Thursday, May 12, 2005

Leaving our little stories behind

Keith Plummer at The Christian Mind recently introduced me to the work of Jeff at texas theologue. Jeff, in turn, considers recent work by Scot McKnight and Doug Pagitt in looking at "relevant" preaching. Problems arise, interestingly enough, when we focus on making the Bible relevant to our lives today. This is a long quote from Jeff, but it's a keeper:

The Bible was not written to address the stories of autonomous, individualistic, self-absorbed 21st century Americans. When preaching focuses on our stories it ends up taking passages out of context and missing the main point of what the Bible is all about. Some Scripture passages are preached on hundreds of times while other passages are totally ignored because they don't seem relevant to today's listeners. That is what happens when we try to make the Bible relevant to our lives.

Instead, we should concentrate on trying to figure out if our lives could be relevant to the story of God. The Bible tells a story about a holy and loving God who is working for the salvation of His people through His Son, establishing and expanding His Kingdom on earth, working in all things for His glory and our good, and commissioning and sending out His people to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom to all peoples on earth. The story is even broader and bigger than this brief summary. The greatest adventure in all of life consists in learning about this story and then following Jesus' radical call to be a part of this story. Truly relevant preaching must call people to leave their small, self-absorbed story behind and to figure out how they can play a role in this much larger and grander story. If we can get people to adopt this perspective, suddenly the whole Bible becomes alive and exciting, not just the few prooftexts that talk about marriage, finances, child-raising, or anxiety.

Amen. That message--that preaching must focus not on our stories but on God's story--is probably the best and most memorable lesson I learned in four years of seminary. I don't remember who first introduced the concept to my mind, but no one has said it better than Jeff has.


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