Too often, evangelical Christians make our own personal story primary. We begin to think that it's all about me - about me being happy, successful, peaceful, healthy. It's all about my problems, my marriage, my finances, my job, my kids, my anxiety, my lack of self-discipline, etc. So we think, "The sermon that the pastor preaches this morning had better be relevant to my life." The preacher tries to oblige this hypothetical listener. So, he preaches "how to" sermons to "felt needs." He decides to preach on 10 steps to a better marriage, 10 steps to financial freedom, 10 steps to raising Christian children, 10 steps to freedom from anxiety, 10 steps to more self-discipline, etc.. Then he searches the Scriptures for passages that he can use for these messages. He will find some Bible passages to address these concerns. But the preacher will also be disappointed, because he will not find as much as he hoped for. 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 ourOur stories are subplots in a narrative whose main character (and author) is the triune God. In a previous post I sought to show how the recognition of this humbling fact should play out in our thinking about counseling, a topic I intend to deal with more in the near future.
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.
Monday, May 09, 2005
Whose Story Are We In?
Jeff at Texas Theologue asks that question and notes how the over-arching narrative of Scripture should alter how we think about relevance: