Thursday, July 31, 2008

Don't Preach the Bible like a Cookbook!

In a previous post I briefly expounded on 2 Tim 4:1-5 and touched on the significance of faithful pastors who study the Scriptures and teach/apply them appropriately.  Soon after this post, I read a brief post by Dr. Rodney Decker about the subject of preaching in particular.  Dr. Decker responded to a comment I made about the post saying:  
Josh, I hope God raises up many young men with the same concern for biblical preaching. Not just preaching about the Bible, or using the Bible when preaching, but actually preaching the Bible–what the Bible says. 
These words express a great concern of mine in regard to popular preaching today, specifically in Evangelical churches.  I would like to briefly discuss what I feel is necessary for faithful, effective preaching.

The Bible is not a Cookbook.  My wife uses cookbooks to prepare some of our meals.  She flips through it, finds something she thinks looks good, reads a recipe, applies it (follows the instructions), and then we enjoy a nicely cooked meal- life is good.  

But the Bible is not a cookbook.  Now there are times when I have indeed flipped through the Bible, found something interesting, read it, applied it, and 'life was good'.  But there is a significant difference between a cookbook and the Bible (besides the greatest difference, inspiration!): Recipes by and large are a-temporal, while the Scriptures, each book of the Bible, are set in time, space, culture, etc.  

The circumstances surrounding the author of a recipe usually do not inform the meaning (and interpretation) of the recipe.  Who cares if Aunt Edna wrote a recipe while on vacation?  The circumstances of Edna, the occasion of writing, the intended reader(s), etc., do not really change the meaning (and understanding) of the recipe.   Assuming a knowledge of the vocabulary, grammar and syntax, Edna's recipe is quite straightforward.  In fact, in 2000 years, I assume that so long as a person could accurately translate Edna's recipe, they could follow the recipe without regard for the occasion of writing, readers, etc.  

But this is not the case with the Scriptures.  The original languages are dead.  Vocabulary, grammar and syntax, cultural backgrounds, occasion of writing, original readers: these are all essential factors to consider when determining the authorial intent (meaning) of a passage.  For instance, if the ancient city of Laodicea indeed imported water from a hot water source and cold water source miles away, than "cold" means something different than most preachers think in Revelation 3.  After all, why wouldn't Jesus spit out those who are 'cold' when he spits out those who are 'lukewarm'?  Or how about 1 Cor 3 and our the classic 'wood, hay, and stubble' passage?  According to Dr. Tomlinson, MBTS, these building materials made a sort of dry wall which was tested by fire by building inspectors.  These materials did NOT burn up if constructed correctly.  It is actually the precious metals that might melt.  If this is true, how does it change our understanding of this passage and the prospect of rewards at the judgment seat?

So is it really a big deal?  Well, in a sense, I think that most Christians can read the Scriptures without a great knowledge of Bible backgrounds, original languages, etc., and understand significant truths that God has revealed to us.  Thank the Holy Spirit for that, along with faithful translators.  But some of the finer details, which often can be mined for precious nuggets of profound truths, are overlooked.  Precious insights which enable the believer to see coherence in a book, to see the argument the author is attempting to make, are only rarely stumbled upon without digging deep (or having a teacher-pastor who digs deep) into the text.

Faithful, Effective Preaching.  I believe with my whole heart that the most faithful, effective preaching takes place when, as Dr. Decker said, the preacher expounds what the text actually says.  Thus the illustrations, the explanations, even appropriate humor, EVERYTHING in the sermon has as its main goal to shed light on what the inspired text actually says and its proper application.  But this entails that the preacher must be a true student of the text itself.  He is not a clever orator.  He is not a stand-up comic.  He is not a motivational speaker.  And he is certainly not just a good dispatcher of 'Bible-material' (i.e., good at taking what others have said about the Bible and 'sermonizing' the content for a congregation).  The preacher must dig, and dig deep.  For me, it is those weeks when I have wrestled to the point of fatigue with the meaning of a text that I have felt the Spirit's most powerful influence during the sermon on Sunday.  

If this is true, it simplifies the role of the preacher, but also makes the burden to preach heavy.  On the one hand, the preacher need not worry about catchy, lengthy introductions, tear-jerking illustrations, and flashy powerpoints.  But on the other hand, he must be concerned with what the Bible actually says, and this takes hours of labor.  I fear that it is to some extent laziness that prevents many preachers from laboring heavily in the Word of God.  

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