Where’s The Bible?

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to preach at my church community on one of the seven churches from Revelation 3:7-13.  Through long hours of study I concluded that the central theme of the text was that of an omnipotent God who will rescue, restore, and reward the faithful.

In seeking to expose the central theme of this text I decided to ensure I would contextualize my communication, moving beyond a sermon to creating an experience.  Giving my passage a metaphoric hinge with Shackleton’s famous expedition of The Endurance, visual elements with arctic props, cold lighting, and icy slideware, and lowering the temperature of the room, I felt I achieved a holistic approach to the communication of the text.

Though you can’t get a feel for the visual experience, the sermon can be heard HERE or seen HERE, highlighting the metaphoric anchor used for this teaching.

As I am a big proponent of evaluation, I immediately asked for feedback from various ages and genders at the three services I preached.  The evaluation form can be seen HERE.

Overall, I have gotten some great insight on how to improve physical movement, flow, and how to better conclude.  There has also been some solid reinforcement in using story, visuals, metaphor, and participation.

However one pattern that has surfaced solely from those previously schooled in hermeneutical study, is the issue of the sermon not going “exegetically deep enough”…or the text being overshadowed by the story of Shackleton.

I have found this quite interesting and not sure how to wrestle with it.

Obviously, those that have been schooled in hermeneutical studies (as I was) are being taught formulas that stem from the Enlightenment era and the age of science, taking on scientific methodology as our cues for biblical study (i.e. historical-critical method, etc.).  And so in turn our homiletics teach a potentially stale objectification of the text as an item for examination (i.e. Protestants obsession towards doctrine and scriptural “principles”?)…treating scripture (God’s love story) like a textbook.

The issue in applying these rules too strictly is that our approach to the text becomes cerebral, linear, verbal, and solely intellectual (all a part of the past modern age…and potentially Gnostic or idolatrous in nature).  Personally, I think for there to be effective study, teaching, and preaching of scripture, we must somehow allow Scripture to once again capture a person holistically.

Is there a way we can set scripture free to not only be exposed or exegeted via literal and specific words…but through image, story, and metaphor?

I guess I try to always remember that the world we live in requires more than linguistic translation from the modern age of the printing press.  It needs image, experience, and analogy to be a part of that translation process too.

So in essence I sought not to have a literal translation with simply words, but a conceptual translation with image, story, and metaphor.  The images, objects, and pieces of the Shackleton story were very carefully selected and worded to exposed the meaning of the text…though I did not literally say, “And this is what the text means.”  It was done in a more holistic and interwoven manner to move beyond comprehension and create heart-felt apprehension within the learner.

In some ways, when I hear someone say “I walked away more about Shackleton than the passage”…unfortunately this is a person who is trained (potentially damaged) in a hermeneutical technique that is based on a modern science that slices and dices.  Why do they have to even begin the process of categorizing, and not walk away with the whole thing…which all pressed out this very apparent central theme of endurance in the face of a rescuing God? (It would be somewhat like someone saying to Christ…”Sorry, I just feel your spiritual teaching was overshadowed by all this talk about a tree and vine.”)

This isn’t the first time I have taught in using what I call a “movie-metaphor” or “media-weave”…however this was the first time I did attempt to be less literal in the explanation of the text, but much more thorough in my specific placement of image, story, and the use of metaphor to subconsciously or indirectly explain the text (a theological scientist would be very scared of this statement, and a theological artist would applaud it.)

I think this is where the other rub is…thinking that poetic or metaphoric language is “less real” than technical language (if not, then throw out ½ of our scriptures).  Somehow I wonder if we need to move beyond limited words and engage symbol…but can we without those still in the modern world feeling the text is being cheapened?

Sooooo…what do you think about all of this?

Yes we want to be exegetical in the sense that we are exacting and specific with the study of the text.  And yes, at my church we want to be expositional, in that we preach a message that comes from the central theme of this text (and the text itself).  However, have we also assume that good “expository preaching” must still then be “exegetical” in the sense that it is a detailed, specific, exacting, formulaic breakdown of the text, where the actual words of the scripture must have the highest percentage of our verbal output?

