Sunday, July 08, 2012

Stand to Reason: Read & Explain:The Key to Good Preaching

Stand to Reason: Read & Explain:The Key to Good Preaching:

'via Blog this'

if it’s not the teaching of the text then it does not have the authority of the Word of God because it’s not what’s in the Word of God.
By: Gregory Koukl

Why is it that there’s so much Biblical illiteracy in the church? Certainly the Bible is taught, and by well-meaning people who care about the Bible.  But still people are ill equipped, it seems, to understand the nature of reality as characterized by the foundational pieces of the Christian worldview, to understand the scope of the Biblical message, and be able to explain it.

Though I think pastors are working very hard, I don’t think they’re always working smart theologically.  There’s a habit that pastors have when they go to a text with the idea of teaching the Bible.  They have a notion in mind already that they want to teach, so they find a phrase or a verse in the Bible that seems to substantiate it.  So they’re not really teaching the Bible. They’re just teaching an idea that may be their personal view, and may be a very useful idea, and they’re trying to give legitimacy to it through the Scriptures.  But they’re not teaching what the Bible teaches because they’ve pulled a verse out of the text to support the lesson.
Here’s the problem: Even though they’re teaching a Biblical text, they’re actually prooftexting.  They’re taking the passage or the phrase and they make a metaphor out of it, and then they teach the metaphor rather than teach the passage.

I’ll give you an illustration of this. It’s the one that’s probably most common, and you will recognize it immediately. It’s from the Gospels where Jesus calms the storm. The disciples are rowing the boat across the middle of the Sea of Galilee. They’re getting spun to and fro by the wind, pitching every which way. They’re in fear of capsizing and perishing, and they cry out to the Lord, “Don’t you care that we’re perishing?” And Jesus wakes up, because He’s asleep in the stern, and He rebukes the storm and everything goes perfectly calm.  Then He rebukes His disciples.
Tell me what the message is that is based upon that text. What is the message probably most frequently taught from that passage? What are the storms in your life that Jesus can calm? In other words, the storm calmed by Jesus, even if we acknowledge that it’s a real historical fact, shows us that there are “storms” in our lives that Jesus can calm.

I can say with good authority that that is not the point of the text. You may be teaching something really helpful to people. You might even be teaching something that is true in itself in isolation.  But you are not teaching the text. What you have done is read a historical account as a metaphor to be applied metaphorically in our lives.  But that’s not what the writer of the text intended. How do I know that? Because the writer of that text does not make that application.
When you read the text, what do you find? Jesus calming the storm, as I just described, and then the disciples responding. What you don’t see is the disciples saying, “Jesus just calmed the storm. I wonder what storms in my life Jesus could now calm.” No, you don’t see them reflecting in that way at all because that is not the way they understood what they just witnessed.
What do the disciples say? They say, “‘Who is this man who commands even the forces of nature?’ And they fell on their face and they worshipped him.”

That shows us the reason that this account is in the text. It is not to tell us something about how God can fix our lives; it is meant to tell us something about Jesus. And if you are not teaching that, then you are not teaching the text, even though you’re using the text in your teaching.
So we ought not be surprised, then, if Christians don’t know how to read the text to understand what it teaches.  We have a habit of taking scriptural issues or ideas or accounts or declarations, and instead of letting those accounts do their intended work or their declarations to teach the intended thing, we teach something else that’s not in the text. Even though what may be taught is true and good, if it’s not the teaching of the text then it does not have the authority of the Word of God because it’s not what’s in the Word of God.

In fact, it strikes me that we don’t even need to use the Bible to teach good lessons. We could use Jane Austen. We could use Dickens. We could use Truman Capote, for goodness’ sake. We could use any text.  Grab a tale and use it to make a useful point. It’s good to use illustrations from writings to illustrate a vivid point that can be used to clarify a scriptural point we’re teaching. Nothing wrong with that. But if I am teaching the Scripture, I hope I’m not just teaching my metaphor.
This habit can lead to all kinds of mischief.  When you metaphorize a Bible passage, it’s no longer linked directly to the text.  It’s not linked to the words and meaning of the passage.  And if our teaching isn’t tied directly to the words and meaning of the text, then there’s nothing limiting what we teach.  There’s no authority over what we choose to teach.  The Bible isn’t guiding us. We are misusing the Bible.

