue to an unknown god.  Today, missionaries around the world use chronological Bible storying to share the good news in a variety of contexts.


Brooks was effective in communicating truths because they were wrapped in a story.  Modern preachers can learn from this.  What if sermons utilized more narrative to communicate Biblical truth?  Christian author Ted Dekker did just this in his book Tea with Hezbollah as he wrote a fictional story to accompany the information that he wanted the reader to understand.


At the end of the book, The Social Animal, I felt something.  In the same way, many preachers want their listeners to experience God in their sermons.   Maybe the most valuable lesson from David Brooks does not come from the data he shares, but his model of communication.







About the Author

Stu Cocanougher

10 responses to “A Spoon Full of STORY Helps the TRUTH Go Down.”

  1. mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Yes Stu, the number of facts and information was impressive. I also thought it was very creative how the author wove that into the story. Just curious, what specifically brought on the emotional loss as you came to the close of the book?

    • Stu Cocanougher says:

      The intricate details of Harold’s death were sad, even though he was obviously a fictitious character, there was a sadness about his life (and Erica’s). As a Christian, I live my life with a sense of value and belonging…as a part of God’s family. Harold’s life seemed to be marked with a loveless marriage and a career that did not give him joy. Sad.

  2. Jim Sabella says:

    Stu, you make a good point about the importance of the story is sharing biblical truth. Much of the Bible is inspired story. Enjoyed your post.

  3. Mary says:

    “There is a trend in many seminaries to teach that the only Biblical form of preaching is expository preaching (preaching verse-by-verse through a book of the Bible, going deep into the inner meanings of verse). While this is a valuable preaching philosophy with a lot of advantages, I worry when one preaching philosophy is put on a pedestal and other methods are treated as unbiblical.”
    You hit it in one here, Stu. I sent a survey to my denomination and received over 250 replies. I asked how many have ever preached a sermon with a woman in it. Most said “never” because they only do expository preaching.
    No wonder I see so many heads nodding in church.
    Great post and I loved seeing the recap of the statistics that you noticed. They sure are interesting!

  4. Lynda Gittens says:


    Maybe I should listen to it on the audio. You were preaching a lesson in your blog and I enjoyed it thoroughly!

  5. mm Katy Drage Lines says:

    Good observation, Stu. I’ve appreciated that my co-pastor and I “tag team” sermon styles; he generally does expository and I the narrative style. What’s your preferred style? I would imagine you’ve got plenty of stories to share.

    Like you, I found myself feeling deeply about Harold’s death. Trying to wrap my mind around *what* I felt. Perhaps that narrator’s “omniscience” of “meeting” Harold as a baby and watching his life all the way through attaches us to him. Or that sense of loss when we reach “The End” of a story.

    • Stu Cocanougher says:

      Just to clarify, I have a strong value that preaching much be Biblical – rooted and scripture. Having said that, scripture is filled with a variety of teaching styles. For example, when Nathan confronted David, he did not quote “Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery”. Nathan’s story of the little lamb reached David’s heart.

      • mm Katy Drage Lines says:

        Absolutely agree, Stu. Scripture should be the beginning, end, and essence of a sermon. I actually find myself sticking closer to scripture in narrative style, as I rely on large swaths of scripture, rather than picking & choosing verses to fit a message of my choosing.

  6. Kristin Hamilton says:

    I wonder if I had listened to this book if I would have been more drawn in to the story, Stu. I love your perspective on how it made you feel.
    I agree with you about preaching. Jesus was a master storyteller. The Bible is full of a variety of genres. Despite all of this we have the ability to take something that is a beautiful library of the stories of God and God’s people in relationship and make them dry as dust. In the meantime, authors and screenwriters and musicians are crafting stories that reach people.

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