I am certainly mindful and hesitant to use the terminology of “God said.” Or in more common vernacular, “God told me to tell ya.” Such language can be difficult and problematic when we are not even sure that God necessarily desires what we are about to say.
Just because something is true does not mean that it is of utmost importance. An idea must be both “true” and “relevant to the present time” to be worthy of our intense consideration.
This idea of relevance is an interesting one. Some people ignore it altogether and others place an intense amount of effort into showing the relevance of an idea or teaching. I am about to start a series that looks at four postures that preachers have taken to relevance and the demonstration of it.
The first way that we have demonstrated relevance is through “Brute Force.” Here is where we end up saying, “You better believe it or else!” The “or else part” could be “you will go to hell” or “you will be confused” or “you will be deceived.” Another softer approach is “you don’t really love Jesus unless you believe it.” Examples abound of this kind of preaching. I listened to the Bible Answer Man defending the trinity. He argued that if you don’t believe in the trinity then you are not a Christian. Here the argument is basically you must believe this or you are not in right relation with God and ultimately are lost. There was no attempt to demonstrate how the doctrine makes any difference in our living, just a statement “You Must Believe it or else!”
This kind of relevance, however, will not stand up in the real world. When I am dealing with real issues in my own life, these kinds of approaches to relevance makes me put this doctrine on the back burner. Even if I agree with the doctrine, I can’t use it, I can only “believe” it. I have to go to something else when I am hurting. I have to go to something else when I am in need of something.
Some think that most doctrines are only relevant in this perspective, however it is my contention that it is not that the doctrines are only relevant through brute force, it is that we have not thought through the practical ramifications of our doctrines.
I am not saying that there is never a place or time for the “Brute Force” method of relevance, but I think that it is used way too much and if not supplemented with something else turns “truth” into “irrelevant truth.”
My biggest concern as it relates to my preaching style is how can I open up the truth(s) of the scripture all the while keeping it current and up to date… Any way you can assist me there will be great…
I just received your very good question that really zeros in on the question of
“relevance.” I would suggest that you first of all see “application” as a part of the exegetical process. We are about to have a free web seminar on exegesis in the middle of May. However, I do have a few important things to keep in mind to help you with “relevance.”
First, take a stroll through the text. By that I mean get into the text you are
exegeting. Look around from inside the text. Smell the smells, see the sights, feel the textures. You want to really experience the text. So if you are preaching on the Prodigal Son, you should feel the excitement of the young man as he is headed towards the big city. You should see the road moving from 2 lanes to 4 lanes. When you end up in the pit, you should smell the pigs. You should taste the slop. You should be in the story. When you experience the story with all of your senses, you will preach the story in a much more empathetic and relevant way.
Another very helpful tip is to think about 3-4 issues at various times of the sermon preparation task. Let us say that Mother Lois’ daughter died after a protracted battle with diabetes. Think about that. Let us Assume that Associate Minister Jones’ brother was thrown in jail again for drug abuse. And finally, let us assume that there is a young lady battling with the requirements for sexual purity.
Now as you are exegeting the text, think about those issues. What does your text have to say if anything top Mother Lois? What does it say to Pastor Jones? Is there strength to help the young lady? You need to ask that at the exegetical process. Now when you are moving to constructing the sermon, think about those people. Do you address their concerns? Can they get anything out of the sermon? Then when you craft your celebration, do the same thing.
If you keep concrete issues in your mind as you go through the steps of exegesis, you will address concrete things. And paradoxically, when you do that, you will also address more than these situations. For when you speak to the young lady, you will help anyone who is fighting trying to stay true to Jesus in this world. When you talk to Mother Lois’ issue, you will be talking to anyone who has lost someone to an untimely death. When you speak to Minister Jones’ issue, you will be talking to anyone who is hurting because of faulty decisions by friends or family.
The key is to take the lofty truth and put it on the ground…And you do that by thinking of concrete issues.
God Bless and I hope that Helps…Do not hesitate to continue your questions if I was not clear in this presentation…
Sherman Haywood Cox II
I have an elderly congregation and I’m having a hard time finding material for them to comprehend. The material is like a foreign language and the vocabulary words are to hard…I need material and themes to make them rejoice but it must be on a lower reading and comprehension level.
Ahh…a very good question that we will attempt to address in future articles. In the meantime, I would encourage you to get ahold of the book “Soul Theology” by Henry Mitchell and Nicolas Cooper-Lewter. That book provides the themes of the common theology operative among many including the elderly. You might call it “Grandma’s Theology.”
They key however is for you to know the language of the people you serve and the content and concepts of the theological world where you come from. Then you translate the themes into their langauge. A very good way of doing this is by stories and narratives.
Personally, I think many of us use too much theological jargon even when speaking to well educated audiences…
We will attempt to address this in the future, and thank you very much for contacting me…
God Bless and Keep on Preaching!!!
Sherman Haywood Cox II
Thank you for the email and I am excited about being a member. The main subject that I would like touched on deals with Bible software. I know there are many out there but what is considered the best for preachers? There is Logos, Wordsearch, E-sword, PC Bible, etc. I know Logos is the most expensive out of all but just touch on that area a little. Thanks in advance.
Ahh…That is a very good question. We will address this on the website or in the email magazine. I would first say for most purposes E-Sword would be sufficient. However for technical study of the original language I would suggest the very good BibleWorks. It is fast and good, but it is a bit expensive.
Another software package does allow the technical study of the original languages, but it is not its forte’. Logos is best seen as a software library. There are tons of resources on it. It can be helpful as well, but to find what others have said about the scripture.
Here is what I do….
If I didn’t have the budget, I would use E-Sword…and if I could only get Logos or Bible Works, I would get Logos becuase you can do all the stuff you do in Bible works, it is just a bit more clunky and slow…
God Bless and I hope to address this more substantially in the future…