Alistair Begg has a principle on how to avoid this. This is something I understand he taught at his pastors’ seminar. They have an annual conference for pastors on how to teach. The principle is just three words. It’s easy to remember.  This is my goal whenever I go to a text. Read and explain. Three words. Read and explain.
That’s delightfully simple, isn’t it? It is not simplistic. It is simple in the sense that it focuses our effort. If we apply it to the passage where Jesus calms the storm, we can read what happened and explain what it meant in the context in which it happened in history.  Usually I get a sense of the meaning by looking at the way others reacted to what took place. Don’t make a metaphor out of it. Read it and explain it.  Jesus calmed the storm and the disciples worshipped Him because they realized He had the power only God has.  This is a lesson on Jesus’ deity.  How do we know Jesus is God?  This is one of the passages that teaches it.

What is the application for our lives?  We need to believe that Jesus is God.  Sometimes application is believing correctly.  That’s what we get when we read it and explain it.  Nothing else.  No metaphor.  Nothing creative.  But we get something very important and central to Christianity.
Easter is when more people come to church than any other Sunday on the Christian calendar, so it’s a unique opportunity to communicate a message. Generally, Easter messages should be about Easter. But let me ask you a question. Was the last Easter message you heard about Easter?  Or was the message about something that started with the resurrection as a metaphor for the point that was taught?  Was it a message about new beginnings, about starting fresh today, or about where do you need a resurrection in your life? Where do you need new life? What are the transformations God has made or might make in your life?
Now, that’s not a bad sermon.  In fact, they’re fair questions to ask.  But that’s not the point of the Easter passages in the Bible. That is making a metaphor out of the resurrection, and applying the metaphor to your life.
If I were teaching on Easter, I’ll tell you what I’d do. It’s what I did this morning, and it took me ten minutes. I went to my Bible concordance on my computer, and I typed in the word “resurrection.” Then I typed in the word “raised,” because both are individual words that refer to the resurrection of Christ.  I grabbed those verses and I put them in a document simply called “Raised” so I’ll have individual verses referencing the resurrection.  Reading through the document then I can see what the Biblical writers had to say about the resurrection. In other words, if you want to know how to apply the concept of the resurrection--the space-time, history, theologically relevant resurrection of Jesus Christ--if you want to apply that in a sermon, well, why not look and see the way the apostles, those trained by Jesus Himself, applied the resurrection in a sermon? I’ll tell you what: I got three pages of stuff here on what they understood the significance of the resurrection to be.
I’ll tell you what’s not in there. There are no appeals to having a new beginning, or starting afresh today, or needing “resurrection power” in your life.
Here are some examples.

   “But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death.” Well, that’s a significance of the resurrection.

   “For you, first God raised up His servant and sent Him to bless you and turn every one of you from your wicked ways.” Well, there’s an application of the resurrection.

   “He who is delivered over because of our transgression and raised because of our justification.” Anybody hear a sermon last week on the resurrection securing our justification?
    Some will have, I’m sure, but...

   “Therefore, we have been buried with Him through baptism and to death so that as Christ was raised from the dead through glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of faith.”

   “That Him who has raised Him from the dead in order that we might bear fruit to God.”

   “That He who has raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies, through the spirit who dwells within you.”

   “And Christ, He who died, yes, He who was raised, who sits at the right hand of God, who intercedes for us.”

   “And if Christ is not raised, your faith is worthless. You are still in your sins. But Christ has been raised.” In other words, you’re not still in your sins.

   “Declared with power to be the Son of God through the resurrection, Jesus Christ the Righteous, that I might know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings
    being conformed--”

Is there anything in these passages where the New Testament writers speak about the resurrection that might be fruitful content for a sermon?  There is material for lots and lots of sermons. Lots and lots of points.  Points that don’t diminish the glorious resurrection of Christ by making it a metaphor of something else.  These are lessons on the historical resurrection that influence every Christian’s lives every single day.

Read and explain. That’s how we equip Christians to understand the Bible, to use it accurately.  That’s how we train literate Christian who have a robust understanding of Christianity.

This is a transcript of a commentary from the radio show "Stand to Reason," with Gregory Koukl. It is made available to you at no charge through the faithful giving of those who support Stand to Reason. Reproduction permitted for non-commercial use only. ©2010 Gregory Koukl

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