Biblical, Contemporary, or Both?June 12, 2007
John Stott’s new book – The Living Church – is well worth a read. Having nearly completed it, I’ve been challenged by practically every chapter to have a more balanced ecclesiology, whether on the issue of evangelism or ministry or giving.
However, Stott’s chapter on “Preaching” would alone be worth the guide price. In fifteen short pages, he lays out five paradoxes which stand in tension to make effective preaching: Biblical and Contemporary, Authoritative and Tentative, Prophetic and Pastoral, Gifted and Studied, Thoughtful and Passionate. For today’s Classic Materials, here is a short quote from the first paradox. That is, the challenge to be both biblical and contemporary.
I like to imagine this [preaching] as a picture, of a flat territory deeply cut by a canyon or ravine. On the one side is the biblical world, on the other side the modern world, while between the two there is a deep gulf, two thousand years of changing culture.
Evangelical believers live in the biblical world. That is where we feel comfortable. We believe, love and read the bible. We are essentially a biblical people. But we are not so comfortable in the modern world. We feel threatened by it.
So how should I dray our preaching on this picture? It all comes out of the Bible. We would not dream of preaching and never quite lands on the other side. We are biblical, but not contemporary.
Liberal preachers, on the other hand, make the opposite mistake. They live in the modern world and do not feel threatened by it. They read modern poetry, philosophy, psychology, science and novels. They are moving with the moving times. But their situation is that they have largely jettisoned the biblical revelation. So when I draw their preaching on this picture, it all lands in contemporary reality. But where it comes from, heaven alone knows; it does not come out of the bible. They are contemporary but not biblical.
This simple picture illustrates one of the major tragedies in the church today. Evangelicals are biblical but not contemporary, while liberals are contemporary but not biblical. Comparatively few are building bridges.
But authentic Christian preaching is a bridge-building operation. It relates the text to the context in such a way as to be faithful to the biblical text and sensitive to the modern context. We must not sacrifice either to the other.