Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A dandy article on preaching the gospels and Acts


An excerpt or two:

Pharisees were not sanctimonious prigs but progressive reformers who sought to dedicate every aspect of life to God’s glory. They were the devout, seriously religious people who now attend Christian Sunday schools and InterVarsity Bible studies. Likewise, “the elders and chief priests and scribes,” so threatened by Jesus that they collude in his destruction, live on in today’s seminarians, tall-steeple pastors, and biblical scholars.

Blessed are you whom the Spirit keeps open to mystery. Like the Gospels themselves, theology and preaching are attempts to articulate God’s intervention in the created world. Because such incursions are inherently enigmatic, they may be interpreted but cannot be solved. Few things from the pulpit are drearier than rationalizations of the extraordinary in the Gospels, apologies for biblical embarrassments, dressed in the lingo of scholastic evangelicalism or liberalized Protestantism. A hundred “proofs” of the virginal conception will never replace a single whisper of holy wonder on Christmas Eve. Shrinking the Five Thousand Fed into an advertisement for UNICEF will leave most Christians famished when they approach the Lord’s Table for nourishment this world cannot provide (John 4:31-34). Learning to preach a comprehensible word without trivializing it spells the difference between a sermon borne on the Spirit’s wings and one that flops to the floor like a dead duck.

In this respect the Gospels and Acts are our best guides. Notice how consistently the literalists miss Jesus’ point (Mark 7:1-23; 8:11-21; John 6:25-71), how rarely—then delicately, in terms of divine grace and human trust—the Evangelists interpret Jesus’ riddles (the parables) or enacted parables (his mighty works). A miracle “explained” is good news gutted: to shift metaphors, a skittish preacher’s attempt to squeeze Awe into a box that cannot contain it (Matt 9:16-17). God does not need our excuses. Can you trust your listeners as much as Mark trusted his—to conclude a Gospel at 16:7-8, announcing that the risen Christ awaits disciples who, for all their devotion, flee in terrified silence?

Read the whole thing.

HT: Michael Bird

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