I would love your feedback on these incomplete thoughts.

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~ by Dave Smith on August 30, 2009.

16 Responses to “Where’s The Bible?”

  1. Dave – I actually took the time to listen to the whole thing. I am not overly technical in my approach, but I certainly love Scripture. My estimation is that there was a bit more Shackleton than necessary. Now, I won’t deny that there is a very very powerful reference with the illustration, but my preference listening to this talk would have been to hear a bit more about the church at Cheesesteak and the power of the reassurances Christ was offering. If the talk was 60 – 40 in favor of Shackleton, why not just reverse it and let the Word of God be predominant?

    How would you respond to someone who says that Shackleton won’t change someone’s life, but embracing the promises of Scripture will? I will go out on a limb and say my approach might have been thus: weave the story of Shackleton into an outline of the text rather than vice versa. I am in agreement on the “holistic” idea, but I might even say embracing things mentally is most important? I don’t mean to confuse things, but I wrestle with this a lot in my teaching. Thanks for bringing up the issue.

  2. There’s nothing worse than taking a good metaphor and then beating the audience over the head with its relation to the main point, losing all of the subtlety and beauty that an image conveys in the first place. Connect enough dots to bring the concept into focus, but let/make the audience do the work of filling in the blanks.

    Context of the entire service/church helps too. First timers might have more difficulty making a solid connection between text and metaphor. However, I assume that the passage from Revelations was read through at some point in the service prior to the sermon, which should assist in relating the two. Or the metaphor may actually be more helpful than traditional methods to those unfamiliar with church. Presumably regular attenders knew what passage was going to be covered that week. (I know, wishful thinking that most are reading ahead, but not an unreasonable expectation, and a behavior that might improve if people know they will need to be on their toes and actually have to think and process what they’re hearing up front in relation to scripture.)

  3. In some ways, when I hear someone say “I walked away more about Shackleton than the passage”…unfortunately this is a person who is trained (potentially damaged) in a hermeneutical technique that is based on a modern science that slices and dices.

    +1

    I think this is where the other rub is…thinking that poetic or metaphoric language is “less real” than technical language (if not, then throw out ½ of our scriptures).

    +1

    Dave, I would download teh audio, but I’m afraid listening to the audio only would cheapen the experience. Any chance you’ve got a video file you could e-mail? (my blog ID at gmail dot com)

    @KB

    If the talk was 60 – 40 in favor of Shackleton, why not just reverse it and let the Word of God be predominant?

    I don’t mean to throw a cliche out there, but I think you’re making a false dichotomy. All truth belongs to God, and truth can come through Shackleton. Why would we argue that God’s Spirit cannot/will not take a contemporary piece of literature and thus limit the Spirit to fit our ideas about how God can and cannot speak?

    If Shackleton mirrors Scripture (don’t know, haven’t read it, but for the sake of argument let’s say it does), then isn’t Shackleton mirroring God’s Word — and wouldn’t that make the 60-40 comparison moot?

    Let’s face it. Revelation is a tough piece of literature to understand; it’s been understood differently by Christians throughout the millenia. Let’s admit that it’s going to be a tough enough project to tackle for those who have been trained, much less for the laity who have not been trained. Why not take a piece of contemporary literature that shares key thematic elements and use that to illumine the text — especially if doing so makes a nearly 2,000 year old piece of apocalyptic literature more understandable to contemporary Christians?

  4. Let me clarify a bit: I am not arguing for a 60/40 prescription for every sermon. I also agree that God owns truth and thus illustrations can be effective. I am just saying that in my belief the Word of God should be prominent. If God truly owns all truth, then we never would have to preach God’s Word because we could just point to everything going on around us in culture and on the news to make the points we need to make. To me, the Bible is the main source of truth and should be predominant in a teaching/preaching setting.

  5. I was there, I heard said sermon live and in person, so I have carnal knowledge. The sermon was good. The Rev. Dr. DKS took two books I have read that I find boring (Revelation and The Endurance), and illustrated a new layer of truth that both edified and encouraged me.

