Thursday, January 31, 2008

Things Christians Overlook: The Detail of the Bible

This post isn't as theological as the previous two. Here, I'm simply trying to point out the following idea, namely, that the Bible has a great deal of textual detail that is rich and rewarding to study. In this way, it is like a piece of rich soil just waiting for one to come and dig and unearth its treasures. Too many of us are asleep in the shade, I think, when we should be digging.

I'm not going to give a ton of examples of this point, because there are so many one could give. I'll simply say that close study of the biblical text yields untold rewards. It is wonderfully true that a person of the simplest mind can pick up the Bible and grasp its basic ideas. Yet we must allow a right understanding of the clarity or perspicuity of Scripture to undermine a doctrine of the depth of the Word of God. The Word is easily comprehensible, but it is also a storehouse of linguistic, exegetical, textual, and theological treasures. For example, I recently preached a sermon on Samson. In my study of Judges 16:21-31, I discovered a number of really cool insights about the text. For example, there is allusion to Samson's fortunes in the geography of his trip to Philistine territory--he was "going down" to there. There is significance in Samson being forced to harvest grain in a Philistine grainery--Dagon, the Philistine god, was the god of grain. Samson was thus acting out in a physical, tangible way the defeat of his God by the Philistines. Now, I didn't see these things myself--commentaries helped me out a great deal here. However, I have from time to time seen things in the text due to my own search for detail, as many others will also have experienced. In addition, my training in the languages has really helped in this area. It is not essential to know Greek and Hebrew in order to be a faithful preacher of the Word--not by a long stretch--but it does not hurt, either, and can only help the student of the Word. If you want to be a preacher, and you can't take any other classes, take language classes. You can read theology, study philosophy, and search history on your own terms, but rare is the man who can teach himself an ancient language. If you don't have linguistic training and want to pick up overlooked details in the text and thus preach the Word with a richness and depth your people will eagerly drink up, acquire commentaries that can guide in a close study of the original text.

In my opinion, this is one of the most overlooked components of evangelical preaching. So much preaching that I hear is right and true and faithful and boring. Let's just speak honestly here. Do you resonate on any level with this opinion? This is not said to denigrate evangelical preachers. Preaching is hard work, and we need to hear the plainest truths on a regular basis simply to live and sustain our faith. With this said, we should not confuse faithfulness with sleepiness. We should exegete the text, dig into the text, and leave our people fascinated by the Word of God. That is a carefully chosen word--fascinated. The Word of God isn't simply true. It's downright remarkable! It possesses a level of detail that has sustained centuries of scholastic inquiry, inquiry that has utterly failed to exhaust the Scripture's riches. Think about it. There are tons of things that even the most astute scholars of God's Word have not figured out. This is a rich book indeed that we are dealing with. Now, how about we Christians start digging into these details? Forget preaching--in our own personal study, we can obtain a commentary and use it to illuminate our study of the Word. Or think about small group studies. Why would we ever study passages of Scripture based only on our own intuition when godly, gifted men have literally given their lives to search out the riches of that text? This is a fool's proposition--and one that we sometimes make, sadly.

Let's make a commitment, then, to studying and unearthing the untold riches of the Bible. Let's dig deeply into the Word, and as Christians, whether laymen or preachers, let's bring these riches to others and think together about them. The result? A faith that is deeper, more enlightening, and way less boring than a faith dependent on the same cliches, the same maxims, that we know--and need--but that become inestimably more powerful when rooted in the detailed "soil" in which they were given.

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Blogger Dad said...

I would say "Amen"!

I have a message to give soon, and actually had plenty of warning so have had time to read, study, and meditate, and still have some time left.

There is a great depth of riches both in the Word and in the material that God has given through his gifts to the church. I recently read the section in the Westminster Confession in Puplick Worship on 'of the preaching of the word'. Very good suggestions, I think. Anyway, while I have studied well for this message I don't want to 'show off' intellect but to be simple, clear and to put a tasty meal before the people that would make them, by the work of the Spirit, desirous for more.

Interesting points on Sampson.


Al (not Owen's dad, by the way.)

4:44 AM  
Blogger Reid S. Monaghan said...

Owen, there is a bunch of faithful, true and boring preaching. Here is they way I always try to think about it.

1) I always thank God for boring, faithful preaching. It is better than lively heresy or preaching that gives no account to God's Word.
2) I pray that God would raise from the dead boring preachers. I hate the phrase "He makes the Bible come alive" for me. No man need make living the book that is more alive than that man. What actually needs to be seen, heard, experienced is a man that is ALIVE as he preaches the living Word. Dead, boring preaching distracts from the Bible. Live, Wide eyed, joyful men make you sense that they believe what they are preaching and his message must be heard...hence the hearer receives God's Word...AND is not bored.

When a man preaches texts that seem to do nothing to him, do not move him and do not fan a flame in him - people can be less likely to pay attention. I love Allistair Beggs counsel for sermon preparation...write your self empty, read yourself full, write yourself clear, then pray yourself hot. So many content conscious preachers simply do not pursue that final phase. They get a good manuscript and then drip it on the congregation like they are simply trying to keep the pipes from freezing. The man of God needs to pray that he might bring the word of God as it is a fire in his bones. This is not necessarily just volume, enthusiasm, etc. but what the old school men called "unction" - we need more of this today.

8:28 AM  

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