The task of every preacher is the same as the task of everyone who reads the Bible. Build a bridge between the Bible and Life Today!
We can get wrapped up in the Bible, enjoy its story, its ideas, its images, its instructions, but not build a bridge to cross over to Life Today.
Or we can be so absorbed by Life Today, its issues, pleasures, problems, dilemmas, tragedies, that we cannot move to the Bible without feeling irrelevant. Then we do not build a bridge to cross over to the Bible to learn and preach its message, and how it applies today.
We need to do the whole journey: immerse ourselves in the Bible deeply and thoroughly, and immerse ourselves in Life Today deeply and thoroughly. Without the Bible, people will not hear God’s words, and will not know Christ as God has revealed him. Without Life Today they will not know how to live in faith and obedience to God, how to follow Christ.
My impression of preaching in Australia in 2020?
Some preachers are good at the Bible, but not so good at bringing its message to Life Today. Others are good at Life Today, but not so good at gaining God’s riches in the Bible.
We need strong bridges between the Bible and Life Today in our sermons! Why?
1. THIS BRIDGE HAS LOTS OF TRAFFIC CROSSING IT EVERY DAY.
Every believer needs this bridge, and they need to learn to cross it from both sides, starting at the Bible, or starting at Life Today. They need it every time they read the Bible; in Bible Studies; when they face an issue in their own lives; every time someone asks them a question about how to live or what to believe; every time they share their faith; and every time they make a decision about their lives, their family, their life-style, their work, their church, their society.
Preachers need to show how to cross the bridge in our sermons, and in every part of our ministry. We need to teach and show how to cross it from both sides: either starting from the Bible and showing its meaning and significance today, or starting with a Life Today issue, and showing how to go to the Bible and bring back God’s words and wisdom for today.
It should be a well-used bridge!
2. THIS BRIDGE NEEDS GOOD DEEP FOUNDATIONS ON BOTH SIDES: IN THE BIBLE, AND IN LIFE TODAY.
We cannot afford to be superficial in our reading and use of the Bible, just picking up a word, or phrase, or story, or idea, and then using is as a spring board to say what we want to say, and always say, on this topic! As I read on a mug in a preacher’s home recently ‘I have learned the secret of making any text say what I want it to say’! This results in sermons that are light on content, entirely predictable, and therefore boring. We must not fail to engage deeply with the Bible, its meaning and significance, its theology and practicality, its passions and priorities.
We cannot afford to be superficial in our reading of Life Today, or to fail to engage with Life Today in our preaching. We can’t see the true significance of a Life Today issue without knowing how it expresses the deepest assumptions, ideas, passions, fears, hopes, and priorities of contemporary world views. We also need to know the practicalities of this issue. How is it lived? What does it feel like? Why is it attractive? What are its consequences for individuals? What does it promise?
What does it deliver? What are its consequences for other people, for society?
We need historical background, cultural awareness, intellectual understanding, and emotional awareness of both Life Today, and the Bible. Superficial impressions do not do justice to the Bible, nor to Life Today. We need to love God’s word, and we need to love God’s world and God’s people. We need deep sympathy for the depths of the Bible, and deep sympathy for Life Today. Superficial and trivial impressions are not enough.
We cannot see the true significance of one word, or verse or idea, or part of the Bible without knowing the context of the Bible book in which it is found, and its place in the Biblical Theology and the Salvation history of the whole Bible. ‘A word [or idea, or phrase, or story] without a context is a pretext’ for regurgitating our own ideas, or quoting the latest guru in life management, leadership, personal development, building successful churches.
The worst sermons are those which don’t do justice to the Bible, and don’t do justice to Life Today!
When reading and preaching the Bible, we should not ask the question, ‘What is the minimum we can get away with? But rather, ‘What is the maximum God has revealed?’ We need to dig down to the theology or worldview of the Bible in order to relate to the deep worldviews of today.
When relating to Life Today, we should not be content with superficial statements, but dig down to the sources, the deep assumptions that shape our society, and shape the many different cultures and sub-cultures in our society.
If all we do is ‘teach the Bible’, we have begun a good work, but not completed it. Information without interpretation, implementation, passion, application, and exhortation, does not achieve God’s purposes. Life is more than a Bible quiz!
God’s people need God’s words, and God’s words are written to serve and benefit and transform God’s people.
We need to cross the bridge to bring God’s loving gift of the Bible to the people he loves, and to train them to cross the bridge when they read the Bible, and when they face the many issues of Life Today.
May God’s word live richly among us!
Rev Dr Peter Adam is Vicar Emeritus of St Judes Carlton, formerly Principal of Ridley College. Peter is a highly respected preacher both in Australia and overseas.