    I think your only mistake, Dave, was in doing an evaluation. There is a time and place for evaluation, e.g. if you were a pastor in training, if this was an academic setting, etc. And, the third question of your survey (3. Hermeneutics: biblically sound? appropriate central theme?) was blood in the water, my friend. Why would you do that?! I take it for granted that when you preach a sermon from the pulpit of my church it is not just your words, but God speaking through you. If I just needed Scripture I could and would stay home.

    I suppose the hermeneutically correct crowd will disagree, but as a layman, I apply Titus 3:9 to these types of conversations, “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.”

  6. Chip brings up a good point – it IS the role of the pastor/teacher to wrestle with the text and bring it to a group in a specific time and place (usually a day and time). I think Dave did an excellent job of that in this presentation, I was just saying I would have based it more on Scripture than the illustration. Hope I’m clear. Don’t think there’s major disagreement here. Good hearing other perspectives.

  7. Dave…

    – I didn’t read anybody else’s comments above, so please forgive me if this is a “repeat” of someone else’s thoughts…

    – Thanks for writing your blog… I really enjoyed reading a couple of the entries tonight. Your thinking and creativity have always been encouraging and helpful to me.

    – As for your sermon, I have not yet listened to it, but plan to.

    – As for your blog entry about the Revelation 3 text and the idea of “exposing” the text in a variety of ways (multi-sensory) as you did… I think it’s WONDERFUL. I think it needs to be done more often. I support and have wrestled with a lot of the same issues you bring up in your article here.

    – For those that have been taught that “linear” or “didactic” exposition is the “only” “biblical” way to preach, I should express these few thoughts… (1) Sadly, that’s how seminaries have historically taught us to preach. We have learned from Paul (a great teacher and thinker, of course) how to preach, but we have not learned from Jesus, David, Isaiah, or Moses. (2) As a result of the way pastors have been trained like this, so have most church-goers – at least the “modern” ones. Not only have they been trained in a linear, didactic definition of “expository,” but they have also been somehow groomed to feel frustrated by any other style.

    – Nevertheless, the beauty of Scripture is that there are MANY forms of literature, many approaches to teaching – something for everybody. And people today need to see the whole spectrum. People today resonate primarily with STORY, CHARACTER, CONFLICT, and IMAGE. I agree with you that, sadly, the traditional preacher and pew-sitter can wind up missing out on tremendous spiritual insights because of their limited range of understanding or preferred way of hearing.

    – on that note, maybe that’s precisely why Jesus spoke in parables… “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

    – Also thinking out loud… on paper… on a screen… It’s always healthy to evaluate and get feedback. But with an audience as large as yours, you will never “please” or “connect with” or “inspire” everyone in the room. Certainly we should try, but well, you know…

    – Even at Illuminate, I wonder if that audience is conditioned for a “didactic” genre of teaching… which means that approaches like yours will be refreshing to many, and possibly misunderstood by others.

    You are doing a great work, bro.

    As a side note, I wonder if you got the Shackleton itch from Len Sweet. I remember reading some book by him about leading with your ears or whatever. Summoned to Lead, baby!

  8. For those that have been taught that “linear” or “didactic” exposition is the “only” “biblical” way to preach, I should express these few thoughts… (1) Sadly, that’s how seminaries have historically taught us to preach. We have learned from Paul (a great teacher and thinker, of course) how to preach, but we have not learned from Jesus, David, Isaiah, or Moses. (2) As a result of the way pastors have been trained like this, so have most church-goers – at least the “modern” ones. Not only have they been trained in a linear, didactic definition of “expository,” but they have also been somehow groomed to feel frustrated by any other style.

    This is what really amazes me – and clearly this must be my non-hermuenistically, non-seminary trained self talking- because it seems perfectly obvious from my perspective. But of all the ways to fill 30-45 minutes of time with an educational, instructive, and effective bit of teaching to be presented to a 1,000+ people sitting in an auditorium, the linear, didactic method would seem to be near the bottom of the list. Brings to mind lecture hall size freshman survey classes, and nobody would point to those as a school’s finest examples of teaching.

