TIME TRAVELING THROUGH THE TEXT OF SCRIPTURE
Kenton C. Anderson
Occasionally my children watch a program on PBS called The Magic School Bus. The show features a group of school children that go on surprising educational adventures to places like the interior of the human body or to the bottom of the sea in their amazing school bus. I’ve often thought that preachers drive a similar school bus.
In many ways we act like cosmic Holy Land tour bus operators. We pull the bus up to the front of the church as we begin our sermon and invite everyone to find a place inside. We drive back 2000 years to biblical times and take people on a tour with us.
When we get there, we point out all kinds of interesting features. “Here is something to take notice of,” we say. “Listen to this conversation over here. Did you notice how he responded to her? Here is something else to notice. We want to be sure to remember all these things upon our return home.”
Inevitably, the 30-minute tour comes to an end. The people all get back on the bus and the preacher drives them home again. Just before they exit, the preacher offers one more word of exhortation, to ensure that everyone will remember the lessons learned.
The passengers disembark and return home. There they find a couple of urgent messages on the answering machine. There is a football game to watch. And of course there’s the prospect of work the next morning lurking in the background. The homiletical holiday in the Holy Land seems very distant.
This problem of distance stems, in part, from our concept of preaching. Preachers have long been conditioned to think of their task as creating a bridge to join two distant environments: the contemporary world and the ancient text. The best preaching, it is thought, offers a perfect balance between text and today, taking the people back and forth across the homiletical bridge.
The trip can be exhausting. Worse, our paradigm might be creating some unfortunate thinking in the minds of our listeners. The homiletic school bus approach to preaching will tend to communicate that God did all His speaking in the past – that listening to God requires traveling back to a distant time when God spoke directly and powerfully to His people. Is this what we want to teach? Has God ceased speaking?
God still speaks! Yes, he spoke to Daniel, and Paul, and Zephaniah, but He still speaks to us today, revealing His character and will in wonderful ways. Listeners are not so concerned about what God said (past tense) as they are with what God is saying (present tense). God is alive and his Word is a dynamic presentation of truth through and into history.
Secondly, the two worlds are not so different. Things haven’t changed as much as we often assume. The world is still the world and people are still people. Sure, we may have to explain what a shophar is or who the Hittites were, but these things are easily described and quickly overcome. The historical nature of Scripture is crucial to its character and its authenticity, but it does not have to be an impediment to communication. Preachers should not worry so much about the distance between text and today. The text is today!
Preaching that communicates with power today will help people hear from God. Such preaching provides a dynamic opportunity for people to hear from God through His Word and through the voice of the preacher. Let’s get off the homiletical school bus and collapse the distance between text and today. Let’s preach the ancient text in the present tense.