I am thankful for the discussions that the history channel’s mini-series on the Bible is stimulating. Nevertheless, it is clear from the whatever niggling we might do about the truncating and compression of the Bible stories selected, the bigger problem with the series is that it doesn’t get the big story right. It doesn’t capture the sweep of the narrative, the “why” of the narrative, the “what-is-God-doing?” in the larger story of the Bible.
It fails to get the broader story of God’s redemption of a people for Himself, of God’s desire to bless the world through a nation that he selects for His glory, preserves through time, blesses with a Messiah/Redeemer, and who offers His forgiveness and leadership to both Jew and Gentile alike. It misses the Kingdom of God on earth and eternal life beyond. It misses that story almost completely.
A second tragedy is that viewers of all stripes, believers in Christ and non-believers in Christ, honest seekers of truth and skeptics, channel-flipping entertainment junkies and PBS viewing aficionados alike, for the most part, don’t know what they are missing. There is a famine of knowledge related to the Bible. And with it, a dangerous inability to discern truth from error.
The book is now 32 years old and perhaps more relevant than when it was published. Walter Kaiser in his landmark book Toward an Exegetical Theology: Biblical Exegesis for Preaching and Teaching (Baker, 1981) wisely pondered this exact state of affairs in his preface:
In 1742 John Albert Bengel observed: “Scripture is the foundation of the Church: the Church is the guardian of Scripture. When the Church is in strong health, the light of Scripture shines bright; when the Church is sick, Scripture is corroded by neglect; … as a rule the way in which Scripture is being treated is in exact correspondence with the condition of the church.” (p. 7)
“… theological and Biblical malnutrition has afflicted the very generation that has taken such giant steps to make sure its physical health is not damaged by using food or products that are carcinogenic or otherwise harmful to the physical bodies. Simultaneously, a worldwide spiritual famine resulting from the absence of genuine publication of the Word of God (Amos 8:11[-12]) continues to run wild and almost unabated in most quarters of the Church.” (p. 8)
So, in keeping with the title of this post and desiring to be brief, while pilfering some of Dr. Kaiser’s own ideas, here are five basic words for preachers in a history Channel World.
- Be a Perpetual Learner. Brush up on and keep using your Greek and Hebrew skills. You don’t have to use the words on Sunday morning but you need to study them Monday through Saturday. If you never had the opportunity to study the languages of the Bible, it is not to late. There are numerous programs and online tools to help you learn and benefit from language study.
- Know Your English Grammar. Quoting Kaiser, “In the American Colonies, people were taught to read and write, not primarily so that they could get a better job … but, in the colonist’ view at least, so that they could better their spiritual health by reading God’s Word for themselves. … Let us relearn these definitions [nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, and the like] and the basic rules of grammar and syntax, for the lives of men and women depend upon it.” (p. 8).
- Carve out ‘sacrosanct’ Time to Study. The late Dallas Seminary Professor, Dr. Howard Hendricks was fond of repeating, “If you are always with people you will be of no use to people.” Find it. Make room for it. Schedule it. Don’t let anything interfere with it. It’s a discipline and your people need it. Do it.
- Brood Over the Text: Read it early in the week. Get your translation and exegesis done early so that you can think and pray throughout the week leading up to preaching. Don’t read too much. An exegetical commentary, a pastoral commentary, a theological commentary, that’s enough. Spend your time thinking and praying; you will be amazed at how much easier the writing of your message goes.
- Remind Your Heart to Exalt Him. The more consistently you do 1-4, the larger your ministry will become. People living in famine (for the Word) will find their way to food and drink that satisfies the soul. But a growing flock can sometimes become unhealthy when its shepherd mistakes his ‘glory’ for God’s. We are nothing. He is everything. We must decrease, he must increase.
Praying for you and with you.