  9. Hey everyone,

    Thanks so much for your feedback. Your insight is so good.

    Ben…you always push me to think differently on matters. Interesting point about the Spirit working within any “truth.” As a matter of fact, some would make the case that The Bible isn’t truly God’s Word until it is in unison with the Spirit. (yea, the video will be on the web, so I’ll direct it to you when I have it.)

    Kevin, thanks for getting the discussion going and for your good cautions and perspective. I wanted immediate thoughts and you gave me yours. Thanks for being honest.

    Chip…Chip…Chip. Why are you so mean to me? 🙂 I think I see your point. Maybe the term “hermeneutic” isn’t appropriate. I was viewing it in its modern terms of everything that involves the interpretation of the text…written and verbal presentation of that text. What are your thoughts on evaluating whether a teaching is scripturally accurate? If it is possible, how should it be done?

    Gary…great to hear from you and to feed off of your ongoing experience (much more than mine) from the pulpit perspective. Love all of your thoughts, and some of your “seminary slam.”

    Funny about Shackleton in Sweet’s book. Now that you mention it, I do remember it. It actually came up when I viewed the documentary with Jen a few months ago at the time I started reading through the passage. I put it on the back burner, but the more I pounded out the interpretation, the more I felt it was a good “word picture” of the big idea.

  10. Gary…in honor of your sweet remark…I had to place a sweet post up above. Thanks.

    And thanks to everyone for this very engaging discussion and feedback. All of your thoughts are incredibly helpful.

  11. Dave, I really appreciate your article and the thoroughness of your work. I’ve not had the time to listen to your sermon, but I’m sure it is wonderful and that I will like it very much.

    I’ve been a ministers for nearly three decades, and I was trained in the old analytical style and I suffered through a great deal of dry literal minded interpretations of the text. I chaffed at the mindnumbing work, but I find myself now somewhat grateful that I know how to get from point A to point B.

    I love story and I always have, and when I got away from school, started using it as much as I could in my teaching.

    But I have found that different churches, like individuals, have different personalities. IN one church, the power of story was completely lost on them. They wanted simple explanation and thought imagery was mental clutter. So I backed off the story and went more to explanation because that’s what worked with them.

    I use more story because the church I’m with is loves that kind of communicating.

    I guess one point of my rambling is that it’s important to use the method that best reaches the people, whether is be imagery from story, pictures, and movies, or whether it be a more straightforward didactic approach.

    Another point I’ve often tried to make is that the story is often right there in the scripture. Revelation is rich with imagery, as you know. We often treat it like it’s in a technical code that requires an expert in deciphering. But’s mostly images. So I focus on conveying that image as much as possible, rather than laying another one on top of it.

    Of course, there’s the matter of personal style, which is also a major factor–probably the the most significant one.

    Blessings in your ministry

  12. “We have learned from Paul (a great teacher and thinker, of course) how to preach, but we have not learned from Jesus, David, Isaiah, or Moses.”

    kudos, Gary. I think this is dead on.

    @Dave…there needs to be some sort of forum for pastors where we can explore more holistic, creative approaches to teaching. get on that. ; )

  13. Great point about contextual teaching “Clergy Guy.” I guess from there I then wonder if the micro-context of the congregation dictates the style or if the macro-culture of the outside community you exist within?

    To answer that question, you probably then have to determine the main target of our main worship gathering. For some, the main bent is a place where the unchurched for taste church, and where attenders invite. For others, its is geared toward those already grafted within the church.

    Joel…I’d ask you to do it, but I don’t want to make that overseas trip to Canton…so yea, maybe we can brew something halfway.

  14. Not to drag this topic on needlessly, but since I find it important and want to encourage more teaching methods like it, I wanted to point to the 9/6 sermon at the Akron campus of The Chapel as another excellent example of how to integrate a variety of different audio and visual mediums with teaching on a particular biblical text. Don’t know if the video of that will be available online, but music, video, and dance (apparently we’re all just unitarians at heart 🙂 we’re woven in with traditional preaching. The integrated whole of these components really did a nice job of highlighting the themes of the passage and reinforcing the lessons of the text.

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